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How To Plan An Inexpensive Camping Trip

Updated on October 19, 2014

Beautiful state park, lots of wilderness trails to hike and ride horses

Our annual Spooktacular Vintage Trailer and Teardrop Rally is held here in October. Each year we pack up and head out for the weekend. Each year it seemed to get more expensive but we really didn't look at why. We have camped for all our lives so it should have been obvious. We made it more expensive by being lazy.

And...By the way, across the street from the entrance to the park is a shopping center. When we started the rally, it wasn't there but now that it's there, it's terribly convenient and expensive. It's expensive because we have double purchased just about every piece of equipment we inadvertently left at home.

In the last few years, they also added an In-N-Out. If you don't know what that is, it's a hamburger joint that started in California in 1948 and I have been eating there all my life. They have finally made their way into Arizona. It's easy to spend extra money eating there while we are camping,

Catalina State Park, Tucson, Arizona

Camping at Catalina State Park, Tucson, Arizona
Camping at Catalina State Park, Tucson, Arizona | Source

Pack with a list

What is a camping list? It is a detailed itemized list of all the camping supplies needed for your trip. It covers the obvious, like a tent but also lists things like clothespins and salt. Why is it necessary? Preparing a camping list is one of the most important things that campers can do to insure that they do not buy that third coffee pot when the other two were left at home. It is also important to remember items that were brought into the house from the last trip but did not make it back into the camping supplies. Having a list makes packing interactive, as each item has to be physically checked off as it is packed.

A basic list should include the following items:


Shelter is a broad term so it should be broken down into individual items like the tent, stakes, ground cloth and a rug or mat. Everything is easy to overlook except the tent itself.


Blankets, sleeping bags, cots, pillow and other sleeping items need to be listed separately.

Cooking supplies

The camp stove should be on the list. Along with that, list whatever fuel that it uses. List the pots and pans individually. Make sure matches are on the list. Don't forget the basin for washing dishes and the heavy-duty aluminum foil.


Food does not mean that you list all the items you plan to eat. It is more important to remember condiments like salt and pepper, and ingredients for meals you plan to cook. Spaghetti is better when you pack the tomato sauce. While many campers buy food when they are ready to go, over purchasing pancake syrup is not cost effective. If you plan to pull it from the pantry, it needs to be on the list.

Toiletries and medications

Toiletries should include bath towels, soap, toilet paper, deodorant and dental floss. In this category, it is important to include medications.

Each camper creates their own list based on their packing habits. Some items do not fit into the above categories but need to be listed as well. No camper leaves home without duct tape or a hammer. Camping boxes contain zip-lock bags and citronella candles. Family games and toys need to be listed. A bicycle on the list seems almost silly until it is left at home, leaning against the tree. It is easy to forget lip balm, a mirror or the sewing kit when these items are not on the list.

A list also prevents over packing. When preparing the list, decide what items are important and what are not. A list makes duplicate items easy to spot. The good news is that it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel. Many websites have lists that are free to customize and print. "Fundamentals of Camping" has a comprehensive list and is full of information for campers. It doesn't matter if you create your own list or customize one from Internet, preparing a camping list makes packing more efficient.

Can Opener

EZ-DUZ-IT Deluxe Can Opener with Black Grips
EZ-DUZ-IT Deluxe Can Opener with Black Grips

I have at least five of these. One of the first things I do when putting together my camping list is to make sure "can opener" is on it.


My 1959 Dalton

Camping in the Dalton at Henry Cowell State Park
Camping in the Dalton at Henry Cowell State Park | Source

Meal planning to save money

Leaving meals to chance can turn an inexpensive camping trip into a costly experience. You have planned your trip down to the last detail, where you are going, what to take, what you want to see but not what you plan to eat. It is possible to spend an entire months food budget with careless planning. Saving money on food when camping requires the same attention to detail as the rest of the trip.

One of the most common mistakes campers make is shopping when they get to their destination. Buying that one-pound pancake mix at the store is costly when you already have one at home. Decide how much you need and put it into a smaller container with a lid. Many other foods used at home can be broken down into camping sizes and packed. This saves money on food and adds valuable space when packing.

Keeping food cold is another way to save money. Everyone has thrown out food that spoiled in the ice chest. Ice is not expensive but having to replenish it adds up. Before your next camping trip, make up a 1-gallon bottle with ice and salt. For a gallon of water, add one-quarter cup of salt. Freeze it, occasionally taking it out and shaking it to keep the salt from settling. Salt-water "brine" freezes at a lower temperature and keeps regular ice from melting. It is also a good way to insure that frozen items stay frozen. In fact, frozen meat stored in the ice chest with the salt water bottle and regular ice may not defrost in enough time for the evening meal.

If you are planning a camping trip, doubling a favorite meal will give you dinner tonight and one for your trip. Since you already have the ingredients, you save time and money. You simply freeze it in a bag that you can boil at the campsite or pour into a pan and reheat. With fewer ingredients to pack you have more room for other items.

Individual bottles of water are great but you can save money by buying the gallon bottles and actually using cups. Buy plastic cups with lids (BPA free) to keep creeping and flying insects out. Assign one to each person. Kids love canteens so fill theirs up with water too. They will stay hydrated while you save money and send less plastic to the landfill.

Families with kids can save money and have fun letting the kids cook hot dogs over the fire. Skewers made for this kind of cooking are not expensive and should be part of the camping supplies. There is nothing more exciting for the kids then letting them cook their own meal. Even picky eaters will eat camp food that they cooked themselves.

Sitting at the picnic table enjoying a meal, knowing that you did not break the bank, makes the food even tastier. Saving money on food while camping requires planning but then, you had already planned your trip. Adding food to the planning is just another step for that perfect camping trip.

Setting up the smaller tent at Catalina State Park

Camping at Catalina State Park, Tucson, Arizona
Camping at Catalina State Park, Tucson, Arizona | Source

Catalina State Park, Spooktacular Rally, the weekend before Halloween

Visitors are welcomed at our rally. Come see us.

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