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!

14 comments

  • I have camped exactly once in my life.. It rained profusely and then some little bugs started crawling inside my tent 🙁 Not romantic at all..

    It didn’t cost nothing.. I paid over $100 for the tent, gas, $12 for the campsite. But I wish I had read your article several months ago..

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  • If you know you are going to keep camping you can consider buying one real good piece of equipment every season or year. This way you don’t spend a fortune all at once and over time you will have great equipment. Most camping supplies will last years before they need to be replaced.

    Also check out the store Campmor. They have an online catalog and tend to have good prices. Their own brand is reliable and cheaper than the name brands. If you happen to go to their store (in Paramas, NJ) they have great customer service. Their salespeople are really knowledgable about the products (one time a salesman convinced to to not buy an expensive piece saying the cheaper one is all I would need).

    If it’s your first time camping and you’re not sure you can handle the experience you might want to consider a drive up campsite where you get a small lot that you, yup, drive right up to. Many places have full bathrooms with showers, water on your lot, as well as other amenities. It can be a bit crowded (it’s not always as outdoors as I’d like) but it’s still fun and you don’t have to worry about bringing/buying a backpack.

  • After going on camping trips a few times, I realized that going camping in summer is quite bad, you are just food for all sorts of insects. I prefer going either in spring or early in autumn. No need to buy insect-repellents.

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  • Thanks for this article! I used to go campus quite a bit as a youngin, and now my friends and I are planning our first solo trip as adults! The great thing about this is that we’ve all got tons of gear to borrow from our parents, who don’t really camp anymore. And we all have the skills we learned camping as kids. The one thing we’re definitely going to be sure to take: our friend that’s an Eagle Scout!

  • Great article steve, I wish I had found it earlier!

    I have linked to your site for my websites edition of “Camping Adventures from the Blogosphere”.

  • Nice photo, look, it's taken by me!

    • @Oskar: and I loved the photo, and used it with the Creative Commons attribute, so I hope that's OK – it fit the post perfectly, so I hope you liked the post!

  • Camping is very fun, going outside, breathing some fresh air, experiencing a new life in a few days. We really love camping.

  • nothing replaces the experience of bonding with nature.. such a lovely sight to see..

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  • ozarktrailtents

    Man great advice on going camping on a budget, with the way the economy is we all need to look for cheaper ways to continue to do the things we love.

  • ozarktrailtents

    Man great advice on going camping on a budget, with the way the economy is we all need to look for cheaper ways to continue to do the things we love.