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The Best Frugal Items You Need for Real Camping

Camping—cheap Camping—that’s what I am talking about here. Not glamping, friends. If you are a Glamper, it’s okay. I still love you, and these ideas can work for you, too. Possibly. This is for, let’s say, the minimalist vacationer!

Ever since I was a little girl, my family has gone camping. My dad got angry when the generators ran and bright RV lights shone into our tent.

He hated a poor tent spot with rocks and other debris in it and campers directly on top of him. He basically engrained in us that Glamping was unacceptable.

The Best Frugal Items You Need for Real Camping

What was the point of camping if you were using electricity?

I almost broke down a few weeks ago and thought it would be fun to have a pop-up tent. I wanted to be able to bring our dog and possibly have him hang out in it.

Plenty of times, we have brought our dog with us, and he would sleep in the tent. He’s 11 now and hiking up in the Adirondacks would completely knock him out.

When I actually stepped up to a pop-up camper near us for sale, I decided instantly, no way.

The only difference was that you were not on the ground. There was a mini fridge and two beds. I guarantee those mattresses aren’t any better than our air mattresses.

If I was going to go for an upgrade from our tent- I would have to go all in with the RV. Otherwise, I’m dropping $2,500 on a glorified tent.

If you want to camp cheap, here are the essential items every frugal camper needs to have.

Before we get into the list, to really level up your camping experience, you need to grab my ultimate camping planner. It’s made every camping trip smooth and stress-free since we started using it! It’s on sale for a limited time so grab it here.

best camping planner

Dry Shampoo

This is a must because you probably aren’t too concerned with showering while camping. Cheap camping means you need to forgo things sometimes. Like washing your hair. I have YET to use a campsite shower. No thanks. Would you really get clean in it anyways with the HUGE spiders all over?!

This stuff is a lifesaver and will come in handy in case you decided to go to town for a little shopping or even dinner.

My personal favorite is this one from BJs of course. You can score it on Amazon too. A video of me using it is here.

If you love BJs we have our favorite camping items at BJs here.

cheap camping items you need


This is essential for your tent if it rains. Having a tarp set up over your picnic table and your tent saves the annoying drips of water seeping thorough at 3 am. Does it almost always rain at night for anyone else when you camp?

Just think about the price of pop up campers, or a tarp? No not convenience price! Just a reminder this isn’t glamping 🙂

I would like to point out if you are considering camping cheap you probably already own or should have a tent! It’s a must have!

The Best Frugal Items You Need for Real Camping

A good Big Cooler

It is worth the cost to get a good quality cooler. You may be able to find a good one second hand but for us we bring a ton of food and we need a cooler that seals. You don’t want to BUY ice when you are camping do you?

This is the exact one our family uses and I love it. The holders on top for drinks or toys is handy. When the girls were under five they couldn’t get the top open because it has that good of a seal. Now with a little muscle they can pop it open.

Plus the handle is great to pull it along when its too heavy to pick up and carry.

If you have a family larger than four you may want to consider the 100 -Quart size! The worst thing is not having enough space for cold items.

Costco has a great price for coolers and camping stuff. See our list here.

Stainless Steel Water Bottles

The stainless steel water bottles cost more upfront but it is the frugal choice. Most campsites have a place to fill up with water you can drink.

It’s cheaper and takes up less space for every member of your family to have their bottle. Fill it up as needed, and your water will stay colder. Our favorite brand is Contigo. Never leaks on us.

The Best Frugal Items You Need for Real Camping

Air Mattress

If you are over the age of 25 you are going to want an air mattress. Trust me. The older you get the harder the ground becomes. Last year my husband and I went to the Adirondacks just the two of us.

We tend to get really minimalist when we camp and decide to bring our sleeping bags and some foam he had from a past project.

I was hesitant BIG time. I have no problem admitting after hitting 30 my body aches a little more.

I love my husband that much I slept on it the first night and he did too. Guess what? It was HORRIBLE! He admitted it too and we blew up the air mattress.

Save yourself the agony and always bring an air mattress. The kids they get the sleeping bags, adults always get the mattress.


This is a must. Not a cheap one from the Dollar tree a good one. Preferably one that magnifies. This is the one my husband loves and they last a long long time.

Plus if you have any kind of animals out in a barn, a good flashlight is a must-have. It’s not fun scrambling for the flashlight in your phone as you walk out to a pitch-black barn with your chickens squawking like crazy.

This flashlight is nice and easy to grip when your nerves are high, unlike your phone.

The Best Frugal Items You Need for Real Camping

First Aid Kit

Whether you bring the essentials and place into a ziplock bag or buy one all together and only use it for camping it’s an essential to camping.

If you are camping with kids, this should be the first thing in if your kids NEED a band-aid when they get a scrape. You can kick it up a notch and buy the cute themed band aids and only use them for camping.

Always Bring Extra Blanket

Here in New York, we can go camping in June and see temperatures in the 40s still at night. You never know what to expect, especially camping in the mountains.

Always bring enough blankets and then maybe one or two more.


A sweatshirt and long pants are a must. At night it’s always cooler, and the bugs can be nasty. Especially with kids, it’s easier to have them in warmer clothes ready for bed.

Even sleeping you want to be nice and warm and protected from the bugs crawling around ya! I know you really want go now right?!

Camping Chairs

There is almost always a picnic table at every campsite. However, if you forget chairs to sit in, the table isn’t as easy to sit in front of to enjoy the fire.

Of course, you can do it, but if you have foldable chairs bring those. Last year we bought Zero Gravity chairs, and those are the best. The cheap option are these.

The Best Frugal Items You Need for Real Camping


It’s easier to bring a backpack for the times you leave the campsite. If you are going hiking putting snacks, water and your first aid kit in are essential.

As a mom the backpack gives you both hands. If you always bring it and have snacks in it you’ll save money on impulse buying at the snack shops.


Don’t forget bug spray and sunscreen. My favorite bug spray is the OFF Deep Woods dry spray.

The deep woods work best for camping, and I don’t want our trip ruined by kids complaining about all the bug bites they got because the bugs were having a field day on them from ALL THOSE S’MORES!

The dry one isn’t heavy and works just as well.


I like to do a good coupon trip before we go camping. That means checking the sales flyers for good chips, hot dogs, etc sales. Hot dogs are a great food to bring because they can heat up quickly over a fire.

Think easy snacks and ones that don’t need refrigeration are best. If you want a fantastic way to keep your food list and meals organized grab my camping planner here.

Lunch meat, bread all that are great things to bring.

FRUGAL TIP: Hit up your local fast food drive through the next time you are there and grab a few extra packets! For real they work better than bringing the HUGE jug of mayonnaise. Well at least for us wholesale shoppers– all our condiments are three times larger then the regular grocery store!


It’s always good to have a knife on hand. If your spouse doesn’t have a pocket knife of some sort, girl get yourself a sharp kitchen knife. I would always bring a little steak knife.

It needsd to open any packaging of food or when your kids won’t eat the hot dog unless it’s cut up. Cutting it with a plastic fork leaves the skin on a hot dog and we all know what happens then- MELTDOWN!


If you are camping with kids always bring a few books and coloring sheets. Keep the crayons/markers to a minimum. The less you bring the more you can enjoy.

It’s nice to hangout at the campsite when you and the family need to unwind to something quiet.

The Best Frugal Items You Need for Real Camping

A Lighter

This is a key thing when you are starting a fire and you need to cook your food. We like the long candle lighters but any lighter you have around the house will do.

A Lantern

This is more if you have kids. Of course, it’s handy for couples, but my husband and I tend to really rough it. The girls liked having the lantern on at night the first few times they camped out. It’s also excellent for reading books or having some “alone time” in the tent.

That’s if you make it up that late! LED ones are the way to go. Otherwise you can use your Flashlight and just set ip upright too if you don’t want to spend any more money.

There you have it, a nice little list of the must haves. There are plenty of other little items to bring but if you’ve made it this far, that’s probably enough right?

Don’t Forget to Grab the Ultimate Camping Planner today!

ultimate camping planner

Unless I’m missing something obvious which could be! Let me know in the comments below.

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Sara Conklin

Thursday 11th of July 2019

I am not sure there is any place better than the Adirondacks to camp! Where's your favorite place?


Sunday 14th of July 2019

Agree! I've loved every place but I think eighth lake is our favorite.

Debbie Fox

Friday 7th of June 2019

Love camping but I guess you would say its Glamping as we have a 5th Wheel camper we use and have a place in Florida 8 miles from Disney . In the summer we go camping in Lancaster where we have a little cabin at a campground, relaxing and fun lots to do and see.

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