Going camping without breaking the bank can almost feel impossible these days.
They say that camping is “when you spend a small fortune to live like a homeless person,” and as someone who’s made one too many expensive gear purchases over the years, Ross and I both personally feel this on a spiritual level.
Chances are some of the challenges you’re probably dealing with include:
- Not owning the right gear and no room in your budget to buy it
- The reality that campsites are getting more expensive to book every year
- Worrying about having to spend a lot of money on food and alcohol
- Gas or other transportation costs needed to get your destination
As a result, you might be feeling:
- Excluded from being able to spend time outdoors because of financial constraints
- Frustrated and overwhelmed with how expensive camping gear can be
- Afraid that if you go camping without all the right gear, you’ll have a bad experience
But camping on a budget is totally possible with a bit of extra prep and planning.
The key to enjoying a successful camping trip on a budget is “resourcefulness.”
Here are some tips for making your next camping adventure both affordable and fun!
Skip the fancy gear and gadgets and focus on the essentials
Look, we know how easy it is to get lured in by the latest and greatest camping stuff.
It can be enough to make you think that you’re not prepared.
But don’t need every piece of high-tech equipment out there to have an enjoyable camping experience.
Instead, focus on investing in quality basics such as shelter, sleeping bags, and cooking supplies.
For instance, rather than splurging on a portable espresso maker, invest in a reliable camp stove that will allow you to cook meals comfortably.
Prioritizing essential items keeps costs down while still ensuring comfort and safety during your trip.
Just be mindful of tailoring your gear needs to the type of trip you’re taking and planning for the conditions you expect to be camping in.
Purchase used gear off local online marketplaces
You can save hundreds of dollars and get gear that still works perfectly.
Places like Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, or eBay are some of the best places to find camping gear equipment at a fraction of the price.
People often put them up for sale because they either don’t camp anymore, or they’ve upgraded to a better model.
For example, we recently sold our old GoPro, which was only a year old and in great condition, because we got a new one.
You’ll still have to spend some money, but you won’t be paying the full cost that comes with buying camping gear brand new.
Just be sure to inspect secondhand gear and equipment carefully before using it to ensure it is in good working condition.
Rent or borrow gear
Ask yourself if you have any friends or family members who have camping gear stashed away somewhere and would be happy to lend to you.
If you don’t you can also research local outfitters near the location you plan to camp at, which are businesses that help people plan their camping trips, buy necessary items, and of course rent gear.
Full service outfitters will actually plan an entire trip for you, rent you all the gear you need, and even provide all your food and meal plan!
If you only go camping once or twice a year, it may make more sense to rent what you need instead of buying it—only to have it sit in storage for most of the year.
Renting or borrowing gear saves money upfront while still providing access to quality equipment.
It also reduces clutter at home since you don’t have to store bulky items year-round.
Again, make sure to inspect any borrowed gear before using it to make sure it’s in good working order.
Use everyday household items as substitutes for gear items
You may be able to get away with using everyday items that you already have at home instead of camping gear.
Some ideas include:
- A picnic blanket instead of camping chairs
- Your own pots and dishes instead of camp cookware and cutlery
- Yoga mats or foam pads instead of air mattresses
- Thick quilts or wool blankets instead of sleeping bags
They may not be fancy or ideal, but they’re get the job done—and they’re convenient!
Just be sure that whatever you’re using as a substitute is appropriate and doesn’t put you in potential danger.
For example, you may be able to use bedding from home in the summer, but they may not be warm enough in the spring or fall.
Get creative with DIY gear hacks
Speaking of using things around your house can be repurposed into useful camping gear, you can tap into your creativity by making your own DIY camping stuff.
Here are some ideas:
- Use an empty coffee can as a portable toilet by lining it with plastic bags and kitty litter
- Fashion a camping lantern by using a mason jar and a headlamp
- Make a pot cozy out of Reflectix to keep your water/food warm and save on fuel
DIY hacks save money while adding personalized touches to your camping setup.
As a reminder, make sure your DIY hacks are safe and functional before using them in the wilderness.
Look for free or low-cost campsites
Spending $20 to $30 a night (or more) to camp can add up quick.
Lucky for you, it is possible to camp for free in some places… if you know where to look!
U.S. national forests and grasslands allow free backcountry camping, but you’ll have to check with the specific forest to see their rules and regulations.
BLM publicly managed land is also free to camp on, but you should expect to do your research on the specific area you’re interested in camping at to make sure it’s suitable for your kind of trip.
Here in Canada, we have what’s called Crown land, which is owned by the government and free for backcountry camping.
But if backcountry camping isn’t your thing, you can look for campground or park fees on their respective websites and compare their costs.
Research budget-friendly camp meals
You don’t want to be cooking elaborate meals over the backcountry, but you also don’t want to be relying on expensive prepackaged or freeze-dried foods either.
A happy medium is to plan out camping meals that are hearty and delicious, but also inexpensive and easy to make.
Here are our best tips for keeping camp meal-related costs low:
- Go for pasta dishes, which are versatile and delicious!
- Make your own big bag of trail mix to snack on between meals
- Think simple for breakfasts by cooking oatmeal, eggs, or pancakes
- Bring canned foods to spice up your one-pot dishes
- Try making your own campfire pizza with all your favourite toppings
You shouldn’t have to spend any more money on food than you already do when you’re eating at home.
Camp closer to home
Last but not least, an easy way to cut your gas and transportation costs down substantially is to avoid planning camping trips that are too far away from home.
We’ve personally taken trips that involve:
- Driving for 10+ hours
- Taking charter boats
- Taking float planes
- Taking commercial flights
- Taking cabs
All of these are very expensive—in the thousands of dollars, to be honest.
And while we do get to visit some spectacular places, sometimes it’s nice to kick back and relax camping in your very own backyard.
Even if you don’t have a big camping area near you, chances are, there’s some kind of park or camping spot within a short driving distance that won’t cost you too much in gas.
So whether you’re looking for an adventure or just want to unplug for a weekend, camping on a budget is totally possible.
With some careful planning and a bit of creativity, you can have camping trips that are just as good—if not better!—than the ones you’d pay top dollar for.
Camping on a budget FAQ
What’s the cheapest form of camping?
The cheapest form of camping is tent camping.
You can find good quality tents for less than $100, and they offer a flexible camping setup that can be used anywhere.
As far as campsite costs go, you’ll want to look at camping on public or government-owned land—but make sure you check the rules in your region and for the specific area first.
Is stealth camping good for camping on a budget?
Yes, you can go stealth camping to camp on a budget.
Stealth camping involves camping in an area that isn’t designated for camping, such as an abandoned parking lot or a patch of public land.
It can be a great way to save money, but make sure you’ve checked local rules and regulations first.
Is minimalist camping good for camping on a budget?
Yes, minimalist camping is a great way to camp on a budget.
By taking just the basics—tent, sleeping bag, and food—you can save money both in camping fees and gear costs.
It also makes camping trips easier, since you won’t be lugging around too much excess gear when you’re camping in the wilderness.
Plus, it’s a great way to challenge yourself and get back to basics camping without the luxuries of modern camping gear.
It can make camping trips more enjoyable, too—you’ll appreciate the small joys of camping even more when you’re stripped down to just the essentials!
Is camping cheaper than staying in a hotel?
Yes, camping can be significantly cheaper than hotels.
Camping fees can be as low as $10 per night at some campgrounds, and often camping is free on public lands.
Hotel rooms can cost hundreds of dollars a night in some cases, making camping the far more budget-friendly option!
Plus, camping gives you the opportunity to explore new places and get away from it all—something that isn’t necessarily as accessible with a hotel stay.
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).