25 Great Thrifty Camping Ideas ( save money and time )

thrift money

Want to go on a big adventure, but you only have a small budget? No problem! Camping does not have to be costly or stressful. All you need is an imagination and the dollar store!

Today, we are going to help you save money, space, and time so you can focus on making memories for years to come.

So what are 25 thrifty camping ideas? Here’s what we will cover.

Here are the 25 ideas we will cover.

  1. Buy used gear or borrow from a friend.

  2. Bring reusable items.

  3. Choose a nearby campgrounds or camp in your backyard

  4. Find free camping activities

  5. Bring your own fun!

  6. Plan meals ahead of time.

  7. Look for your packing supplies at the dollar store first.

  8. Squeeze out some of your toiletries into portable bottles.

  9. Pack basic first aid supplies in an old medicine bottle or tin can!

  10. Buy waterproof matches.

  11. Duct tape is useful for just about any obstacle you face while camping.

  12. Make sleeping more comfortable with a little padding on the floor of your tent.

  13. Put toothpaste in single-serve packets!

  14. Camp with a group.

  15. Bring a cooler and keep it in the shade

  16. Bring things you already have.

  17. One of the handiest things you could have on your person is a nice, big backpack with lots of pockets.

  18. Bring some sage and throw it on the campfire. It keeps bugs away.

  19.  Bring a tarp

  20. Bring your own mattress or an air mattress to use instead of a sleeping bag!

  21. Solar powered chargers.

  22. Some cheap and easy food ideas

  23. Carefully decide what is worth splurging on.

  24. Make your own souvenirs.

  25. But wait, there’s more!

Keep reading to get all the details for each of these tips.

1. Buy used gear or borrow from a friend.

New camping equipment is often expensive, and if you are not planning to camp fairly regularly, what is the point of spending a lot of dough for your tent to gather dust in your garage? You can have just as much fun buying gently used gear!

You can find good quality tents, sleeping bags, etc. on Craigslist, local outdoor sales, or a website specifically for this purpose called Gear Trade!

If your budget is even tighter than that or your trip is a one-time thing, ask to borrow items from an outdoorsy friend.

Make sure you treat it well and give it back when you are done. In the future, if you decide to camp again, I’m sure your friends would be happy to lend the gear to you once more!

2. Bring reusable items.

Buying disposable items like paper plates, plastic cutlery, and single-use water bottles is both more expensive and worse for the environment. Investing in portable and durable dinnerware and a good reusable bottle will save you a lot of money in the long run!

Check out these camping plate sets, and pick out a sturdy water bottle from this ranked list from Mashable!

3. Choose a nearby campsite or camp in your own backyard.

If you are dead set on going cross-country, that’s your choice. However, picking a site close by will prevent having to pay hundreds of dollars in gas alone.

Would you rather be closer to home with more disposable income for emergencies and fun activities, or would you be broke and far from familiar territory? You could also camp in your own yard!

Sure, you won’t exactly be venturing to new lands, but if you forget anything, you can just run inside! The bathrooms are clean, too. No wait, no fuss, no packing.

4. Search ahead of time for free activities!

It is possible to have fun on a tight budget. There are activities held at some sites, and the areas around you likely have parks, playgrounds, pools, etc.

Hiking trails are also fun; you get a free workout and fresh air at the same time. That is something you won’t find at your local gym.

You also won’t be stared at and judged by that treadmill maniac next to you! I don’t know about you, but I consider that a major bonus. I mean, unless you happen to be that person. In that case, don’t judge the other hikers too harshly!

5. Bring your own fun!

If you have board games, a frisbee, or chalk, you can play with the whole group! You can find any of the items as mentioned above at a dollar store near you.

If you want to make up your own games, try putting together a scavenger hunt with small prizes for the winners.

Really, though, chalk isn’t just for kids. You would be surprised at how much fun hopscotch is as an adult. Go on and let your inner child come out to play!

6. Plan meals ahead of time.

Cooking over a campfire can be quite easy! All you have to do is be prepared. When you bring your ingredients and plan meals, you will be less likely to leave camp and spend money on fast food.

Save that for the trip home! If you think you’ll feel a bit peckish before mealtimes, bring along some nonperishable snacks.

I would recommend bringing small packets of snacks for individuals instead of giant tubs. It is more practical and way more portable! We’ll go over some meal ideas in depth later on, so stick around.

7. Look for your packing supplies at the dollar store first.

We tend to think that affordable products are always bad quality. It simply is not true. Yes, some products are pretty sketchy and should probably be passed over, but people seriously overlook the amazing products that work just as well as their name brand counterparts.

But which list items are safe? Always check the labels for any ingredients you may be allergic to, but several are just fine for the average person!

Sunscreen, aloe vera gel, and votive candles are commonly found for several dollars cheaper in discount stores. If you have a Dollar Tree in your area, go check it out!

Everything is a dollar; yeah, really. If you don’t have anything like that in your area, just go to the nearest supermarket and buy the generic, store brand instead of big names like Banana Boat or Coppertone.

8. Squeeze out some of your toiletries into portable bottles.

You save space in your suitcase, and if you love miniature versions of things like I do, you’ll just think it’s cute! Slap a label on those babies so you won’t confuse your body wash and shampoo; you are good to go!

These can be found in most dollar stores and your local WalMart or Target. The bottles are usually under a dollar, and some come with the product already in them.

I recommend grabbing a mini dry shampoo for those too-hot days when washing your hair seems pointless because you’ll just get dirty again before bed.

9. Pack basic first aid supplies in an old medicine bottle or tin can!

Altoids containers are generally considered best for the job. Your bandages, mini Neosporin, and disinfectant wipes will be safe.

Waterproof bandages may be your best bet if you are camping near a body of water. You don’t want to run out too soon! Just be sure to keep your kit on you at all times.

Now you have space for the extra underwear you should pack. You know, just in case you ate a bad hot dog or something.

10. Buy waterproof matches.

They aren’t expensive, and you lessen your chances of ruining them because you got caught in the rain. For added protection, seal them in a small, airtight container. You can slap sandpaper onto the lid for easy striking. Buy a box of ten on Amazon for less than $6!

11. Duct tape is useful for just about any obstacle you face while camping.

The possibilities really are nearly endless; there was a whole Mythbusters episode about it! You can even build a raft with it if you are just that desperate.

Check out the episode for more ideas. Does your tent have a hole? Patch it with duct tape. Did you break your weenie-roasting stick? Duct tape. Just make sure you don’t hold your patched up stick too close to the fire or leave the tape roll out in the heat. The adhesive tends to get gooey after a while.

12. Make sleeping more comfortable with a little padding on the floor of your tent.

A sleeping bag can only do so much. Remember those little foam blocks that formed a puzzle when put together for children? If you can’t recall, here is a picture and a place to buy it. Put those together and set them down; voila! Sleeping just got a lot easier.

13. Put toothpaste in single-serve packets!

Take simple straws, cut them into pieces, close one end with flame, and put in the toothpaste. Once you are finished, close the other end.

Now you won’t have to worry about the sticky mess getting everywhere or losing the cap. Again, it is a major space saver.

Bring a small pair of scissors to cut the end open again. I imagine that squeezing the straw itself would result in disaster.

14. Camp with a group.

The more friends and family you bring, the cheaper the cost of the trip will be. Instead of shouldering everything yourself, you can split the cost of the campsite admission between all of you.

You can save even more if you can manage to carpool together! Pass this list around, and I am sure they’ll pack lighter. Problem solved!

15. Bring a cooler and keep it in the shade

Maybe under a tarp or gazebo. Keeping it out of the sun is beneficial because the ice will not melt as fast.

Who wants warm sodas? Not me. A hot cooler can be dangerous, too, if you bring perishable foods to munch on.

Spoiled or rotten items are a waste of money and precious cooler real estate.

16. Bring things you already have.

Why buy anything if you already have a perfectly good version of it in your own home? You do not need a fancy towel when you have them in your closet already.

I know you want that high-end cooler you saw online, but the one from the garage works just as well. After all, you are here to try and save money as much as possible.

Only buy things if it can save money and space or the items are durable. Inspect everything before leaving and make sure the items are all in working condition.

You would not want to bring along a sleeping bag with holes in it; what good would that do?

17. One of the handiest things you could have on your person is a nice, big backpack with lots of pockets.

If you go hiking or wander away from base camp for a little while, you do not want to find yourself toting everything you need around in your arms. Mobile storage is a must-have. “What should I put in my pack?” you ask.

I’m glad you asked. Sunscreen, towels, water, mobile devices, a charger, snacks, a first aid kit, and extra shoes could never hurt! Anything else is entirely up to your needs and where you may be headed.

18. Bring some sage and throw it on the campfire.

It keeps bugs away, and it smells pretty nice! (It also keeps the ghosts away, if you believe in that sort of thing.) Wondering where you can get some sage aside from the nearest occult store?

Apparently, you can buy it on Amazon, of all things! Of course, supermarkets may have it, but it’ll be ground down into dust most of the time.

If you’re feeling crafty, you can also create your own bug repellant with peppermint oil and water. Bugs hate the stuff, but it smells just like Christmas. Ahh, refreshing!

shade tarp

19. Bring a tarp

If it gets rained on, all of your wood is useless. Use a tarp to keep your wood dry. Tarps can be useful for more than just that, though.

You can string up a little lean-to against a tree for a shady place to sit down during the day.

Make your own slip and slide by laying it on the ground and pouring some dish soap and water over it! If nothing else, a tarp can provide a dry place to lie at night while stargazing. It will not soak up mud or water like a blanket would, either!

20. Bring your own mattress or an air mattress to use in lieu of a sleeping bag!

It’s already lying around; if you have the space to pack it, why not? You saved so much space with the other life hacks already! Remember, though, that air mattresses are heavier and require a pump to work.

If you don’t want to deal with the hassle, a regular, run-of-the-mill mattress is a better option. Another cool glamping idea is to bring your coziest, comfiest blanket from home. I personally enjoy fleece throws.

21. Solar powered chargers.

Solar-powered chargers are always a great option, and they are usually quite affordable! You don’t have to spend a ton of money on batteries.

You could also power an electric charger up before you leave home and use it sparingly.

As for music, you could buy a cheap speaker or just bring a battery-powered radio!

You know, those really old ones that kids don’t know anything about today. You don’t have to sacrifice your tech!

22. Some cheap and easy food ideas

meat jerky: packets of these can generally be found in supermarkets and convenience stores near you; some are relatively inexpensive!

mixed nuts: nuts are a great source of protein, giving you the energy you need to get through the day.

granola bars: these come in a wide variety of flavors and are sold in most grocery stores.

hot dogs: this is one of the staples of camping food, affordable and easy to make; just impale it with a stick and roast over the fire.

s’mores: another longtime camping favorite; three ingredients, quick to make, and the perfect dessert!

23. Carefully decide what is worth splurging on.

What are your specific needs? Maybe you are camping in a colder climate. In that case, you shouldn’t scrimp and save on a good coat, a windproof tent, or a thicker sleeping bag.

You can be a savvy shopper without forgoing your biggest needs. Instead of using a ratty old jacket, buy yourself a new one and lower the budget for extra luxuries like high-end hammocks and lawn chairs.

If you plan to hike, get a sturdy pair of hiking boots and buy a cheaper backpack. You see? Budgeting properly isn’t so difficult when you plan ahead for what you really need to be in new condition.

24. Make your own souvenirs.

Wherever you camp, you may be tempted to bring home something to commemorate your trip.

Why buy anything when you can make your own? Make flower or leaf pressings and imprints, make your own rock pet with some googly eyes and a marker, or bring a cheap disposable camera to have developed later and put in an album.

Budgeting for overpriced magnets is silly unless that happens to be your family tradition. Like I said before, budget wisely and consider whether you really need it or not.

25. But wait, there’s more!

There are little things that you do not tend to think about, typically, while packing.

What do you do if your clothes get wet? Simple! String up a clothesline with some twine and clothespins.

What if there is no cell reception? Walkie-talkies! There’s a reason they have been around for such a long time — they’re dependable!

Zip ties are the next best thing after duct tape. You can use them for just about anything you need to be pieced together.

The only downside is that they are so hard to break. Bring scissors!

Additional firestarters for campfires that you can find around the house are lint, newspapers, cardboard, and wax

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Rickie Arms

Hi, I'm Rickie Arms, owner of Glampingorcamping.com. I am so invested in writing the best and most informative articles for you that I went out and bought a travel trailer just so I could write about it for you. I spend just about all of my off time both camping and glamping so I can share everything I have learned and will learn with you. I have spent my whole life camping and over the last 10 years, I have spent a large amount of time checking out glamping experiences with my wife and kids as well. Thank you for coming by and we hope to see you back here getting great information in the future. Rick Arms-

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