Camping on $150

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Camping on $150

Postby Salivanto » Tue Sep 11, 2007 4:54 am

My wife recently overheard a conversation on a local ham radio repeater. One of the guys was talking about his vacation plans for next year -- a camping trip for which he and his wife had budgeted $150. The other guy figured that would be plenty to reserve a spot in a state park, buy food, and buy gas ... but it turns out that's the entire budget --including buying the camping equipment.

This has gotten me thinking ... if I had to start over and could only bring $150 in camping equipment, what would I bring? What would you do? Is it even possible? What if it was only $100 (to save 50 for a site and half a tank of gas.)?

We're just back from a half-rainy weekend (fortunately it rained at the end, not the beginning) and it seems to me that often camping is right at the edge of unpleasant even with thousands of dollars of equipment -- that's what makes it an adventure (and when it's not unpleasant, you pat yourself on the back and say "aren't I so very clever to be out here with all the right stuff and the right know-how so that this is not unpleasant?") I'd hate to think how a green-horn would fare with only a $150 budget.

My wife and I were trying to figure out how much it would cost to replace the equipment we used on this last trip, not counting the trailer. We got up around $500 before we stopped counting, and I know we left off things like bug spray.

Here's my $150 list:
$40 - 3-man Quest tent on sale.
$80 - two warm sleeping bags rated 40 degrees or lower.
$05 - and old pot from the Salvation Army (so you don't ruin your
good regular dishes.
Free - a few empty milk jugs to haul water.
$10 - Two bundles of wood, bought on site.

That leaves $15 for bugspray, top ramen, instant oatmeal, peanutbutter sandwichtes, booking the site, and getting there. I'm already over budget.

Does anybody have any thoughts on this?
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Postby raprap » Tue Sep 11, 2007 6:16 am

Save the money on the tent. Use a sheet of visqueen plastic for cover and and some recycled cardboard for ground cover and insulation. Use that $40 for a case of longnecks ($18) and a couple of steaks.

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Postby Laredo » Tue Sep 11, 2007 11:59 am

To go camping for a weekend on $150?
Covering gas and a site?

Yeah, I can do that. But the way I do it is to rent a cabin at San Angelo State Park, and bring sheets, pillows, blankets, a skillet, a percolator, paper plates and cups, plastic spoons, a kitchen knife and plastic cutting board, and charcoal from home. That way all I have to buy is gas and groceries.

It's car camping, sort of. But the cabins come with lights, heat/air, and bunk beds, plus a roof that doesn't leak and a clean bathhouse.
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$150

Postby Eunice » Tue Sep 11, 2007 1:15 pm

Sorry I dont think I could do it. i am one that always takes too much. If in a pinch but i dont think I would ever do it on purpose.
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Postby Salivanto » Tue Sep 11, 2007 4:27 pm

raprap wrote:Save the money on the tent. Use a sheet of visqueen plastic for cover and and some recycled cardboard for ground cover and insulation. Use that $40 for a case of longnecks ($18) and a couple of steaks.


I was thinking about this today. I was wrong to include food in the budget since you would still have to eat at home. Food (including beer) would only count if you spend more on it than you would at home.

While looking for information on how to sew your own tent, I found many many references to sleeping under a tarp. I can't imagine that that would apeal to our not-so-hypothetical greenhorn.

I've also been thinking that there are cabins which cost less than that -- but then once the weekend is up, your money is gone. I'm hoping to run into this fellow again to ask him whether he's hoping to go camping more than once. If not, then perhaps cabins would be for him.

Laredo ... bringing a consumable like charcoal doesn't count, since you'd have to replace it later, which means spending money.
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Postby Gaelen » Tue Sep 11, 2007 5:00 pm

Thomas...it can be done, but a couple thoughts came to mind.

The couple might not be planning on much 'camping equipment.'
Depending on their vehicle--say, a pickup with a capped, empty truck bed or a van with removeable seats, they might be able to get by without a tent. They could use bedding from home, a firegrate (maybe out of their BBQ), some recycled bottles to hold water and come up with odds and ends of a camp kitchen out of their home cupboards. If they've got this kind of vehicle, they're functional campers as soon as they buy some groceries, a tarp to tie to the side of the vehicle for some shade, maybe an air mattress, and a fresh bag of charcoal.

The gas price is what it is--unless they've got a hybrid; then it's less. But depending on where they're going and how far away, gas costs might only be a couple of gallons for them. There are two state parks within 30 miles of me. There's a national forest area about 45 miles away. At 25 mpg, that's just a couple of gallons of gas for me. And when I camp in my sister's significant other's back field, it's barely a mile away--no gas costs to speak of at all.

They might be planning on a campsite that doesn't cost much or is free--there are even some state forest areas here in central NY which are unimproved but which are either free or under $10/night, depending on the season. And if they or a friend owns land on which they can camp, their vacation might not have a per-night cost.

So...all of that said...if they didn't have a vehicle they could sleep in, weren't 'tarpers,' had to save some money for gas and needed some basics for which they had to spend SOME money:

1. Wenzel 7x7 foot 3-person Pinon dome tent (Campmor)...$30
2. Two $15 Coleman Fairmount standard size rectangle sleeping bags, (Campmor--and Sports Authority, Dicks and others all have similar bags on sale right now at the same price)...$30
3. Two $5 blue closed cell foam sleeping pads (basic Army/Navy store or Walmart)...$10
4. Ledmark or Open Country 2 person backpacker cookset (includes plates and/or cups--Campmor)...$13
5. Disposable batteries-included flashlight by Garrity (Walmart, any hardware store)...$3
...$86 so far...

Then I'd hit the Dollar Store...$10 for miscellaneous stuff
2 sets of spoon-knife-fork ($1/each)
painting drop cloth to use as tent ground cloth
box of matches
OFF bug spray (honest, this time of year you can get this stuff cheap, and it'll still be good next summer)
100 ft. of light duty rope
roll of duct tape
disposable stryo cooler
2 light-the-bag InstaLight charcoal ($1 each) which is plenty for 3-4 small fires

...I've only spent $96...

That leaves them $54 to spend on gas, groceries, maybe even a campsite if they can't find a free spot. Heck, they could even get a little crazier in the Dollar Store or splurge on a proper 8x10 foot blue poly tarp from Walmart ($7) or buy a couple gallon jugs of water with all their extra cash.

If I was really scrimping, I wouldn't buy the cookset I listed for #4. I'd hit a flea market or Rescue Mission/second hand store and pick up one used saucepan, one used fry pan, 2 plastic plates, maybe a used coffeepot or camp boiler--or even cheaper, raid my own cupboards for stuff. You could probably bring the whole kitchen in for under $10 if you 'borrowed' stuff from your home kitchen and a cooking grate from your BBQ and knew there was a firering or grill where you were camping. If you couldn't count on a grill at the site, I'd definitely skip buying the cookset and spend that $13 on a small table grill or hibachi or even a one-burner propane stove (they're $15 at the local Army/Navy store.) Bring the first aid kit from the home medicine cabinet.

The bedding can be cheaper (use the less-than-new stuff from the linen closet at home). They could skip the foam mats and sleeping bags entirely and spend the sleeping bag money on a basic air matress, and bring a couple sheets and pillows for the top.

As for food...well, I'm one to overpack a cooler, and tend to always bring too much of really good stuff. But I've also gone camping with PB&J, hot dogs, cocoa, coffee, the condiments from the 'fridge, some rolls, instant oatmeal, some granola bars and a couple Hershey bars. People who aren't camping for a gourmet experience can probably do it for $25 for a whole week...think ramen noodles, not-quite-Kraft mac'n'cheese, canned soup, hash, chili, tunafish, etc.
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Postby mikeschn » Tue Sep 11, 2007 7:18 pm

Gaelen,

You're good! :D

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Postby jeepr » Tue Sep 11, 2007 8:46 pm

If we ever have to pick camping buddies I want Gaelen.. :lol:
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Postby Gaelen » Tue Sep 11, 2007 11:23 pm

aw, it wasn't too hard...I just thought back to how I put together my first camping outfit, and how I used to manage to go camping as a student with no cash, and take the kids camping even when I was broke. I have/had a couple of backpack, too--I think my first one was a second hand Kelty frame pack from the Rescue Mission that I found for $10!

Given the right store and the right phase of the moon, I can spend money like the most extravagant professional trust fund baby. If shopping were an Olympic event, I'd have gold medals in every class and division. Internet shopping is even easier and almost as much fun. But every now and then it's a blast to see if my inner cheapskate still works.

Apparently, yes. :thumbsup:
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Postby Salivanto » Wed Sep 12, 2007 5:45 pm

Gaelen wrote:The couple might not be planning on much 'camping equipment.'


All I can say is that the guy said that they wouldn't need to spend a lot of money because they plan on "tenting it" ... and mentioned that they used to have a pop-up which they sold because they needed the money.

I'm tempted on seeking him out to see if he's interested in the replies here. There's some good stuff. Hopefully they'll have the $150 available now so they can take care of the deals you mentioned.

They could use bedding from home, a firegrate (maybe out of their BBQ), some recycled bottles to hold water and come up with odds and ends of a camp kitchen out of their home cupboards.


I figure everybody has bedding from home, but I'm curious if anybody has any thoughts about using home bedding in a cheep tent. Any reason to prefer a sleeping bag? We have some sleeping bags which are apparently aimed at the slumber party market. They were totally unsuitable for camping. That's why I suggested a brand-name bag.

disposable stryo cooler


I'd assumed that most people would own or be able to borrow a cooler, but I left if off my list since that requires buying ice, plus more complicated cooking procedures. Yes, you can make your own ice (we did for our last trip), but I imagine not everybody would want to.
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Postby Gaelen » Wed Sep 12, 2007 9:45 pm

Thomas, if there's an army/navy store near them (a true surplus store, not something pretending to be a surplus store), they can likely score real military issue sleeping bags for $10 each. My nephews camped in their army surplus bags (seriously heavy bags that had to be washed and dried in industrial laundry machines) for about a dozen years until their mom sold her house and sold their bags in the garage sale. The main thing I didn't like about them is that they were heavy as sin when they got soaked, and they didn't usually dry out in just one day of airing. But the basic Coleman bags I recommended are poly in and out, and thermaloft insulation, and they dry out relatively quickly. They're fine summer bags.

I've camped in cheapo KMart tents, and fancy Eureka domes and several tent levels in between. Of all the tents I've owned over the years, I kept a three season, two person Eureka dome that I got at the Eureka factory sale about fifteen years ago...for $19 (it was a second, because one of the bindings on the zipper flaps is the wrong color from the bindings on the other flaps...oops.) I used it for years with a closed cell foam pad and a Kelty kids sleeping bag (I'm short...and the kid's bag cost about 1/4 what an adult size Kelty bag cost at the time.) I also have a stand-up, two room tent I got at K-mart seven years ago which is our 'dog tent' for dog shows. I can sleep in it with all of my dog crates and grooming stuff in the other room, or we can use it to house all of our dogs when we go camping as a group--it will hold 15 large crates. It was $40, and it owes me nothing at this point--but it doesn't leak, it's clean and it serves its purpose. Just 'cause it's cheap doesn't mean it won't hold up for one or two uses every year. Also, it's possible that these people were going to borrow someone else's tent, which would save them plenty.

I've camped next to folks who spent their cash on a decent air mattress and brought sheets and pillows from home. In good weather, in the summertime, they were just fine. Probably not using 400 thread count sheets, but hey...they're camping!

Also, if they used to have a pop-up, they're not complete amateurs, and they may have some things kicking around from the pop-up days that will get them through their tenting experience.
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Postby Lynn Coleman » Fri Sep 14, 2007 1:50 am

Hi all,

Gaelan is right, it can be done. Paul and I would go camping for a week each year on $150.00 with three kids.

If they had a pop-up, they most likely have some of the basic camping supplies, pots, pans, plates, cups, silverware and even sleeping bags.

What we did was purchased our camping stuff at the end of the season sales. Our tent lasted for 25 years, canvas cabin tent, a Coleman of course. :)

Flashlights, lighters, candles and wood for burning can be brought from home. Pot holders, cooking utentils, etc. can come from home.

Pillows, sheets and blankets can come from home. I'd even bring laundry soap in ziplock bags from home so I didn't have to buy laundry mate soap. Back then state campgrounds didn't have washers and dryers. Heck they didn't even have showers.

You can borrow sleeping bags and tents from your friends. Hopefully even a camp propane stove.

You can bring an asortment of non-perishable food from home. I shopped yard sales and picked up individual camping sets for boyscouts and girlscouts. These are great for making chicken pot pie with a biscuit top over a campfire. You also can pick these up for a buck or less at a garage sale. I'd freeze several days of meat and two gallons of water to put in the freezer.

Agreed water buckets are gallon jugs.

The money I would use to buy more food and do one special event during the week as well as my camping fees. I'd definitely stay in the free or ten or less campgrounds. Half of our money was spent on the campsite the rest on food and fun.

Anyway, it can be done. It just takes a bit of planning and remembering what you already do have. And good friends who would loan you their stuff.

Our tent went camping far more than we did. ;)

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Postby Salivanto » Fri Sep 14, 2007 4:59 am

Gaelen wrote:Also, if they used to have a pop-up, they're not complete amateurs, and they may have some things kicking around from the pop-up days that will get them through their tenting experience.


I thought of that. I could see it going either way. Either they're used to a higher comfort level than you'd have sleeping on the ground, or they're veterans looking to get back into camping after a small setback. The bottom line is that I just don't know.

I did have another conversation with the guy just yesterday and I mentioned this thread. I decided it wasn't quite my business to ask what I wanted to ask ... i.e. whether the budget is still $150 and what does that budget need to cover. Maybe I'd ask if the right context preseneted itself. Regardless, it's been interesting thinking about the problem and seeing the responses here.

Lynn, I was thinking about this thread yesterday morning. I can see that my problem is not fully defined. I agree that you can have quite a variety of weekend getaways for $150. You can stay in a cabin or even in a hotel with little or no equipment required and it won't cost that much. I haven't defined how much reusable value should be left at the end of the trip, what basic equipment can be assumed to already be at hand, or even how long the trip should be.

I know myself that as a youth I've done overnight trips on something close to zero dollars. I think we paid for a site and slept in our cars or on the ground in borrowed tents and sleeping bags dug out of someone's basement. I don't rememer it being fun, although I do think back on it fondly.
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Postby Miriam C. » Sat Sep 15, 2007 8:51 am

:o My children still use their tents and I can tell you they take their kids camping (real camping) for a whole lot less than $150 for a weekend. They have tents which I bought at a flea market. New 3 room tents for $20 each.
The kids have sleeping bags because their grandma bought them for Christmas along with the fishing poles. Academy Sports has some decent bags for $10.

They take their cast iron pans from home, use the grill at the campsite with some aluminum foil and lots of hot dogs and hamburgers. My grand kids love it. They have fun because they go to places where they can swim, fish and lay around.
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Postby Laredo » Sat Sep 15, 2007 7:03 pm

I keep coming back to this thread.
So much depends on where you're going.
What I'd have to have to spend a weekend in Mustang Island state park is very different from what I'd have to have to spend a weekend in Kit Carson National Forest.

But the basic things are:
a way to sleep warm and dry
a way to heat water and/or food
a way to carry the rest
water
food

Now if I were hiking a "rails to trails" between South Plains and Caprock Canyons, where there are not good trees for a hammock and there are no designated campsites, I'd want a bed roll. This involves one (or two, or more) of those closed-cell foam pads, a blanket, and a tarp. The tarp goes on the ground. The (bottom) pad goes in the middle with the blanket over it. (The top pad goes over that, with the blanket liner over it.) The pad(s) should lie on a diagonal to the tarp, and the tarp should be in a well-drained, level place free of large rocks or anthills. Start with one side of the bedding and fold it to the middle of the pad(s). Fold the foot over this, and the final side over the top (think sealing a burrito). The "free" corner of the tarp can be pulled over against a cold wind or rain.
If I were going somewhere with trees I'd take a hammock and ditch the sleeping pad(s), unless I needed them for insulation / mosquito control (Abilene or anywhere south of there).
I'd hang the hammock, lay the blanket in it, and hang the tarp about 3' above the hammock to keep off the rain.
If I couldn't have an open fire I'd carry a pop-can stove (or two) and a little bottle of hand sanitizer (which is gelled alcohol, so it can double as fuel). If I could have an open fire I'd carry matches. Either way I'd want a metal cup to heat water in. If I were only going to be out for a weekend, I'd probably bring along instant coffee or instant hot cocoa, teabags, some of Mike's homemade Gatorade mix, some instant oatmeal or grits, a packet or two of ramen, and a couple of granola bars. I'd also want to have at least two 2-liter bottles of water. Since I'm particular, I'd bring an extra oversize T-shirt and a pair of swim trunks so I could sleep in clothes I hadn't sweated out. That way I could hang my day clothes up to dry for the next day. (Bring clean sox. It's better for your feet, and critters will steal sox for the salt.) With that and a flashlight or a pop-can/soda-bottle lantern, I could get by for a weekend.
Longer trips take more junk, though.
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