When it comes to recreation and finances, camping is a bit of a conundrum.
On one hand, sleeping outside in a tent and cooking your own food over a fire pit should be drastically less expensive than traveling to a city, staying in a hotel, and eating out. And for the most part, that’s true.
But camping can become pretty expensive if you’re not being intentional about the gear you need and how you buy it.
So, what’s the best way to camp on a low budget?
We’ve come up with some great tips on how to camp on a budget.
1. Rent equipment or buy used
Obviously, the most expensive part of camping is the equipment. A brand new tent can set you back four figures. A camping stove can cost anywhere from $40 to $150. And then there are all the little accessories, from flashlights to coffee kettles.
You can camp without some of this gear, but other pieces are a necessity. The top camping gear hack is to either rent or buy this equipment used.
You can rent camping gear from any number of places, including outdoor retailer REI. Some online startups that rent equipment, OutdoorsGeek.com, will even ship things like a tent straight to the campsite so it’s there waiting for you.
Now, if you intend to camp a lot, renting can actually hurt you more than helping you. But for the occasional trip and for a very specific piece of camping gear, it’s a great alternative to buying.
Scour Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist for used equipment. Also, be on the lookout for garage sales.
People who are selling used camping equipment typically don’t put much thought into the price, giving you an opportunity to scoop up some great gear at an incredible price.
Read More : 5 Things to Know Before Buying Used Camping Gear
2. REI garage sale
If you live near an REI outdoor retailer and are a member, find out when the next garage sale event takes place.
The REI Garage Sale is a huge clearance sale that’s made up of items that have been on the showroom floor for a long time or open-box items that were returned. Each store typically sets up the garage sale in the store’s parking lot when the weather is warmer.
You can expect discounts on camping gear and apparel as high as 80%.
3. Camp near home
We want to explore and camp in faraway places, but the farther you travel, the pricier it gets. So, if you want to camp cheaply, then camp closer to home.
Camping closer to home not only saves you money on gas, but it also likely cuts down on food purchased and other camping gear that you may need for a longer trip. Why is that?
Because if you’re camping further away from your home, chances are good that you’re going to stay an extra night or two. Also, depending on where you live, campsites could be more affordable closer to home.
4. Camp with a group and buy food in bulk
One of the priciest line items on your camping budget is food. The cheapest way to camp is to go with a larger group of friends and buying in bulk.
Buying food in bulk can save you anywhere from 5-cents to 15-cents on the dollar compared to regular-sized containers of food.
Also, when you camp with a group, everyone tends to split the food, meaning you’re going to save a significant amount of money.
Read More : How to Plan A Successful Camping Trip with Friends
5. Bring your own firewood
Public campsites tend to gouge campers on firewood because they know they need it. If you came unprepared, expect to pay at least $10 for a quart of firewood. If you’re camping over the weekend, you’re going to need anywhere from three to five quarts.
Obviously, the cheapest firewood is the wood you cut down off your own property. But if you don’t have access to firewood on your property, head to the country or rural areas near campsites. You can typically find a quart of wood for half the price of the public campsites.
6. Ditch the gas stove for campfire cooking
Gas stoves are convenient for cooking in the great outdoors, but they can also be pretty expensive.
That’s why we recommend cooking the old-fashioned way – over a campfire!
While you can cook things like hotdogs over the flame using skewers (or even sticks!), it’s recommended to get a grate to place over the flames. It’s an expense, but it’s still cheaper than a full-on gas stove.
Read More : 11 Tips to Have A Campfire Safely
7.Avoid national parks
While we all love camping in a National Park, the campsites are some of the most expensive public sites because you have to pay a fee to enter the park and then your campsite fee, which can cost between $30 and $50 per night.
If you live near a National Park, it might be worth the expense of paying for a yearly membership, which can ultimately cost you less overall as long as you visit a few times each year, but you’re still going to pay the campsite fee.
8. Go basic on campground facilities
So, if National Parks are out for campers on a budget, how can you save money on campgrounds?
For hardcore campers who don’t want to pay a thing, finding spots in public wildernesses and mountain areas is quite common, although sites aren’t the easiest to find at times.
Look for paysites that feature minimal amenities. Think picnic table and maybe a built-in charcoal grill, and that’s it. Those types of campsite will typically rent for $10 to $15 per night.
KOA Campgrounds tend to be on the cheaper side and there are more than 500 locations scattered across the country. Sites that offer showers and electricity tend to be on the pricier side.
9. Avoid camping during big holidays
While it’s fun to go camping on the Fourth of July, Memorial Day weekend, and other big holidays, you can always expect to spend more money.
Gas tends to be more expensive. Campsites may charge more since they know the demand is there. And because it’s so popular, you’ll likely end up sitting in traffic, depending on where you live, as other people are heading to the mountains or driving up north.
If you want to save money, avoid camping on these big holidays.
10. Cut back on other expenses and budget
It’s easy to tell a camper on a budget to simply cut back on other expenses so he or she can better enjoy their camping hobby. Don’t eat out as much. Don’t buy your coffee at Starbucks. You get the idea.
But what campers who are trying to save money really need to do is make and live on a budget. You need to give every dollar a job for the month and really prioritize their money.
When this happens, you’ll be surprised at not only where your money is going, but potentially realize that you have more to spend on camping than you previously realized.
Andrew Dodson is an avid camper who enjoys the great outdoors with his wife and two-year-old son. He resides in Colorado, where you can often find him enjoying hikes with a toddler strapped to his back and mini goldendoodle Percy nearby.