Frugal camping hacks

My folks made sure we had a ‘proper’ two week family holiday every summer, but with four kids and 1970’s rampant inflation to cope with, budgets were tight. That meant we went on a lot of frugal camping trips.

Frugal camping hacks

We had awesome trips and I can almost taste the excitement of seeing the car packed to bursting point with the big old frame tent lashed to the roof rack!

As soon as we arrived, my poor dad had to deal with three over-excited boys vying to put the tent up, while Mum and I made something to eat out of whatever was left of our travel picnic. Curly sandwiches, slightly sweaty Jamaica ginger cake and tepid tea from big old flasks in plastic beakers. It tasted like heaven and we loved every minute of it.

Whatever form it takes, camping is earthy, soul-enriching and character building, and there can be few such satisfying moments as having your tent pitched and the smoke rising from your campfire as the golden sun sets on the horizon – even if it’s just for a fleeting moment before the rain spoils everything

Pippa Middleton
We had so many awesome family camping trips in a big old frame tent

Top Tips For A Fun, Frugal Camping Holiday

I’ve used everything my parents taught me to create fun frugal camping trips with my own son, especially during those times post-divorce when my budget was lower than a snake’s belly button.

So we’ve camped a lot, but it’s one of the best ways to get away and reconnect. It’s such an adventure for kids to sleep under canvas (and it’s the BEST way to have a total digital detox). We’ve even had some of our best fun on rainy camping holidays! Here are my favourite frugal camping hacks.

1. Don’t be too proud to buy a used or clearance tent

Seriously, do you need the latest, greatest tent ever to have fun as a family? I don’t think so. We searched Facebook, eBay and Gumtree for used tents before finding one that hadn’t even been unpacked, but was being sold for less than one-third of the original price. It was a lucky bargain from a family who were emigrating and it was absolutely perfect.

Buying at the very end of the season works too, as you’ll benefit from clearance deals to shift unsold stock.

No one will know when you bought your tent, where you bought it or how much you paid for it. And no one will care, so why should you?

2. Hunt down bargain basement camping supplies

Frugal camping supplies

I draw the line at buying used sleeping bags (eek!), but buying used camping supplies that can be cleaned and disinfected with a good scrub in hot, soapy is a big money-saver. The best places to find frugal bargains are boot sales, charity (thrift) shops and church fundraisers. Online sources are good for building up your camping supplies with bargain items too

Tip: If you have the luxury of time to plan, I’ve found it oodles cheaper to buy camping kit at the tail end of the season. It’s when stores slash prices to clear stocks. It’s also when folks who have given up camping or decided to buy new for the next season look to sell.

3. Do your homework before booking your campsite

Hunt online through all the campsites in the area you want to visit, as the variation in price from one site to another can be completely staggering. It’s worth trying to book direct with the campsite, as this is often cheaper (in my experience) than booking any other way. We would have paid substantially more than we did if we’d not checked.

Tip: If you can be flexible with your dates, the best way to save money is to check out prices for several dates. The price could vary significantly if you’re able to shift your dates, even just a little.

4. Use what you have at home as part of your camping kit

One of my mum’s best camping hacks was to take our duvets from home with us, instead of forking out for new sleeping bags. It’s something I still do now for summer camping trips! Snuggly duvets are so much more comfortable than sleeping bags! Yoga mats make perfectly acceptable sleeping mats too unless you’re on the heavy side and need a little more support.

Freezer bags are perfect for transporting food. They also make a good substitute for ice packs if you don’t have any – just fill them up with water and freeze them overnight. (Double bag though, to avoid any accidents!)

Toasting marshmallows over a campfire - one of the best frugal camping hacks - one that kids love!
Campfires and marshmallows are the best!

5. Take food stocks with you

In my experience, the shops in campsites are ALWAYS pricey! We take the perishable food from the fridge with us, as well as all the store cupboard staples and fresh fruit/veggies we might need. We’ve found that perishables keep fresh and cool for up to 24 hours in a good cool box, packed in with ice packs.

6. Save small clear plastic boxes

Clear plastic boxes from the takeaway or supermarket are perfect for storing food, first aid kits, packs of cards, and anything else you need to be able to keep clean and dry, and need to identify without opening the box. We save them all, so we always have a ready supply. It’s also a great way to repurpose single-use plastics.

7. Bake!

There’s something about the fresh air of camping holiday that turns kids big and small into ravenous monsters, prowling for food like heat-seeking missiles. Home-baked cake is the ideal solution, and you know they’ll burn off the sugar by running around the campsite. Chocolate banana loaf is my son’s favourite and we always take a tub of home-baked fruity muffins for breakfast.

8. Puzzles, board games and colouring books

Yes. Sometimes it rains on camping holidays (It often rains on camping holidays in Yorkshire!) Get prepared for those days with plenty of fun things to do, because buying games locally can be a huge budget drain. My son found a new (super competitive) love for Monopoly and dominoes on our camping trips. I also taught him to play Poker, which was a very bad plan as he got very good very quickly…

9. Take outdoor games/kit

Campsites are very social places. Part of the magic of a camping holiday is how kids mingle and want to play together.

Packing a cheap badminton set and an old football drew other children to our tent like wasps buzzing noisily around a honeypot. The campsite was filled with happy laughter until the evening drew in and the kids melted away again to their families for PJs, hot chocolate and dreams full of adventures.

Frugal camping fun

Bubble mix is always a winner – it’s one of the best frugal camping hacks and one of the cheapest! Who doesn’t feel happy watching kids blowing bubbles, rather than sitting alone tapping on a tablet?

Your Frugal Camping Hacks

What do you do to stretch the budget when camping? Share your top tips in the comments below! I’d love to hear them.

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Image of tent pitched at nightime to illusttrate frugal camping hacks

About Author

Coralie is a Brit living in North Yorkshire. When she's not writing, she's either out exploring, planning a new trip, tasting street food or relaxing with a cold G&T. With 40+ years of adventurous travel to almost 40 countries (so far), she knows there's still much to see and remains an adventure-seeker at heart. Follow her on social media and keep up with her adventures and awesome travel tips.

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