Story by Anya Murphy

Camping on a budget? Try these 5 easy tips.

Camping, exploring, adventuring, overlanding, off-roading… whatever you’re out doing, here’s how to cut costs without sacrificing fun.

As much as we wish we had an unlimited adventure budget, that’s often very much not the case. It’s so easy to pour tons of money into your camping or overlanding setup and get way out of budget way too quickly, especially when cars and trucks get involved. To avoid this, we’ve collected all of our best tips and tricks that’ll help you stay under budget when you’re out on the road. (If you’re looking for gear suggestions, check out our Gear Box series, too). When we’re trying to keep our adventures low-cost, our motto is K.I.S.S – Keep It Simple, Stupid. With that being said, here are our tips! Keep reading to learn more.

01 Rent, borrow, or find used equipment

02 Visit state parks for free or a tiny fee (or get a National Park pass!)

03 Meal prep to avoid takeout

04 Use Gasbuddy to help save on gas

05 Find free or cheap attractions on your route

When you’re camping on a budget, planning is an incredibly important part of sticking to your limits. We’ve found that planning helps us to save money and avoid emergencies or detours that can be costly. Planning ahead seems like the simplest thing you could possibly do, but trust us – it counts.

01 Rent, borrow, or find used equipment

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This is our favorite tip for those who may just be starting out as campers or overlanders. However, it’s a really underrated solution for experienced adventurers as well. Need a specific piece of equipment or tool for the place you’re headed or the trail you’re taking? Check gear shops to see if they rent that item, so you can avoid steep price tags for an item you’ll only use once.

Borrowing items is another great way to get something that you only need to use for a couple of days. Plus, if you’re camping on a budget, finding equipment in thrift or consignment stores is also helpful in avoiding costs when you need new stuff or something gets broken. Keep in mind that shopping secondhand does require a bit more effort than normal. On the flipside, though, the positives for both your wallet and the environment are definitely worth the time investment.

There are more bonuses to renting for newbie campers, too. The market for camping and overlanding gear is so massive, sometimes we feel like we’re constant victims of option paralysis. We see it all, though, and our best strategy for choosing what’s best for what we need is to test out gear. Renting equipment can be an easy, inexpensive way to help you choose before you decide to invest.

02 Visit state parks for free or a tiny fee (or get a National Park pass!) Logo. Abstract image of a compass dial with text reading "BUY YOUR PASS ONLINE;", white on green to the right, followed by a canyon view under a cloudy sky.

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While we’re huge fans of making stops in National Parks on our adventures, we can’t deny that they get pretty pricey, especially if you’re planning on hitting more than one along your route. Right now, it costs $35 per vehicle to enter Grand Canyon National Park, plus an additional $18-$35 for a campsite. That goes the same for most of the other large National Parks, including Zion and Yellowstone. If you’re hitting more than one park in a year, get a national park pass in advance of your trip. It’s $80 – it practically pays for itself after just two parks. Believe us, it seems stupid, but it’s well worth the investment. Plus, it may even make you more likely to get out there and explore, since, really, you’ll already have paid for it.

National Parks are amazing, and a must on anyone’s travel bucket list. However, we’ve also realized over time that we can still experience some awesome things out in the world (and even near those National Parks) while we’re camping on a budget. These are stops along the journey that we like to plan ahead for – instead of spending our lunch in a parking lot, we like taking a pit stop first, then heading out to explore a more local state park or even national forest while we’re between destinations. Keeping the adventure going is just a matter of searching for cool stops along your planned route that aren’t necessarily “bucket list” destinations.

03 Meal prep to avoid takeout

Photo by Vanessa Garcia from

We ate significantly more gas station hot dogs on our last road trip than we had originally planned to… and we realized, they really add up! Combine that with gas prices and our bank accounts have been taking a serious hit at those roadside rest stops. Sort of disrupts that whole “camping on a budget” mission, huh? So, this tip really falls into the K.I.S.S category, but really, even if it’s just assigning someone to “sandwich duty” while you’re packing up breakfast, meal prepping can really help you save a buck. Plus, if you’re ready to eat in the car, you’ll spend less time getting to your destination and more time enjoying it.

If you’re in need of some inspiration, check out some of Tread’s latest food adventures:

04 Use Gasbuddy to help save on gas

Free Display Screen of a Gasoline Pump Stock Photo

Photo by Eric Mclean from

We’re huge Gasbuddy fans. Have you ever been in that situation where you’re running low on gas and the town you wind up in just happens to be 10 cents more expensive than the prices you’ve been seeing for the past thirty miles while you’ve watched your tank empty? Then you know the frustration. Thankfully, the good people over at Gasbuddy are helping us solve that problem one submission at a time. The free app uses data submitted by users to accurately report on and recommend the lowest gas prices in your area or along a route.

With Gasbuddy, you’ll be able to plan out stops with the cheapest gas so that you’re not wasting money by getting stuck in the “Well, I guess this is it…” situation when filling up. Plus, it filters brands of gas, food marts and rest stops, and other qualifications to make sure you’re getting exactly what you want out of your gas stops.

05 Find free or cheap attractions on your route

Free Route 66 in Amboy Stock Photo

Photo by Lydia Vogt from

This tip is pretty similar to number 3, where we talked about camping at state parks and National Forests as a budget alternative to National Park camping. Here, though, we’ll focus more on things we’d consider “attractions” versus places to stop and rest. When we’re on long trips, we want to make every stop we take worth our time. There’s all sorts of weird and cool stuff to find on the side of the road, like funky landmarks like the famous dinosaurs at some Sinclair gas stations. It’s really as easy as a quick Google search when you’re bored.

A lot of these roadside attractions don’t cost a dime to go check out. Plus, we absolutely think that they add to the adventure ratio of any road trip or pit stop. In fact, we’ve made some of our favorite memories by stopping along the side of the road on cross-country adventures. Even if it looks gimmicky, we vote go for it. We even like to stop at antique malls and thrift stores we spot, just to stretch our legs and take a look around.

Bottom line is, planning ahead can help save you money, but being spontaneous can bring more adventure to your journey. It’s finding the right balance of both – and seeking out on-budget adventures – that can make your trip without breaking the bank.

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