Camping Gear On A Budget: The Do’s and Don’ts

Camping On A BudgetCamping gear costs thousands of dollars for products, that if used enough, are going to fail when you least expect it. Let the hedgerow campers spend all that money on survival gear they don’t need. You’re here because you are camping on a budget.

I know.  I’ve had no money and the desire to do with less survival gear. Sound familiar? Thought so. That’s the basic foundation of being self-reliant.  So what can you do about it? Follow these do’s and dont’s from my own personal experience, and you will save a lot of money… and weight in your pack.  And I hope you see how good it feels to know you can do more with less.

I will base this off of a summer loadout that I built in 2009 after I lost my job in the economic collapse.

For a Winter loadout I would suggest adding a couple items:

  • Sleeping Pad
  • Military Sleep System MSS


bcusa tarp failureDo use the poly tarp.  I know this will catch some grief so I’ve backed it with two case studies. Case #1: If you treat it right when pitching and striking camp, use toggles instead of tying off directly to the grommet, and don’t apply too much tension, they will last for up to six months a piece. That includes hail storms, damaging winds, a few feet worth of rain, and general drunken stubbornness. You see, before I had money for an expensive forum tarp, I had poly tarps. They would last around 3-4 months a piece. That may not seem like a lot but I am very rough on gear as any of my friends can confirm. Case #2. Fuzzy, a trail friend, had a poly tarp last six months and he was every bit as hard on his as I was on mine. Many stormy nights for him, as well.  I know because I rode out a night filled with rain wrapped twisters with him on more than one occasion, so I can vouch for his tarp. Remember that fancy forum tarp I was able to finally afford? It blew out on me less than a year later.

Do pack a FAK.   It seems that the only time I need it, I don’t have it! Emergency medical supplies aid in emergencies. If you think you’re saving money by not having a FAK, think again.

Do pay extra for 550.   This is one of the only places I will splurge. Some folks use catfish line, but I’ve tried it and never have found the quantity to trump the quality of paracord. I will also note that I place much importance on having ready-made cordage with me. Besides, with the savings you’ll make from the other tips in this article, you can afford it. 🙂

Do use a sports drink bottle.   Use a Gatorade or other brand plastic liter bottle instead of an expensive Nalgene that weighs more. People are proving this by the hundreds every year on the Appalachian Trail.

09-01-12_11Do build your own frame saw.   A nicely tempered 24 inch Bahco saw blade is much lighter in your survival pack and more efficient than an expensive folding saw that tends to bend and break.

Do follow all laws.  
Always follow all laws regarding concealed firearms, knives, and other regulations for your area. Fortunately enough, I live in a Red State. If you’ve read this far I hope you’re in a Red State, too. What a mess!


Do Not obsess over your friends’ camping gear.   If he wants all that expensive stuff that’s cool. We need people investing in the economy. Besides, you’re an individual, and you are on a walk of your own. Follow it! Oh, and there is that whole thing about skills outweighing money 10 out of 10 times. 😉

Bad Tent StakesDo Not spend money on tent pegs.   Not much to say here. You will never find a set of tent pegs that works for everywhere you will be. What works in sand can only fail in rocky soil etc. etc. etc. pic of cheap tent pegs

Do Not buy heavy, expensive canteens.   I already touched base on this one, but a cheap billy pot and a Gatorade bottle are every bit as efficient as a heavy and costly metal bottle. Read what Alan Halcon had to say about this.

Do Not buy expensive custom knives.   A laser sharp Mora in the right hands is pretty hard to beat for $10. Of course, they are not indestructible, and you’ll likely be replacing them if you are a hard-use type.

Don’t buy an expensive titanium spork thingy that you’ll lose without a doubt. Instead, carve your own spoons, bowls, and more with your laser sharp Morakniv.

 Let’s see what we’ve saved so far:

Poly Tarp $10 per 4 months = $40 yr.
BCUSA UL Tarp 9 months = $170 less than a year
Savings: $130

First Aid Kit = $60
Trip to the ER = $1000ish and up
Savings: $940 at least, and you get to keep your dignity!

550 Paracord = $0.10 per ft.
Fishing Twine = $0.03 per ft.
Savings: Savings here are not monetary but the quality of 550 over the quantity of bank line gives us a real peace of mind savings.

Gatorade Bottle = $2.00
Nalgene Bottle = $10.00
Metal Canteen Bottle = $30
Savings: $8 – $28 depending. The weight will be a big savings too.

Bucksaw Blade = $10
Folding Saw = $30
Savings: $20 and a lot of space and weight.

Not Coveting Your Friends’ Gear = $0
Coveting Your Friends’ Gear = This will be costly! Don’t do it. You’re better than that!

Tent stakes you carved in the wilderness = $0
Tent stakes you bought at a store and need replaced occasionally = $10 – $20 every few months.
Savings: $40-$60 yr.

Morakniv = $10
Custom Knife = $200 & up
Savings: $190 or more!

Hand-Carved Dinnerware = $0
Titanium Spork Thingy = $12
Savings: $12

So how much can you save by following my experience driven tips? How about $440 dollars! That’s if you don’t F-Cut yourself and end up in the ER. 🙂

If you have any left over, you should spend a little on something for yourself at Outdoor Pros!  They are our newest sponsor, and carry quite a few camping and bushcraft items.  😉

Hopefully you have found something useful here, so maybe if you’re just now planning a low-budget camping backpack, you can save some coin and headache. And if you’re an experienced camper, I hope this has inspired you to reevaluate your current investment and needs. Trim the fat and grow your confidence through self-reliance!'

About Chad

Chad is a Native son of Medicine Lodge, Kansas. A founder of, he spends most of his time in "no man's land," NWOK wilderness!


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