Camping is a great way to travel and create epic memories with friends and family. However, going camping, especially if you’re aiming for a more luxurious experience, can also be quite expensive. Between buying gear, paying campsite fees, food, travel and activities, the total camping costs can be large. That’s why we’re writing this article: to make you aware of what may drain your cash and also to give you some tips to save money!
What Does a Camping Trip Cost?
Here are some rules of thumb that you can use for the future:
Assuming you already have some basic gear and will stay in public campgrounds, our best guess is that you will spend around $150-$300 per person
If you’re a first-time camper, aim for slightly higher (around $500+ per person) for quality gear investments
In general, backcountry camping and RV resorts run higher while boondocking/public land camping is free
Key Factors That Impact Camping Costs
Several factors are the biggest drivers of camping expenses:
Your Camping Style: depending on whether you’re going car/tent camping, backpacking, RVing, or glamping, your required camping gear and site fees will vary
Location Type: private (more expesnive) vs public campgrounds
Season and Peak Demand: summer and holidays tend to increase rates and create availability issues
The Group Size: the more people you camp with, the more you’ll be able to split fixed camping costs like permits and site fees
Your Personal Preferences: luxury gear, premium sites and indulgent food all raise trip budgets
Camping Gear Cost Breakdown
Specialized camping gear will make your life 10x easier when you’re out there, as well as more comfortable. Although some of these items are expensive, remember that you only need to buy them once since you can re-use them in future trips.
While this is not a review article of tents (we will be writing one in the near future), we wanted to give you an idea of the prices.
NOTE: we are not looking at the most specialized items – we are well aware that some tents can go over $1,000.
Tent costs largely depend on capacity, seasons, and intended use. For example:
Basic dome tents for fair-weather car camping sleep 2-4 people and quality options start at around $50
Cabin-style tents provide extra headroom and start at $150; These are great for family car camping
Backpacking tents prioritize low pack weight, with 2-person models starting around $200
Winter camping tents engineered for extreme weather and mountaineering start around $500
Tent accessories like rain flies and footprint mats normally cost $30+.
Sleeping Bags: $30-$300
The price of sleeping bags depends mainly on their temperature rating, fill material, and design:
Basic sleeping bags for warm weather car camping start around $30
20°F 3-season bags with down or synthetic fill cost around $100+
0°F Winter Bags with extreme temperature ratings run at $200+
Ultralight backpacking bags that place packability over warmth can cost upwards of $300+
Sleeping Pads: $20-$150
Sleeping pads provide insulation and cushioning:
Durable foam pads start at around $20
Self-inflating air pads with foam and air chambers start at $70
Large air mattresses like queen sizes run at $60+ for good car camping comfort
Backpacking-specific sleeping pads cut weight at the expense of comfort.
Backpack prices reflect size, frame type, and features:
Frameless backpacks (ideal if you’re looking to be as light as possible) with 30L capacities start at around $120
Rugged internal frame packs designed for multi-day trips run $150-$350 for 50-80L capacities
External frame heavy haulers (arguably the best for large loads) start at around $200+ depending on their size
Camp Kitchen Gear: $50+
Camp stoves start at around $45 for tabletop propane models while backpacking stoves start at $80
Cookware like pots, pans, kettles in aluminum or stainless steel run $20+
A hard shell higher performance cooler runs at $50+, with soft-sided options starting at around $20
Finally: don’t forget to shop sales for discounted camping gear!
Overnight Campground Accommodations
Public Campgrounds: $0-$50 per Night
State and national parks, forests and wilderness areas are great & cheap options to go tent and RV camping:
Basic campsites at national forests and BLM lands often cost ~$10-$20 per night
State park camping runs $15-$50 per night (and tends to include amenities like restrooms, showers and occasionally WiFi or pools)
Backcountry sites are available by permit for low or no cost in national forests and parks (just remember that there may be rules that limit consecutive nights)
One last note: public sites fill quickly from late spring through summer, so plan accordingly!
Private Campgrounds and RV Resorts: $25-$100+ per Night
Privately owned campgrounds cater primarily to RVs with full hookups:
Average nightly rates at RV parks run at $25-$75 with discounts sometimes available for tent campers who don’t mind not having sewer/electrical access
Luxury RV resorts cost over $100 per night but offer additional amenities like pools, clubhouses and planned social activities
Other Camping Options
If you’re feeling creative, you can go for more unique accommodations:
Cabins and Yurts: Start at around $45-100 per night depending on size
Group Campgrounds: Clustered sites are convenient for large gatherings and are around $3 per person per night
Boondocking: Free camping is allowed on some public lands and larger retail locations with self contained RVs
Food, Transportation and Miscellaneous Camping Expenses
Besides the fixed costs that we have written about above (costs that will normally not vary from trip to trip), there are also variable costs that you should be aware of.
These include meals, travel, equipment rentals and recreation and can have a big impact on your budget.
Food Budget While Camping
Food costs depend heavily on your choices: dining out vs self-cooked meals
Pre-packaged camping freezer bag meals cost around $4-$10 per serving depending on the ingredients used and the preparation involved
Buying groceries and then cooking over camp stoves or grills is the way to go if you’re trying to save some money: budget $15 per person per day as a baseline
Perishables should stay chilled with block ice (~$5 per 7-10 lb bag) or reusable ice packs according to cooler capacity
Equipment like bear canister prevents wildlife conflicts while protecting your food in certain areas for around $5 per day
Some public lands require campfire permits for collecting wood averaging $20 per bundle
Camping Travel Costs
You’re gonna have to spend money to reaching the final destination (aka your campgrounds):
Personal vehicles get around 10-20 mpg, making $0.20-0.60 per mile a reasonable fuel estimate
Rental cars and RVs pick you up at airports for $55+ per day; Extra mileage/generator fees apply
Flights and regional bus charters transport groups, often costing $300+ for one-way trips
Guided all-inclusive camping tours offering gear, meals and coaching run at $150-$300 per day per person
You should always carefully factor in getting to and leaving camping destinations when you’re going over the budget.
Miscellaneous Camping Expenses
Other costs that can also quickly add up are:
Activity equipment rentals for paddling/cycling/fishing cost approximately $50 per day
Wilderness permits mandated for backcountry trips usually $10+ per person
Guided ranger talks, cave tours, whitewater trips or other recreational activities arranged through vendors can be $50 per excursion
Tips to Reduce Your Camping Costs
Buy Discounted and Used Gear
Scour garage sales, Craigslist, eBay and consignment shops for major discounts on quality used tents, packs, stoves and lanterns
Purchase discounted display models and lightly blemished products from retailers during peak off-seasons around winter holidays for savings up to 70%
Rent expensive gear like family tents, large coolers and specialty equipment through outdoors shops for just 10-30% of retail pricing to sample products before acquiring them for the long term.
Borrow, Lend and Share Gear
Friends/family often have surplus quality gear collecting dust that can perfectly by lent out to new campers – you can politely ask around your social networks
Schools, religious youth programs, scouting troops, and alumni associations own camping equipment that can be used and tested
Stock Up on Gear During Off-Season
Patiently monitor sales during winter gear swaps and new model releases when retailers empty inventory for the next year – you’ll find great deals
Stock up on non-perishable condiments, meal additions, sunscreen, fuel canisters, batteries and fire starters discounted post peak summer months to cut reoccurring seasonal shopping
Improvise Solutions Before Buying More Gear
You should repurpose household items that you already own to substitute specialized gear that you only use occasionally
Watch tutorials on how to build camping products cheaply from hardware/craft store items using basic tools that you probably already have
Uncover Every Available Discount and Deal
Don’t overlook military, senior, disability, student and low income discounts that are rarely publicized. State and National Park passes offer super affordable annual access for qualifying groups under specialized programs – don’t be shy and ask questions!
You’ll notice that planning a camping trip involves weighing numerous factors that will impact your total vacation costs. By reading this article and being aware of the largest expenses – gear, campground fees, food, supplies, transportation, and more – you’ll hopefully know where your money is going and how you can save some here and there.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Should a Family of 4 Budget for a Camping Vacation?
If you’re going camping with your family and you guys are 4, plan on $150-$200 per night. This should include any campground costs, camping fees, and food. You should also think about transportation costs and additional fees.
What Gear Do I Need to Buy for Camping?
You’ll need at least a basic tent, sleeping equipment like an air mattress or a sleeping bag, a camping stove, and a reliable headlamp. You may need more depending on the type of trip you’re planning, but this is the basic.
Should I Buy or Rent Camping Gear?
There isn’t an answer that works for everyone and we’ve noticed that people tend to disagree on the topic. However, we recommend renting equipment for those who are new to camping, since it’s a good way to try out different equipment before making any long-term investment.
Which Campgrounds Cost the Most?
In general, private RV parks and RV resorts in premium locations like national park campgrounds are the most expensive, especially during peak seasons.