Although camping is a frugal way to spend the warm months, between gear, entrance fees and supplies, costs can add up quickly if you aren't careful! My family used to pay about $300 to go camping — and that was just for one trip! But you don't have to give up on the great outdoors — there are lots of ways that you can save money on your next family camping adventure.
How to Save on Gear
1. Use GearTrade
Gear Trade is a site where you can buy and sell all kinds of outdoor gear. It's kind of like eBay for the adventurer. After you sign up, you can search through their extensive list of camping gear. Use their search function to look for a particular item or click on one of the category tabs on the left to narrow down your search. I found a two-person Lightening HT Tent for $97.50. The original retail price was $299.90 — that's 67 percent off! If you don't like the price, you can always click the "Make the Seller an Offer" button to try to negotiate a better deal.
2. Act Fast!
Use a lightning deal site like Steep and Cheap to claim amazing deals on all kinds of camping equipment. Steep and Cheap is a site where one hot deal is posted at a time on their homepage. Prices are normally at least 50 percent off, and shipping rates are reasonable. But what's the catch? The deals are only posted for a limited amount of time (think seven minutes or less!) You have to act fast to claim the deal because once it's gone, it's gone. Deals are sometimes hit or miss, so it's best to check back all day long. However, they do have a daily newsletter that gives you clues as to what you will find for sale on their site that day (you are subscribed to this newsletter when you sign up). Just one example of an awesome deal: I spotted an ALPS Mountaineering Double Wide Sleeping Bag for $79.99. The retail price is $189.99 — that's a savings of 58 percent!
3. Join the Clymb
The Clymb is a daily deal site that sells all kinds of discounted camping gear — from outdoor clothing to tents. I once scored a $100 Sierra Designs Kids' Dragonfly sleeping bag for $65! Shipping is reasonable, but they will waive the shipping charges if you buy a piece of Clymb-branded merchandise. Be sure to click on the "Today's Sales" tab to see what hot deals they are offering. The Clymb is an invite-only site, but you can use the link provided to sign up.
How to Save on Entrance Fees
1. Join a Discount Camping Club
There are several camping clubs that offer deep discounts on all kinds of camping-related fees like campground nightly rates and outdoor supplies. For instance, Passport America offers 50 percent off affiliated campground rates (click on the "campgrounds" tab on the top of the page to see what campgrounds are included before you join — but there are tons!). Membership does cost $44 a year, but this is a great deal if you are an avid camper. Just consider the savings: it costs about $20 a night to camp at my favorite campground — that means the membership pays for itself in about two visits! Good Sam RV Club memberships start at $17 a year and include 10 percent discounts at Good Sam RV Parks & Campgrounds — plus savings on things like camping supplies and fuel.
2. Sign Up for a Deal-of-the-Day Website
We all know that Groupon and Living Social are awesome for scoring deals on restaurants and yoga classes, but did you know that they sometimes offer half-price deals on campground entrance fees and outdoor stores? For example, I scored a $25 for $50 certificate for an outdoor store in my hometown just last month. Although deals change daily, you can get some awesome camping discounts if you pay attention.
3. Check for Free Nights
Some campgrounds actually offer free nights. For example, KOA often celebrates special events by offering buy one night, get one free at select campgrounds. Take advantage of KOA's Father's Day Weekend special where kids camp for free at KOA campgrounds on Father's Day weekend. Deals like these happen throughout the entire year, so be sure to check back on their site often. Don't have a KOA campground close to you? Just Google "free camping" or "discount camping" and your state to find campground deals in your area.
How to Save on Supplies
Rather than spend tons of money on camping supplies, consider using recycled goods on your trip! For example:
- Stuff empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls with dryer lint instead of buying a fire starter kit for $15 or more. Not only will these little guys help start a fire — they are free!
- Use empty soda pop bottles to store soaps, detergents and other camping goodies rather than buying special containers.
- Make your own camping first aid kit by putting Band-Aids, tweezers, antibiotic ointment and acetaminophen in an old Altoids tin instead of buying a $20 camping first aid kit.
- Store your spices in empty Tic Tac containers.
- Swab a cotton ball with petroleum jelly and wrap the ball in aluminum foil, leaving a bit of the cotton sticking out at the top to use as a wick. This little fireball will burn like a candle for a couple of minutes, or you can use it to start a fire.
2. Be Water Smart
It's easy to go through tons of water on a camping trip — especially in the summer months when it's hot! Instead of spending $5 or more on a pack of bottled water, fill up several clean gallon-sized milk jugs (or whatever containers you have around the house) with tap water from home. You can use this water for drinking, hand washing, rinsing dishes, cooking or even dousing your campfire. Not only is this a good way to protect the environment, it’s free!
3. Don't Let Your Perishables Spoil!
I hate buying ice. It might not sound so bad to fork over $3 for a 20-pound bag — but the cost really adds up when you have to constantly replace the ice that melts while you’re camping. But you don't have to let your original bag go to waste! Extend the shelf-life of your ice by mixing one gallon of water with 1/4 cup of salt before your camping trip. Pour the mixture into a gallon-sized bottle and freeze until solid (shake the container every twenty minutes or so to keep the ice from settling in one place as it’s freezing). Place the frozen bottle in your ice chest along with your ice when you go camping. Because the salt water brine freezes at a lower temperature, it will prevent your regular ice from melting as fast. With this method, my ice lasted the entire weekend!