So Kacie asked me how camping compares cost-wise to staying in a hotel, once you take into account cost of equipment. I thought this was an interesting question, so I thought I’d research it.
I did the prices based on two people car camping with tents. By car camping, I mean that weight is not an issue because you will just be unloading it directly from your car to your campsite. I also determined “essentials” by our experience; everyone has different tastes as to what they’re willing to give up or not. You can see pictures and a description of our equipment here.
If you’re a first-time camper, I highly recommend camping with someone else. Then you can share some equipment, like the stove. Also, if you aren’t sure if you will enjoy camping, you can borrow equipment from friends or rent it from places like REI. This is an inexpensive way to figure out what equipment you like. These prices are all from Walmart and Target, which is where we got the majority of our camping stuff. You can always get better quality things if you find from experience it is worth it to you. For the conditions we camp in and amount of camping we do (about 5 weekends a year), then we’ve found the quality of these prices sufficient.
(After consulting with Paul and Jes, we decided these are probably the basics for a camping weekend.)
Tent – $33 for comfortable two-person tent (we have this one), $54 for two-room, four-person tent (Jes has this one)
Sleeping bags – $15 each; foam sleeping pads – $6 each (total: $42 for two people; we also sleep on top of another sleeping bag for added comfort)
OR air mattress – $30 (queen); sheets (from home); & pump ($10-$20 depending on the type of power, from hand-cranking to battery to a plug) (total: $40-$50)
Camp stove – $22 one-burner stove; $50 two-burner stove (we have the latter – I think the second burner really helps make meal prep go faster!)
Fuel for the stove – $3 propane canister (this will eventually be used up; I think maybe 1 or 2 canisters a season)
Cooler – $2 Styrofoam, $18 soft-sided, $25 hard 52 gallon
Folding camp chairs – $9 each (total: $18 for two people)
Firewood – $5 (you can buy this at the campground; you made need two bundles for the weekend)
Tarp – $10 (6ft x 8ft)
Rubber mallet – $2 (Jes says you can use a regular hammer, but Paul and I think the rubber helps keep the tent stakes from bending as much)
Lantern – $20 (LED – ours is big enough to light a picnic table)
Things you probably already have
These are things that you probably already have lying around, so wouldn’t really be an added cost.
Pillows (we use smaller throw pillows that are easier to pack)
Whisk broom & dustpan (for cleaning out the tent)
Utensils & dishes (we have some set aside just for camping – plastic is good)
Pots/pans (we have lighter, more compact pots/pans just for camping)
Dish soap, sponge & towel
Bucket or dishpan
Things that are nice to have
You don’t have to go barebones when you go camping! We think these things are worth the money and worth lugging around, and have slowly added these to our collection over the years. You can pick and choose from this list, or add your own.
Tablecloth – $3 (probably will only last one or two seasons, unless you get a better quality and therefore more expensive tablecloth)
Rope – $3 (for a clothesline or tying up a tarp if it rains)
Headlamp – $12 (we opted for headlamps instead of flashlights, and we love them) (total: $24 for two people)
Hatchet – $7 (for the campfire)
First aid kit – $15 (we got a good one for this price at REI; you can probably find other kits at Walmart or something for cheaper)
Camping cookware – $25 (pots and pans that are light and compact, and easier than packing up your nicer cookware from home)
Dishes and utensils – $15 (2-person camping set, with everything you need; or you can build your own with plastic plates, utensils, etc.)
OR paper plates and plastic utensils (I didn’t price these, but they will be used up with each trip. It makes cleanup easier, but is more wasteful.)
Camping coffee pot – $30 (for those who like coffee)
Tent repair kit – $10 (I’m guessing on the price… It might be cheaper)
There are all sorts of other things you can buy that fall in this category – just wander around REI! We have tried to keep our equipment to a minimum since we have a small car.
And of course the actual camping part:
State park campgrounds: $15-20/night for tent sites (more if you prefer a site with electricity hookup, usually intended for RV’s) (Total: $30-$40 for a weekend)
Parking passes: $5/weekend or $50/year (this is for Georgia – not sure if other states also charge a parking fee)
So the total costs…
Campground + basic equipment: $192-$282
Campground + basic equipment + “luxuries”: $324 – $459
To compare it to a weekend away staying at a hotel… It really depends on where you are going, but I think most hotels average $60-$80/night, and more if you stay in a city or tourist destination spot. You’d have to also factor in the cost differences of eating out for a weekend versus cooking all your own food (most likely, the former will be more expensive). Also keep in mind that almost all the equipment is a one-time cost. So, if you calculate 5 weekends away versus 5 stays at a hotel, then you’re talking $600-$800 on hotel costs, and $332-$462 for camping. If you do that for 5 years, then it works out to $3000-$4000 for hotels, and $500-$640 for camping (assuming you got all of the “luxuries” in that time). And that’s not even taking into account food costs (which would be cheaper for camping).
Other benefits to camping: I can’t lie – camping is a lot more work. There are a lot more things to carry back and forth to the car, set-up takes time and energy, and then you have to take it all down at the end of the weekend. Camping isn’t really “pampering” like hotels can be. However, I think it’s good for your body to get out and exercise. Camping also encourages hiking and a lot of walking. It gives you a better appreciation for the outdoor world that God created, and can help you see the needs for preserving that world.
Camping isn’t for everyone, of course. But I like to encourage everyone to try it or at least consider it. :-) As Savannah gets older, I’d like to write a post about camping with children. (Maybe Jes can share some advice on the subject?) Paul and I hope that our kids never know a time when they didn’t go camping!