Camping beginners often become overwhelmed by all the things they’ll need to buy before going on their first trip. Even the most financially fortunate among us can start to wonder about the total cost of all the necessary gear.
After all, many people take up camping because it is generally regarded as a low-cost hobby. Having to whip out the credit card time and again can start to make you rethink your decision to head out into the Great Outdoors.
But don’t be discouraged – it’s probably not as bad as you think. There are a number of places that you can save money when getting started with the activity. Below, we’ll break down the basic costs of camping and explain a few places you can save a little cash in the process.
After all, you go camping to experience the world and enjoy the tranquility and beauty it provides – not to rack up frequent flyer miles on your credit card.
Note that we’ll be discussing the things you’ll need for a typical two- to three-day-long, backpacking-style camping trip. Car camping, ultralight camping and other variations will require different equipment, and therefore present different costs.
The Big Three: Tent, Sleeping Bag and Backpack
While there is plenty of wiggle room regarding most of your camping gear, there are three things almost all campers will need: A tent, a sleeping bag and a backpack to carry everything. These three items will represent the bulk of your camping gear budget, and they’re also three of the most important things you’ll bring with you.
Most beginning campers will spend more money on their tent than anything else. While you needn’t purchase a top-of-the-line tent right out of the gate, you will want to allocate enough of your budget to obtain a tent that will perform admirably at least for a few seasons.
Although you may be able to save a few bucks by selecting a mass-market camping tent at a big box retailer, you’ll be better served by choosing a tent made by a premium manufacturer and marketed to serious campers. Plenty of these types of tents are available at the $100 to $200 price point.
While some beginners are tempted to save a little money by using regular blankets to camp, it is much wiser to use a sleeping bag for your camping trips (note: There is nothing wrong with using blankets made specifically for outdoor use, but the blanket you use on your couch at home won’t work well and will likely leave you shivering through the night).
You can find sleeping bags appropriate for summer trips in warm climates for about $30 to $50. However, you’ll likely find it necessary to spend about $100 or so on a sleeping bag that is suitable for alpine trips or winter outings. You can obviously spend many times this amount on a good sleeping bag, but you needn’t do so at the outset.
In recent years, the costs associated with entry- and mid-level backpacks have plummeted. Whereas campers in years past would be forced to spend well hundreds of dollars to obtain a reasonably well-made, internal-frame backpack, modern campers can often obtain a backpack for less than $50.
However, you’d be wise to spend a little more than this to obtain a pack that will hold up on the trail. Generally speaking, you’ll be able to find an acceptable pack for about $100, and you can find a great pack for about $200.
Total Investment for the “Big Three” ➡️ $180 to $500
Water itself is a free resource, which you’ll normally find easily during a camping trip. However, you’ll need a few different containers to contain your water and a purifier to make it suitable for drinking.
You’ll need at least one canteen or plastic bottle to hold a liter of water or so during your camping trip. If your budget is limited, you can obtain a suitable container for less than $5, however, you can purchase a very high-quality water bottle which will last for years and resist odors for about $20.
You may also want a collapsible water container to help reduce the number of trips you’ll make down to the local creek. Most such containers will cost less than $10, but premium models may be $20 or more.
Entry-level water purifiers can be purchased for about $20, but those at the $50 to $80 price point will perform better, last longer and usually process more water per unit of time than low-cost purifiers will.
Of course, you can forego a water purifier if you plan on using purifying tablets or boiling your water. But because the savings you’ll enjoy are rather limited (you’ll still need to purchase purifying tablets or buy more fuel), and water purifiers are so convenient, most campers should simply purchase a water purifier.
Total Investment for Water-Related Supplies ➡️ $25 to $120
As you spend more time camping, you’ll likely want to obtain some dedicated camping clothes, made from space-age fabrics and designed explicitly for life in the wilderness. However, you can start by wearing your regular outdoor clothes.
Nevertheless, there are a few key items that you’ll want to purchase before your first trip if you don’t already have them. This includes:
It is important to keep your feet warm and dry while hiking on the trail, and wool socks provide one of the best ways to do so. You’ll generally want at least two pairs of wool socks, but there’s nothing wrong with bringing more than this if you have the room to spare. You can obtain a couple of pairs of wool socks for about $20 in most cases.
A Good Parka/Jacket
Your outer shell is one of the most important components of your overall clothing system, and you’ll be wise to purchase a suitable parka, coat or jacket before heading out into the wilderness. Suitable outer shells can be found for less than $50, but you’ll remain more comfortable by selecting one at the $100 price point.
Relatively few people where long underwear in their day-to-day lives, but they are invaluable while living on the trail. Just like your outermost layer (your coat or jacket), your innermost layer is especially important for your comfort. You can obtain an economy set for about $20, but you’ll stay warmer by purchasing a set at the $50 price point.
Total Investment for Clothing ➡️ $90 to $170
Your Camp Kitchen
Many prospective campers go crazy buying cooking tools and supplies, but you needn’t buy many items to get started. Minimally, you’ll want a good camping stove and a simple mess kit, and you’ll obviously need to account for the food you’ll need too.
Like many other types of camping equipment, the prices associated with camp stoves vary widely. While you can easily spend more than $100 on a high-end camp stove with several helpful features, most beginners will find acceptable camp stoves in the $20 to $50 range. You’ll also need to purchase a fuel tank or two, but this shouldn’t cost more than about $10.
Most beginning campers will find a simple mess kit satisfies their needs. Most such mess kits cost between $20 and $30, but like most other types of camping equipment, you can certainly spend more on a mess kit if you want superior materials and space-saving design features.
Obviously, you’ll need to bring along food to sustain yourself while camping. You may catch a fish or two, or gather some nuts and berries while hiking, but you should always bring enough food to keep you well-nourished during your trip.
If you want to save money, you can just pack low-cost, non-perishable items like Ramen noodles, granola, dehydrated soups and the like. If you take this approach, you can likely feed yourself for two to three days for about $10 to $20 – perhaps less.
However, if you want to enjoy tasty camp food, you’ll likely want to bring along some heat-and-eat meals. These often cost about $5 each, and you’ll want to bring at least two for every day of your trip. This means you’ll spend $20 to $30 for a two- to three-day-long trip.
Total Investment for Your Camp Kitchen ➡️ $60 to $110
First-aid kits vary wildly in terms of complexity, quality and price. You can find a basic first-aid kit with the bare essentials at big box retailers or online for less than $20, or you can spend much more on a premium kit with all of the bells and whistles you could ever need.
For most beginners, an entry- to mid-level kit should suffice.
Novices are wise to stick to populated paths and high-traffic campsites, which aren’t far from the beaten path. In such situations, you’ll likely be able to obtain relatively quick help in the event of a catastrophic medical emergency. You’ll primarily be using your first-aid kit to remove splinters, soothe aching muscles and bandage blisters.
However, if you happen to be heading for truly remote lands, you’ll need to be prepared to deal with anything that may happen. This means you’ll need a first-aid kit with things like CPR aids, splints and trauma supplies. You’ll likely spend at least $100 on this type of first-aid kit, and you could easily spend twice or thrice this.
Remember that you can always start with a very basic first-aid kit and add to it over time. You can also assemble your own first-aid kit if you’re willing to put the time and effort into the project. However, you’ll rarely be able to assemble your own kit for less than some of the most affordable options available.
Total Investment for a First-Aid Kit ➡️ $20 to $50
Basic Necessities and Tools
You’ll want to bring along a variety of tools during your first camping trip so that you can fix anything that breaks. There are a variety of different toolkits and multitools that will work admirably in such contexts. You can find these types of tools and kits for about $20, although you can easily spend $100 on this type of equipment if you like.
You’ll also want a good camping knife. Knives vary wildly in cost, and you can spend anywhere between $20 and $200 on one, depending on the quality and features you require. Depending on your intended destination, you may also require things like camp shovels, hand saws or axes. Generally speaking, these items will cost between $20 and $50 each.
A good flashlight (or better yet, two flashlights) is always necessary when camping. You can find a cheap flashlight for $5 at your local big-box retailer, but you can obtain a high-quality flashlight built to handle life on the trail in the $20 to $50 price range.
Total Investment for Basic Necessities and Tools à $80 to $400
In addition to the things covered above, you’ll also want to bring a few odds and ends anytime you head into the wilderness. This includes things like a length of rope, some extra batteries, a few glowsticks and any maps you may require. You may also want to bring along a new paperback book or a pair of binoculars for birdwatching.
You’ll also need to bring toiletries and personal grooming items, such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant and similar items. However, we’ll assume that you already have these items. Even if you have to purchase some of these things, the costs are generally negligible.
The exact list of items you’ll need will vary from one trip and destination to the next, but you can generally figure that $20 to $100 will cover everything. Fortunately, most of these types of items are optional, and you can adjust your list to match your budget.
Adding up the various equipment and supply costs for your first camping trip, you can see that you’ll need to spend about $500 to $1300 in preparation for your first camping trip. This is obviously a wide price range, and the total amount you end up spending will depend on your choices.
This may seem like a lot of money to some would-be campers, but it is important to remember that most of these items (save for things like food, batteries and fuel) are one-time purchases. They may not last forever, but you’ll likely find that they last for several seasons. Accordingly, you won’t have to spend very much money at all on subsequent trips.
While most first-time campers will find it necessary to spend about $500 to $1300 on their initial batch of camping equipment, there are a number of money-saving measures you can employ to help reduce this figure slightly.
Some of the best strategies for reducing your initial camping expenditures include:
- Share gear with your camping companions. You obviously can’t share a sleeping bag or backpack with your camping companions, but you can share a number of other items, such as your tent, water purifier and camping stove. For example, you may choose to purchase a water purifier for the group to use, while your buddy can purchase a camping stove for the group.
- Rely on items you already own. For example, you may already have a long length of rope sitting in your garage somewhere, or you may be able to create your own first-aid kit by raiding your medicine cabinet. You may also have food in your pantry that you could bring on your trip to help avoid having to purchase new food.
- Rent your gear. Many camping outfitters, retailers and guide services will rent things like tents, backpacks and sleeping bags. This will not only allow you to save a bit of money while you are getting started, it will also give you the chance to try out various types of gear before making your own purchase.
- Purchase used items. Websites, pawn shops, second-hand sporting goods stores and yard sales are all places that occasionally offer camping equipment for sale. Just be sure to check such items carefully for damage and defects, so that you don’t end up struggling with broken equipment in the wilderness.
- Borrow gear from friends and family. If you have camping veterans in your social circle, you may be able to borrow some of their gear for your first couple of trips. Just be sure to take good care of any equipment you borrow and always replace anything you damage or break.
There are a number of factors that will play a role in determining your ultimate camping-gear expenditures, but the above figures should give you a ballpark estimate.
We’d love to hear from beginners (as well as more seasoned campers) about the amount of money you’ve spent before your first camping trip. Did you spend more or less than our estimate? How did you go about saving money and shaving costs? Was there anything you found was more expensive than our estimate?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.