26 Ways To Have A Great Camping Trip On The Cheap


Camping can be as luxurious or as rugged as you want it to be. What makes camping so great is that it is accessible to nearly everybody no matter what your financial situation may be. You can have a great camping experience while spending little money. Here are 38 ways you can have a great camping trip on the cheap.

1. Try dispersed camping to find a free campsite.

2. Make your own ice to keep your food good.

3. Get a high quality tent for a really low price, thousands of people can’t be wrong.

4. Bring lots of blankets instead of getting a sleeping bag.

5. Camp close to home to save money on gas.

6. Save money on gas by using a price finder app.

7. Make your own lantern with a headlamp and a water jug.

8. Bring free entertainment like board games, cards, and backyard games.

9. Hiking is free and a great way to get some exercise while camping.

10. Use dryer lint to start your campfire instead of lighter fluid.

11. Don’t buy firewood, instead collect and chop your own.

12. You can find cheap air mattresses, but don’t expect them to last forever.

13. Carpool in the car that gets the best gas mileage (and can fit your gear).

14. Cook with your campfire instead of buying a camping stove.

15. If all else fails, borrow your camping gear from someone else.

16. Save money on drinks, just drink water.

17. BYOC (Bring Your Own Coffee).

18. Buy an annual pass to minimize federal entrance fees.

19. Bring all of your food instead of eating out.

20. Bring small bills to pay exact camping fees.

21. Try making your own mosquito repellant for a lot cheaper.

22. Create your own trail mix.

23. Find creative ways to make your own camping chair.

24. Wear clothing that covers your skin instead of buying sunscreen.

25. Stay at first come, first serve campgrounds instead of reservable campsites.

26. Go camping in your own backyard.

Keep reading to get a lot more information on each of the 26 ways to have a great camping trip on the cheap.

By the way, If you are in the market for a new tent, then you should click here to see the one I recommend on Amazon.

1. Try dispersed camping to find a free campsite.

The cost of campsites can vary widely based on factors such as location, amenities, etc. What you might not know about or might have not tried yet is dispersed camping. Dispersed camping is basically camping outside of established campgrounds. Many federal agencies that offer camping like National Park Systems, United States Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management have land that it open for dispersed camping for free.

The rules can vary based on where you want to go so you need to do your research before you go, but there is lots of land that is freely available for the public to use for camping. Dispersed camping can be called many other names such as primitive camping. For a lot more information on primitive camping, you can check out my article here for a complete guide.

2. Make your own ice to keep your food good.

Ice can be an unnecessary expense for camping. At the grocery store, ice can run over $5 for one bag. Save that $5 and freeze your own ice at home. Odds are that you have a freezer so why not? Instead of making a bunch of cubed ice, save yourself the trouble and make block ice instead.

To do so, simply fill a deep metal pan with water in the freezer and let it sit overnight. Not only is this free ice for your camping trip, but block ice will last longer than cubed ice because there is less surface area for warmer surrounding air to melt.

3. Get a high-quality tent for a really low price, thousands of people can’t be wrong.

A decent quality tent doesn’t have to cost hundreds of dollars. You can get a really good quality tent on Amazon for well under $100. I have personally used the Coleman dome tent from Amazon for many many trips and It cost me very little. I would recommend that you get the large tent for a more comfortable experience, it’s still a killer deal.

Thousands of other people have left great reviews and it was one of the reasons why I got it in the first place. If you need a tent then you can get a good one at a decent price.

4. Bring lots of blankets instead of getting a sleeping bag.

Sleeping bags are an essential camping gear item, but if you really can’t stretch your budget to get one for your camping trip then you could make do with substituting a lot of blankets. Especially if you are camping during the summer you can use blankets with little to no problems.

Most of us have extra blankets lying around the house that we can put to good use. If not then we probably know someone nearby that does. The more the merrier since you can sleep on a bunch of blankets in order to insulate yourself from the cold ground and cover-up to keep warm.

5. Camp close to home to save money on gas.

To go camping, most of us don’t really have to go far. There is probably some good camping spots somewhat close to where you live. You don’t have to go 500 miles away to enjoy camping. Save money on gas and try to stay nearby when you go camping.

6. Save money on gas by using a price finder app.

Another easy way to save money on gas is to use an app to help you find good prices. You can find the best prices before you go and on the way back. It is really helpful for camping since when you go to an unfamiliar place you might end up paying a high premium for gas in more remote locations. Avoid this by using an app like GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas near you.

7. Make your own lantern with a headlamp and a water jug.

You don’t need to spend a fortune on a camping lantern if you don’t have the means to right now. Instead, you can make your own with what you probably already have. Simply wrap a headlamp around a water jug and make your own lantern. It can also work well with a regular flashlight if you can get the angle right.

8. Bring free entertainment like board games, cards, and backyard games.

Entertainment while camping doesn’t have to cost a thing. Bring some games from home for free. Board games, card games, sports, and backyard games make for some great entertainment while camping. If you need some ideas then check out this article that I wrote about some camping games that are fun to play.

9. Hiking is free and a great way to get some exercise while camping.

Another activity that goes very well with camping is hiking. Most places you go camping is going to offer wonderful hiking as well. It’s a great free way to occupy some time while camping and pretty much anyone can do it.

10. Use dryer lint to start your campfire instead of lighter fluid.

You don’t need to buy lighter fluid to get your campfire started, instead, you can just collect the dryer lint after drying your clothes at home and use that instead. It’s free and you have to clean it out of your dryer before each use anyway so you just need to get in the habit of collecting it.

11. Don’t buy firewood, instead collect and chop your own.

Firewood can get expensive, especially if you wait to buy it at your campground. If you aren’t careful you could end up paying upwards of $10 for one bundle that will last you only one night. Instead, why not collect some dead dry wood for your campfire.

If you have an ax you could also chop up larger pieces into campfire ready size. You can save a lot of money on camping this way, just be sure that it is allowed in the area that you are camping in as some places do not allow for the collection of firewood.

12. You can find cheap air mattresses, but don’t expect them to last forever.

For your bed, you could get a cheap air mattress for under $20. Here is one cheap air mattress on Amazon that could work. The cheap air mattresses could be a hit or miss. Some people have the cheap ones that last them for many years, while others have theirs give up after the first use. 

If you can spare a little bit more, then consider getting a highly rated sleeping pad. Sleeping pads are very durable and designed specifically for camping. They don’t even cost that much either. Check out the one that I use and recommend here. Sleeping pads are much better insulators for keeping you warm at night than air mattresses are.

13. Carpool in the car that gets the best gas mileage (and can fit your gear).

If you are going camping with some family are friends then always try to take just one car. This saves on gas, and possible on additional camping fees as some campgrounds charge extra for more than one vehicle. Try to use a vehicle that gets the best gas mileage and one that will accommodate everyone.

If you don’t need to bring the truck and instead can fit into the compact car then why spend the extra money on gas when it isn’t necessary?

14. Cook with your campfire instead of buying a camping stove.

If you don’t have a camping stove then you don’t need to buy one for your trip if you are going to have a campfire. Cooking in the campfire is awesome, it makes food taste so much better. Most fire pits you find in campgrounds already have grills attached to them that you can use.

Wrapping food in aluminum foil and tossing it into the campfire is another option, just be sure you have a way that you can get it back out! If you can make do with cooking your food in the campfire then you can save some money on not having to buy a camping stove and propane. If you can stretch your budget a little further then check out the camping stove that I use here which isn’t really all that expensive. 

15. If all else fails, borrow your camping gear from someone else.

If you don’t have any camping gear but know someone that does then just ask to borrow it. Lots of people have camping gear that they used once or twice and then put it away for a long time and forgot about it. This can be a free way to try out camping without committing to any gear. Dust it off and get out there and try it.

16. Save money on drinks, just drink water.

Drinking just water can save you some money. It’s definitely the healthiest drink out there by far. At the same time, it doesn’t have to be one ice to stay good so you will save space in your ice chest and on ice. Canned drinks can be a little pricey, just drink water to skim a few bucks off of your camping trip.

17. BYOC (Bring Your Own Coffee).

In addition to water, you might need some coffee to operate in the morning as I do. Bring your own coffee instead of driving into a town and purchasing expensive coffee. Instant coffee is a good choice as is coffee bags.

18. Buy an annual pass to minimize federal entrance fees.

There is an annual pass offered that can save you a ton of money on entrance fees to hundreds of federal recreation sites. It is known as the “America the Beautiful” annual pass. It is good for an entire year and is a very good price. You can read about it on the National Park Service website.

19. Bring all of your food instead of eating out.

We all know that eating out is more expensive than eating in. Bring enough food on your camping trip to eat along the way, while you are there, and on the way back and you could save a lot of money on food.

20. Bring small bills to pay exact camping fees.

Some campgrounds, especially smaller ones and first come, first serve campgrounds have fees that need to be paid by putting cash in an envelope slip. Bring small bills like $1s and $5s so that you can pay the exact amount instead of rounding up.

Often times the fees for the campsites are strange numbers like $7 or $12 per night. Having smaller bills allows you to pay the correct amount instead of being forced to round up.

21. Try making your own mosquito repellant for a lot cheaper.

Bug spray is a pricey concoction that is not necessary according to many campers. There are many different “recipes” for a homemade insect repellent that you can find online. Find one that requires items that you already have at home and bring it along to keep you safe from bugs.

22. Create your own trail mix.

Trail mix is a wonderful food for camping. It’s calorie dense, it tastes good, and it lasts a long time. Buying pre-made trail mix is expensive. Instead, you can buy the ingredients separately and create your own for a fraction of the price.

23. Find creative ways to make your own camping chair.

You don’t have to buy fancy camping chairs, there are many things that you can sit on for free. You can bring regular chairs from home, you could sit on a log, on a bucket, or on your ice chest, among many other things. Don’t spend money to sit if you want a cheap camping trip.

24. Wear clothing that covers your skin instead of buying sunscreen.

You need to stay protected from the sun, but you don’t need to spend a lot of money on sunscreen to do it. Wearing clothing that covers up your skin can go a long way. Don’t forget about your face and neck, a good hat will do the trick. Long sleeve shirts and pants that are comfortable and breathable also help protect your skin.

25. Stay at first come, first serve campgrounds instead of reservable campsites.

Often times, reservable campsites are pricier than first come, first serve campsites. Reservable campsites also come with reservation fees that you will obviously avoid by getting a first come, first serve campsite. I have a lot of tips and tricks for getting a campsite in a first come, first serve campground in this article

26. Go camping in your own backyard.

For a really cheap camping trip try setting up a tent in your own backyard. The fees and travel expenses don’t get much cheaper than this. At the same time, you will have access to your own home. It can be a fun way to spend a weekend and practically not spend any extra money.

My Favorite Camping Gear

  • Air Mattress: click here to check out my favorite on Amazon.
  • Tent: click here to see my favorite tent available on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Pad: click here to check out the one I love on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Bag: click here to see the one I recommend on Amazon.
  • Camping Stove: click here to see the best camping stove on Amazon.


Zachary Smith

Zach is an avid outdoorsman that loves going camping with his Prius every chance he gets. He also regularly enjoys hiking and fishing. When he's not outside you can probably find him writing about it on this website. See his full bio here

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