Mom Goes Camping

10 Tips for Camping on a Shoestring Budget

tips for camping on a budget

I live in Serbia, a country which has beautiful nature but an average monthly salary of less than $400. So, when I go into my local mountaineering shop and see outdoors clothing that costs $150 for a shirt or sleeping bags that retail for over $400, it makes me cringe.

Yes, it would be nice to have some super high-tech shirt which never gets sweaty.  But if we keep pushing all these expensive outdoor items, a lot of people will think that going camping is beyond their means.

There is absolutely no reason you need fancy expensive gear to go camping!  To show you how cheap camping can be, here’s 10 tips for camping on a shoestring budget.

1. Dehydrate Your Own GORP

GORP stands for Good Old Raisins and Peanuts.  It is considered one of the best hiking snacks because it is high-nutrient but low weight.  In other words, you can bring a lot of it without it weighing down your pack. (Read How to Calculate How Much GORP to Bring Hiking)

You can buy all sorts of fancy GORP mixes in the supermarket.  These are way overpriced and it would be a lot cheaper to buy each of the ingredients separately and mix them together.

Even better, use your dehydrator to make your own GORP!

Yes, buying a dehydrator is expensive but it quickly pays off.  I buy foods in summer when they are dirt cheap and dehydrate them for winter.  As for making GORP, I love dehydrated bananas, strawberries, pears, and apples (with cinnamon sprinkled on them).

Mixing our own GORP for a backpacking/camping trip!

Mixing our own GORP for a backpacking/camping trip!


2. Make Your Own Camping Chair

Camping chairs are an expensive luxury that probably isn’t worth it unless you are camping very frequently.  I just put my sleeping pad on the ground and we sit on that when camping.

But, after going camping with someone who’d had hip replacement surgery, I understand that some people need or want a proper chair to sit in.

Why not make your own?  It is actually pretty easy to make a bushcraft chair.  You just have to bring some rope and learn how to make a “square lashing” knot.  Yes, it takes some time but is really fun to do!

diy camping chair


3. Turn Your Headlamp into a Lantern

This camping trick is pretty well known now.  Just put your headlamp around a jug of water and it will provide ambient lighting.

I personally don’t find need to have a lantern when camping.  However, I still love this tip because it shows how you can get multiple uses out of one piece of gear.

camping lantern


4. Borrow Camping Gear

Going camping for the first time and aren’t sure whether you will like it? Borrow camping gear instead of buying it.  I love it when someone asks to borrow my gear because it means I am helping them get out into nature.  Just remember to follow the Etiquette Rules of Borrowing Camping Gear.


5. Rethink Your Transportation

Gasoline costs a lot, and you’ll probably have to drive a while to get to a nice camping spot.  I don’t have a car or know how to drive, so I always go camping with a combination of train + bus + hitchhiking.

Okay, I know that a lot of people aren’t going to be keen on the idea of hitchhiking.  However, you might be surprised at how far you can get with public transportation or ride sharing.

Hitchhiking a ride after a week of camping and backpacking

Hitchhiking a ride after a week of camping and backpacking


6. Be Creative and Make Your Own Gear

Should you buy a camping shower for your trip?  Or maybe you should just make your own like the own shown here.  With a bit of creativity, you can make your own versions of all the fancy camping gear.

camping shower


7. Or Just Go Minimal

Or don’t even worry about making your own camping gear.  Just learn to do without it.  Who needs to shower when in the wilderness anyway? 😉


8. Make Your Own Camping Meals

The easiest food for camping are “Meals Ready to Eat” (MREs) which can be bought in camping stores like REI.  They usually can be cooked right in the pouch and are fairly tasty.

They are also fairly pricy!

Moutain House Granola costs $5.50 for two servings.  Their Curry dinner costs $11.50 for two servings.

If carrying fuel isn’t an issue (i.e. you are driving and can bring tons of stuff), then just bring cheap readymade packaged food found in the supermarket.  If you are limited to how much gear you can bring, then dehydrate meals.  For inspiration, see What 7 Days of Camping Food Looks Like and 10+ Backpacking Meal Ideas.

This is What Backpacking Food for 7 Days Looks Like

DIY backpacking meals for 7 days


9. Know What Gear Is Really Worth Spending Money On

You don’t need to spend $400 on a tent when a $50 tent will do.  The same applies to all other camping gear (assuming that you aren’t doing some hardcore winter or thru-hiking trip).

But don’t forget the adage, “I don’t have enough money to buy cheap stuff.”

Just because you can buy a flashlight for $2, it doesn’t mean that you should use it camping.  That flashlight will probably break very quickly or use up batteries really quickly.

For me personally, I am really glad I shelled out the extra money for some really good headlamps. I also paid for good outdoor style sandals for my daughter.  And I absolutely love my new backpack and it was worth paying over $100 for the comfort it provides.

Before you buy any pricy gear, go camping with friends who have their own gear.  Then you’ll be able to figure out which gear is worth it for you to buy.

backpacking pack

It was really worth the extra money to buy this backpack!


10. Go Wild Camping

Finally, if you are on a budget, then skip the expensive campgrounds and go wild camping instead. Not only is wild camping free, but you won’t have to worry about annoying drunk camping neighbors playing crappy music throughout the entire night.   Just make sure you bring a shovel to dig a latrine and carry out all of your trash with you!

What budget camping tips can you add to the list?  I’d love to hear from you at our Facebook page!


Image credits:
Recliner” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by  VernsPics
shower” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by  tamaki
Makeshift lantern” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by  lierne 
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About the author /

Diane Vukovic grew up camping and backpacking in upstate New York. Now, she takes her own daughters on wilderness adventures so they can connect with nature and learn resiliency. With dozens of trips under her belt, Diane is an expert in minimalist camping, going lightweight, planning, and keeping her kids entertained without screens.

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