Camping is a fun and low-cost vacation option, but with gas, food and the cost of campsites – the costs can really add up. So how can you cut down on camping costs but still have a great experience?  Read on for ways to save!

1. Save on campsites
Why pay a fee when you can camp free? Find a campground where you can pitch your tent or park your RV at no cost on Freecampsites.net or Campendium.com. Or consider camping at a national forest. You’ll pay an entrance and amenity fee, but you’re free to stay anywhere on the grounds as long as you follow park guidelines.

You can also get discounts by joining camping clubs like the Happy Camper Club or the KOA’s Value Kard Rewards program. Or consider getting an annual pass from the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands – that gives you access to more than 2,000 national parks and national wildlife refuges ($80 a year; $20 for individuals ages 62 and older; free for members of the military).

2. Rent or borrow camping gear
If you’re new to camping or don’t get a chance to go camping very often, it really doesn’t pay to spend big bucks on specialized equipment you’ll rarely use. You can borrow camping gear from a friend, or rent from companies like REI Co-op. If you’d rather have your own equipment, check out sites like Switchback Gear Exchange for gently used camping items at great prices.

3. Skip the prepackaged meals
Save on food costs by ditching prepackaged meals. You can find many ideas for easy camping meals you can cook over a fire with a quick Google search. Usually, all it takes is some basic food supplies and a roll of aluminum foil!

4. Share meal prep
If you always camp as a group, save costs by sharing the meal prep. Divide the meals completely, with each family responsible for several meals, or create a master list of supplies and food, and then divide and conquer. 

5. Consider “workamping”
If you don’t live near a national park and you’d love a free stay, volunteering to work at a campground in exchange for camping can be a terrific option. Lots of campsites and RV parks are now offering this choice: For a bit of hard work, you’ll get free access to the campgrounds.

6. Pack like you’re being marooned on an island
Don’t set out on your trip until you’ve triple-checked that you’ve packed everything. You don’t want to be forced to pay inflated, small-town convenience store prices for forgotten items.

Your Turn: Have some camping hacks that save on costs? Share your best tips with us in the comments!