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It’s that time of the year again! The weather is hot, the kids are home from school and your electricity and water bills are on the rise. This is when a lot of families plan camping trips to get them out of the house and into the woods. I’m going to share amazing cheap camping tips and tricks for cutting costs on your family’s next mini-vacation!
Cheap camping trips aren’t hard to do, but they do require a little more planning to successfully plan. Your low budget camping trip can easily become a pricey one if you don’t make a budget and follow through with it. Camping gear, food, and equipment can easily cost you an arm and a leg.
How to go camping on a budget
In this post, we will cover:
- Minimalist camping
- How to save money on your camping gear
- Some gear you should probably add to your shopping list
- The best equipment for campfire cooking
- Incredibly easy campfire foods (with recipes)
- Camping activities that cost little to nothing
- Low-cost locations to go camping
Minimalist camping means taking only the things that you need in order to survive. This includes minimal food, water (or means to purify the water in nature) and bare-bones essentials. You can opt for a tent, tarp, sleeping back, shovel and knife but if it’s something that you can survive the trip without, it won’t go inside your backpack.
A backpack full of stuff is pretty much all you need to do minimalist camping. You carry what you can on your back, take up minimal space and carry out any trash you create. Your human waste buried in the dirt is pretty much the only trace you leave when you’re done camping.
To be even more minimalistic, you can try to hunt, fish and scavenge for your food. This would give you less to pack, but you could end up hungry or getting sick if you don’t know which berries to avoid or the animals don’t come close.
If you’re in Alaska you can get free fishing and hunting gear with your food stamps, if you qualify. North Carolina also gives out a free fishing license to EBT cardholders. So these low-income benefits could help your trip to be even more frugal.
How to save money on your camping gear
Besides being minimal with your camping trip, there are several ways you can reduce the cost of your camping gear. Not everyone wants to or can do a minimalist camping trip, and that is perfectly okay! What matters most is the time spent with the people around you and getting to explore mother nature.
If you plan your camping trip in advance, or continually build your camping gear throughout the year, you can always look for free stuff online or free gift cards and coupons for discounted products. This is a great way to build up free sample sized bottles of shampoos and soaps or mosquito repellants.
You may even find free local things in your neighborhood being gifted away by your community members. This is a great way to save money and get to know the people in your area.
Borrow camping gear
If you can borrow camping gear instead of buying it, try to do so. This can save you a lot of money and give you the added benefit or “testing” the gear so you can see if it is something you eventually want to purchase. Just make sure that you return the gear to its rightful owner in excellent condition, cleaned and ready for the next usage. Otherwise, that’s just poor camping etiquette.
You don’t need that $500 camping tent when a $50 smaller, more basic camping tent will do just fine. You may not have as much room, but are you really going to spend all day inside your camping tent? The whole idea of camping is being outside.
If you need pricier camping gear, purchase it during the offseason. This means when sales cycles have it going lower and lower as they try to clear it out and make space for the next holiday or “big” purchase items. If that means being minimal this year, so you can buy the item in a few months at a huge discounted rate so it’s ready for next year, so be it. That’s the smart financial choice and the savings in your pocket could be worth it.
Don’t be too cheap
There’s a big difference between being frugal and being cheap. Being frugal means making the smarter choice, whereas cheap means lowest price. Don’t be cheap for the sake of being cheap. Be smart with your money and your purchases.
What this means is don’t buy the $2 flashlight that will break the minute you drop it the first time. Invest in the flashlight with a warranty, longer life expectancy, and is durable. Same goes for everything you buy. Don’t get the cheap 1-time use items. Even better if they’re items that can do multiple uses which would save you space and money since you wouldn’t need to buy multiple items.
Speaking of flashlights, if you want a great ambient light for your campsite, you can use a bucket. A 5-gallon white bucket with lid and a cheap battery operated light like the kind you put inside a Halloween pumpkin, work great! Simply use the bucket to help carry your camping gear, and empty it out before dark. Turn on the light and place it inside, and close the bucket with the lid. Now you have a fun light that works well without being too bright (won’t attract mosquitos) and it’s portable if you have to leave the campsite.
The upfront costs for camping can get pretty high, but by being smart with your purchases you can save money in the long run with items that last for years.
Some gear you should probably add to your shopping list
When you need camping gear on a budget, you don’t need much. You can be very minimalist, or you can find the money to afford a few comforts and make the trip a little less rugged. Sleeping directly on rocks is not my idea of fun, I wake up covered in sores and bruises as well as being unrested.
Sleeping pads are great for placing under your sleeping bags, they provide a thin layer of cushion between your body and the incredibly poky rocks below you. While you could use the inflatable ones, you run the risk of getting holes, deflating and it adds the extra work of blowing them up and letting out the air. As bulky as it may be, foam sleeping pads like a yoga mat are a much smarter investment.
Sleeping bags are nice too, but unless you’re camping in the dead of winter and temperatures get below freezing, you won’t need a fancy sleeping bag that can survive negative degrees. Cheaper sleeping bags are made for the summer months, and if it’s hot enough, you’d probably be sleeping on top of one instead of inside of one anyways.
A cheap tarp can be found almost anywhere, and having one under your tent is a great idea. Not only does it help keep moisture from the cold ground below entering your tent in the early morning, but it can do other things too. For instance, if it’s raining, it helps to keep the inside of your tent waterproof, so no one is swimming in their sleep.
If you buy it larger than your tent, and angle it just right, you can have it double as a stepping mat before people enter the tent. This helps to keep out some of the dirt and debris that would normally enter as people come in and out of the tent all day.
The best equipment for campfire cooking
I personally love cast iron for many reasons, it’s durable, can survive generations and is good in the home or in the campfire. Plus, in case of an emergency, smacking someone in the head with a cast iron frying pan can be a useful tool against a home invader.
Here is some amazing campfire cooking equipment that can help you elevate your dishes and provide a lot more variety to your menu.
- Cast iron dutch oven– Soups, casseroles, boiling water, desserts like cobblers or favorites like nachos. These come in really handy!
- Dutch oven tripod– I’ve personally never used one of these, but always wanted to. It’s not necessary if you figure out the learning curve of cooking directly on burning embers.
- Cast iron skillet– Use at home on your stove, in your oven or over a campfire.
- 2 sided cast iron griddle– One side smooth for pancakes, the other with lines for bacon. Or you can cook other things too!
- Cast iron scrubber for cleaning– Unfortunately, dirty dishes exist while camping too.
- Campfire grill -This is great for cooking on directly or for placing other cooking equipment on, holding it a few inches above the fire.
- Kettle– Using it for morning coffee, cleaning water, instant oatmeals.
- Coffee dripper– Perfect for those of us who cannot function without coffee in our systems.
Incredibly easy campfire foods (with recipes)
Breakfast time while camping is so much fun, the only downside is waking up early to get it going.
- Homemade Just Add Water Pancake Mix
- Boiled omelets -a Ziploc bag filled with scrambled raw egg and your favorite omelet toppings and cheeses. Place in a pot of boiling water and cook until it’s done -about 5 minutes depending on how much you have in there.
- Perfect Camping Griddle Breakfast Skillet
- Boy Scout Campout Bacon Hashbrown Sandwich
- Cinnamon rolls can be cooked in the dutch oven or a cast iron skillet.
- Foil Packet French Toast
- Easy Cheesy Campfire Nachos
- How to Grill Campfire Nachos
- Hot Dogs
- Walking tacos- In the bag, crush personal sized bags of tortilla chips or Doritos in your favorite flavor. Cook up taco seasoned meat, and divide between bags/people. Add in cheese, lettuce, salsa or whatever you think you’d like. Mix with a fork and eat straight out of the bag. Minimal dishes and it’s portable.
Foil packet dinners
Foil packet dinners are great for camping because they are so low maintenance. Just tossing things together and wrapping them up. Cook in the fire, and eat straight from the packet when they’re done. This also makes clean up easy!
- Camp Foil Stew
- Campfire Potato Foil Packets
- Sausage Foil Packets
- Hobo meals (hamburger, seasonings, veggies and tater tots)
Smore’s and Dessert
- Campfire Smore Nachos
- Smores Dip
- Campfire bananas- slice a peeled banana down the middle lengthwise, add chocolate chips and mini marshmallows. Wrap in foil and cook near the fire.
- Smore Muddy Buddy’s
- Apple Crisp Foil Packet
- Foil packet baked apples- hollow out the core, add small bits of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon. Wrap and toss in the fire.
You can even dehydrate fresh fruit to make banana chips or fruit roll-ups. This is made extra budget-friendly when you buy in season or discounted produce.
Camping activities that cost little to nothing
- Hanging out around the campfire
- Enjoying each others company
- Bubble blowing
- Kickball or soccer
- Frisbee throwing
- Pretty much anything that you can do at your local kid park.
Low-cost locations to go camping
Depending on what style of camping you want to participate in, there are a few different budget-friendly camping locations you can choose between.
If you are a minimalist camper, it’s probably safe to think you’d like the more outdoorsy option. Which is driving somewhere remote, entering the forest and setting up camp wherever you are. Depending on your location, this may or may not actually be legal. So you may wish to look up rules and regulations beforehand. This could prevent an expensive ticket or fine.
National forests are free (unless otherwise noted) for you to camp at and explore. There are no extra amenities, so you will need to be completely self-sufficient.
National Parks (or state parks)
National parks cost money to stay at overnight but are cheaper than your average hotel room, plus they keep rangers and attendants on duty for added security.
The Bureau of Land Management has publicly managed land all over the western part of the United States. These usually allow for free camping outside developed campgrounds. This is a free option and like staying at a National Forest, you will need to be self-sufficient. You’ll also have to do some research online to find your nearest locations because they can be difficult to locate.
As a plus, any campsite you can drive to means that you can bring more gear with you. When you camp with kids, being able to have extras, spares, and emergency kits is always a peace of mind.
What are your favorite things to do while camping?
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