into the wild…without spending a lot of money

This post originally appeared on American Consumer News as a guest post. I wrote it at the end of summer, so I’ve updated it to be relevant for the beginning of summer, for those of us who live in temperate enough climates to consider camping in the summertime.

Camping is a frugal activity in the first place; compared to going shopping or heading to the movies or even going on vacation to the beach it’s practically free. Just imagine if you stepped away from the computer you’re sitting at right now for a moment and found yourself outdoors. Imagine the space, the quiet, beautiful nature scenes…but if you aren’t careful, also hundreds of dollars of camping equipment, gas money, fees, batteries and food! You can avoid spending a fortune before enjoying the outdoors, however.

Creative Commons License photo credit: oskarlin

  • First of all, when considering what equipment you need, look around your home. Too often, new campers will rush out and buy specialty outdoor gear and equipment. There is no need to buy specialty equipment for most of your camping needs. A pot is a pot! You can bring a pair of pliers for taking hot items off the fire. Almost anything you need for camping is probably lying around your house right now, other than a compass and a tent.
  • Consider renting your equipment. Renting is often a bad idea if you’re trying to be frugal, but consider renting items that you use infrequently. Maybe you usually go camping with your friends who own a large tent, but one weekend you go with a different set of friends who don’t have room for you in their tent. Rather than buying a tent that will go unused for a year or two at a time, consider renting one. You will pay a fraction of the price of buying new equipment – and as a bonus keep clutter out of your life!
  • Look online for “quitter’s goods.” As with many hobbies, many people leap with enthusiasm into camping only to wake up three years later with a giant tent they only used twice. Deals can be found on used camping equipment at all of the usual sites like eBay and craigslist. Their mistake can be your gain – and you are saving that equipment from ending up in a landfill somewhere!
  • Buy equipment off-season. Just like fashion, many sporting goods stores will be looking to unload their camping gear towards the end of summer or early autumn to make room for the winter items. Wait until it’s cold to buy and you can get some significant discounts.
  • Join a club. REI offers a membership club that pays back 10% of your eligible purchases as a ‘dividend voucher’ annually. Many sporting goods stores will have ‘frequent visitor’ cards that can save you money, as well.
  • Use space blankets. A high-quality space blanket reflects up to 80% your body heat back to you. Most of them weigh mere ounces and they are incredibly useful if it gets chillier than you expected, which can happen even in the summer. An emergency blanket will cost less than $5, and even a top-of-the-line blanket should not be more than $15.
  • Use solar powered lights and radios. Investing in solar lights and radios saves money on batteries in the end. Hand-cranked flashlights and radios work very well, too. Many of these devices can even be used to charge a cell phone or a PDA if you just cannot stay unplugged for a whole weekend!
  • Bring your own food and carefully plan your menu for each day. This may sound obvious but on longer camping trips people often run out of food or realize that they did not bring some ingredient for a meal they just have to prepare. Also, remember to bring plenty of food that does not need to be heated up to eat in case of rain! Making sure that you bring adequate supplies of food and drink to last your entire trip will definitely save money.
  • Carpool. Check online listings for your destination to see if carpooling is available. Quite often people living near to you will be willing to share a ride to your destination, and who knows? You might just meet some interesting new people that way, too. With the price of gas staying high, this may be one of your biggest money saving ideas for any trip.

Following these tips will help make your next trip to the great outdoors both fun and frugal. Get out and enjoy!