If you have family or friends that like to camp, plan a trip together. If you drive an SUV, you can probably haul most of the gear on the luggage rack or in a trailer and have room to bring along a couple more people. Split the cost of gas and supplies and everyone has a good time for less money. As a bonus, you may learn some new tricks or campfire recipes and you’ll have some extra hands for gathering firewood, pitching tents, etc.
Use the Equipment You Already Have
It’s a pretty good bet that you have some pots and pans that can be used over the campfire or portable stove. If you’re worried about soot, wipe the outside of the pans with plain soap before you cook and it will wash off easily later. The same basket you use on your gas grill at home will work over the campfire, too. Blankets can keep you almost as warm as a sleeping bag, especially if combined with a mylar “space blanket” you can pick up for a few dollars. Pot holders, towels, salt and pepper shakers, and lots more items around the house can do double duty. Look around before you buy equipment.
Sometimes “Used” Means “Broken In”
Be a fan of garage sales. Fellow campers will often put good, used equipment up for sale after an “upgrade”. Don’t forget to check out your local Craig’s List and the newspaper classifieds. A smart shopper can easily gear up for 50% to 80% below retail prices. That portable stove with the little ding in the lid will cook just as well as any.
Raid the Refrigerator
Look in the fridge and the pantry before you go shopping for the next outing. Those eggs will cook up nicely in the morning. Look, there’s the catsup, mustard, pickles, and probably most of the condiments you’ll need. And remember that package of hot dogs left over after the last trip? They’re still in the freezer!
Make Sure You Have Enough Supplies
While this may, at first, seem counterproductive in terms of saving money, it’s important to take enough food, water, camping fuel and other supplies to last the entire trip. Remember, fuel for your vehicle is one of the most expensive things you’re buying. You’ve just burned up a lot of it getting out of town. Going back into town because you ran out of something costs money as well as taking you away from the fun.
It’s easy to go through a lot of funds just investing in batteries for your camping equipment. Flashlights, radios and other electrically powered devices drain even the best alkaline batteries under constant use. Fortunately, modern technology has provided us with amazing replacements for those power hogs. Crank-style flashlights and radios, solar charged devices and even kinetic batteries are now easier to find and inexpensive. Check out the electronics category on eBay, or try a few Google searches to find some fun new stuff that’s free to run.
Big Ice Lasts Longer than Small Ice
This tip may sound like an obvious one, but it’s often overlooked. When you’re packing food in ice chests, block ice will last much longer. Bags of cubed ice will melt quickly. If that’s all you’ve got, you risk having food go bad or at least get waterlogged, or having to make another trip into town to by more ice. Fit in as many blocks of ice as you can. Also, if you’re going to be out for a while, freeze anything you can before packing, like hot dogs or hamburger. Frozen food will serve as extra ice and thaw quickly when you take it out.
Stock up on Firewood
Many camping areas don’t have a lot of available wood, for instance, beaches may not offer even a stick. Also, many forest campgrounds no longer allow firewood gathering, for conservation purposes. So, if you want a campfire (And who doesn’t?), you’ll need to bring your wood. Instead of buying expensive bundled firewood, stock up between trips by saving lumber scraps, old fencing material and such. Avoid painted materials, though, as these can give off toxic fumes as well as acrid smoke.
If you have a large family or a large group of friends, consider a group campsite. Many parks offer large sites designed for multiple vehicles and large numbers of people. When split between the parties, fees can be much more reasonable than standard campsites.
Outdoor and RV Clubs
If you camp in an RV or trailer, consider joining a club like Good Sam’s. You’ll find discounts available at popular sporting goods and RV stores as well as campsites. Tent campers can join, too, of course.
Great experiences in the outdoors don’t have to be expensive. Remember, you’re out there to rough it. Enjoy!
(Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)