cost of camping

cost of camping

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.

Camping essentials
(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
Bug spray

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!

10 thoughts on “cost of camping

  1. Chris and I camped for the first time this weekend, and we bought as little as possible to start – we weren’t sure we were the camping type :) All we bought was a tent and a lantern – we borrowed camp chairs and already had a small cooler and an airbed/pump. For food we went as simple as possible too – cold meals for breakfasts and lunch so we just cooked with the campfire for dinner – simple meals not requiring anything more than aluminum foil or roasting forks. It worked very well for our first time! If camping becomes a habit we decided we’d like a camp stove and tea kettle – just makes more sense than having a fire going all of the time.

    For us, I think the money savings is totally worth it. If we camp we can go on multiple weekend trips a year versus saving up for one hotel trip. It is a lot more work, esp in the packing stage, but it’s so relaxing sitting around the campfire roasting marshmallows.

  2. We built our own set of dishes and stuff from goodwill and walmart. Walmart often has summer plates/bowls/cups for $1 for a 4 pack. It made it really cheap for us. We also don’t have any special pots and pans, we bring some from home, that is one thing I keep thinking about getting though.

    I agree, although it’s more work it’s way more fun and a lot cheaper!!

  3. Thanks for this post! This is a really helpful breakdown. So your numbers were if you went out and bought the stuff, or is this rental costs?

  4. Oh this is all purchase cost. I don’t know the rental prices; I just wanted to mention that it could be an option for some people.

  5. Corinne: I didn’t think about that – but you definitely could plan your meals so you didn’t need a stove. If you’re in it for the long haul, it’s probably worth buying, but if you’re just trying it out, then you definitely could skip. To save on space we got freeze-dried food and skipped the cooler one time, but we decided it wasn’t really worth it.

    Jes: We got a lot of our camping equipment for our wedding, which is how we got the camping pots and pans. I like them because our pots/pans from home are really heavy and bulky.

    We also use dishes that we just pieced together ourselves. We have the $1 for four plastic plates, a set of utensils from a picnic basket, and we just drink out of water bottles and skip the cups. We don’t even bring bowls.

    As you can tell, cutting down on space and weight is somewhat important to us. :-)

  6. It seems like your camping totals for 5 years are a bit high. You multiplied the total costs for a weekend of camping ($332-462) by 5. But you’ve already paid for your equipment once — so after that you’d just need to pay campsite expenses.

    That makes the cost benefit even better!

    I’ve gotta admit — the camping equipment prices are a lot lower than I thought they’d be.

  7. I do want to say in regards to equipment… This is based on all the prices we’ve paid, and we’re entering our 4th camping season. Some of the cheaper equipment might not last 5 years. Also, you might find it worth paying more for something of better quality, like a better sleeping bag or something. (We got our sleeping bags as wedding gifts, and they were twice the price of the ones I quoted here. They’ll last us a good long while.) We’ve definitely bought things that we thought we needed, only to decide later that we didn’t like it or it wasn’t worth the space it took up. We are in the process right now of trying to refine our sleeping arrangements – I think we might look into some of those pads that backpackers use; it would really help space-wise not to bring all the extra padding we use. (We personally don’t care for air mattresses.) This kind of thing brings up the cost, but it’s something that you can get later and save up for.

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