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Go camping on a budget

By on August 16, 2010

When you think frugal family vacations, camping comes to mind. How much can a tent and some bug spray cost compared to airfare and hotel accommodations, right? Unfortunately, if you’re a novice camper and don’t plan ahead, it can be far more expensive than you anticipated.
How have you camped on a budget? Do you have any camping tips?
Here are a few ideas to keep your camping expenses to a minimum.



You can get by with a tent and tarp, sleeping bags, toiletries, clothing, a cooler for food/water and dinnerware, but you might want to consider additional items such as a cook stove or Dutch oven (for campfire cooking), sleeping pads, pillows or air mattresses, flashlights, first-aid kit and a plethora of items to make your trip more comfortable. Visit for a handy camping checklist.

Check with the campground (don’t try primitive camping if you’re a novice) on their prices, availability (some accept reservations, while others are first-come, first served) and amenities. If you don’t own camping gear, see whether you can borrow any from friends or family, or possibly chip in together to buy gear and ask them to join you. Window shop at sporting-goods stores. Check prices and make a list of items you are interested in buying. Ask a salesperson for information and learn about the products you like and need. You can also check other sources such as Army surplus stores, garage sales, eBay Classifieds, Freecycle and thrift stores for equipment or consider renting equipment to try before you buy. Don’t forget to give new equipment a test run at home before your trip, and arrive at your destination before dusk to setup camp.


Prepare your food as much as possible ahead of time. For example, it’s easier to reheat pancakes you made at home than it is to make pancakes when camping. Foods such as fruit, raw vegetables, cereal, cookies, muffins, granola bars, nuts, crackers, instant oatmeal, popcorn, canned or instant soup, hot dogs and sandwiches are easy foods to pack. Remember you can bring along a skillet, and aluminum foil (foil-packet meals are tasty), and if you have electricity available, bring a slow cooker. Remember food safety. Put food away so it doesn’t attract animals. (In your car works best.) Keep your cooler packed with ice, be careful handling raw food, don’t keep hot foods out too long and keep your site clean. Check your local library or websites such as for camping recipes, too.

Additional tips

— Have a separate cooler for drinks and snacks because they get opened more often. Water frozen in milk jugs works well for coolers.
— Large plastic bins help organize everything and give some protection from rain.
— Consider how you pack your vehicle. What will you need first?
— Remember to pack jackets, warmer clothing and a spare pair of shoes.
— Bring garbage bags. They’re helpful for dirty clothes, too.
— Pack cards, books or board games in case it rains.
— Hand sanitizer and toilet paper are your friends. Camping is the perfect time to use those free samples of shampoo, toothpaste, etc., too.
— Wear flip flops or water shoes for campground bathrooms and showers.
— Bring a dishpan or large pot for cleanup.
— Don’t forget bug spray and sunscreen.
— Have a good attitude and practice camping etiquette.

photo by vastateparksstaff


  1. Ian Kurz

    8/17/2010 at 9:28 am

    All that you’ve mentioned above are great tips, especially your advice on planning ahead when it comes to food preparation. I also think along the same lines as yourself in that regard and like to properly prepare my food well in advance as well. I’ve actually found that by preparing my my food and dehydrating it I can make my camping trip into a more successful outing. Dehydrated food is advantageous for a number of reasons. One is that you don’t require a cooler to keep it fresh and from spoiling, another is that with the water removed, food weighs considerably less and is therefore easier to carry.

    I would also not forget to bring a first aid kit. When you’re camping you may be in a somewhat remote location and it.s nice to know you’re prepared in the event of “an emergency”.

    Well done…


  2. Karen

    8/17/2010 at 1:17 pm

    We have camped as a family for many years and I would consider some type of sleeping pad/air mattress a necessity. The ground can be very cold and damp at night, even in summer (especially if it rains!). We love the Therm-a-rest style sleeping pads – they’re very insulative, self-inflating and roll up tight for easy packing. The actual Therm-a-rest brand is pricey, but you can get similar ones made by Woods or other companies for much cheaper. I agree with the comment above that a first aid kit’s a necessity when camping, too.

    Two other things I would not want to go camping without are my Coleman lantern and two-burner stove (both run on propane). We do cook things like pancakes while we’re camping. We make the mixes up from scratch at home and pack them in plastic bags or containers then just add water and eggs when we’re ready to cook. I make up homemade noodle mixes for side dishes too. Dry mixes are lighter and easier to transport (don’t require refrigeration so leaves more space in the cooler for other things). We pack our meat frozen and use it up in the early days of our trip, making more vegetarian stuff in the later part of the trip.

    If you’re just getting started camping, watch for clearance sales at the end of the season (like right now, lol!) We got our dining tent for free by waiting until it was marked down 70% then using store rewards (Canadian Tire money) to pay for it! Almost everything you need for camping will be drastically marked down right now. With proper care, your equipment can last for many years.

    All four of us love camping and do at least one trip every summer!

  3. Brenda Poole

    9/26/2010 at 4:07 pm

    I’ve camped all my life. It’s a great way to connect with family and friends.I’ve learned to put a tarp (cheap) under the tent, if it gets real dirty throw away and a more heavy duty tarp on top. It beats packing up a wet tent. Large rubber maid containers help to keep thing together. WE have 2 that stay packed dishes etc in one and the other rope bungees cord stakes matches etc. Making a list of what to take and add as you add to your camping gear. It helps to not get some place and then find out you forgot something real important (first aid kit) bug spray Cards or small game boards in case of rain:( just turn your 🙂 around and enjoy. So get out go camping meet new friends and see the world.

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