How Expensive is Tent Camping?

by The Happy Rock on June 23, 2008


Item/Service Cost
Gas (~250 miles @ 23 MPG) $43
Campsite (2 nights) $44
Firewood $10
Food $70
Total $157

    Our family, The Rock Garden, spent the weekend at Hickory Run State Park in eastern Pennsylvania.  I wanted to chronicle our expenses so that you could get a first had look at how inexpensive car/tent camping can be.  The $157 total for the whole trip covers all the costs from Friday afternoon to Sunday night.  Admittedly, the trip was a little short, but that didn’t stop it from being a blast.

    For our little trip we are looking at $62 a day for everything.  There aren’t many other vacations that you can accomplish for anywhere near this price, unless you stay with friends or family. As a percentage, the gas cost will become smaller with each day that you stay.   Realistically, $60-70 dollars a day is a good estimate assuming you already have the essentials: cooler, tent, sleeping bags/air bed, stove, and lantern.

    Now a little bit more on the trip.  My wife, two sons(2 1/2 and 5 months), and my mom left Friday afternoon and arrived about 7:30 to heavy thunderstorms that were supposed to pass quickly.  If quickly means three more thunderstorm cells ending at almost 11:00, I agree.  We ate at Arby’s and then moved to Denny’s to wait out the storms. We finally got to the campsite and decided to sleep in the car.  Not as bad as it sounds since we have a Murano, but definitely better than setting up a tent at midnight on wet ground. Over the next day and a half we enjoyed the customary camping activities: hiking, napping, relaxing in nature, eating, having a campfire, and cooking smores.  On Sunday we found a great little waterfall to eat lunch under while we watched rafters and kayakers float down the Lehigh river(picture above).   It did thunderstorm as we tried to pack up which makes the tent quite a mess, but that couldn’t put a damper on a great trip.  We will make sure the next trip is a few days longer!  If you think it sounds like too much hassle, I would just say that is part of camping’s appeal.  The perspective and mental shift that comes from making due with whatever you have and whatever comes your way is a large part of the draw of camping.  Sleeping in your car because of the rain isn’t a hassle, it is part of the story, part of the bonding, and eventually the nostalgia of a great trip.

    { 11 comments… read them below or add one }

    Ed June 23, 2008 at 8:21 am

    That’s an awesome picture. How old is the Pebble?
    I’ve never been camping. At some point I’d like to try it, but realistically, how old should the youngest be before attempting a trip?


    Will June 24, 2008 at 12:16 am

    Ed, I had never really been camping either until last year. My youngest was just under 1yr at the time and it went fine. It can be a little rough towards bed time but other then that she loved it and it went very well.


    FFB June 24, 2008 at 11:09 am

    How was camping with a five month old? We’ve camped before our son was born but we’ve been holding off until he was older (18 mos now). We’ve been thinking we would need a cabin but it looks like you attempted tent camping with your little guys.

    I know what a rainy camp trip is like. On a couple of occasions I’ve tried canoeing but was rained out. Not always fun but an adventure in itself (and always good for a story later on).


    The Happy Rock June 24, 2008 at 11:58 am

    @FFB and Ed – Julian(Pebble JR.) is 5 months old and it worked out quite fine and he doesn’t even sit up really yet. My mom was there for an extra set of hands to hold him and he is also a really good baby which helps too.

    I would think once they are the age were they can sit up in a pac n play or on a blanket you would be good to go. Obviously temperament and personality would come into play. 18 months seems more than good. Just be in the camping go with the flow relaxing mindset and it will be fun! Camping is all about mindset.

    @Will – Yes, The Pebble bounced off the tent walls for 2 hours the first night he slept in a tent.


    spillingbuckets June 25, 2008 at 9:46 am

    I love camping! Ry and I both took a four day weekend this week (Today is actually our “Friday 😀 ) and plan on going camping in the Adirondacks.

    P.S. I just edited this comment because I noticed you could. That’s awesome! What widget do you have installed to allow this?


    The Happy Rock June 26, 2008 at 9:30 am

    @spillingbuckets – We stayed at the Adirondacks in the winter and it was great. I forget the name of the lake now though.

    Here is the link to the AJAX edit comments plugin.


    Monroe on a budget June 30, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    I don’t go camping as often as I used to, but many of the items needed for basic camping gear can do double-duty and are worth the investment.

    Example: camping lantern, ice chest and camp stove are handy to have during power outages or for use at tailgate parties.

    And sleeping bags are useful when you have guests. People who stay overnight at our house know we don’t have extra beds, but they’ll be as comfortable as we can get them set up.


    Dan June 30, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    I have been camping up by Hickory Run State Park a long time ago and it is a beautiful place. I have not been tent camping in that area in a long time but I wish I can make it back out there again. I have to agree with Monroe that having the right equipment can definitely help out with making your camping experience better. One thing that I learned was to always bring an extra sleeping blanket or two in case it gets cold or if everything gets soaked. One thing that wasn’t mentioned was having a good multi-tool or camping axe in case you have to cut more wood for firewood.


    The Happy Rock July 1, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    @monroe and Dan – Proper equipment does help, but I think having hte right mindset trumps almost anything else. I do like the fact that a lot of camping supplies can have dual purpose.


    Dan July 2, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    @ Happy Rock, that is true. I will agree that with the right mindset you can make the worst of situations work. Just like having to spend the night in your vehicle the very first night since it rained when you first got there. An optimist would probably have turned around and went home, but by having the mentality that situations will arise you and your family stuck it out and had a great time the rest of the weekend.


    Camping Tent Man October 6, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    I must give you kudos for attempting that trip with such young children! Especially with that kinda budget! Awesome.


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