Camping On A Budget by James L. Bruner
I can recall with much distinction numerous weekends of family camping trips where myself, my brother, and sister would more or less be turned loose on nature with a thumbs-up to explore and enjoy. For us camping wasn’t just a recreational event. It was like our annual vacation that lasted for the summer but we seldom went anywhere speaking in terms of miles traveled. For us kids that didn’t matter for in our eyes we were miles away from anything and our imaginations were our only restraint.
In the earliest days of camping we started out with your basics. A station-wagon full of food and a tent with some pillows and sleeping bags. Of course we always brought our fishing poles along but beyond the immediate basics we were about as plain with our camping trips as one could get with a family of five. We often camped at areas that were well off the beaten path but nearly always had some connection with water where we could fish and swim. This was a fairly far cry from our last years of camping that entailed a camper, a boat, dirt bikes, pedal bikes, barbecue grills, a television and just about anything else you needed to make you feel right at home in the outdoors. That has an ironic ring to it doesn’t it? Our camping areas also changed as we now followed the roads that led to more modern campsites so we could of course have access to electricity to run the television and whatever contraptions we also had that needed that buzz of humanity to work. In contrast the difference in progression was like night and day and it’s easy to spot the increase in expenses. Which brings me back to the beginning with the understanding to outline some steps to creating your own camping trips on a tight budget. After all, in today’s economic climate, people are looking to get back to the basics in many areas and camping is a great way to bring a family together for a weekend.
First things first here will be your shelter. Simple and basic a tent that will accommodate the trip. Think of your tent as your temporary home for the weekend. it needs to house all the members of your camping trip and as a general rule of thumb I suggest adding one person. For a five member family I would suggest a six person tent. While that may not sound like sticking to a budget, the price will be negligible especially if you run into bad weather and everyone is stranded in the tent for the day. That little extra room never hurts when you’re spending an afternoon inside playing cards until the weather clears. Most family tents are created in the cabin style while most two to three person tents are dome shaped. Some tents are divided into room for kids and adults or equipment. You really have a plethora of choices today and for the most part you can get a lot for your money. Personally I believe there are moments when you purchase a brand name item and other moments where you can buy a cheaper brand. If you are planning to taste camping for the first time be aware that you can pay $250 for a family tent in a cheaper brand and $600 for the same size tent from the more popular merchant. I would opt for the cheaper tent before jumping in all the way for something more extravagant. Most of your higher grade tents will be determined by the thickness of material used for the tent shell and the type of stitching both around the hardware areas and the stress points. All important factors for the avid camper but something that the beginning camper on a budget can bypass for the time being as long as you treat the tent with care.
Your next purchase would probably be your sleeping bags. Now here is actually an optional item and for the budget-minded camper there’s no reason your blankets from home aren’t going to be just as warm and comfortable as any sleeping bag. You can strike this one from your budget if you like right here but, if you want to go this route you don’t need to spend a lot of cash for a suitable sleeping bag. Determining factors will be the weather as most sleeping bags are rated for specific types of weather and have low temperature factors for their rating. You can also consider a two person sleeping bag system which will act as a bed for a couple. Typical of this style of sleeping bag is the inclusion of small pillows. It may sound like a small benefit but when you don’t have to lug your own pillows around it is a welcome addition. And you have the additional body heat with this style of sleeping bag which has it’s obvious points when the weather cools at night.
Now in all reality you could stop with the purchase of the tent if you;re willing to use your own blankets and pillows but one recommendation I would make is the use of a sleeping pad. I’m not talking an air bed or air mattress. Although they can be used they are often more expensive. I’m talking about a simple pad that you sleep on each night. For a cheaper model costing around $30 this means you aren’t sleeping on the cold hard ground but more importantly is you added a vapor barrier between you and the surface of the earth. This will make all the difference in your rest and the pad is relatively nothing to pack or carry along on the trip.
From here I’m leaving the options to you as they aren’t necessary. Lanterns, heaters, compasses, first aid, all might be things you will want on your trip and I would recommend some sort of first aid kit but as far as pricing and what you may need will be a personal choice. So we’ll move forward to finding a place to camp.
This is where the fun and often the work comes in. You have to realize that the general rule is the more amenities you require, or want, the more the overnight camping will be. Some campers demand running water and plumbing. Some campers are just fine with an outhouse and maybe a well to pump their own water. While others, possibly you on a tight budget, default for no extras because you want your camping for free and don’t mind a little extra legwork to get away from the seasonal crowds and the high-dollar campgrounds. Just be advised that if you’re venturing out for your first camping trip to a deserted area that you need to inform someone where you’re heading, make sure you have enough water, and realize you’ll be doing your daily personal business in the woods like the local critters.
Here’s some irony of sort for thought. From where I type at this moment I am two miles from a campground with running water, showers, a playground, and a nice beach. If I travel 6 miles in the opposite direction I find myself at another park. No running water. Just a well and a couple of outhouses. An eroding beach and a small playground are the highlights if you will at this park. Yet another 6 miles from that park is a main state park with everything you could want from outbuildings and cabins with fireplaces to a beach, groomed hiking trails, an office with munchies and of course running water with hot showers. Although I couldn’t quote the overnight price on each I can tell you it’s expensive even for the least modernized campground. But, head just a mile inland from this desk and you’re on state land with the option to camp nearly anywhere for free in several very large designated areas. You would have to trust me when I say if you’re willing to do a little walking you’re gong to find the quietest most relaxing little meadows nestled in the center of some of these huge mature growth forest stands. These areas practically beg the invite for a small tent and a couple of blankets. Not to mention the price is right and it’s highly likely you can find something similar to this in your areas with the help of your computer or some local inquiries.
So, if you were thinking that maybe a family camping trip was out of your budget’s reach, think again. With a basic tent and blankets, water, and oh yes, a few hotdogs and marshmallows, you can make one heck of an evening with the family around the campfire enjoying the starlit night realizing what matters most is sharing the great outdoors together.