Camping by the Numbers: How Much Does it Cost to Camp?

The best part about camping is going back to the basics and spending time outside with friends and family. But for beginners, the cost of collecting essential camping gear can be daunting, especially because there are so many options these days. We ran the numbers on three different camping scenarios to help new campers get a sense of what it really costs to camp in 2018.

Keep in mind, though, pricing further varies by the campground region you select, the time of year you travel and the number of people you bring along.

This is what it costs to go camping in America in 2018.

Camping Level 1: Cheapest

1. Basic tent campsite, non-holiday weekend

For an affordable weekend of camping, book a non-electric campsite for tents on public land. When camping at state parks, be aware that some (depending on state) may require you to purchase an annual parks pass to enter. Our pick: Mount Pisgah Campground in North Carolina ($20/night for 2 nights= $40).

2. Most affordable tent

Tents come in various sizes and a wide range of costs. For weekend car camping, we recommend a three-season, four-person tent. Our pick: Coleman Sundome 4-person tent ($71.99).

3. Cheapest sleeping bag

If the weather is mild, skip the sleeping bag altogether and bring sheets, pillows and blankets from home ($0).

4. Ground pad or air mattress

Happy campers use ground pads or air mattresses to support their backs. In cold weather, ground pads will also keep you warm by acting as an insulating barrier between the cold ground and your body. Our pick: ALPS Mountaineering Foam Camping Mat ($16.35).

5. Campsite cooking supplies

While camping cook systems can be expensive, keep it cheap by bringing pots and pans from home and cooking over the campfire. The only out-of-pocket cost will be for firewood and matches (~ $6).

6. Illumination

Once the sun goes down you’ll need a way to navigate in the dark. Most people have a simple flashlight at home (just make sure the batteries are good) or one can be purchased inexpensively at nearly any store. (~$10).

7. Camp chair

To ensure your comfort at camp, a camp chair is essential. A simple, folding chair is all you really need. Our pick: Coleman Broadband Mesh Quad Camping Chair ($24.95).

8. Cooler

You need a way to keep your perishable items cool while camping, so pack a simple cooler and fill it with ice. They aren’t durable, but in a pinch a Styrofoam cooler will work for the weekend. Our pick: Lifoam Huskee Hurcules Cooler ($9.47).

9. Activity

Spend your day hiking, wading in water or just hanging around the campfire ($0).

10. Meal

For the cheapest meal possible, catch a fish from a nearby river ($0, as long as a fishing license isn’t required).

Total cost: $178.76

Camping Level 2: Moderate

1. Electric campsite, holiday weekend

Standard electric campsites can accommodate a small pop-up camper or tent (use that electricity to charge your cell phone or blow up your air mattress). Rates for electric sites are slightly higher, as are rates on holiday weekends. Our pick: Ainsworth State Park in Oregon ($26/night for 2 nights= $52).

2. Mid-range tent

Tents in the mid-range price point will be lighter weight, more durable and often easier to assemble than the cheapest tents on the market. Our pick: Kelty Outback 4 Tent ($149.95).

3. Mid-range sleeping bag

Look for a sleeping bag that will keep you warm in three seasons (rated for 20 degrees). Synthetic bags are recommend for car camping because they’ll keep you warm even if they get wet. Our pick: Basin and Range Uinta Sleeping Bag ($93.46).

4. Ground pad

A self-inflating air pad is a step up from a foam ground pad and provides both warmth and comfort while camping. Our pick: REI Co-Op Camp Bed 3.5 ($129).

5. Campsite cooking supplies

To quickly and easily make food and boil water at camp, a propane-fueled, two-burner cook stove works great. Our pick: Coleman Classic Propane Stove ($79.99).

6. Illumination

A headlamp is great for navigating a dark camp and reading in your tent at night. Our pick: Black Diamond Spot Headlamp ($39.95).

7. Camp chair

A mid-range camp chair is roomy and comfortable enough to fall asleep in. Our pick: OzTent King Kokoda Chair ($89.99).

8. Cooler

A mid-range cooler is durable and keeps ice from melting over the weekend. Our pick: Coleman 28-Quart Cooler ($21.36).

9. Activity

Ranger-led hikes and other naturalists programs are a great way to learn about the local environment and (bonus!) they’re usually free ($0).

10. Meal

Freeze-dried backpacking meals are a quick and easy way to eat at camp. Our pick: Backpackers Pantry Lasagna ($9/meal).

Total cost: $664.70

Camping Level 3: Luxury

1. RV weekend rental

To camp in style, rent a large RV with all of the amenities (kitchen, shower and bedding). Our pick: Cruise America (~ $600 for the minimum 3 night rental).

2. Campsite with RV hookup at a fancy RV resort

Private RV resorts offer everything from heated pools to wellness centers. Our pick: Normandy Farmsin Massachusetts ($93/night for 2 nights = $186).

3. Sheets, bedding and pillows

When you rent an RV, you’ll pay extra for “personal convenience kits” that include sheets and blankets, around $100 per person ($100).

4. Ground pad

When you’re sleeping in an RV bed, no ground pad is needed ($0).

5. Campsite cooking supplies

Though your RV will come with a kitchen, you’ll need to rent a kitchen kit that will include pots, dishware and utensils (~ $100).

6. Illumination

A hand crank lantern will light your way at camp and can be recharged with or without electricity. No batteries needed. Our pick: Goal Zero Lighthouse 400 ($49.99).

7. Camp chair

High-tech camp chairs are lightweight, portable and can even recline for stargazing. Our pick: NEMO Stargaze Recliner Luxury Chair ($219.95).

8. Cooler

Top brand coolers are wildlife-proof and can keep your ice from melting for up to a week. Our pick: Yeti Tundra 65 ($349.99).

9. Activity

From guided hikes to white water rafting or zip lining, there’s no shortage of adventures to be had in the great outdoors. Our pick: Camelback Mountain Adventures Zip Lining ($37/person).

10. Meal

Forget camp cooking. Eat in style at one of the gourmet restaurants found at camp lodges across the country. Our pick: Roosevelt Lodge (~ $50/person).

Total cost: $1,692.93