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10 Affordable Gear Investments for Budget Outdoor Holidays

budget outdoor holidays are fun too
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The madness of the current geopolitical landscape combined with the increasingly worrying economic output has a lot of people vacationing closer to home. 

But a more affordable vacation closer to home doesn’t necessarily mean a lacklustre one.

Some of my favourite vacation memories as a kid growing up in Vancouver were ones where we loaded up the car and took off for the local forests and islands along the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada. 

Whether you’re a solo traveller, a couple, a group of friends or a family, you don’t need to spend thousands on a trip in order to make memories that will last a lifetime. Below are some of my recommendations for gear investments for budget outdoor holidays. 

I’ve categorized them by Camping gear, water-based gear, and entertainment ideas while you’re out in nature. I’ve also included a synthesis of a dozen-plus recent comments from people who have purchased the item on Amazon by feeding the comments into ChatGPT and asking for a bullet-point list. 


Camping gear

Growing up on the West Coast of Canada, I’ve been camping since I was 6 or 7-years-old, and I haven’t stopped. Given the choice between ultra-luxury and a hammock in the middle of the forest, I’d take the hammock any day of the week.

While good quality camping gear isn’t cheap, it’s a long-term investment and certainly cheaper than an international vacation (especially if you’ve got kids in tow). 

Here are some camping gear ideas for people looking for more affordable outdoor vacations close to home.

Bicycle trailer: Schwinn Day Tripper and Portercargo Bike Trailer

Schwinn Day Tripper and Portercargo Bike Trailer

One thing you often see on the West Coast of North America, from Northern California all the way up the coast into Canada, are people (even whole families) with bicycle trailers. 

It’s very common to see couples, even solo travellers, on passenger ferries towing one of these behind a bike. In it you can fit your clothes, a camp stove, a tent, bedding, etc. They vary in weight, but you can get ones that weigh around 10kg, with 100-pound weight limits, that will give you 3 cubic feet of storage space. 

For reference, this is what a 3 cubic-foot box looks like: 

I really like the Schwinn Day Tripper and Portercargo Bike Trailer. 

It comes with a water-resistant cover (although you might want to consider getting a tarp to fortify it even more and the included universal coupler lets you pair it with pretty much any bicycle. 

I also like the quick-release harness, so no tedious coupling and decoupling when you arrive or leave your destination. Yu get 100lbs of storage capacity, at 3 cubic feet to fit everything in. 

Specs: 

Weight: 11.5kgDimensions: 700 mm by 480 mm (336L)
Weight capacity: 100Accessories: Universal coupler, D-rings. 

What owners have to say

  • Handles Heavy Loads: Users have successfully loaded up to 70 pounds of camping gear and even used it to gather firewood, demonstrating its capacity for heavy loads.
  • Maneuverability: The trailer turns very well, and the coupler’s flexibility prevents damage if you or your bike falls while using it, making it easy to navigate even in challenging terrains.
  • Easy Assembly: Many users praise how easy it is to assemble and disassemble, with some mentioning that it can be folded and stored conveniently, making it a practical choice for camping trips.
  • Durability: It’s described as a very durable trailer that can withstand rugged trails, which is crucial for camping and off-roading adventures.
  • Off-Roading Capability: Users have taken this trailer on off-road adventures for camping trips, and it has demonstrated resilience and towing ability, proving it’s well-suited for such excursions.
  • Convenient for Carrying Camping Supplies: Users have loaded it with camping gear, including tents, sleeping bags, and firewood, indicating its suitability for transporting camping supplies.
  • Versatile: It can handle various tasks, from carrying camping gear to groceries and other bulky items, making it a versatile and utilitarian choice.
  • Easy Attachment: Users found it easy to attach to their bikes, enhancing its practicality for camping and outdoor activities.
  • Perfect Size: The size is considered just right for camping gear, making it a suitable choice for two-person camping trips.
  • Customization Potential: Some users have adapted the trailer for their specific needs, such as shortening the tongue for improved stability or even considering tandem configurations for extended road trips.

Want a list of 150 of the most unique nature and wildlife travel experiences?

SUV/Hatchback/Crossover/Van Tent: Napier Backroadz SUV Tent

Napier Backroadz SUV Tent

If your idea of a vehicle tent is one of those big roof-rack tents you see on the tops of Volkswagon Wesfalias, Landrovers or big full-size pickup trucks, you might be pleased to know that you can comfortably camp out of the back of your SUV, hatchback, crossover and even van. 

Throw a mattress in the bed and the Napier Backroadz tent is the perfect way to sleep in a pickup.

I have an in-depth article covering the best SUV-tents on the market if you would like to check out the full list, but I chose the Napier Backroadz SUV Tent because it’s made for big groups (up to 5)–although you should always subtract at least one when it comes to any tent capacity. 

On a van or SUV, the Napier Backroadz lets you combine the trunk with outdoor floor space.

Specs

Material:polyester taffeta and polyethylene waterproof floorSleeps (official suggestion):5
Dimensions:10Wx10Lx7.4HSeasons:3
Included:Tent Skin, Poles, Straps, Gear Loft, Rain Fly, Guide LinesWeight:28lbs

These are a really nice, very affordable option for budget outdoor trips because you don’t need a big camper, and the fact that you’re attached and can use the inside of your vehicle makes things a lot more comfortable. 

Here’s a synthesis of what buyers have said about this SUV tent’s suitability for camping. I had ChatGPT synthesize a dozen recent reviews into the below list for you: 

What owners have to say

  • Versatility: It serves as an all-purpose add-on, providing a place to stand up, get dressed, and act as a screen house in buggy conditions.
  • Ample Space: It offers a spacious interior, allowing campers to comfortably set up chairs, stoves, and other equipment, eliminating the need for setting up tarps.
  • Quick Setup: While the initial setup may require some effort, it becomes easier with practice, and once the poles are up, the rest of the setup is quick.
  • Convenient for Car Camping: Designed for car camping, it can be rolled and stored in the car without the need for ultralight backpacking gear.
  • Sturdy Construction: The trailer is well-made and offers good quality for its price.
  • Easy Attachment: Attaching and detaching the trailer to the vehicle is straightforward and quick.
  • Rain Protection: It provides effective rain protection with the option to seal seams for added waterproofing.
  • Ventilation Improvements: Some users made modifications to improve ventilation by adding awnings or adapting the tent’s design.
  • Spacious Interior: The high ceiling provides a roomy feeling inside, making it ideal for those concerned about claustrophobia.
  • Quality Zippers: The tent features high-quality zippers, enhancing its durability.
  • Standalone Option: It can be used as a standalone tent, not requiring attachment to a vehicle.

Van fridge: DOMETIC CFX3 55-Liter Portable Refrigerator and Freezer with ICE MAKER

DOMETIC CFX3 55-Liter Portable Refrigerator and Freezer with ICE MAKER

Another piece of gear you might consider investing in for budget outdoor holidays is a portable chest-style fridge. 

A lot of people who live in Vans have these, and they store and keep food better, good ones have both a refrigeration and freeze setting (which usually can’t be used simultaneously), and can be easily charged with any 12V source. 

I’ve always liked the DOMETIC CFX3 55-Liter Portable Refrigerator and Freezer with ICE MAKER

Check out the Specs: 

Storage Capacity (L):55Fridge and/or Freezer: Both, but only one at a time
Power source: AC, DC or DC SolarWeight:47 lbs
Dimensions: 17.91 x 18.92 x 28.35Included: Nothing additional included

This fridge comes in volumes from 25-100L. If you’re feeding several people, something towards the higher end of that range is going to make more sense.

the DOMETIC CFX3 55-Liter Portable Refrigerator and Freezer with ICE MAKER open with both inserts on the ground in front
This is the 75 litre and it stores a surprising amount of food and beverages.

The price tag on this van fridge is definitely up there as far as portable, high-quality fridges go, but if you talk to vanlifers about really anything made by Dometic, they are built to stand the test of time. 

You can also take a look at the detailed review article I put together, where I cover this and 5 other fridges in more detail if you’d like to weigh more options. 

Here’s why owners say:

  • Works great on a 4000-mile trip over 2 weeks, keeping drinks cold.
  • Can be easily accessed from the back of a van.
  • Maintains a cold temperature even when left plugged in overnight.
  • Features a battery-saving mode to prevent draining the vehicle’s battery.
  • Efficiently cools down from 54°F to 34°F in about an hour.
  • Provides access to preferred drinks, avoiding the need to buy from gas stations or rest areas.
  • Drinks are colder compared to convenience store coolers or soda machines.
  • Includes an ice maker that makes enough ice for two 14 oz glasses.
  • Pricy but worth the cost for the convenience of not dealing with ice and water.
  • Suitable for keeping a variety of items, such as homemade dip, candy, and drinks.
  • Reliable and quiet operation, suitable for truck drivers.
  • Sips electricity, making it efficient to run.
  • Works well with power stations for extended road trips.
  • Can use a small generator during power outages.
  • Perfect for car camping, stays quiet even in a tent.
  • Offers a significant cost savings compared to using ice.
  • The iPhone app allows easy temperature monitoring and power loss alerts.

Overall, people like this portable fridge for its convenience, efficiency, and reliable performance.

Camp stove: Camp Chef Mountain Series Everest 2X – High Output Two-Burner Camp Stove

Camp Chef Mountain Series Everest 2X - High Output Two-Burner Camp Stove

A camp stove is another thing that can easily save you a ton of money on a road trip or outdoor holiday. Instead of eating out all the time or trying to skrimp by eating instant noodles and beans, why not bring a 100 double burner camp stove with you and eat well at the camp site. 

For less than $200 (well less, depending on what your requirements are), you can pick up something like the Camp Chef Mountain Series Everest 2X – High Output Two-Burner Camp Stove.

You can also pick up the carry-bag if you like, as shown in the photo below: 

Check out the Specs

Material: Stainless steel, nickel, Burners: 2 (controlled independently)
Fuel source: PropaneWeight: 12 lbs
Included: Propane regulator adapterBTUs: 40,000 (20,000 ea. burner)

40,000 is good enough to heat up even things like castiron in just a few minutes. 

If you’re interested, have a look at my detailed breakdown of the best camp stoves. I’ve covered everything from drop-in stoves to induction burners. 

Here’s why owners say:

  • Efficient igniter for both burners.
  • High heat output, even comparable to a small bonfire on high.
  • Precise flame control for simmering.
  • Excellent build quality with stainless steel construction.
  • Easy to clean and maintain.
  • Wind guards on the sides for improved performance in windy conditions.
  • Compatible with a 5-gallon propane tank for extended use.
  • Foldable top for accommodating larger pots and pans.
  • Attractive appearance.
  • Reliable and sturdy for various cooking needs.
  • Compact and lightweight for portability.
  • Compatible with different propane sources, including small bottles and large tanks.
  • Resistant to windy conditions.
  • Easy to set up and put away.
  • Durable and designed to last.
  • Great for camping and outdoor cooking.

A truck-bed: KODIAK CANVAS Long Truck Bed Full-Size Tent

I’m 35 now, and years of working on the road has left my back in a lot worse shape than I remember it being when I was 25. 

That said, I think my absolute favourite way to have a more budget, but still very comfortable outdoor holiday is with a truck bed tent. 

Something like the KODIAK CANVAS Long Truck Bed Full-Size Tent

KODIAK CANVAS Long Truck Bed Full-Size Tent.

Let me tell you, there is nothing like being able to pull up to a campsite (whether it’s on the beach, in the desert or in the forest) and being able to sleep as comfortably as you can in one of these. 

This is in a Toyota Tacoma. Check out that mattress. My 68-year-old mom and her outdoorsman boyfriend go fishing a few times a year, and they rave about how comfortable it is to sleep in one of these. 

Check out the Specs on the Kodiak

Nice features: 5 mesh windowsExpanded usable space when tailgate downCab access window.Capacity: 2
Weight: 30lbsStanding height: 5 ft
Included accessories: n/aNice features: 5 mesh windowsExpanded usable space when tailgate downCab access window.

This is the fastest way to turn your truck into a quasi RV. 

If you notice in the specs above, the Koiak Canvas tent is meant for full-size trucks. If you’d like to read my more comprehensive reviews of a number of different truck-bed tents for a variety of truck sizes, check it out here

Here’s what owners say:

  • Excellent strength and durability due to the canvas material.
  • Canvas tents are known for their longevity and structural soundness.
  • High-quality canvas material and sturdy stitching.
  • Thick and heavy canvas fabric with no issues in quality.
  • Large and heavy-duty zippers.
  • Ample windows and vents for ventilation.
  • Fine screens that keep out even small bugs.
  • Spacious interior, utilizing the full width of the truck bed.
  • Sturdy strapping system for stability.
  • Can be set up in low light conditions.
  • Stays dry during rain and does not leak.
  • Easy to set up once you find a stable method.
  • It can be set up by one person, though it may take some practice.
  • The canvas fabric is strong and well-stitched.
  • Versatile and suitable for various outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, and camping.

Other than some reviewers complaining that it would be better if the tent was an 8-foter instead of 6.5 feet, it’s pretty much all glowing comments. 


Water-oriented budget outdoor holidays

I was lucky enough to grow up on the ocean, and whenever money was tight, at the very least, we could load up the van and head off to Vancouver Island or one of the gulf islands off the West Coast of British Columbia. 

There are campsites and national parks galore, and it was an easy way to experience some serious wilderness without my dad having to fork out thousands for his wife and four kids to fly somewhere more “luxurious.” 

Below are some gear investments you can make to set you (and your friends and family) up for years of affordable outdoor vacations. 

Inflatable SUP: NIXY Monterey Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board

An inflatable SUP (short for Stand-up Paddle Board), is one of my favourite ways to add a tremendous amount of freedom to any trip or holiday that is oriented around water, whether it’s the ocean or a lake. 

I’ve used standup paddle boards to access better snorkeling spots, fishing spots, more secluded beaches and swimming areas, and it’s always great exercise. 

They’re inflatable, so they pack up small enough and light enough that you can easily find space in a car, or even the aforementioned bike trailer. They all come with a paddle and a pump. 

I really like the NIXY Monterey Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board

NIXY Monterey Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board

What I like about it most is that it’s set up for fishing with mounting brackets for the Nixy Fishing Rack, fishing rod holders, a paddle holder, a non-slip traction pad and D-rings for optional Nixy kayak seat if you get tired of standing. The seat isn’t included, however, but is sold separately. 

I wrote a comprehensive article on standup paddle boards for fishing, which I like better because I like that you can sit down and paddle comfortably with most of them. 

Here are the Specs for the Nixy Monterrey

Materials: Neoprene, PVCDimensions: 11′6″ x 32″ x 6″
Weight:25lbsIncluded: iSUP high pressure pump, paddle and accessories bundle
Capacity: 400lbs Warranty: 2 years

Here’s what owners say:

  • Excellent Customer Service: The company promptly replaced the board when a seam started leaking, showing great customer service.
  • Durable and Convenient Bag: The included bag is durable and has wheels for easy transport, making it convenient to carry the board.
  • Efficient Inflation: The three-stage pump makes inflation efficient, though it requires effort.
  • Quick Deflation and Packing: Deflation and packing take less than 5 minutes, and the board easily fits back into the bag.
  • Well-Placed Straps and D-Rings: Straps and D-rings on the board are well-placed for securing gear and kayak seats.
  • Quality Fins: The fins are well made and easy to install, contributing to the board’s performance.
  • Comfortable and Stable: The board is rigid, comfortable to stand on, and provides stability during use.
  • Good Performance: It glides well, even with extra weight from a passenger or gear.
  • Functional Paddle: The included paddle floats, eliminating the need to purchase an additional one.
  • Versatility: The board can also function as a kayak, offering versatility in water activities.

While some users had concerns about the quality control of the board’s finish, overall, the board is appreciated for its features, performance, and convenience.

You could, of course, decide to drop a lot more money on a SUP, but then you’d be moving away from the “budget” ethos of this article. 

A crab trap: Palmyth Two Ring Crab Kit with Harness and Bait Clip

 Palmyth Two Ring Crab Kit with Harness and Bait Clip

I grew up crabbing all the time on the West Coast of Canada, so I love crab. Saturdays in the summer were quite often a ride up the coast in our little 15HP-powered 12-foot zodiac, dropping the crab traps, and then a day spent exploring coves and swimming, returning late afternoon to check how many keeper dungeoness and red rock crabs we had. 

Of course you have to like crab to want a crab trap, but it’s a great way to add some deliciousness (and luxury; buy crab in a fishmonger or restaurant and you’re paying out the ass for it). 

For less than 50 bucks, you can pick up a very simple but very effective wire grid bottom crab trap like the Palmyth Two Ring Crab Kit with Harness and Bait Clip.

Here’s what owners have to say

  • Effective Crab Catching: Users are satisfied with the trap’s ability to catch crabs effectively.
  • Sturdy and Durable: It is well-built and can withstand use in different conditions, including oyster beds and the ocean.
  • Modifications Possible: Users have made modifications to enhance its performance, such as adding zip ties, weight, and adjusting harness lengths.
  • Useful Accessories: The trap comes with useful accessories like a bait hook, measuring ruler, and a 50ft rope.
  • Affordable: It is reasonably priced and offers value for the money.
  • Easy to Use: Users find it easy to set up and operate.
  • Multiple Catches: Some users reported catching a significant number of crabs with this trap during their crabbing expeditions.

However, some users have noted that its long-term durability may be limited, but they still consider it worth the investment for the times it has been used.

One user mentioned an issue with the pull rope balance, causing the net to tip over during retrieval, which can be frustrating.


Entertainment

Yes, you are ultimately spending time outdoors to get away from it all, but let’s be honest, we’re so utterly dependent on our technology nowadays that very few people (especially young people) are having a true Thoreau-esque return to nature experience when they go on an outdoor vacation. 

And I’m not judging. As I write this, I’m sitting in my bungalow on a beautiful Indonesia island, fully connected to the internet and watching episodes of Succession every night before I head to bead. 

The below gear I’m filling under “entertainment” because while the outdoors is entertaining enough, it’s nice to be able to bring some creature comforts with you. I lugged a drip coffee maker on a two-day trek to get here because I didn’t want to drink instant coffee.

Portable projector: Mini Projector from Elephas 

Mini Projector from Elephas

Whether you’re going camping with the kids or on a quick weekender with friends (or that first outdoor trip with a new BF or GF), a portable projector is a really easy and affordable way to take some home entertainment with you. 

Something like the Mini Projector from Elephas works with pretty much any phone, is small and gives you 1080HD. 

If you’re wondering how you’re going to set this up (inside a tent or at a campsite), check out this list of DIY ideas from Country Living. 

A very affordable way to add some modern fun to a budget outdoor holiday. 

Here’s what owners are saying

Portable firepit: Cogesu 22in Foldable Wood Burning Fire Pit

I’m going to preface this recommendation by saying please be extremely careful with anything like this if you live somewhere, or are going somewhere with serious risk of forest fire. 

As someone from the West Coast of Canada, I’m all too aware of how one careless camper can ignite a devastating blaze and how much inadvertent damage they can do. 

That out of the way, if you are able to safely light and enjoy a fire while camping–whether on the beach, in the first or anywhere else, a portable fire pit is a fantastic way to add some ambience to a budget outdoor vacation. 

Foldable, comes with a carry bag, and weighing in at only 11 pounds, a portable firepit is a great way to bring friends and family around the campfire at night without actually having to light and control a campfire. 

Here’s what owners are saying: 

  • Portability: It’s lightweight, folds up easily, and comes with a storage bag, making it genuinely portable for travelling and camping.
  • Compact Size: Despite being portable, it’s large enough to provide a decent heat source for a few people.
  • Sturdiness: It feels fairly sturdy, and it’s easy to assemble.
  • Affordability: It’s a great value for the price, offering a cost-effective solution for fire needs.
  • Versatility: It can be used for both fire and grilling purposes, featuring a grill rack and accessories for easy cleaning.
  • Small Space-Friendly: The folding legs make it suitable for small spaces, and it takes up very little storage space.
  • Convenience: Its collapsible feature and compact size make it convenient for RVs and storage.
  • Easy Assembly: Assembling it is straightforward, with four legs that click in place and fold easily.

While some users have noted minor issues, such as the hook being loose or the legs being a bit annoying to install, overall, it’s considered a good value for its price and purpose.

Trail camera: Browning DarkOps

For someone who has spent the last 10 years in tropical forests around the world, trekking, photographing wild animals and guiding, it took me a surprisingly long time to purchase my first trail cam. 

But I’m glad I did. 

A trail camera is a great way to add a lot of very affordable fun to a budget outdoor holiday. Whether you’re setting it up along a fallen log crossing a stream or river (a tried and true animal wildlife observation hotspot) or a tree next to your campsite to see what kind of critters are visiting you while you sleep, trail cameras are affordable, versatile and, if you’ve never used one before, quite the thrill. 

I really wish the technology had been where it is now (i.e., affordable consumer-grade trail and wildlife cameras) when I was a kid so that we could have brought one on all of our many outdoor adventures in the Pacific Northwest. 

I’ve been using the Browning DarkOps and while and it’s always fun setting it up and even more fun popping the SD card into my laptop to see what’s visited my monitoring sites. 

So far just bats. 

In all honesty, the trail camera I really wanted was the Browning Spec Ops, which was recommended to me by an Instagram friend, “Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring.” 

He’s a Costa Rican conservationist who monitors animals in a bunch of different Costa Rican national parks, and his Instagram is well worth checking out. 

The Spec Ops records in 1080p, as opposed to the 720p of my DarkOps. He also recommended it to me over another camera he uses–the Browning Recon Force, which also captures a lot of great footage for him, but the camera light on it is visible at night, which can deter some animals. 

I’ve also been told animals don’t care by another friend in Spain who records badgers, so hard to say the impact of a visible camera light. 

What owners say about the DarkOps

  • Camera Setup: Fairly simple setup for the camera.
  • Picture Quality: The pictures are clear and provide excellent image quality.
  • Reliability: It operates fine and has proven to be reliable for capturing wildlife.
  • Battery Life: Offers long battery life, especially when using lithium batteries in cold weather.
  • Minimal Spooking: Doesn’t spook game due to its no-glow feature.
  • Ease of Use: The camera is easy to use and user-friendly.
  • Durability: It can withstand harsh outdoor conditions and lasts several years.
  • Battery Compartment: The battery compartment design could be better, but this is a minor issue.
  • Value for Money: Considered a great camera for the price.
  • Nighttime Picture Quality: The nighttime picture quality is good, with clear images.
  • Low Battery Consumption: Doesn’t consume batteries quickly.
  • Multiple Uses: Can be used for wildlife photography and security purposes.

While there are some minor issues mentioned, such as difficulties with battery compartment design (the SD card is also a bit difficult to get out), overall, the camera is highly regarded for its picture quality, reliability, and long-lasting performance.

If you’re interested, have a look at my comprehensive breakdown of the five best trail cams for wildlife observation.

I combined my own experience, as well as conversations with a couple of professional conservationists (one in Costa Rica and another in New England) to put together this list.


You don’t need to spend a ton to enjoy the outdoors

Anyone who wants to be able to enjoy the outdoors should be able to and can without having to overspend. 

Whether you’re a recently graduated student paying down a disgusting five-figure student loan, a young couple on a budget, or a growing family still finding your financial footing, the gear on my list are things that are multi-use and don’t cost an arm and a leg. 

If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with great nature and wild areas at your doorstep, you can set yourself for great budget outdoor holidays in a way that maximizes fun while minimizing cost.