Is Camping Expensive? Cost of Big Ticket Items Broken Down


So, your friends want to go camping with you, and your initial thought is: Oh cool! You’re staying outside in a tent with minimal amenities, this must be an inexpensive hobby! As you’re doing your research, you may get the sneaky suspicion that things aren’t as they seem.

Is camping expensive? Fuel, food, fees, and gear for a family of 3 for a 2-day camping trip can cost up to $1600. Camping with medium to high quality gear can be very expensive, initially. Even with all the gear, replacement purchases, fees, fuel, and food can cost around $200 for the same family on a 2-day camping trip.

The costs for camping can vary widely from how long you are camping, where you are camping, what activities you are planning to do while you’re camping, and how much gear you already have.

What Makes Camping Expensive?

The cost of camping is almost directly related to how cold it is. Colder weather means better gear to handle the cold weather.

Perhaps the biggest indicator for how expensive camping will be for you is how creative you’re willing to be in your gear. If you are okay with improvising gear, DIY, and borrowing what you need, you can cut down costs, tremendously.

For 1st time campers, in order of potentially most expensive:

  1. Per Person Gear (Hiking clothing, sleeping bags, rain gear)
  2. Shared Gear (tent, fire-making supplies, water filter, etc)
  3. Food
  4. Daily Fees (campsite reservation, park day passes)
  5. Transportation
  6. Activities

I’ll break down each of these categories and try and give you an estimate on price of gear if you purchased medium quality gear made for car camping.

What Is Most Expensive About Per-Person Gear?

If you were only to go camping and just go home straightaway, then your costs will go down. Sports clothing is one of the biggest culprits of driving up the cost of camping. A single pair of Hiking shoes, for example can cost anywhere from $50 to $100 for medium quality shoes. Regular tennis shoes will work in many cases for short hikes, so it just depends on what you’re planning to do, and how much gear you want to have.

An entry-level to medium quality rain jacket will cost around $50. If it’s not going to rain or if you don’t want to get a rain jacket, that’s another cost savings.

Another big ticket item is the sleeping bag. As I mentioned above, the colder it is outside, the more expensive your sleeping bag will have to be to handle it. If it’s going to be 40 degrees Fahrenheit outside, you want at least a +15 degree sleeping bag. If you get a 0 degrees Fahrenheit bag, you’ll be spending more (and you’ll sleep warmer).

In order of most expensive on average:

Per Person GearCost Per Person
Clothing for Cold (thermal underwear, jacket) $100
Sleeping Bag (adult size) $90
Hiking Shoes$80
Clothing for Wet (Rain jacket)$50

$330 is not that much to spend on one person, but this can add up when considering the gear required for an entire family. Not to mention that these are only the big ticket items.

It may seem a little unreasonable to include hiking shoes in these counts, but hiking while camping is extremely common.

In the 2017 American Camper Report by the Outdoor Foundation (source), 40.5 million Americans went camping at least once. Out of that 40.5 million, almost half of the those people said hiking was their favorite thing to do while camping.

20 million people who go camping enjoy hiking, so it’s not far fetched to imagine that hiking will be a part of those camping trips.

What Is Most Expensive About Shared Gear?

Probably the most expensive basic piece of a equipment that’s shared among your group is the tent.

An entry-level day-hike backpack can be nabbed anywhere from $50 to $100 depending on how much you want to spend, and lastly, a camp stove can be bought for around $50 to cook for a few people.

The shared gear includes the cooking gear, so while there are not too many expensive items, there are many small items that can add up, especially if you buy everything separate and don’t use your own cooking gear from your kitchen.

In order of most expensive on average:

Shared GearCost
Family Tent$100
Day-Hike Backpack$50
Cooler$50
Camp Stove$45
Family Mess Kit$30

How Much Does it Cost to Stay at a Campground?

Campgrounds that are better maintained are often more expensive. The more people visit a park, the more likely it will have higher maintenance. The most popular parks will probably be the most expensive to visit, too.

Camping entry fees depends on the location–some are free, while many state parks have a required day-use pass for each person for each day (although children often can enter for free). This price ranges from $4 to $15.

Besides the day-use fee, you often have to pay a campsite reservation fee. These can vary from $10 to $50, depending on the popularity of the park, as well as the amenities of the campsite. Electric hook-ups, water, and plumbed bathrooms always mean a higher campsite cost.

How Much Does a Tent Cost?

Buying a tent is almost as hard as ordering dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, there are so many choices!

Not only do you have to figure out how big a tent you want, but you also need to decide on what tent style you want. Different tents are designed for different situations, which is why the price difference between tents is so large sometimes.

If you’re just thinking about getting a tent for car camping, then you can get a standard 4-man tent of varying quality anywhere from $60 to $200+.

However, if you are considering buying a tent and want to see the price of tents in different categories, I put together information from dozens of tents and put all of this information in the tent prices guide. The guide’s purpose is to show you the price range from budget to high quality for several different tent types.

Check it out if you’re on a tent hunting mission, it will certainly give you an idea of the price ranges to expect for a tent.

Average Cost of Tent Camping

This question has fascinated me: How much does it really cost to go camping? In fact, I’ve explored this question in depth in my other article here about this subject.

In the Coleman 2017 report (source), 27% of 1st time campers said they spent from $200 to $400 on camping gear.

As we all know, however, there’s usually a difference in what we think we spent in comparison to what we’ve actually spent. It’s difficult to quantify food expenses, and perhaps people aren’t including new shoes or rain jackets and are only thinking of tents and coolers.

After considering all the items that people take on a camp out, it’s likely to me that the average amount spent for camping is much higher for first time campers.

If a family already has all the camping gear, I calculated that a typical tent camping trip cost comes around to $200 for a 2-night camping trip for a family of 3, or roughly $100 per night. That includes replacement gear, transportation, food, and campsite fees (and a cave tour :))

If you want to see the line by line details of how this was calculated, you can check out my article here and look at the Kramer family.

How Do You Camp on a Budget?

It’s hard to get all the costs right, but one thing that really helps me plan is to see all the details. Nothing hidden!

People may think that camping is cheap, but they don’t realize that there are tons of little costs that do add up, and unless you are mindfully planning and working hard to cut costs, you may end up spending way more than you are planning to!

That’s why the first step to saving money on camping is to budget.

I made an AWESOME budgeting spreadsheet made specially for camping that breaks down all the possible costs, and allows you to add any item you want. It is specifically made for calculating the cost of camping for multiple people (because we mostly go camping with someone else). It’s free to use for anyone. Check it out here.

Besides making a plan, there are other ways to save money on camping.

Camping can be extremely cheap, but it requires a bit of work and a bit of sacrifice.

Ways to Save Money While Camping

Entrance Fees

Buy the National Parks Pass: If you are going to be camping a lot, then you can save significant money for the year if you get a parks pass. If you are doing some road trips and are planning to see the national parks, then a national parks pass may save you tons of entrance fees. It’s worth doing the math, though. If you are only going to one or two national parks in a year, you may not make your money back.

Buy a State Parks Pass: All states have areas for people to go visit, and several have campgrounds and amenities for all to enjoy. Depending on the population of the area, the cost of a state park may vary. Many states (not all–Ohio and Illinois don’t charge entrance fees for their parks for example) charge entrance fees, and so many will have a parks pass that you can buy for the year. Texas has high entrance fees (due to its high population), and thus you can save a lot of money camping in Texas if you get a parks pass.

Camping Gear

Borrow Camping Gear: This is the most effective way to save money on camping gear. Many people have tents and sleeping bags that they aren’t using. If you are a good neighbor and treat their things carefully, then you might be able to borrow them repeatedly until you can save money for your own gear.

Improvise: It’s part of our American culture, I think, when we believe that we have to buy all the nice gear in order to participate in any hobby. This is not true for camping–even though it’s not common for people to think about camping without a sleeping bag, you can actually get by without one.

If you’re just starting camping, I recommend starting in the summer, and taking blankets and pillows from home. A tent really is a nice thing to have, even if you are just starting out, but make this easy on yourself by borrowing one from a friend.

Can you rent camping gear? Yes! This is a great idea for those who aren’t planning on going camping often, and don’t need to keep their camping gear, or for those who want to try out different types of gear before they decide to buy.

If you want to rent outdoor gear online, check out outdoorsgeek.com. This is a fantastic opportunity to try out a fancy tent you’ve been eyeing without having to purchase it, first. They will ship your gear to any location.

Does REI rent camping gear? REI does have a rental program, but only certain locations participate. I live in Texas currently, and although my city has an REI, the nearest REI that you can rent gear from is in Austin (about 1 and a half hour drive away).

Does the Shoe Make the Person?

Shoes are expensive. This isn’t a bad thing, we use shoes a lot, and they help protect our feet. To simplify your camping and hiking, don’t worry about getting hiking shoes unless you will be hiking more than 5 miles on rough terrain.

The terrain is the biggest sticking point. Walking around Ikea you probably will clock 40,000 miles walked (at least that’s what it feels like to me), but when you’re in the wilderness walking on rocks, on and over logs, in mud, up hills, down hills, etc., having something tougher than tennis shoes makes a gigantic difference.

In any case, your regular outdoor shoes will work just fine if you’re not going over 5 miles in rough terrain. Some people use trail runners for the tougher sole and the lighter shoe to do long distance hiking, so even then it’s a matter of preference.

How to Save Money on Food

More choppin’, less shoppin’: Sadly, fresh pre-prepared food is SO convenient for camping, but it’s also more expensive. You can s ave money by chopping those vegetables or fruits at home, and putting them in a container you can take with you, camping. Snack costs can really add up to the total camping cost.

How to Saved Money on Camping Activities

Kayaking: Renting boats, paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, life vests and more can come at a premium. Renting a paddleboard with a life vest will likely be around $30 an hour for one person. Although I love these watercraft, you can save a lot of money by enjoying the water another way, you can still have a great time visiting the shore with just your swimming trunks/togs/suit.

Save that river excursion for another time when you’ve got the budget for it. If the water is warm, a simple camp chair can be fantastic way to enjoy the water.

Board/Card Games: this is a very common camping activity, and it’s a great way to pass the time and enjoy the trees and your family. Plus, it’s also very inexpensive.

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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