Budget-Friendly Camping in the PNW

by Kim Merrikin, Seattle Goodwill
May 25, 2016

Here in the great Pacific Northwest, camping is a favorite pastime. We are surrounded by some of the most amazing campgrounds and backcountry that the country has to offer. (We may be biased, though.) Washington State is home to 186 State Parks, three National parks, and hundreds of other county and privately-run parks with camping options ranging from easy-access sites to backcountry-permit-required hike-in areas with an incredible variety of environmental features and vistas.

Camping can be an easy and affordable way to get out of the city for the weekend, unplug, and enjoy some relaxation and rest time. Gathering the gear needed can be expensive—if not done right. Here are some tips on how to camp in the PNW on a budget:

  1. Of course our first tip is going to be to look for camping gear at Goodwill! Because we live in a region with a huge passion for playing outside, we also see a lot of camping, survival, and outdoor gear donated—making us a great place to shop for that high-end gear at an affordable price.
  2. When you go gear-hunting at Goodwill, peruse the whole store. Certain items will be grouped together—like sleeping bags—or you’ll usually find camp stoves, tents, foldup chairs, and lanterns on the same aisle—but other items might fit in different categories. For example, you can often find those last-forever vintage pieces—like backpacking packs, Stanley thermoses, and old school Coleman items in collectibles.
  3. It is often less expensive to have a piece of quality camping gear repaired, or to order a replacement part, than to buy the item new. A lot of high-quality camping gear brands sell products that will last for years—and have amazing repair options that you can take advantage of even when you’ve thrifted the item. (Check out REI’s Repair services, too!) Companies like Coleman have standardized a number of pieces to their products to make replacing parts easy. So, if you see that $15 Coleman stove on our shelf, but it’s missing the pressure regulator—you’ll save $30-$150 on a camp stove by buying the thrifted stove, and ordering the replacement part.
  4. Camping with a group can help cut down on individual costs. For example, only one member of the party needs to bring a camp stove—and another can bring a pot and pan—and another might bring a big-enough-to-share tent. It might even be a fun pre-camp-trip event to hit up your favorite Goodwill and divide up the items needed for your trip.
  5. Stick to government-ran campgrounds. Private campgrounds, while they may have more amenities, tend to be a little more expensive. By staying on national, state, or county land, you’ll save anywhere from about $10-$30 per night for your site.
  6. Camping on a holiday weekend, and can’t find an open site? Have a passport? Go north. Keep going into Canada. Many of the holidays we observe here in the USA are not observed in Canada, and their parks aren’t as busy on those weekends. British Columbia is Pacific Northwest, too—and has many of the same stunning costal, mountain, and east-of-the-Cascades environments that Washington State does. Access to camping in the BC Provincial Parks is similarly-priced to domestic national and state parks.
  7. Buy your campfire wood locally where you’re camping. Because there are often restrictions on what types of wood you burn in different areas—especially if you’re crossing state or national borders—it’s a good idea to wait to purchase wood locally. Planning for this will help you avoid needing to buy wood twice—or ditch the wood you’ve already paid for at the border. Check with the campground you’re heading to to see if they sell wood bundles on-site!

Not an experienced camper, but want to start? Here’s a list of some items you can hunt for at Goodwill to start building your camping gear collection: tents, sleeping bags, tarp, rope, camp stoves, lanterns, flashlights, foldup chairs, a “camping kitchen” (pots, pans, cups, utensils, etc.), your morning coffee mug, moka pot/French press (coffee is important while camping), coolers, water bottles, hiking shoes/boots, outdoor/active wear, backpacks, towels, and more! 



Kim fancies herself a professional communicator. She has experience in writing, graphic design, and social media, and is always looking to expand her knowledge base into other fields of communication. She loves people, coffee & Seattle (including the rain).

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