Campfires, sleeping under the stars, and hours of peace and quiet in the great outdoors make camping sound like the best thing since sliced bread.
You can see new places and reconnect with nature.
Some travelers look at camping as a cheaper alternative to hotels and resorts, but others suggest that camping costs add up fast.
So, what’s the verdict? How much does camping cost?
Before you can build a budget and start shopping, it’s a good idea to plan your trip. While some supplies are necessary for one setting, they may be useless in another.
It helps to write out your expectations, especially if you plan to camp with other people.
Pre-planning is necessary to answer your burning question – how much does camping cost?
Where and When Will You Camp?
Camping in Wisconsin in October is quite different from Texas in May.
Deciding where and when you want to go is the first step because it dictates every purchase you make down the road.
Some places cost more, and some see more rainfall, and what about the distance you travel to get to your site?
How Big is Your Party?
Two people can easily manage a smaller tent and less gear than a family of five with a dog.
From shelter to food, every decision you make depends on how many people plan to accompany you.
What Assets Do You Have?
What do you already have that you can use? Making use of current possessions can save you money or free up funds to splurge on something else.
Maybe you have an old sleeping bag from your days at camp or a massive duffle from playing sports.
Even a pick-up truck or SUV could count as an asset!
What’s Your Budget?
You don’t want this trip to break the bank, so come up with a goal number to help you manage things as you prepare.
It may help to set a dream number, a goal target, and a maximum that you cannot exceed.
Shelter and Sleep
The first thing to consider is where you plan to sleep on your trip. If you never camped before, you probably don’t have any gear to get started.
You may be able to borrow or rent some parts, like tents, but you probably want to purchase others, like a sleeping bag.
Your tent may be the biggest investment for the trip because you want something that won’t break on the first night.
Depending on your plans, expect to spend between $100 and $400 for a quality tent. Before purchasing (or renting) any tent, make sure it meets all of your requirements.
- Does it sleep enough people to accommodate your entire party comfortably?
- Is it waterproof, or do you need to waterproof the tent?
- Do you know how to set up the tent? Can you do it alone? Do you have enough people in your party to get it up?
Naturally, there are several options to consider that offer unique amenities.
It’s tempting to cut costs with your sleeping bag by taking blankets from home. However, sleeping bags work best for outdoor use, especially in cooler (and downright cold) weather.
Many sleeping bags include special insulation to keep you cozy, warm, and dry.
Again, it all depends on the weather and location. Summer trips may not require as much warmth, but the cushion of a good sleeping bag goes a long way.
You could easily snag a comfy lightweight bag for less than $50, but cold weather bags can go for $100 or more.
Additional Bedding Options
While you are perfectly within your rights to nestle down in a sleeping bag and call it a night, you may want to consider some additional comforts.
Sleeping on the ground, especially when it’s cold, can be uncomfortable, and during hot summer months, you may want a cooler setup.
- Camping air mattresses lift you off the ground and provide extra comfort. You can find a decent one for $40 to $50. Just make sure you have a way to inflate the mattress!
- Sleeping pads aren’t quite as lofty as air mattresses, but they provide extra cushion. You can find cheap sleeping pads for as little as $10, and it gets you off the ground.
- Blankets come in handy when you’re camping, and not just for sleeping. Try to choose outdoor or all-weather blankets that you can use for a picnic or additional warmth.
Unless you plan to do wilderness or backcountry camping, there aren’t many free campsites to use.
However, most National Parks offer some free camping dates and some reduced fee periods and locations.
Be aware that some National Parks require permits and charge entrance fees even if you don’t pay for a site.
Beyond free camping options, most campgrounds offer staggered fee systems that correlate with the time of year and amenities included for each site.
For example, during peak camping season, you can expect to pay more than you would during the off-season. Peak season in the United States generally runs from May through September.
Amenities also affect the price of a site. Private campgrounds cost more than public campgrounds, but they usually offer extra amenities.
You can also choose a primitive campsite that only offers a fire pit or upgrade to a spot with full utilities, including electrical hook-ups.
Expect to pay between $10 and $50 per day, depending on the site.
Note: some campgrounds set fees based on occupancy numbers, so if you have a large party, you may pay extra.
Remember how we said that where and when you go camping can impact the cost of your trip? It also affects how you pack and what clothes you need to make the most of your experience.
Keep in mind that you can use many items you already own, but these recommendations could enhance your trip.
Though warm weather means shorts and t-shirts, you may want to consider a few additional items, like a swimsuit.
Keep in mind that just because it’s warmer during the day, it may cool off at night or if it rains.
- Sun protective clothing is an alternative to sunscreen that’s more effective against sun damage and skin cancer. Expect to pay a little more than usual for UV protection; a t-shirt can run between $15 and $30.
- Brimmed hats keep you cool and protect you from the sun’s rays. You can pick one up for $10 to $20.
- Waterproof pants and jackets or ponchos can keep you dry. You can pick up decent rain suits for $30 to $40 for almost full-body protection.
Cold weather camping is quite different and requires more preparation. It’s a good idea to make a list of necessary items and bring back-ups in case you get wet.
Unfortunately, once you get wet in the cold, it isn’t easy to get warm again.
- Parkas and down jackets keep your torso warm, but they can cost you. Expect to pay $100 or more for a good down jacket or parka.
- Layer with thermal underwear that you can also use for sleeping. Decent thermal underwear sets can cost you around $30.
- Wool socks keep your feet warm, and there are several sweat-wicking options. Thankfully, you can usually get a pack of wool socks with four to six pairs for $15 to $20.
- Waterproof boots are an excellent choice, though they can be heavy. Top of the line boots can run you around $100, though if you look in the off-season, you may snag a good deal.
Food and Drink
Unless you plan to live off the land, which is not advisable, especially for new campers, meal prep is a consideration.
While many campsites include fire pits, you probably need something more for cooking.
It is in your best interest to plan your meals so that you don’t pack extra or have food go to waste.
Campfire Food Prep
Food cooked over a campfire just tastes better. Whether it’s from the scents of the great outdoors or a little extra seasoning from the burning logs, camping food is somehow better.
That said, you probably want a few tools and devices to make your experience complete.
- Marshmallow roasting sticks aren’t just for s’mores; you can use them for hot dogs and shish kebabs if you want to get creative. You can pick up a decent set for less than $10 and make several meals.
- Pie Irons open up a whole new world of food. Make mini-pies in a campfire with any filling you want, from fruits to meats. Try pasta sauce, cheese, and toppings to make calzones! Pie irons run anywhere from $20 to $30.
- Foldable grills have legs that open and prop up a “grill” in the middle of a fire pit. Running anywhere from $10 to $30, depending on size and material, you grill over an open flame.
When campfires don’t cut it, you can pick up a camp stove or portable propane fire pit. These portable devices generally run on propane but function much like your stove at home.
You can use many pots and pans on the stove or pick up custom camping gear, like griddles and coffee pots.
Propane and butane camp stoves usually cost around $50. However, you also need propane, and they often use smaller tanks than a typical grill.
You may want to consider a solar oven that taps into the sun’s rays to cook food.
They work great for steamed vegetables, meats, and even stews, but you can expect to pay upwards of $80 for one.
Dishes and Containers
You can certainly use gear from home, but you may want to consider some camping dishes and containers made to keep food fresh and animals out.
Mess kits are an excellent option because they include everything you need in one space, and there are some clever options for less than $20.
From storing perishables to cold water, a cooler is necessary for any camping trip.
You can certainly toss the family sports cooler in the trunk and go about your business, but depending on where you go, you may want to think twice.
Camping outside means animals who would love to steal your food.
While raccoons may not be able to break into that family cooler, larger animals could knock it over and send your food flying across the ground.
You may want to pick up a cooler with locks or latches for $100 or so to keep your food safe and sound.
Determine how much water you need to take with you. Drinking water holds up well in canteens, plastic bottles, and regular water bottles.
You also have the option of drinking from nearby water sources, but that may require additional equipment.
There are plenty of options for supplying clean water in any outdoor situation, including filtration water bottles and emergency filter kits.
Depending on your preferences, expect to spend between $15 and $70 to clean water from sources near your site.
Are you picturing the back of your vehicle filling up with all of this gear?
Maybe you wonder what else you can manage to fit in and what else you could possibly need!
From carrying your clothes to holding your gear for a hike, backpacks round out your gear.
A basic pack costs less than $50, though high-end options with additional features can go for more than $200.
First Aid or Survival Kit
If you’re lucky, you won’t need it, but first aid kits are necessary for every camping trip.
Basic first aid kits run anywhere from $12 to $20, or you can invest a little more for a comprehensive survival kit that features special outdoor gear.
Lanterns and Flashlights
Though the moon can provide plenty of light in some situations, you don’t want to be caught out and about without a reliable lantern or flashlight.
Rechargeable lanterns cost about $20, and they tend to be waterproof. Flashlights may cost a little less, but they may not be as bright.
Sure, you probably chose camping to get away from your phone, emails, and robo-callers, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want access to it.
Plus, you need to charge those lanterns.
You have several options, including solar chargers that you can grab for $50 to $100, and it’s not like you can’t use them in other situations, like power outages.
You don’t plan on spending the entire outing on the ground or in your sleeping bag, right?
At some point, you may want to sit elsewhere and use a hard, flat, stable surface for some activity.
- Portable camping tables make cooking and games possible. You can pick up a decent folding table for $50 or so, and they tend to be quite durable.
- Folding chairs, which you may already own, work wonderfully next to a lake for fishing or beside a campfire. If you don’t have one, you can pick up cheap ones for $10.
- Hammocks make nap time, reading time, and stargazing that much better. Strung up between trees, you can create an affordable seat or bed for less than $25. The best part is, they fold down into neat little bags for transport and storage.
Tips to Save Money
Camping on a budget is possible if you know where to look and when to cut corners.
While you probably don’t want to compromise safety or leave out survival gear, you may be able to find cheaper alternatives with some of these tactics.
- Share gear with companions. If you have a party of four, you can split the costs and make everybody responsible for something so that you all contribute equally but spend less individually.
- Substitute items you have for things you don’t. Sure, that survival kit looks awesome, but you have a solid first aid kit that only needs a few extra bandages.
- Rent gear from reputable places, like REI. You may not get everything you need, but it could save you some dough.
- Borrow from friends or family who have the gear and don’t mind lending it to you. Make sure you both agree on the terms before taking their equipment.
- Buy used items. There are multiple options for finding and purchasing used camping gear, including thrift stores. You may have to do a thorough cleaning or make repairs, but it could save you quite a bit.
The Bottom Line: Base Cost Of A Camping Trip
So, how much does camping cost? As you can see, the answer varies depending on your preferences and what you already have available.
It remains one of the most cost-effective ways to travel, though it’s easy to splurge on gadgets.
The bottom line is that a group of four could expect to camp for a week for around $600 on the low end.
However, that same party could invest several thousand dollars if they wanted to. It helps to share the cost and pool your gear, food, and necessities.
image license: Freepik