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Camping on the Cheap

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Camping is one of the most cost efficient vacations you can possibly take. As a matter of fact, a full week of camping may cost you as little as $100! Yes, I did say $100 for a full week’s vacation!

What’s the catch? OK, you’ve got me! There is a catch and here it is – that sweet price tag of $100 is after you buy the equipment you will need. Still, there’s a catch to that catch – once you buy the equipment, you will be able to use it for many, many years if you care for it properly.

Not using proper care, treatment, and storage guidelines for camping equipment is what tends to cost people so much in the long run. Not knowing and using the guidelines can cause your camping equipment to leak, break, rot, and generally fail, all of which lend to the worst camping trips ever.

The information below is intended to give you the basic guidelines and procedures used in camping gear care. It is highly recommended that you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for their specific products.

The Tent

This is usually the most expensive part of your camping gear; however, if cared for properly, the tent could last you more than 20 years.

When you buy a tent, you should set it up at home, if possible, so you are familiar with the instructions and to make sure nothing is missing. At this time, you should seal all seams using an approved product to help prevent leaks. I personally like Coleman Seam Sealer and Outdoor Repair.

The tent should never be put away wet. Sometimes this can’t be helped – it is or has been raining and you have to break camp. It’s ok. Take down your tent as usual, but be sure to re-erect it as soon as you can when you get home to let it dry completely. Once completely dry, thoroughly sweep (wash if necessary) tent to remove all mud and debris. Reseal and repair all seams, troublesome spots, and weak fabric if necessary. Let dry thoroughly after sealant is applied. Pack tent as usual, placing tent stakes and spikes in the small bag designed for them and storing with tent. This will prevent the stakes and spikes from tearing the tent material, but will keep all components together so nothing is left behind for the next camping trip.

Store the tent away from dampness, bugs and rodents.

If time between uses is long, you may want to consider setting up the tent before your trip, resealing it, and checking for any damage such as mold and dry rot.

Camp Stove

You have a choice to make when you buy a stove for camping. Do you want to use propane, liquid fuel, or a backpacking stove? All three types are good, but you need to read up on each to decide which will best suit your needs.

The camp stove usually has the second highest price tag on your equipment list, but you will be mighty happy you chose to invest in one of these little jewels in the morning when you want your coffee or you have to cook dinner after a long tiring day of fun in the sun.

Your stove should be cleaned thoroughly after each trip using dish soap, water, and a soft brush. You can also use a high – pressure hose (like those at a carwash). Be sure to remove all food and grease. Dry thoroughly before storing.

Check the hoses and valves well for wear. Replace any broken, cracked, or frayed parts immediately. This check should be done when storing and before use EVERY TIME for your safety.

Alternatively, you can Always cook on a campfire!

Lanterns and Flashlights

It gets extremely dark at night on the trail, but it can also be quite dark in a campground, too. For this reason it is highly recommended you invest in several lighting options.camping-on-the-cheap

If using battery – powered flashlights, headlamps, or lanterns, be sure you take oodles of extra batteries with you – especially if you have children camping with you. Most of these lighting options are made of plastic and are quite durable.

If using propane lanterns, consider investing in lantern boxes. A lantern box is like a suitcase for your lantern. It is form fitted and will help protect the glass and mantles from breakage.

Keep extra mantles for your propane lanterns in the lantern box, too.

Sleeping Bags

As soon as you get your sleeping bag home from the store, unpack it. Roll it out, check it over, and let it air out and fluff up. Set the stuff sack it came in aside for another use. You will not be using the stuff sack to store your sleeping bag.

Most sleeping bags are machine washable, using gentle laundry soap. You may even be able to dry in on low heat in the dryer, but line drying is more favorable. The bag must dry completely before being stored.

To store your sleeping bags, you have several recommended options:

Roll the bag. Store in a large trash bag, but do not squeeze out the air.
Hang in a closet.
Store under flat under the bed.
Hang from hangers with clips in your basement, garage, etc.

No matter how you choose to store your bag, be sure to store it away from dampness, bugs, & mice. Also be sure to give your bag a comprehensive shake – maybe even a good sweeping – before using after storage to make sure there are no spiders hitching a ride.


Coolers are essential when camping. You should have several with each of them having a specific use such as the following:

One for raw meats
One for lunchmeats and dairy (cheese)
One for fresh vegetables and fruits – These can be put in the cooler with lunchmeats if elevated on a tray.
One for ice and drinks

After your trip or any other use, your coolers should be washed thoroughly with dish soap and water – making sure seals, valves, and drain plugs are cleaned, too. Rinse the cooler extremely well with water.

If a cooler has an odor, add baking soda to the water – at least 1/4 cup – and let set at least 30 minutes before washing and rinsing.
If the cooler has stains, you can fill the cooler with water and add 1/4 – 1 cup bleach. Use the least amount of bleach possible and do this outside to prevent damage to flooring and other surfaces in your house. Let set at least 30 minutes before washing and rinsing. Rinse well!

Let the coolers dry completely – air drying is best. When thoroughly dry, add a few sheets of crumpled newspaper to the cooler before closing the lid and storing.

If storing coolers for a long period between uses, you may want to consider wrapping the coolers in plastic wrap or placing in a large trash bag to prevent dust settling.


While not everyone uses a tarpaulin when camping, it is always a good idea to have at least one on hand in the event of tent leaks, the need for shelter over your dining area, or covering equipment from the elements.

It doesn’t matter if your tarps are poly or vinyl; they both require the same care. Tarps should be washed with mild soap and water using a sponge. You should rinse and dry the tarp extremely well before storing.

Your tarps should be rolled – NOT folded – to prevent sharp creases that can lead to leaks, tears, and poor performance all around. Once rolled, tie a strip or two of fabric around to tarp to keep it rolled.

Store the tarp away from dampness, bugs and rodents.

Cooking Gear

You should have equipment and supplies specifically for your outdoor cooking separate from your everyday cooking.

Your outdoor cooking gear will get very dirty from the flames, coals, and ash used in outdoor cooking. Sometimes these charred areas do not come completely clean and can leave marks on other items when stored. These marks are not dangerous or nasty – They are memories of past camping trips.

All of your cooking gear should be washed and thoroughly dried to ensure the removal of all food. Your gear should then be stored in a labeled tote that has layers of newspaper in the bottom and several layers to lie over the gear before the lid is locked in place. The newspaper will help draw any unknown moisture left behind.

Cast Iron

Cast iron pots and pans are one of the best investments you can make for your cooking pleasure – at camp and at home.

Sure, it’s heavy, but you can cook nearly ANYTHING in cast iron – including awesome cakes, cobblers, stews, steaks, potatoes, etc.

The following information is a compilation of information from the Lodge Manufacturing website. Lodge Manufacturing has been creating cast iron cookware since 1896.

There are many debates on how to clean cast iron, but according to Lodge Manufacturing if cared for properly, seasoned cast iron pans can last 100+ years.

When cast iron is seasoned properly, it creates natural, easy – release properties. Cast iron is seasoned vegetable shortening or oil – NEVER cooking spray.

Always use metal, wood, or high – temp silicone when cooking in cast iron. Also be aware that all components of cast iron cookware get very hot quickly and stay hot longer than the average cookware.

You may need extra oil or butter to prevent sticking until your pot or pan is well seasoned. Acidic foods, such as tomatoes, lemons, etc., can damage the seasoning; therefore, you should avoid these items until the pan is well seasoned.

Soap is NOT necessary when cleaning cast iron. It can actually damage the seasoning. Cast iron should never be put in dishwashers, strong detergents, or have metal scouring pads used on them. All of these will damage the seasoning.

To clean your cast iron, use water, a dishrag, and a gentle brush or scouring sponge. Dry exceptionally well. Rub a light coating of vegetable oil on the inside of the pan. DO NOT rub the outside of the pan with oil – it will create a fire hazard.

If rust does appear, scour the pan, rinse, and dry well. Rub with a little vegetable oil. If rust persists, re-season the pan.

Your cast iron should have a slight shine like the pot. The frying pan needs to be re-seasoned.

Please share your tips and ask questions on how to care for camping gear below. We’d love to hear from you!

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