Readers Share Frugal Camping Tips

I asked you to share your camping tips and tricks last summer in What Do I Need to Know About Camping? And after almost a year of planning, our camping trip is finally here!

With some very helpful suggestions on what you spend money on and what things to skimp on, we have the car packed and we’re off on our first family camping adventure.

Many of you who are familiar with our area asked about where we’re headed. We’re going to Point Beach on Lake Michigan. It’s where I camped as a kid, so I’m hoping my kids will develop some of the same fond memories.

Frugal Camping Tips

  1. Camping Checklist. For car camping, just get a decent tent, an ice cooler (Coleman), a decent stove (again Coleman), decent sleeping bags and **(air) mattresses**, lantern and flashlights, some cooking gear and plastic storage containers, water container, bucket, and you’re good to go. You can probably get most of it at Costco and Wal-Mart or the local sporting goods store. Whatever you forget you can pick up later. Don’t forget those little luxuries like folding chairs and a portable fishing rod. – Garry
  2. Get a Tarp. In case it rains, to have under your tent, and one for the top, just to be safe. The last thing you want is to be wet. And I think you need to dig a ditch around the tent for the same reason, but I don’t know how that works. – Ifi
  3. Buy Local Firewood. Before you go, find someone in the area near your campgrounds who sells fire wood. Unload your vehicle at the camp site and then pick up the wood. Typically it will cost between $40 and $50 for a 1/2 a face cord, which will be more than enough for a three day camping weekend. You can save about $50 doing it this way over buying the bundles of wood from the campground. – Kenny
  4. Shopping for the Tent. We bought a tent a month and a half ago from Amazon. It was a very roomy two person tent, easy to set up, and well rated there. – Richard
  5. Camping Stove Fuel. You don’t need high grade fuel canisters to cook food. Propanes will suffice! Only time you’d need butane or high end fuel is if you were backpacking or in really high altitude. – by Paul
  6. Washing Dishes. My husband and I LOVE to go camping; make a bottle of soapy water that you can squeeze out and use to wash/rinse dishes off–it will really come in handy. – Amanda
  7. Food Checklist. I would go with a small charcoal grill for cooking out, and then just get hot dogs for the kids, as they usually last better in the cooler than other meats. Plus, you can grill fish if you plan to go fishing, and get fruits that will last without refrigeration as well for snacks. Don’t forget marshmallows as well, no camping trip is complete without roasting marshmallows. – Max
  8. Camping Recipes. We had wonderful camping meals! If you are not familiar with cooking over a campfire bring a stove for sure, and a cooler with ice to keep fresh food fresh. Some light preparation ahead of time is needed but then you can still eat yummy food. Here are what we ate:
    • Chicken wings & rosemary infused oil + red potatoes in aluminum foil pouches over campfire
    • Scrambled eggs with fresh herbs from our garden on the stove
    • Baked Potato Soup – roux was made ahead of time, then add some campfire roasted potatoes, and crispy bacon bits
    • Ribeye Steaks & Bacon fat roasted shredded cabbage in an aluminum foil pouch over the campfire
    • Freshly made Guacamole & chips


  9. Tips for Camping with Toddlers. Two nights of camping is probably the most I would do with kids. It’s a lot of work! I would bring a pot to boil water over the stove or fire so you can be sure to clean your sippy cups/bottles – we were stuck using cold water, and that made me nervous. Don’t forget dishsoap! Never can have enough wipes, papertowels, etc. You can find plastic tablecloths for the picnic tables, which is really nice with kids who don’t use plates yet. Also, pack light! We packed so much stuff we didn’t use – after 14 days of loading and unloading, that got old! We did use a pack n’ play for our son – not sure what your plans are for the baby. As kids, we always used cots. – Meagan
  10. And a Cardboard Box. My parents use to bring a giant cardboard box along to use as a play pen/play house for the kids. At the end of the trip we’d just burn it in the fire since it was pretty trashed already. Check for making camp site reservations! – Megan

Based on all the great tips, we got a Coleman 8-Person Dome Tent from Amazon, a Coleman Cooler from Costco, and sleeping bags from Walmart, all when they were on sale.

We borrowed a stove, lanterns, and cooking gear from our parents, and picked up a new portable grill at a garage sale. After picking up the rest of the miscellaneous items, I think our trip should only cost a couple hundred dollars (although I haven’t added it all up yet). However, since most of the items were a one time purchase, all of our camping trips after this one should be very cheap!

Now it’s time to hit the beach…

3 thoughts on “Readers Share Frugal Camping Tips

  1. The Wealthy Canadian

    Sounds like you’re well-equipped and did it without having to hurt the wallet too much either.

    Last year, I went camping and purchased a bunch of things, mostly inexpensive fishing gear, rubber boots, camping bag, etc.

    The only two items I couldn’t skimp out on were a knife and a flask for hard alocohol (it’s great if you get the chills or you get cold). I ended up buying a US Marine knife for like $100 or so but I felt very secure. I don’t know why, but with black bears and other animals in the woods, I couldn’t seem to be able to put a price on sanity.

    Nice post. It’s been a while since I’ve been back to your site. I love the revamped look and feel.

    I’m back in the bologosphere now after a hiatus with a new site but I really enjoyed reading your posts/threads on leveraging money from credit cards. Very interesting stuff.

    All the best,

  2. Pamela

    Hope you have a great trip!

    I didn’t grow up camping but wanted to do it as an adult. We bought all our equipment used at yard sales except the tent.

    My sleeping bag is actually wool lined and made by Abercrombie (back before he met Fitch and started selling thong underwear to little girls). 🙂

    It’s usually easy to find camping gear used. Apparently lots of people go out and spend money for gear, decide they don’t like it, and sell off all their stuff.

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