Camping with the family – how much it costs and how you can save

Family holidays can be expensive, which is why many people choose to take their kids camping. Camping is not only cheaper than staying in a hotel or a holiday cottage, but it offers you much more freedom as you can just pack up the car and set off, without having to book months in advance.

I’ve looked into how much you can expect to pay for a camping trip, including camping equipment and pitch fees, and how you can save money.

The average cost of camping equipment

If you’re buying camping gear for the first time, then the best advice is to spend as much as you can afford, but stay within budget.

If you’re planning multiple trips then it’s a good idea to spend a little more on a tent. If you’re planning a one-off trip to a festival or one or two weekends away in a year, then look at the cheaper end of the range or better yet – borrow one!

How much does a family tent cost?

  • £100 minimum for a six person metal pole tent
  • £400 to £500 minimum for a six person air tent

The size of your tent will affect the price, and the size you choose will obviously depend on how many people are using it. A six man tent may sound huge for a family of four, but four people can actually be a bit of a squeeze in a four man tent. If you have the budget, opt for a larger tent with a two person capacity more than you need. This will cost more but the extra space will be really useful.

The least you can expect to pay for a six person family tent is around £100 and at the higher end it can be over the £1000.

If you’re not used to putting up a tent then there are air tents available. With an air tent you can erect a tent in minutes buy hooking the tent’s inlet valve to a pump to inflate the poles, rather than relying on metal poles.

Air tents are very easy to put up but they do tend to be more expensive than tents with metal poles. Prices for air tents start at around £400-£500 and can cost more than £1000. Tents with metal poles can cost as little as £100, so are a much better choice if you’re on a tight budget.

How much do sleeping bags cost?

  • Toddlers sleeping bags cost around £20
  • Adult sleeping bags cost around £30-£50 for synthetic fibres and around £200 for a down-filled sleeping bag.

As a general rule, you can expect to pay more for sleeping bags that are suitable for all seasons and that are filled with down.

Good sleeping bags will ensure you and your toddlers have a cosy night’s sleep at just the right temperature. If your toddler is young, then it’s probably best to pop them in the sleeping bag they usually use at home (this is what we do with our youngest who’s not quite two).

Not only is this cheaper, but it’s safer than them wriggling around in a large sleeping bag and it’ll be comforting for them as they’ll be used to sleeping in it. You never know, it might just help them go to sleep more easily!

Older toddlers (and their parents!) will need proper camping sleeping bags, unless you know where you’re going is warm enough at night for a duvet or sheets and a blanket from home.

Buying a decent sleeping bag will be a worthwhile investment as it should last you years. The first thing you need to consider is whether to choose one made of goose or duck down or synthetic material (or a hybrid mix of the two).

Sleeping bags made of down tend to be more expensive, they’re naturally warm and lightweight but can be tricky to wash. If you’re toddler isn’t yet toilet trained, then it’s best to avoid a down sleeping bag.

Down sleeping bags start at around £80 for junior bags (thought these would be too large for a small toddler) and range in price to £800 or more for adult sleeping bags. Though bear in mind that those at the higher end of the scale are suited to extreme conditions, rather than family camping!

Expect to pay around £200 for a decent down filled or mix-filled adult sleeping bag.

Synthetic sleeping bags are ideal for kids as they wash and dry quickly and are very affordable. You can expect to pay around £20 for a sleeping bag that’ll last from around four years up to eight yours old or more.

Very basic synthetic sleeping bags for adults can cost as little as £10, however these aren’t suitable for cool nights. It’s better to pay a little bit more for extra comfort and a cosy night. A decent synthetic adult sleeping bag should cost between £30-£50.

How much do air beds, ready beds and camping mattresses cost?

  • Toddler ready beds cost around £15-£40
  • Adult air beds cost around £30-£60

Air beds are the key to a good night’s sleep on lumpy cold ground and are a little luxury worth investing in.

Toddler air beds tend to come with a built-in sleeping bag and if it’s got your kid’s favourite character on it, you can expect to pay more.

Some character air beds can be quite low quality – with uncomfortable sleeping bags (think scratchy synthetic fabric) and thin rubber that’s liable to puncture. Look for ready beds with built-in cotton sleeping bags that are easier to wash and will feel nicer on your kids’ skin. Higher quality fabrics will cost a little more but they will be more comfortable and last a lot longer than the alternatives.

Even though many toddler air beds come complete with a sleeping bag, you may find this isn’t suitable for young toddlers or for camping in cool weather and may need to pay extra for a proper sleeping bag.

Double air beds are a great way for parents to save money, but a double air bed can limit your options should you want to rearrange where you sleep. We’ve often ended up sleeping with one child each in separate areas of the tent just to keep the kids calm and quiet.

There’s not much difference in price between self-inflating camping mattresses and air beds, however, camping mattresses do tend to be thinner and more lightweight than air beds and are more suited to backpacking than family camping trips.

How much do camping stoves cost?

  • A family camping stove will cost around £50-£80
  • Gas canisters cost around £5-£8 for 450g

As you’ll be making most of your meals on a camp stove it makes sense to invest wisely. Look for multi-purpose stoves that feature at least one burner and a grill. A 450g gas canister costs around £5-£8 and should give you around 3 hours of cooking time.

How much does camping cooking equipment cost?

  • A set of nesting pans and frying pan will cost around £20
  • A metal camping kettle will cost around £7-£12

The best advice is to bring as much cooking equipment as you need from your own kitchen, rather than buying new specialist camping equipment.

You’ll find items in your kitchen such as a corkscrew, cooking knives, serving utensils, a tin opener, a mocha pot for coffee and cutlery that’ll double-up fine for camping. Kids’ plastic plates, cups and cutlery can be used by the whole family on the campsite without worrying about breakages.

The only items you’ll definitely need to invest in is a metal kettle, a small non-stick frying pan and nests of cooking pans.

How much does a cool box cost?

  • A standard cool box for weekends away will cost around £15-£20
  • A larger electric cool box will cost around £50-£100

A standard cool box (also known as a passive cool box), which uses ice packs to keep food cool, will be much cheaper than an electric one, as you can pay as little as £15, or even less for small cool boxes.

But, a standard cool box will only keep food chilled for around 24 hours, but this does depend on the outside temperature, how the food is stored (the more ice the better!) and how often you open the lid.

Electric cool boxes run off mains power or the 12v power socket in a car, they won’t cool down warm food, but they will keep chilled food cooler for longer.

If you’re only going for a weekend camping trip then just buy a small passive cool box and ensure you keep it out of direct sunlight, with the lid tightly shut.

How much do camping seats cost?

  • A toddler camping chair will cost around £5-£10
  • An adult camping chair will cost around £10-£30

It’s a good idea to invest in a decent camp chair as it’s likely to be the only seating you’ll have for your camping trip. Foldable camping chairs save space and often have handy extras built in, such as cushioned seats or drinks holders. If your vehicle is big enough then you could consider taking folding patio furniture from the garden to use on the campsite.

Toddlers will probably be perfectly happy to sit on the grass but investing in lightweight folding camp chairs for them will mean they can eat with the family more easily and be more likely to sit in one place when you ask them to!

Again, if you have the room, then kids’ plastic garden chairs work well as camping chairs, though they’re not foldable.

How much do camping lights cost?

  • A Camping lantern will cost around £10-£30 depending on the brightness of the light
  • Camping head torches cost around £15-£30
  • Kids camping head torches cost around £10

As a rough guide, the brighter the light (which you can see by the number of lumens) the more expensive the camping lantern will be. To save money, opt for one which has adjustable brightness settings so you can tailor the light output to how dark it is.

A head torch is ideal for finding your way around camp in the dark and toddlers will appreciate the extra light if they’re unsure of the dark. For kids, look for head torches that are lightweight, that have batteries that can only be accessed with a screwdriver and that have breakaway straps to avoid the risk of strangulation.

10 Ways to save money on family camping equipment 

  1. Borrow equipment from a family member of friend and better yet, ask them to show you how to put the tent up before you go.
  2. Borrow equipment from a local Scout Group or Youth Club. If your kids are older and are involved in these groups, you maybe able to borrow a sizeable tent for free. We went on many a camping holiday when I was younger in a tent borrow from the local Beaver group.
  3. Checkout eBay, Freecycle, Facebook Marketplace or Craig’s List for cheap or free camping equipment. Don’t forget the ad page in your local newspaper too for people selling camping equipment locally.
  4. It’s also worth keeping an eye out in local charity shops for bargain kitchen equipment, without splashing out on new items or taking your best items from your kitchen camping. Tin or plastic plates and cups, small pots and pans and any other lightweight kitchen equipment is particularly useful.
  5. See if you can rent equipment from your local camping store, or phone ahead to the campsite you’re staying at to see if they rent out any equipment on-site. This will also save space in your car too!
  6. Use solar lanterns and wind-up torches to save money on batteries. It’s worth taking a battery powered torch as back-up just in case.
  7. If you have enough room in your car, pack yoga mats, interlocking foam tiles, blankets and duvets from home to sleep on instead of paying for expensive airbeds or camping mats. In summer, you might find that a couple of sheets and a light blanket is all you need at night. Younger toddlers will be happy enough in their cot sleeping bags and a mat, rather than paying for expensive blow-up camping mattresses.
  8. Bring the kids’ stuff from home rather than buying expensive versions just for camping. This can apply to items such as high chairs, cots, and playpens. If you have the room, taking these with you could save you hundreds of pounds.
  9. Items from home that will benefit the whole family (and are cheaper than buying the proper equipment) include:
      1. solar powered garden lamps which can be used to provide ambient light around your tent – ideal if your kids aren’t too keen on the dark.
      2. a hanging shoe organiser to store everyday items that you need to have on hand such as suncream, bug spray, first aid kit and wipes.
  10. Head to markets and sales specifically for baby and toddler equipment such as Table Tots and NCT nearly new sales to pick up bargain kids items that are ideal for camping. Cheap high chairs, toys, play mats, ready beds and kids camping chairs are all worth picking up second hand.

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