Happy Camper Hacks: Here Are 9 Ways To Go Camping on a Budget

Couple building tent in forest during hike


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The beautiful scenery of a tent in a pine tree forest at Pang Oung, Mae Hong Son province, Thailand.

S'more Savings

While it can be easy to associate camping with luxury RVs and expensive gear, there are many ways to enjoy the great outdoors while on a budget. By doing a bit of research and planning beforehand, you can save money while still getting to enjoy all that nature has to offer. Tent camping can be an affordable option achieved with minimal gear, and many campsites offer low-cost or even free tent sites. You can also save on food expenses by doing your own cooking over a campfire or portable stove. Here are nine money-saving tips to keep in mind for the next time you go camping.

Related: 10 Essential Sleeping Bags for Your Camping Trip

Equipment and accessories for mountain hiking in the wilderness

Buy Secondhand Gear

Though camping equipment such as tents, sleeping bags, and cookware can be quite expensive when purchased new, you can often find high-quality items at a fraction of the cost by buying them used or taking advantage of end-of-season sales. Many people who take up camping only go a few times before deciding it's not for them, so your chances of snagging cheap camping gear in good or excellent condition are high. Some options for finding secondhand camping gear at discounted prices include online listings, social media, and thrift stores. 

Related: Snag the Best Deals on Facebook Marketplace With These 9 Tips

Friends sitting beside fireplace in autumn forest, enjoying time together

Go Camping With Friends

Splitting camping expenses with friends can be a great way to save money. By sharing a campsite, you can reduce the overall cost of the trip. Camping with friends can also help everyone save money on food by having each person bring a different ingredient or cooking utensil to make cheap camping meals. Plus, camping with friends can be a fun and social experience, making it a win-win situation for your wallet and your social life.

Related: Going Camping? 21 Campgrounds to Avoid, According to Reviewers

Young couple making coffee during hiking

Look for Free or Low-Cost Campsites

Many national forests, parks, and other public lands have free or low-cost camping options, including dispersed camping or primitive campsites. Some campground companies, such as KOA, offer site amenities like picnic tables, fire pits, and even bathrooms, making them a great option for those who want to enjoy the outdoors without sacrificing basic comforts. Online platforms such as Hipcamp can also be a great resource to help people find campsites on private and public lands for cheap. 

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Camping with hand holding cup in yellow tent with snow in pine forest

Opt for Off-Season Camping

Planning a camping trip during the off-season can be a smart way to save money. During peak season, campsite fees are often at their highest due to high demand. However, during the off-season, fees are typically lower as there are fewer people camping. Off-season camping can offer some unique benefits such as fewer crowds, cooler temperatures (which equals fewer mosquitoes), and beautiful fall foliage or pristine winter wonderlands. 

Note: Some campsites may have reduced services during the off-season, so it's important to do some research ahead of time to ensure the amenities you want or need will be available. 

Cooking set . Travel equipment and accessories for mountain hiking trip on wood floor

Bring Reusable Items

When camping, it's important to pack smart while also being mindful of the environment. One way to do this is by avoiding disposable items such as paper plates and plastic water bottles and utensils, and instead bring reusable camping cookware. Not only can this approach help reduce waste, it can also save you money in the long run by eliminating the need to constantly purchase these items. 

Reusable camping cookware can be made from a variety of materials such as stainless steel, bamboo, or even silicone that can be easily cleaned and reused a bunch of times.

Evening campfire during a camping trip. Cauldron on a burning fire. The tent is far away. Cozy Hiking evening of travelers by the river

Cook Your Own Meals

Instead of eating out or buying costly pre-packaged meals, you can bring your own ingredients and cook up a feast in the wilderness over an open fire or gas stove. This approach allows you to customize your meals and cater to any dietary restrictions or preferences. Cooking over a campfire can also be a fun and rewarding experience; just be mindful of safety guidelines and make sure the fire is fully extinguished before leaving the campsite or going to sleep. 

A pile of stacked firewood, prepared for heating the house. Gathering fire wood for winter or bonfire. Man holds fire wood in hands

Bring Your Own Firewood

Since campsites often charge a premium for firewood, purchasing it on-site can quickly add up over the course of a camping trip. By bringing your own firewood, you can avoid these extra costs and ensure that you have enough wood to keep your spot warm and toasty. Keep in mind that some campsites may have restrictions on the type of firewood that can be brought in due to concerns about invasive species and other environmental factors. In addition, it's important to properly store and transport firewood to prevent the spread of pests and diseases. 

We've made it all this way, I am proud

Look for Free Activities

Another way to save money while camping is by looking for free activities such as hiking, fishing, swimming, or exploring nearby natural attractions. Since many campsites are located near hiking trails or bodies of water, there can be many opportunities for you to explore and partake in outdoor activities that are free and enjoyable. Additionally, many parks and natural attractions may offer free or low-cost educational programs such as guided nature walks or hiking tours. 

Camping Couple Lying on Tent Porch and Admiring View

Use Solar-Powered Lights or Lanterns

Using solar-powered lights or lanterns instead of disposable batteries can be a great way to save money while reducing waste. Since solar-powered lights are typically powered by rechargeable batteries, they can help you save time and money from having to constantly buy and replace disposable batteries. Many LED-powered lights and lanterns also offer additional features such as USB charging ports and multiple light settings, so you can keep your tent comfortably lit without breaking the bank.