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Camping on a Budget 
by Tracy Bolton Jones June 10, 2005

Camping is a great hobby, with entire stores devoted to selling camping equipment. But the sport doesn’t have to be expensive – frequent yard sales, thrift stores and used sporting goods stores to build your camping cache, then get out there and enjoy the great outdoors!

There’s no need to break the bank when you want to start camping. With a few tips, and a watchful eye, camping can be a great, inexpensive and regular getaway.

The Basics

First, you’ll need a tent. Determine the size you need based on the number of people who will be camping, then determine the climate you’ll be camping in most – if it is a warmer area, the tent can be of a cheaper variety, because you don’t need it as much for warmth. If in the colder climates, make sure you get a quality tent that holds heat in and cold out on frigid winter nights. Get a tarp or ground cloth to place under the tent before you set up; it will protect the tent floor. Be sure to take a hammer with a claw – it can be used for putting in and taking out the tent stakes.

Sleeping bags increase the warmth factor. Again, use your locale as determining the type of sleeping bag you need. Pick up some extra blankets at garage sales (for a dollar or two each), and designate them as “camping” blankets. Use these on the interior floor of the tent for extra padding, and as extra cover as needed.

Cooking equipment – a coffee pot doubles as water boiler; a fry pan doubles as a baking dish. The blue or black speckled metal camping dishes can be found in most retail stores with a hunting/camping/fishing section, but they can also be found for a song at garage sales and thrift stores. I bought an entire set with frying pan, coffee pot, basic cooking pot, 4 pie plates, 4 regular plates, 4 bowls and 4 cups for only $20 at a used sporting goods store, and am still using it 6 years later! Add a bowl for mixing, along with cooking and eating utensils, and an oven mitt and your basic kitchen is complete.

I also recently requested and received a cast iron Dutch oven as a gift – these are great for soups, stews, and fish fries. Again, they can be found for a bargain if you look. Be sure to get one with feet, you can set the whole pot directly into the fire to cook.

The basic pot or a cheap plastic bucket works well for a dishpan to wash dishes and serves as a carrier for your cooking equipment. Include a cooler in your camping gear to keep your food safe and cold.

A camping grill is another item we use regularly. It folds completely flat when not in use, and opens up to fit right on top of our campfire. It’s big enough to grill burgers and steaks or to cook breakfast with the frying pan, pot and coffee pot all at once.

Matches are another necessity, enclosed in a zip-top bag to keep them dry. Check with the campground where you plan to stay – they may give or sell firewood or allow firewood to be gathered around the campground. If they sell firewood, it may be cheaper to take your own, either from your own wood pile, or from a local near the campground that will sell you a box or wheelbarrow full inexpensively.

There are numerous lists and books of suggested equipment to take camping, but I prefer to camp by the old axiom “KISS” – keep it simple stupid! You can add or subtract to the basic list over the years, a little at a time with items you find a necessity.

To me, another necessity is fishing gear, but I love to fish and we usually camp on a lake or river. With this gear, I also keep it simple: one or two fishing pole sets, and one medium-sized tackle box that holds everything I might need (needle nose pliers, nail clippers, fish string, lures, hooks and corks). I pick up fresh bait when I get to my destination.

Put together a basic first aid kit – a medium-sized bag (purse, athletic or luggage) or a small tackle box work equally well for this. Add bandages, sterile wipes or a bottle of alcohol, peroxide, gauze bandages, wooden sticks to be used for splints, antibiotic ointment, an anti-itch medicine and an antihistamine will provide for most of your needs.


Determine ahead of time what kind of camping experience you wish to have. There are campgrounds that provide every amenity possible, while others are very basic. Let the destination determine your needs. Some of the best camping experiences I’ve had were in a campground with nothing to offer other than a nearby bath house and a lake. We were able to completely relax, depend on ourselves to create entertainment if needed, and truly enjoy the nature surrounding us.

Primitive camping is also an option. These areas allow you to hike and place your tent, but provide nothing else – no bathrooms, water or electric. Also, if you are hiking in to your site, you’ll want to limit the gear you take – that backpack gets heavy after a few hours of hauling it on your back!

The fewer amenities the campground provides usually means the less they charge for the campsite. National and state parks are the exception to that rule; these parks sometimes offer many amenities, yet their prices are usually lower than most privately-owned campgrounds.


There are certain foods that are naturally camping-friendly. Most of these foods are part of your regular routine, so just raid your pantry when you get ready to camp. Hamburgers, hot dogs, bacon, eggs, peanut butter and marshmallows are always good camping staples. Hot dogs and marshmallows can be cooked over the campfire with an ordinary stick. Cheap pouches of muffin mix make wonderful coffee cakes – just mix together and pour into one of the pie plates (greased or buttered). Cover with another pie plate and put on the campfire grill.

Remember, the simpler the food is to cook, the more time you’ll spend relaxing, rather than cooking!

Personal items

Be sure to take your regular toiletry items and other personal items you might need or want. (But leave the air conditioner, microwave and dishwasher at home!) Deodorants, toothpaste, toothbrush, feminine hygiene, soaps – put these together in a camping kit and take them with you on each trip. By setting these aside as part of your camping gear, you’ll not have to pack and unpack them each time – and it’s less likely you’ll forget them!

Camping is a great activity for the whole family and does not have to be expensive. Remember the purpose is to get away from the daily routine and get outside!


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