Camping on a Budget

Camping on a Budget

With a Summer of high gas prices and inflation, many outdoor enthusiasts have had to tighten their packs to maintain their status quo. For those of us who already have gear, that is one barrier to entry that's already been passed. However, for those who are just starting out, or may need to replace some components of their gear, this can be difficult given the current circumstances. You don't always need to drive across state borders, have the top of the line gear, or even a reservation to get out there. Often times we look to take a trip further away from home, and while the physical distance creates an air of separation from your day to day life, you may be missing out on some great experiences closer to home. Taking a weekend or day trip to a local park or camping site is a great way to get a similar experience, while saving you some money on travel and supplies. 

Being a Massachusetts resident, my outdoor excursions frequently see me visiting the surrounding greener states - Vermont, New Hampshire, and Upstate New York. All of these are a several hour drive, meaning I'll need to fill the tank of my SUV at least two or three times, if not more. For a weekend trip, those costs can quickly add up. Couple that with accommodation expenses, whether that be a rented cabin or a traditional campsite, those costs can add up quickly. Part of the outdoor experience is embracing the minimalism that comes with it, so taking away some of my other usual supplies is another great way to cut costs. Things that I normally always bring, such as a camp stove, can be removed, saving the cost of the butane fuel it operates on. If you don't have one of these, you can get by on a weekend trip without one no problem. Cooking over an open fire may be a bit more challenging if you're not accustomed to it, but many state camp sites will include a grill that either goes over your fire pit, or as a standalone piece on the camp site. 

When it comes to food, bringing fresh ingredients in a cooler is much cheaper than relying on pre-prepared food items that backpackers and campers may normally pack. Where a single meal may cost upwards of $10 for backpacking food, you can prepare a meal at a fraction of that cost with traditional ingredients you might keep at home. For example, a half dozen eggs costs only a few dollars, allowing you to make several meals with them. On the contrary, egg powders that have a long shelf life will triple the cost for the same number of servings. While backpacking foods are incredibly compact and convenient, those features come at the extra monetary expense, and for weekend campers, don't provide any benefits over fresh produce. You can also prepare items like kebabs for easy cooking over an open fire. Even without any additional equipment, you can simply push some of the fire away to reveal embers, giving you a place to set a cast iron or other pan down to cook. If you do this, make sure you have a towel to grab the pan, as it will heat up considerably fast, and cast iron is known to hold heat for quite a while.

Whether it's a State or National Park you're looking to spend a weekend at, most of them will have campsites for lower than $20 per night. More popular sites will charge more, and this is another reason why local places may be hidden gems. Of course, a camp site doesn't provide a roof over your head, it's simply a small plot of land you are paying to pitch your tent over. If you already have a tent, then this portion is already done and you can get to camping! For those who don't have a tent, there are several different ways to make up for this. While you can find some tents for relatively cheap prices, you can also make due with a tarp, rope, and poles or sticks you can find around your campsite. If you're comfortable with sleeping outside, a simple lean to, attached to your car, is a great way to set up a quick and simple shelter that will keep you dry. You can of course also just use your car itself, as it's a solid piece of shelter already, but you may want to consider putting the seats down and cracking some windows if you'll be spending the nights in there. Certain areas do allow open camping, meaning if you can find an area that suits it, you can set up camp at no additional cost. This does vary by location, so be sure to check the laws around your destination to see if this is something that is allowed. 

Instead of a sleeping bag, you can simply bring some blankets and pillows, especially if you'll be using your car as your shelter for the weekend. If you are looking to be sleeping under the stars, some other common household items like a yoga mat are a good replacement for a sleeping mat. Anything you can bring to provide some separation from the ground will help, with blankets and pillows being how you will actually sleep. Some of us may be alright with sleeping completely in the open, but for many, some form of shelter adds a much desired level of comfort. During warmer months you may not need a tent to stay warm, especially if there is no rain in the forecast to worry about. However, keep in mind that nights are colder in the woods, so extra layers might be needed even during the summer. 

You especially don't need to rely on planned or organized excursions to occupy your time. While those can be extremely fun, they almost always come at an additional expense. Some of those excursions can come at a relatively low cost, such as kayaking if that is available. Otherwise, a few hikes or some time swimming at a local watering hole is a great way to occupy your time. If you're able to bring some bikes along, many of these parks have bike trails as well. There's also nothing wrong with simply relaxing at your camp site, practicing your outdoor crafts, reading, or just generally lounging to enjoy the sights and sounds. One of the best things about these types of trips is that you can go at your own pace and leisure. 

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