Helpful Tips for Camping on a Budget: Packing Lists and Making Foil Dinners
The Great Outdoors is a Great Way to Spend a Family Vacation
If you've recently gone to a sporting goods store shopping for camping gear, hopefully you took your credit cards. Sitting around the fire on a moonlit night listening to the peeper frogs is a great experience to share with your friends and family, but why does it have to be so expensive?
Human ancestors "camped" for millenia without seam-sealed geodesic tents, UV light water filters, and self-inflating mattresses. How did they survive for years in the wilderness when that root in your back is killing you from just one weekend? Perhaps we've grown too soft, and we camp to remind ourselves of those survival instincts.
Camping is a wonderful experience for solo adventurers and families alike. However, you don't need to spend a lot of money to have a good time. Everyone nowadays is on a budget; you don't need to change your camping vacation plans. Just use a few of these simple tips to help you camp on a budget.
Skip the Campground and Camp for Free
"Camping is nature's way of promoting the motel business."
Campground fees are quite a bargain when compared to the insanity of hotel rates. However, at $25 or more per night, those camping fees can be expensive.
Have you thought about ways to find free camping sites?
Though some beginning campers may like the ease of campground camping, avoid the fees by "primitive camping." There are many state forests which offer free primitive camping. Most of these primitive sites offer a tenting space, a fire pit, and an outhouse. Generally most sites are located near a water source like a lake or a river.
You may also be able to camp on someone's property. One of the best spots is a friend's or relative's hunting camp; they are seldom used during the summer camping months.
Look at volunteering for a service weekend. Many outdoor clubs will exchange camping (even after the assignment is done) for hard labor building trails or what not. Think of it as a work-cation.
Save Money on Camping Equipment
Anyone just starting out camping, is looking to spend a lot of money on gear; however, there are great ways to stick to your budget and obtain quality equipment.
Equipment rental is expensive; try borrowing camping gear from a friend. If you don't have any camping friends, join an outdoor club and borrow from a fellow member.
Though brick and mortar outdoor retailers run great sales, you can get the best deals online. Some of the best discount outdoor sites include: Sierra Trading Post, The Clymb and Steep and Cheap. Be quick with those sites because certain items go very quickly.
Buy Barely Used:
Check out Craig's List and E-Bay for bargains on camping equipment. Sometimes someone only uses an item once, then decides to get rid of it for half the value.
Try to Get a Package Deal:
Though haggling is lost to the big box world of retail, you'd be surprised what a little bargaining can get you especially at a specialty outdoor store.
Ask a salesperson if they offer discounts for buying all of your supplies here or if there are any coupons or discounts available. If you've treated them nicely, they can probably find a discount for you.
You are better off borrowing gear or improvising than buying cheaply made camping equipment. You'll spend more money in the long run replacing it after a couple of uses.
Read Reviews on Everything
Wow, that tent at the big box store is only $50! what a bargain, eh? If it rains on your camping trip, you'll find out why it is only $50. Yes, it is true - you get what you pay for.
Before buying any piece of equipment for camping, check reviews online or in magazines like Backpacker and Outside.
The Bare Essentials: A Camping Checklist
This gear list is a basic gear list for what most people need while going car camping. Your list may differ based on personal needs, activities, and menu differences.
- Ground Cloth
- Tarp with cordage and stakes
- Sleeping bags - synthetic fill with nylon shell
- Sleeping pads, mats
- Pillows - just bring pillow cases and fill with clothing
- Stove and fuel
- Pot for boiling and cooking
- Frying pan
- Cooking utensils: tongs, ladle, spatula
- Eating Utensils: spoon, knife, fork
- Wash basin
- Biodegradable soap
- Large water container
- Individual water bottles
- Personal flashlights / head lamps
- Matches and firestarters
- First aid kit
- Saw and axe if cooking by fire
- Map of area and compass
- Insect repellent
- Sun protection
- Personal emergency whistles
- Sturdy shoes, boots - no flip flops
- Quick drying nylon pants or convertible pants
- Synthetic t-shirt(s)
- Hiking socks
- Fleece sweater
- Rain gear
- Toilet paper
- Tooth brushes and Toothpaste
- Soap (biodegradable)
Protect Your Food
Camping Eats on the Cheap
Freeze-dried meals are wonderful and "tasty," but close to $9 a meal for two people. Now imagine feeding a family of four.
- Eggs in a bag
- Sandwiches: PB & J, summer sausage, tuna - bread doesn't usually pack well so look at wheat tortillas or pita bread.
- Ramen Noodles
- Instant Rice and Pasta Meals
- Hot Dogs
- Foil Dinners
- Pie Iron Meals
- GORP: Good Old Raisins and Peanuts
- Instant Pudding
Skip Stoves and Cookware and Eat Like a King
Though transportation and gear are major expenses, save money on camping by cooking without a stove or cookware. Yes, you'll be using fire and time-tested cooking methods to prepare your vittles. One of the easiest methods of cooking without cookware, is the Scout favorite - foil dinners.
Preparing a Foil dinner:
- - Heavy duty aluminum foil
- - Beef, chicken, ham, etc – about 1 cup per person
- - 1 potato
- - Your choice of vegetables: onions, peppers, carrots, etc.
- - Margarine or butter
- - Cooking spray
- - Water
- - A hot bed of coals
The foil dinner is an easy and inexpensive way to provide balanced and tasty meals in the outdoors. Start by building a large fire several hours before you start cooking, as you will need a hot bed of coals. These meals cook the best on coals and not in open flame. Some campers will use charcoal to augment their hearth.
- Place about 16” of aluminum foil on your prep surface and spray it with cooking spray (this way your meal will not stick to the aluminum foil).
- Crumble up your ground beef or cube your meat into smaller pieces and place it in the center of your foil.
- Chop up your potato and vegetables and mix it with your meat.
- Add a teaspoon of butter and any seasoning to the top.
- Carefully fold up your foil package like a burrito, folding the top and bottom in first and then bringing together the sides in the middle. Before sealing, add a tablespoon of water to the contents of the package.
- Place your dinner on the coals and periodically check on it until the vegetables are tender and the meat is thoroughly cooked.
The most important thing while planning your camping trip, is to avoid complication and focus on having fun. Camping is a way to reunite with the primitive, a time to practice recreationally the skills of survival that kept us alive for years.
This quote from Henry David Thoreau sums up the camping experience nicely:
But the place which you have selected for your camp, though never so rough and grim, begins at once to have its attractions, and becomes a very centre of civilization to you: Home is home, be it never so homely.
Improvise your lack of gear, search out non-traditional campsites, economize your cooking and your next camping trip will be under budget and plenty of fun.
This page © Copyright 2012, Daniel Human
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.