Camping can get pricey, especially if you go with a fifth wheel, RV, or you have a large party and require bigger tents, more fishing gear, and bigger storage containers.
It’s making my head spin just thinking about it, but thankfully, we’ve developed these thirty money-saving tips that will keep more green in your pocket. You’re on a time constraint, so let’s rifle them off and show you a thing or two about camping and hiking the cheap way.
1. Use Ziplocs Like Crazy
Pack toothpaste, soap, shampoo and other toiletries in small Ziploc sandwich bags. Keep those in a container, so you don’t have to buy all those expensive $2.00-a-piece travel sized bottles at the drugstore.
You can snip the corners the bags to dispense, so you’re not wasting anything. Just be sure to have them stored in a single spot so you don’t risk leakage/dripping onto other items in your backpack.
2. Repurpose Containers From Around the Kitchen
Tupperware, plastic containers that pre-sliced deli meat comes in, the list is virtually endless. Look at every container as a possible bit of storage for your camping trip, and avoid spending far too much money on coolers, insulated bags, and storage pouches. Plenty of camping stores and guides try to push unnecessary products on you; turn the other way.
3. Cut Old Clothes
Hiking in the middle of July? Don’t bother getting new clothes, or even hitting the thrift store. Trim down jeans, cargo pants and other clothes to make more lightweight, breathable clothes for hiking.
If you’re a bit handy with a needle and thread, cut them with 2” of extra fabric and hem it at the bottom, so they don’t take on a second hand appearance. If that doesn’t bother you (because it sure doesn’t bother us), then cut ‘em and rock on.
4. Catch Food While Camping
You’re relaxing in mother nature’s backyard, not spending your typical nine-to-five time on a time clock. Kick back, set out a line in the lake, and catch all of your food while you’re out on your trip.
A few wild fish can be enough to feed you for two to three days, and as an add-on bonus tip, you can cook them in tin foil to avoid bringing cookware.
5. Orange Peels for Mosquito Repellent
This one sounds nuts, but it works. If you are bringing your own food, bring some oranges, and keep the peels. Rub the inside of a freshly-peeled orange on your exposed skin, and you’ll deter mosquitos for up to sixteen hours.
The only downside is that your arms will feel a bit sticky, but then again, spray-on store bought mosquito repellent doesn’t exactly feel like lotion to begin with.
6. Borrow Gear From a Friend
Not camping every other weekend? Especially if it’s a once-every-six-months kind of thing, you may not need to invest in your own camping gear.
If you’re not bothering them constantly, you can hit up a friend, borrow their gear, and take care of it while you’re out.
They’ll be more likely to let you borrow it again if the mood strikes, and you’ll have spent a big fat zero on your own gear.
7. Fire Starters Instead of Matches
There’s a lot of tips for storing matches to keep them dry, but a fire starter takes up about 20% of the space that packed matches take, and doesn’t falter when and if it gets wet.
Fire starters usually have about 3,000 – 5,000 strikes before it’s used-up, and in that time, you’ll have spent far more on matches.
8. Duct Tape Replaces Repair Kits
This isn’t a permanent solution, but if you need to patch a recent hole in the tent or your sleeping bag, duct tape is actually fairly weather resistant and insulated.
You’ll be able to use one to three pieces to keep the heat in on your sleeping bag, and of course, you can use it on a variety of things. It doesn’t replace repair kits forever, but it’s better than using torn gear.
9. Use Kitchen Recyclables for Kindling
Bring along condensed empty toilet paper tubes, paper towel rolls, used paper towels, and cardboard containers that don’t contain heavy dyes.
These catch super easy, especially if you’re not too experienced with a fire starter and you’re looking for a quick fire.
Just be careful that they don’t blow around, but it beats buying campfire wood at the store on your way into a national park.
10. Dehydrate Your Own Food
Making your own beef jerky is not only fun, but wildly inexpensive when you compare it to 3.25 oz bags that you buy in the supermarket.
You can already cringe at the high price tag when you go to buy a couple of them, and rethink it. Making your own jerky also has a much lower sodium content, so you can eat more.
11. Opt for Quality Over Quantity
This is more of a long-run money-saving tip, but going with a quality sleeping bag, tent or backpack is going to save you tons over the course of years.
If you only camp once a year, this tip isn’t especially helpful, but if you want to camp as often as possible (and we assume that by reading this, you do), quality saves money over time.
12. Buy Gear Off-Season
Outfitters and online outlets mark down gear from 10% as low as 60% in some cases: they can’t shut down for six months, so they need to keep things moving.
You’re more likely to find these deals in a brick and mortar store since online shops can ship anywhere in the world, but they’re definitely out there.
13. Make a Makeshift Lantern
Get a headlamp with a stretchy band, and bring a one-gallon water jug along. Strap the headlamp so it’s facing inwards to the jug, and turn it on.
It’s not as powerful, but for a one-man camping trip, this gives you ample light on the inside of your tent.
14. Adopt Minimalist Camper Mindsets
Less is more, and when you adopt the minimalist mindset for camping, you save insane amounts of money.
We have our own guide on minimalist camping ideals and how to apply them. You spend less, spend less time packing, and enjoy the trip far more than when you lug along unnecessary items.
15. Rural Thrift Shop Visits
Need some high-end hiking boots? Go to rural Goodwill locations or standalone thrift shops, and you’ll be amazed at how much outdoor gear you find for 20% of its original sticker price.
Good hiking boots are a requirement, but spending bizarre triple digit price tags for them is not.
16. Filtered Instead of Bottled
Bring along a gravity-fed water purification system to hang on some tree branches, and solely use stream and/or river water for cooking, drinking and bathing.
A 24-pack of bottled water is insanely expensive, but you can forego this cost altogether, right from the start.
17. Pack Light and Use a Smaller Backpack
If you’re buying a new backpack (or even a used one), packing lighter means you need less space, and therefore a smaller backpack.
If you’re buying new, this can save you upwards of $50.00 for cheaper backpacks, and in the hundreds for high-end brands.
18. Ditch Campgrounds and Go Dispersed Instead
Campgrounds have daily fees for staying, but dispersed camping generally requires an inexpensive permit.
You hike one to three miles in from the campground trail, and pitch a tent wherever you’d like, so long as you abide by the individual park dispersed camping rules and regulations.
19. Travel Locally
Nobody ever said you had to travel three-hundred miles to go camping. Not to sound pretentious, but the great outdoors are great no matter where you go.
If you want to enjoy mother nature, you can enjoy her just about anything. Travel within fifty miles of your home, and you’ll save so much on gas.
20. Use Online Gas Planning Tools
Speaking of gas, if you use an online tool like GasBuddy, you can map out the best way to get gas. You might be better off filling up closer to home if you’ve got a long drive ahead of you.
These tools update daily with new gas prices, and even help you plan when and how often you’ll need to stop to fuel up.
21. Cook Everything in Foil
Avoid pans: they’re bulky, heavy, and your back isn’t going to thank you.
Bring along heavy duty tin foil, and do make sure it’s heavy duty, and you can cook just about anything in there. Steak, potatoes, fish, vegetables: go crazy, it’ll hold up.
22. Make an Outdoor Potty Out of a Milk Crate and Bucket
Cut a circular hole in a milk crate, pop it on a bucket, and get something to cushion the top.
You can buy cheap plastic toilet seats for about $7.00 to give you a sense of being at home, but the rest of what you’ll need is fairly inexpensive.
23. Tarps Instead of Tents
Stargazing? Using a sleeping pad instead of a sleeping bag? We’re right there with you, so why not go for a pop-up tarp instead of a tent?
They’re extremely inexpensive, but more than that, they’re also super lightweight, which applies to some of our earlier tips.
24. Roll Mats Instead of Sleeping Bags
Sleeping mats and pads store easily, but they also cut down costs by 70% or more when compared to sleeping bags. The only thing to keep in mind here is insulation.
If you’re going in the middle of summer, one blanket or a heavy sweatshirt should be good for at night, but don’t compromise your body temperature for savings if you’re heading somewhere colder.
25. Make a Makeshift Walking Stick
Grab some nylon straps and find a good stick, and make your own walking stick instead of paying for one. We’ll admit that metal walking sticks have their benefits, such as grips on the bottom, but if you’re agile enough to go hiking you can use a makeshift stick.
26. Bring Portable Solar Panels
We don’t have to be 100% disconnected from our devices, but our batteries won’t last forever. You can bring power banks, or you can bring individual solar panels for charging your devices on-the-go.
Pop these up in direct sunlight, connect your laptop or phone, and it’ll take some time, but you’ll get a full charge generally throughout eight to ten hours.
27. Use Campfire Light Instead of Lanterns
A light source is important, but if you don’t want to buy a new lantern, you can bring that makeshift one we talked about earlier, and then just use the natural light of the campfire to keep the campsite illuminated at night.
There’s a slight safety concern with this, so plan ahead and you’ll be okay.
28. Cook Over the Fire Instead of a Grill
Grills are heavy, expensive, and require consistent fuel (which is also pricey). Bring a pan and cook over the campfire like in your Boy Scout days, and you’ll avoid the upkeep of a grill altogether.
Even if you decide to bring a charcoal grill, you run into a lot of stipulations with local park rangers. Nobody bats an eye at a single pan over a fire though.
29. Batch Prep Before You Leave
Whether it’s stews, marinated meats, or veggie kebabs, prepare everything before you leave the house. A lot of sites and publications make it sound like preparing food in the outdoors is glorious, but it’s actually a pain in the neck, and requires you to bring additional, camping-only cutlery and cookware. A few containers in a cooler and a single frying pan is the way to do it.
30. Bring Home Bedding
Not buying your own camping blankets? They’re pricey, we can’t blame you, but so long as you don’t mind a thorough cleaning afterwards, you can use your home bedding on your sleeping pad or sleeping bag. Avoid using heavy comforters for storage purposes.
The Right Gear, Every Time If your gear is starting to fall apart, we hate to say it, but you may need to replace it. We’ve developed guides on the best tents, EDC survival gear, grills and more in order to keep you as efficient as possible. Now that you’re saving all that cash, what are you going to reinvest it in?