The Happy Truck Camper: 17 Great Tips for Better Trips On a Budget

camping tips
Contributors: Scott Bestul, Dave Hughes, Dave Hurteau, John Merwin, Lawrence Pyne.Courtesy of Susan Drury/Flickr

Our resident camping experts are spread across the country from New England to Oregon. We asked them for their favorite camping tips for sportsmen on a budget. Their answers, based on more than a century of collective experience, will save you time and money in the woods.

1. No matter whether you're camping to hunt or fish, use the same basic set of cooking gear, sleeping bags, tent, and so forth. Keep it all ready to go, thereby making every upcoming trip that much easier.

2. Make a book of lists. A collection of lists covering categories such as cooking gear, personal items, first aid, fishing tackle, and so forth makes it easy to decide what to take or not take on any given trip.

3. Clean, repair, and prepare gear for the next trip when you get back from the last one. If it's ready to go, you will be, too.

4. To save on ice and to ensure potable water, fill and freeze 2-liter plastic soda bottles with water at home. The frozen containers will keep your camping cooler cold and dry, while providing refreshing ice-water as they melt.

5. Cookstoves and lanterns designed to burn white gas last nearly forever, are easily repaired, and are often available at bargain prices at flea markets or stores that sell used sporting goods.

6. Whatever fuel you use for cookstoves and lanterns, make sure all your appliances use the same. This reduces both cost and bulk in packing.

7. Chain discount stores offer myriad styles of plastic boxes with lids, many of them waterproof, and most for less than $5. Use these for organizing and storing gear in your car, truck, or canoe.

8. Looking for inexpensive food? Ramen-style oriental noodle soups are light to carry, easy to fix, and give a quick, hot meal for less than 20 cents a serving. For extra appeal, add chunks of summer sausage and cheddar cheese.

9. Whenever possible, precook foods such as stews or chili at home, then freeze a meal's worth in a storage container. This will keep your cooler cold and makes fixing supper a snap.

10. The low weight and convenience of dehydrated foods sold for backpacking make them appealing, but the prices make you want to hurl. Check grocery-store shelves instead for inexpensive items like oatmeal and macaroni that you can premeasure and put into labeled plastic bags. Sample label: 2 cups oatmeal, add 2 cups water.

11. Reduce your menu to a routine on a short trip, meaning the same thing for each breakfast and lunch, and slight variations for dinner -- Pasta Roni and Rice-A-Roni for example. That way you won't be buying and carrying too much, making too many decisions, or spending too much time cooking rather than hunting or fishing.

12. For short trips, reduce your gear down to what fits in a backpack, even if you're car or boat camping. This adds to your mobility and saves you lots of set-up and take-down time.

13. Never enter the field without what too often seems to be the forgotten four: matches (and fire-starter cubes), compass, map, and knife. The age of technology hasn't eliminated the need to take care of ourselves in emergencies.

14. Large plastic bags are camping essentials -- from packing your sleeping bag to keep it dry to making an emergency rain poncho. But not just any bags. Instead of grocery-store garbage bags, look for bulk packs of contractor's-grade clean-up bags in the hardware store. These are bigger, heavier, and cheaper per bag.

15. Leave the garbage at home. Remove food from glass or cardboard containers before you go and repack it in compact, sealable plastic bags.

16. For happy feet, bring some camp shoes. After a day in waders or heavy hunting boots, comfortable, light slip-on shoes are invaluable. Waterproof soles are still a must, however, for puttering around camp.

17. When you rig a small tarp as a rain fly over a picnic table or dining area, use bungee cords in the rigging along with rope. Elastic cords at the corners allow the tarp to give slightly in the wind and keep it from flapping noisily.