If you have been thinking about getting started with camping, you may be curious about how much it costs. Many people consider camping an inexpensive hobby, but is this truly the case when you start from scratch?
It could cost up to $500 to start camping. This is because you need to buy essential gear such as a tent, backpack, hiking boots/clothing, and a sleeping bag, among other items. You’ll also need to buy food and drinks and pay camping fees. However, once you have the basic gear covered, the costs for subsequent camping trips will drop to a manageable level.
This article explores whether camping is an expensive hobby and what gear you need for your first camping trip. You will also discover the average campsite fees and where to buy affordable camping gear.
Is Camping an Expensive Hobby?
When most people imagine camping, they picture sleeping outdoors in a tent with basic amenities. Hence, the widespread idea that camping is a cheap activity. However, this might not be the case.
You see, camping costs vary widely depending on factors like:
- The duration of your camping trip
- Your camping location and activities
- How much gear you own, and how much you need to add
There are also different types of camping, and each comes with its own costs.
The rates for RV campsites vary widely depending on the type of RV camping and camp location. Still, standard RV campsites charge between $35 and $50. For other types of RV camping:
- Pull-through campsites: about $50-$65
- Sites featuring concrete pads: between $50 and $65
- Resort RV campsites: $40-$50 during low-season and $60-$100 for high season
Campgrounds in premium locations like the oceanside command up to $60-$100, while RV camping fees in a state park range between $30 and $45. The cost depends on whether it’s partial or complete hook-ups.
On average, a standard campsite’s cost is between $12 to $45 per night. This range depends on whether you are using a basic site with a fire pit or one with full amenities. Many parks also provide an annual pass, at between $30 to $80.
Note that some campsites charge per family and per night while others offer a base fee covering 6-10 people.
Backpacking involves carrying your entire gear on your back for the duration of your wilderness excursion. The costs vary from one person to the next, depending on your location and the type of trip. However, just like with camping, gear doesn’t come cheap.
At times, your trip might include stops for a comforting meal, a night indoors, and a resupply of essential items. However, most backpacking entails enroute camping spots or improvised campsites next to rivers or under the trees.
Can you go camping in a car? Yes, you can.
Some campgrounds offer car camping, including a ready-made campsite with a fire pit, picnic table, water, and even electricity. Indeed, many national forests allow primitive camping whereby you car camp outside a designated campground for up to 16 days. However, there are no amenities, including restrooms or water.
Required Gear – Tent Camping at a Campground
If you are planning your maiden tent camping trip at a campground, you need to purchase several items. Below is a detailed list of what you require as a newbie camper, with the most expensive items appearing at the top.
- Personal gear: hiking clothes and shoes, sleeping bag, rain gear
- Equipment: tent, backpack, cooking kit, cooler, first-aid supplies
- Food and drink items
- Fees: campsite fees, park day passes
- Activities: kayaking, fishing, boating, card games
All in all, your overall costs will depend on how creative you are in acquiring your gear—the high ticket item. If you can improvise, hire, or borrow some of the things you need, you can substantially reduce your costs.
Average Tent Campsite Cost
In general, well-maintained campgrounds tend to be pricey. Again, popular parks have higher maintenance costs; hence, they charge higher fees. Camping entry fees may also depend on the camp location, with some offering free services.
Private Camping Grounds
Private campgrounds such as Koa Campgrounds provide tent camping opportunities. Moreover, they also offer utilities such as a fire ring, picnic tables, restrooms, and showers. The rates are approximately $30 but can dip to mid-$20s during off-seasons or shoot up to $40 in high seasons.
While you can camp in a random wooded area, the most secure sites are national parks. Try and search for the lesser-known parks in your location and camp in their free campsites. The best period is during the off-peak season as there’s ample space.
You can also check out local municipal parks in your area. It’s possible to camp at the house if you offer to help clean the park when they have an event.
State Camping Grounds
There are thousands of state parks all over the country offering pocket-friendly camping sites. They also accommodate both tent camping and RV camping.
Most state parks charge a daily fee—though a few like Ohio and Illinois don’t charge park entrance fees. Each person pays a day-use pass whenever they visit the park, but children enter the camping grounds for free. The average fee for a tent campsite is between $20-$30 and goes up to mid $30s during the peak season.
You also need to pay a campsite reservation fee. Depending on the park’s popularity and the amenities, the fee could range from $6 to $9. Campsites with water, electric hook-ups, and plumbed bathrooms typically charge more, so your camping costs could be higher. Other fees include:
- $2-$5 per every extra person (over 6)
- $4-$6 for each additional vehicle
- $8.50-$10 cancellation fee
Note that rates are higher over weekends and during holidays. Plus, if you plan on camping in a given state park often, it’s more cost-effective to get an annual park pass.
National Park Campsites
The annual $80 National Parks pass provides you with unlimited access to 2,000+ federal recreation areas. This includes entrance to all national parks that usually charge entrance fees.
Additionally, some national parks offer fee-free camping dates within the year. However, this waiver does not include amenity or activity fees. So, you will still need to pay the regular prices for camping, special tours, or transportation. These are:
- $15-25 for camping fees costs ( $10 for backcountry)
- $65-$80 for group campsites
- $10 reservation fee
It’s also worth noting that camping rates go up by an additional $5 to $10 per night during the peak season. So, to save money, do consider camping during off-peak.
Where to Buy Affordable Camping Gear
To help reduce the costs of purchasing your camping gear, buy from discount sites such as The Clymb, Sierra Trading Post, REI, and Backcountry.com. You can also try buying second-hand gear on Craigslist or eBay.
Another great option for newbie campers is to borrow what you need from a camping buddy and then build your stash slowly. This way, you can manage your costs and get to buy high-quality gear that will last for a long time.
However, if camping is a one-time fancy and you don’t see yourself engaging in this activity for the long term, then you’re better off renting the equipment. This will be much more affordable than buying the equipment. Moreover, some campsites offer rental equipment at modest rates, so you can choose to camp in such.
Additional Costs to Consider Before Your First Camping Excursion
Besides the essential camping gear you will need to buy, some additional costs you may want to consider include:
- Fees to cover an extra vehicle
- Additional person fee (many campgrounds include 2 or a maximum of 6 people in the basic rate)
It might not be cheap to start camping, given that there are dozens of small costs that can add up to a significant amount.
However, if you plan well and cut costs wherever possible, you may end up spending less than anticipated. Besides, once you buy all the gear you need, camping becomes a much more affordable activity you will enjoy for many years.
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Erick is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast. Growing up in Nairobi Kenya and now calling Glasgow, United Kingdom home. Sipping on homemade spiced swahili tea and enjoying a good book is his idea of bliss.