Get Started Camping – For Cheap, Part One

Car Camping is a great way to get started camping on a budget.
Car Camping is a great way to get started camping on a budget.

Been thinking about getting into camping but are worried it will cost to much?  Well, yes, camping gear can be very expensive.  There is cheap camping gear that is usually heavier and bulkier, and then there is expensive gear that is typically lighter and more compact.

If you’re looking to get into camping and have a limited budget, you are likely going to be buying cheaper gear that is not as compact and maybe not as durable as items that are much more expensive.

There is nothing wrong with cheaper priced gear.  Just make sure you hunt for quality cheap gear.  Sure, you should expect it to be heavier in your pack and take up more space, but that’s all part of the trade off.

With this post I am going to start off a multi-part series on how you can get into camping on a frugal budget.

Basic Camping Gear List

Let’s face it, to start camping on a budget you can easily begin by car camping.  Car camping is when you throw some gear into your car and had to a campground where you can drive right up to your camping spot and live out of your car.  Most campgrounds where you can car camp cost around $10 to $20 per site per night to camp.

In order to enjoy camping a person needs a few things:  Shelter, clothes, food, water, and some basic tools to assist them.  You need to have those things in order to camp.  So lets take a look at a very basic gear list below.  It’s broken down into a few key categories.

Sleeping / shelter

Sleep pad
Sleeping bag/blanket

Camp Stove
Cook/mess Kit

General Camp Gear
Folding saw
Fire starter / ferro rod / matches / lighter
Line / rope (100′)
Water filter / purification
Camp soap
First Aid kit

Food  TBD
Food per day

Personal Items
Shirt, long sleeve
Rain gear
Gloves, leather
Compass & Map
Head lamp / flashlight
Bug repellent

I bet that there are some items, such as the clothes and some personal items, that you already have and that can be used for putting together your camp kit.  Some items may or may not apply for your needs, like if you plan to just car camp you wouldn’t need a map and compass.  If you plan to sleep in your car you wouldn’t need a tent and a sleeping pad.

Camping Gear – Sleep and Shelter

In this first post on getting into camping, I am going to focus on sleep and shelter.  Tents and being comfortable in your tent is pretty important to having a good time camping outdoors.

A tent gives you someplace to sleep so you are not just out in the open.  It can protect you from the elements such as wind, rain, and even snow.  At night, after a long day of fishing, hiking, or just hanging around your campsite, a tent is where you go to sleep and get a good night’s rest.

Items you will typically have inside your tent to help you sleep will be a sleeping bag or some blankets.

Tents – One Person Camping

Tents come in a variety of sizes and designs.  The main question you need to ask yourself here is how large of a tent do you need?  Are you going to be camping alone?  If so a one or two person tent will likely suffice.  However, if you have family you may need a larger tent to accommodate everybody, or multiple smaller tents.

You can get your hands on smaller sized entry level tents for fairly cheap.  Usually around $30 to $50 or less.  These cheaper entry level tents can be very good and last a long time if you take care of them.

Here is a Wenzel One Person Tent:  Pictured below.

Wenzel one person tent.

You can read more online and buy the Wenzel by clicking here.  It usually retails for around$25-$45.

When camping alone I personally use a Lux Tempo 2 man tent.  It has room inside for my sleeping area, as well as my pack and other gear I want to keep close.  It also has two vestibles that are protected by the full coverage rain fly where I can also put my pack and boots and keep them dry.

My Lux Tempo tent is more expensive than the Wenzel, but it is still a cheap tent compared to many that are out there.  It retails for around $80.  You can check out my review on my Lux Tempo 2 man tent here.

*** Camping Tip:  Don’t keep any food of any kind in your tent!  Critters, especially the small ones will chew holes in tents to get inside.  I’ve never had any problems with bears, but the small critters can be a real annoyance when camping if you don’t keep a food clean camp.

Tent – For A Small Family

Need a tent that can handle you and a few other members of your family?  A wife and a couple kids perhaps?  AmazonBasics has a 4 person tent with excellent reviews for around $54.99 (check online here for latest price).  They also have an 8 person version of this same tent for around $89.00.

Below is an image of the AmazonBasics 4 person tent:

AmazonBasics 4 person tent. Nice size, and affordable for the camper on a budget with a family.
AmazonBasics 4 person tent. Nice size, and affordable for the camper on a budget with a family.

Sleeping Bag For The Budget Camper

To get started camping you may or may not need a sleeping bag.  Eventually it will be something you will likely want.  With that said, after you have a tent, and if you are car camping, you can easily bring blankets from home to save some money.

When looking to buy a sleeping bag you need to ask yourself what temperature rating you will need.  All sleeping bags have various temperature ratings that help you gauge their best use.  Below is a chart that shows seasonal bags and their usual temperature ratings.

Of course if you are planning to go camping in the middle of summer you don’t need a winter rated bag.  Depending where you live you may only need a bag that is rated for 60 degrees or higher temps.

It’s usually a good idea to select a sleeping bag that has a temperature rating a little lower then the coldest night you could expect on your trip.  Ratings tends to vary from one manufacturer to the next.  One may claim 40 degrees that is comparable to anther that is rated at 50 degrees.  You never know for sure until you get the bag and use it.  Of course online reviews help!

Sleeping Bag Insulation

Bags come in a variety of insulation types.  All can affect price along with the temperature rating.  Colder weather bags tend to cost more, as they are going to have more insulation and be bigger/heavier requiring more materials to make them.

  • Synthetic Insulation:  Quick drying and retains warmth even when wet, most campers use synthetic bags because of those two reason and the gentler price tag.  The downside is that synthetic does not typically pack down as small as similar rated bags that are goose-down insulated.  These bags may not be ideal for people looking to save space in their camp gear.
  • Goose-Down Insulation:  More durable and compresses down smaller than similar rated bags that are made of synthetics.  However, a down side to this type of insulation is that is looses it’s warmth retention when it gets wet and cane take longer to dry out.  Usually more expensive than synthetic insulation bags.
  • Water-Resistant Down Insulation:  Some manufacturers are now treating the down in their bags with a water resistant treatment to protect the feathers from moisture.  This of course helps them dry faster and retain some additional heat when wet.  This comes at a price!

Good Sleeping Bag For The Frugal

With some of the information above in mind I can point you in the direction of low a priced sleeping bag rated for summer and early or late spring temps.  Check out the RevelCamp sleeping bag below.  It retails around $30.00, but as usual check the online link I provide for the latest price here.

RevelCamp Sleeping bag for those on a budget. Comes in a variety of colors to choose from.
RevelCamp Sleeping bag for those on a budget. Comes in a variety of colors to choose from.

One thing to keep in mind, or one that affects me, is the size of the bag.  I’m a bigger guy and have some extra pounds.  So I like to look for sleeping bags that are oversized.  That means a bag that is 34 inches or more wide.  If you are under 220 pounds you probably don’t need to worry about having an over sized sleeping bag.

When I camp in the late spring through mid Autumn I mostly use a Snugpack Jungle Blanket.  It works well for temps down into the upper 40s, is supper compact, and costs around $35 to $55 if you catch a good sale online.  I wrote a review of my Snugpack Jungle Blanket here.

Sleeping Pads For Those On A Budget

Sleeping pads come in a variety of materials and various levels of bulk.  Some are just downright bulky, and others roll or fold down into a small travel pouch.  As far as prices go those that tend to be more compact are going to be more expensive.

Some pads have excellent insulation and some don’t.  Insulation may not be a requirement for where you live and when you plan to camp.  But if you do intend to do winter camping, or even early Spring or late Autumn camping, you will for sure want a sleeping pad that has a good “R” value.

  • R Value:  It references a sleeping pad’s ability to insulate.  The higher the pad’s ‘resistance’ factor, the more warmth your body will retain and not loose while sleeping on the pad.  The colder it is outside and the colder the ground, the more warmth you can loose through your sleeping pad.

You may or may not need a sleeping pad.  Many people who summer camp are ‘okay’ sleeping in their tent inside their sleeping bag on the floor of their tent with no pad.  Personally, that gets old fast!  I have even trimmed pine tree limbs and laid on them, or piles of leaves… but that only goes so far and can take a lot of work to prepare.  Carrying a pad is easy, usually.

If you have money to buy a compact pad by all means go for it.

Cheap Sleeping Pad Option

The Therm-A-Rest classic foam sleeping pad usualy retails for around $20.00 online for a 20″ x 72″ sized pad.  You can get a little larger one for a few bucks more.  Check the online reviews and most current price by clicking here.

Therm-A-Rest Classic Sleeping Pad for those on a budget.
Therm-A-Rest Classic Sleeping Pad for those on a budget.

The picture above shows a Therm-A-Rest sleeping pad in a rolled up state.  Not the most compact, but functional at 14 ounces with an R-value of 2.6, which is not too shabby for spring and autumn camping.

I personally use more compact sleeping pads which costs a lot more.  The Klymit Insulated Static V-Luxe air mattress.  It’s a larger sized sleeping mattress at 76″ x 30″ x 3″ when inflated with an R-value of 4.4 for pretty much year round use.  When packed down for the backpack it measures 5.5″ x 10″.  If curious to see it you can find it online here.

Camping First Kit – A Must Have Item!

Okay, on my list further above I do have listed a first aid kit.  It’s not part of the sleeping/shelter items you will need, but I didn’t want to wait for a later post in this series I am writing to mention first aid kits.

Having a first aid kit in your camping gear is vital.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, and can actually be a small and simple part of your gear – but you should have one.  And it should be something you buy first to include in all your camping activities.

Having a kit along with simple band-aids and some septic wipes may be enough for cap camping for small cuts or scratches you may get.  I like to bring along a little more than the basics.  But to get things started check out this super affordable and compact first aid kit below.

I Go Compact First Aid Kit
I Go Compact First Aid Kit

The “I Go Compact” first aid kit:  6″ x 4.3″ x 2.4″ and weighs 0.56lbs.  It costs around $12.00, and you can buy them here online.

I Go Compact First Aid Kit

Here is what it comes with:

1 First Aid Guide
1 Scissors 9cm
1 Tweezer 12.5cm
1 Pair of vinyl gloves (L)
1 Mini Rescue Howler Whistle
3 Sting relief pads
6 Antiseptic towelettes
14 Alcohol prep pads
1 Triangular bandage with 2 pins
1 5″ x 9″ combine dressing
20 3/8″ x 1 1/2″ bandages
10 Adhesive Bandages 76x25mm
10 Butterfly bandages
1 Knuckle bandage
2 Dressing, Non-Adherent, Sterile, 2 x 3 inches
2pcs 4″ x 4″ sterile gauze pad 2pcs/pack
2pcs 3″ x 3″ sterile gauze pads 2pcs/pack
4 2″ x 2″ sterile gauze pads
1 Elastic Bandage 5cmx4.5m
1 Adhesive Tape 1.25cmx5m
1 Carabiner
1 Content card
1 EVA first aid bag 15x11x6.0cm

Some other things to consider adding to your first aid kit:  An EpiPen for those that need one, Advil, Tylenol, Benadryl, and anti-diarrhea meds.

Conclusion Of Post One!

This will conclude the first post on my series Getting Started Camping For Cheap.  The information above provides some useful tidbits on sleeping and shelter – an important aspect of camping!

Hopefully the links provided will help give you some ideas on gear to get you started.  Cheaper gear does not necessarily mean it’s crummy gear.  In the wold of camping cheap usually means it’s less compact.  Sure, construction can be shoddy on some lower priced items.  But that’s why it is important to check out online reviews with the links I provide and read what people are saying about the gear before you buy.

I tend to be frugal and don’t buy the most expensive high end gear.  In addition to that I do my best to take care of my gear in order to make it last as long as possible.

If you found this post helpful keep your eyes open for future posts on this subject tackling other camping items.  As I write this I am preparing for a couple trips, so the next post on this subject may be a few weeks away.  But feel free to check out my list above and do some searching for gear that may fit your needs and wallet.

Thanks for reading,



TD is the owner and publisher of TD All Outdoors. He has been enjoying the outdoors since since he was a child. Over the years he has spent as much time as he can solo wilderness canoe tripping, overlanding, hiking, fishing, bushcrafting, hunting, hammock camping, and more. Aside from this blog, he also own his own coffee brand,

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