Camp­ing prep 101

Five sur­vival strate­gies for hit­ting the great outdoors on a bud­get


Ex­plor­ing na­ture and sleeping un­der the stars can be viewed as an eco­nom­i­cal va­ca­tion. But buy­ing gear and book­ing camp­sites or rent­ing an RV can add up. With some cost-sav­ing strate­gies, camp­ing can fit a va­ri­ety of bud­gets, whether you’re plan­ning a car or RV camp­ing trip, or back­pack­ing. Try these tips to en­joy the outdoors free of tech­nol­ogy, traf­fic and a big tab.

1 Search for free camp­sites

Don’t un­plug just yet — be­fore you leave, put your phone to good use by find­ing a camp­site on sites like Cam­p­ or FreeCamp­ Many camp­grounds charge a nightly fee, but you’ll also find free camp­ing op­tions, says Brian Easter­ling, co-founder and pres­i­dent of Cam­p­endium, a camp­site re­view app and web­site. Cam­p­endium pro­vides in­for­ma­tion on more than 27,000 camp­sites (free and paid), in­clud­ing na­tional and state parks and RV parks. List­ings in­clude user re­views, fees, pho­tos, cell cov­er­age and other de­tails. Some sites have no nightly rate but may require a paid pass to gain ac­cess. Word to the wise: Free camp­sites don’t al­ways in­clude the ameni­ties of paid camp­grounds, says Kristin Ad­dis, CEO of Be My Travel Muse, a travel blog. If you choose a free site, lo­cate a place close by where you can clean up; Ad­dis says she’s paid for a shower at camp­grounds near free sites for less than the camp­grounds’ overnight fee.

2 Check the weather

Look up the fore­cast for your des­ti­na­tion, in­clud­ing nightly lows, says Ad­dis, who’s camped on every con­ti­nent ex­cept Antarc­tica and has learned the value of an in­su­lated sleeping bag. “The most im­por­tant thing is stay­ing warm and com­fort­able in your tent,” Ad­dis says. “So maybe the tent doesn’t need to be su­per fancy or ex­pen­sive, but I would maybe spend a bit more on your sleeping bag so you’re not freez­ing. The sleeping mat is im­por­tant, too, that it’s in­su­lated and keeps you enough off the ground (so) that you’re not get­ting bruised by rocks or roots.” In­vest­ing in good gear from the out­set — even if it’s ex­pen­sive — could save you money in the long run, rather than buy­ing some­thing that’s not quite right and hav­ing to re­place it later.

3 Travel with less

Travel light, says Tom Lion­vale, a back­pack­ing in­struc­tor and ad­junct fac­ulty mem­ber at Col­lege of the Se­quoias in Cal­i­for­nia. You don’t want too much to carry; 20 pounds (9 kg), not in­clud­ing food and wa­ter, is a good guide­line for back­pack­ing, he says. Even if you’re not back­pack­ing, camp­ing with less means pur­chas­ing less gear. For equip­ment deals, check out on­line sales. And don’t for­get about sea­sonal sales. You’ll tra­di­tion­ally find lower prices on out­door gear in October, the tail end of peak camp­ing sea­son. An­other cost-sav­ing op­tion: Con­sider rent­ing gear from an out­door equip­ment store, par­tic­u­larly if you’re new to the ex­pe­ri­ence. “Bor­row your equip­ment or rent your equip­ment be­cause maybe you won’t like it af­ter the first trip and then you’re stuck with all of that,” Lion­vale says.

4 Find a place to rest

Whether you’re camp­ing by car or RV, plan the route you’ll take and the stops you’ll make to and from your des­ti­na­tion.

If you’re trav­el­ling by RV, Easter­ling rec­om­mends look­ing for dump sta­tions for waste dis­posal ahead of time. If you’ll need to get some sleep along the jour­ney, search on­line for free overnight RV park­ing, such as at rest ar­eas and truck stops. Be sure to check lo­cal rules, since poli­cies on if and how long you can park can vary.

“If you’re go­ing on a road trip from San Fran­cisco and you want to get to the Grand Canyon, and you want to do it cheaply, uti­lize rest ar­eas and uti­lize free camp­sites for just your quick overnighters as you’re try­ing to make those miles with your fam­ily,” Easter­ling says.

5 Make your own rules

There are many ways to camp, so plan a trip that fits your bud­get. Skip the things you don’t need — like the lat­est cam­era if your smart­phone will do. “Any­thing goes,” Lion­vale says. “I’ve seen men and women with (First World War) army sur­plus do­ing a good job and hav­ing a good time, and I’ve seen men and women with ul­tra­light equip­ment hav­ing a mis­er­able time.”


If you’re look­ing for a place to pitch your tent for free, try Cam­p­ or FreeCamp­

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