How to have a budget-friendly camping adventure by Lexie Gritlefeld for Hike it Baby

Camping season is here and sometimes buying all the gear needed for a camping trip can add up — especially if you’re camping as a family. But these tips and tricks can help you and your family have a budget-friendly adventure without breaking the bank.

1. Shelter

A place to sleep is one of the top items of importance when planning a camping trip. It’s a good thing that shelter comes in many shapes and sizes. The most common option is a tent. For quality, low-price options for a family of four, REI has you covered. However, if you can afford to put a little bit more toward a tent, find out what other tent options are available for your family here.

If your vehicle is big enough, another alternative is to flip it into a sleep-worthy camper. If you’re interested in trying out a campervan rental, Escape Campervans has different van options that include a kitchen area. You can find incredible relocation and discount deals. On a previous adventure, my partner and I rented a campervan for a week for only $131 because they had a 70% discount for relocating the van from Los Angeles to San Francisco. We booked cheap flights back to Los Angeles and we were off! With camping stops at Yosemite National Park and the Marin Headlands, it was a dream camping trip.

If you’re more adventurous, you might be open to either tarp camping or cowboy camping. For tarp camping, this could be a very low-budget option. Check out these low price tarps.  Cowboy camping is sleeping outside without a tent or shelter and is obviously the cheapest option. Depending on where you’re camping, you might want to consider purchasing a mosquito net to get rid of the insects.

2. Comfort

Your options for ensuring you get a good night’s sleep is to either use a pad or mattress. For sleeping pads, it’s better to buy a quality pad you can use longterm like this one from Therm-a-rest. For air mattresses, it truly depends on your preference and REI offers quality air mattresses.

If you’re sleeping in your vehicle, you could always put an extra regular mattress in the back. This is a life hack for #vanlife and you can try it too on your camping adventure.

3. Warmth

To secure a warm, cozy night, a sleeping bag is most commonly used. To save money on a sleeping bag, 2-person sleeping bags could be a great option for you. Read a comparison on 2-person sleeping bags from some of the top brands. Depending on where you’re camping, time of year and the weather, make sure you have the right type of sleeping bag. For summer camping, a 2- or 3-season sleeping bag will do. For winter purposes, you’ll likely need a 4-season sleeping bag. If you prefer individual sleeping bags, here are great options.  And if your kiddos like the idea of having their own sleeping bag and it fits your budget, here are some great choices.

If you’re really on a budget and you’re camping in the summer, you can always bring sheets, pillows, blankets and comforters from home. This is always a great option when car camping in fairly warm weather. If you’d prefer to buy blankets specific for camping, Rumpl makes great camp-specific blankets.

4. Food

A key tip for a budget-friendly camping adventure is to bring your own food! Many remote areas near campgrounds and National Parks will have high prices for common goods, so buying your food ahead of time keeps your costs low. And if you’re going to bring your own food, there are a few investments that will make lifelong camping adventures more budget-friendly.

For cooking purposes, a Coleman stove or similar is one of the best investments you can make. You can bring your own pots and pans from home to cook in the outdoors. Plus, the fuel isn’t too expensive and lasts a long time. Or you can cook directly over the fire for a more authentic camping meal.

For food storage, the best investment is a quality cooler. YETI makes the highest quality coolers on the market. But if you can’t invest in a YETI, try Igloo’s first biodegradable cooler at a much lower price. It’s environmentally friendly so you don’t have to worry about the waste created by a styrofoam cooler.

For the food itself, quality food for the right price can usually be found at local Trader Joe’s or Grocery Outlet. Grocery Outlet is now in many mountain and desert towns and even has quality organic sections at an affordable price.

For budget-friendly camping recipes, Fresh Off The Grid is a great resource. With recipes ranging from Steam & Blue Cheese Cast Iron Skillet Nachos to Chicken Pad Thai, you’ll feel like you never left the city culinary scene. Don’t forget the kids! Here are some ideas for preparing easy kid-friendly meals.

5. Fees

Campsites can end up being very costly. If you plan to camp in a National Park, it can be expensive due to site cost and fees to enter the park. If you plan to visit a National Park at least three times within a year, you should consider buying the America the Beautiful National Park Pass. This will save you money over the year.

If you are unable to find a budget-friendly campsite through or another resource, consider looking into Bureau of Land Management (BLM) camping. The best part? BLM camping is completely free! You can usually stay at the same site for a maximum of 21 days, but Arizona and California also have Long Term Visitor Areas where you can park a tent, car, van or RV for months at a time. The Free Roam app is a great guide for helping you find BLM land.

Now, all you need to figure out is where you’re going to go and the cost of gas. Voilà! You’re off on your next budget-friendly camping adventure.

What are some ways you save on camping? Please share with us in the comments below.

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Photo by Andrea Leoncavallo.


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