Quick Camping Tip: Free and Frugal Odds and Ends

By Suzanne Wiley published on in Camping & Survival

Cheaper Than Dirt! Quick Camping TipAll year, I collect free leftover condiment packets to put in my camping and survival gear. For example, recently I served as a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding. While our hair and makeup were being done, we were served a catered brunch. The caterer provided individually wrapped plastic ware with a napkin and salt and pepper packets similar to those in an MRE. There were plenty left over after we finished eating. Without shame, I asked the hostess if she minded if I took them. She was happy to unload them.

Picture shows the author's stash of free plastic ware and condiments from fast food places.

All year, I collect free leftover condiment packets to use in my camping and survival gear.

Here is another example: the boss frequently brings in a big box of coffee. Included are individual packages of sugar, sweeteners, cups, lids, powered creamers and wooden stir sticks. After everyone has had their fill, I gather up the leftovers. (Wooden stir sticks make excellent toe and finger splints, by the way. And one more: my favorite chicken place, the one that is closed on Sundays, has a wonderful condiment assortment for the taking—including individual wet wipes. When I eat there, I grab a few extra plastic forks, salt packages, ketchup and wet wipes before I leave. The same goes for collecting soy and duck sauces and Parmesan cheese packets from take-out restaurants. However, do not take advantage. They put those items out by goodwill. Do not grab handfuls, just a few extras. After a few months, you will have quite a collection. Another frugal place to look for miscellaneous items is garage sales and Craigslist.org. Craigslist even has a free section. Your local dollar stores are treasure troves as well. I stock up on glow sticks, paper plates, plastic dry boxes, games for the kids and paper towels. Being frugal also means I repurpose as much as possible. Citronella tiki torches purchased for last year’s summer luau not only provide insect repellent but also nighttime campsite ambiance. Before making incidental purchases, such as tabletop tiki torches, I always make a list of ways I can reuse items. Some of my favorites are:

Camping equipment is expensive, not to mention the cost of food, park prices and time off from work. Where I can cut on costs, I will. However, I highly recommend investing in a decent camp stove, high-quality tent and cooler. Spending your money wisely on those should get you quite a number of years out of your gear. My propane camp stove has lasted nearly 15 years without problems. In the end, paying more for a quality tent, stove and cooler will pay off. One final tip: Freeze gallon jugs of water to use in your cooler. That cuts down on store runs and money for ice. As a bonus, you save room in the cooler for other, more important things, such as frosty libations. For more about being a frugal camper, read “Camping on a Budget.” For tips on how to find a high-quality tent, read “How To Buy A Tent: Tips on Selecting the Perfect Tent for Your Needs.”

What are your favorite frugal and free camping tips? Share them in the comments section.

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Comments (7)

  • Charles Houck


    I have gone through the frugal camping quite a ot when I was younger. A freind and I did a lot of frugal camping (also called primitive camping). We cooked everything on a capmpfire. Actually almost any campfire is too hot for practical cooking. Many people try to cook on a roaring campfire and end up almsot cooking themselves. All you really need for cooking is coals. Build up a good size campfire and let it burn down until you have a good pile of hot coals. When it comes to cooking, coals are tops. Especially when frying anything in a skillet, breakfast especially. Pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, anything, coals are all you need. Another thing that is great is one of the metal camp ovens. Although not exactly cheap they can cook anything you can bake anything you can bake in your oven at home.


  • Keith


    Another idea for the cooler: A couple of pounds of dry ice. Put a little regular ice on bottom, then dry ice, tge regular ice on top. You’ll dramatically reduce ice purchases. Available at Walmart (mine at least) and it’s not very expensive.


    • Bill


      Using ice with dry ice is abad idea. The Temperture of ice itself is higher than that of dry-ice…..it will degrade your dry-ice much more quickly than if you used it alone.



  • Les Caudill


    With all due respect, please do not take even a few extra packets of salt pepper, etc., or extra plastic ware, straws, cups – just a “few” of these by many customers adds up, and results in higher costs. The idea of asking hosts for leftover items is a good one, because they may be thrown away anyway.


    • RTater


      Agreed, but you can always save the packets included in takeout that you don’t use with your meal.


  • Larry


    I’ve done the freezing of water in milk jugs for years, but just recently I learned that if you add salt to the water before freezing, it will make the jugs that much colder once in the cooler. Unfortunately, this is not a good idea if you intend to break up the ice in the milk jug to use for drinking.


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