10 Priceless Tips for Camping on a Budget

I’ve been drawn to nature for as long as I can remember. There’s something about the crisp, fresh air, sounds of wildlife, the smell of fresh trees and blooming wildflowers, and beautiful scenery that have always been almost magnetic to me. 

Camping, however, is a bit new. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in exploring the wilderness. On the contrary, I had been totally fascinated by it long before I ever actually camped. But the thing is, when you have zero pieces of camping gear, where do you even start? It all seemed so intimidating — until I mastered the art of budget camping. 

Why I Love Camping

Today, I absolutely love the outdoors. We live in such a fast-paced world. It's difficult to escape all the “noise” even when you take a day off and lay low. Camping is one of the only things that allows me to truly unplug. 

In the stillness, I’m able to reconnect with nature and my family, as well as recharge and fill up my own proverbial cup. It’s even more calming knowing that I’m doing it without destroying our budget!

On a Budget but Eager To Go Camping? It’s Possible! 

With a bit of planning (and willpower!), it’s simple to camp on a budget. Here are my top 10 tips for making camping affordable.

1. Buy second-hand

You can often find nearly-new camping gear in thrift stores and on online marketplaces like OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace. And don’t forget REI’s Good & Used program! I scored a $300 tent in absolute perfect condition for $129 (in fact, I’m convinced it was never used!). 

2. Repurpose things you already have

Don’t be pressured to buy camping or outdoor-specific items. Old pots and pans work perfectly for camp cookware, and you can use paper or plastic plates and utensils. You don’t even necessarily need sleeping bags — old blankets and pillows work fine, especially if you only camp occasionally! 

3. Rent an RV and Go with a group

Renting an RV can actually be an affordable camping option. When possible, invite family members or friends along. You can share the cost of the RV rental and the responsibility of bringing and preparing meals, plus other things like firewood or propane. 

An RV is a great way to travel in comfort with family or friends. Enjoy the Great Outdoors while getting a good night’s sleep.

4. Keep meals simple and use similar ingredients for multiple meals

Everyone knows that food tastes better when you’re camping. So instead of making meals with lots of ingredients, stick with tried-and-true classics. BBQ chicken, burgers,  and chili are always great!

I do “double duty,” using similar ingredients for multiple meals. For example, my favorite chili and cheeseburgers have nearly identical recipes, so I’ll cook those back-to-back. 

5. Make a shopping list (and stick to it!)

It’s easy to be tempted by all the camping things, but you don’t need much! Take time to figure out exactly what you need before every trip. Then, make ultra-specific shopping lists for everything from food to supplies and gear, listing every single ingredient for meals and snacks. 

If it isn’t on the list, don’t buy it! 

6. Focus on free camping activities

Remember: you don’t need to buy much (if anything!) for camping. All those outdoor games look super cool –– but trust me, you’ll have fun doing just about anything unplugged and away from the daily grind. Bring board games you already have, go for hikes and scavenger hunts in nature, and bring fishing gear or simple nets!

7. Bring your own firewood (or search for some!)

It’s easy to overlook, but firewood sells for a premium at or near campsites. A bundle might cost $5 near your home, and can go for double or even triple the price the closer the seller is to popular camping areas. 

Alternatively, consider foraging for wood when you get to camp. Look for larger dry pieces, as wet wood won’t ignite or will quickly burn out. This is a great activity that lets you burn some calories and sharpens outdoor skills! Remember to practice campfire safety!

8. Start a camping bin

Along the same lines as firewood, miscellaneous items are more expensive at camp stores and in remote areas. This is especially true of condiments, toiletries, and outdoor items like bug spray and fishing supplies. 

To save on these incidentals, stock a camping bin throughout the year. Whenever you find items for a good price, buy a couple and add them to your camping stash.

9. Stay close to home 

Camping is an adventure in and of itself, so don’t feel like you have to travel far to experience it. Mountains or lakes may provide a picture-perfect camping experience, but it’s perfectly okay to camp somewhere closer to town. It’ll save gas money and travel time!

10. Camp for free

My final tip for camping on a budget is to not pay for campsites! As long as you’re willing to “rough it” a bit and boondock, you can find some incredible free camping locations the whole family will enjoy. National forests are my favorite place to boondock, but you can also use The Dyrt to find free sites. 

Things I Learned While Figuring Out How To Camp on a Budget

My main takeaway while learning how to camp on a budget is that less really is more. There are so many cool camping gadgets, but truthfully, all you really need is shelter, food, drinking water, and a way to keep warm. Of course, it’s nice to be more comfortable, but it’s also gratifying to find that happy median between bare-bones budget and luxury. 

Plus, the less “stuff” you have, the more you can focus on nature and making memories. So get out there, buy some (affordable) basic gear, and go camping!