Through years of camping and preparing for my own 9-month car camping trip I was set to leave on in March of 2020, I’ve learned a thing or two about frugal camping hacks along the way. While you should buy your larger camping gear from reputable suppliers (because nobody likes a leaky tent), you’d be surprised at the kinds of dollar store camping hacks you can pull off on the cheap.
I’m here to tell you all about those frugal dollar store camping hacks that can save you a ton of money and make your camping experience much more comfortable. For the following dollar store camping hacks, you can go to any of the major dollar stores in the United States.
I prefer the Dollar Tree because everything in the store is $1 or less, while some dollar stores actually sell items for more than $1. You can get the following materials at most Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Family Dollar and 99 Cents Only stores.
For ease of use and your convenience, I’ve broken the list of 35 frugal dollar store camping hacks into three sections: food & cooking supplies, safety, and keeping yourself and the campsite clean and organized.
Food & Cooking Supplies
1. Small storage containers can be used to store food items
When you’re camping, you shouldn’t bring any glass items with you. They could break and potentially cut you or another camper who uses the site after you. Small plastic storage containers with lids make the perfect alternatives to glass. You can use them for things like jelly, salad dressing, pickles, jalapenos and anything else that comes in a glass container.
They’re also good for items like a stick of butter, so you won’t have to worry about butter getting all over everything in the cooler. These storage containers for food are small enough to store a few days’ worth of supplies and, since they’re smaller, take up far less space in your cooler or campsite.
2. Use squeezable condiment bottles for prepared food (like pancake mix)
Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you have to bum it with hot dogs and S’mores for every meal. Don’t get me wrong, I love having the occasional S’more for breakfast. But squeezable condiment bottles (similar to those large clear ketchup and mustard bottles you see at diners) can store an abundance of amazing food choices.
My personal favorite is filling them up with pancake batter. You can also store eggs to easily separate the whites from the yolks, use them as no-mess mayo bottles, and other food items. With these amazing squeezable condiment bottles, you can prepare the food before you go and quickly make it at the campsite when you’re hungry. No clean up necessary! Dollar store camping hack complete!
3. Use a pill container as a camping rack for herbs and spices
Don’t settle for bland food on the grill. And you have to bring your entire spice rack with you. If you’re like me, you use multiple herbs and spices in the same dish. Well, a portable plastic pill bottle has seven compartments, so you can bring seven different herbs and spices with you without having to bring all seven bottles. Each compartment is large enough to carry a few days’ worth.
4. Make your own fire starters before you go camping
We’ve all been trying to light a campfire and consistently doused it with lighter fluid to get it going — only to realize lighter fluid isn’t enough to ignite most campfires. No matter what campfire method you choose to start, you’ll need a great base to get it started.
Rather than buying expensive fire starters, you can buy cotton balls and petroleum jelly at the dollar store to make your own fire starters! You’ll need an empty egg carton, too. Simply dip the cotton balls in petroleum and place them one by one in the slots of an empty egg carton. This keeps them from getting petroleum jelly on your other gear and gives you a dozen fire starters for $1 total!
5. Barbecue dollar tree skewers can be used for S’mores, hot dogs and other foods
One of the best ways to enjoy a night around a campfire is to roast hot dogs and brats and wash those down with some delicious S’mores. Roasting all of the above is a lot easier (and more sanitary) with wood or metal barbecue dollar tree skewers rather than finding a random stick lying around that’s probably been peed on by an animal.
6. Keep bugs away from your food by wrapping plates with shower caps
One of the best dollar store camping hacks (and general picnic hacks) you’ll ever find is buying shower caps. No, not for showering. Because they fit perfectly over plates to protect your food from those annoying flies and bugs just like it protects your hair from getting wet. Yup, they’re perfect if it starts raining, too!
7. A cake carrier can keep your eating utensils from blowing away
Camping with cake sounds like a fantastic idea, but camping with a cake carrier is a better idea. It’s the perfect size to store all your plates from blowing away, and it can be a safe haven for your silverware, too.
8. Use a pool noodle as a knife cover
First thing’s first, I use a Dollar Tree knife as my everyday cooking knife. They’re incredibly sharp and only $1. I have two of them: one for meat and one for fruits and vegetables. But they don’t come with knife covers, which is OK because a cut-up pool noodle works perfectly and doesn’t wear down the knife’s edge. Pool noodles can be used for a few more dollar store camping hacks, so stay tuned!
9. Long camping lighters are cheaper and will prevent you from getting burned
If you’re camping with a regular lighter, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re buying expensive BIC camping lighters for $5-plus each, you’re also doing it wrong. You can get long camping lighters at the dollar store for $1 — and they’re the same without the name brand.
10. Dollar stores carry smaller condiments that are already travel-sized
Instead of bringing full-sized bottles of ketchup, mustard, may and other condiments to your campsite, buy them from the dollar store. They’re $1 each and already come in travel-sized bottles for your convenience. (You can also find travel-sized laundry detergent, soap and other great camping necessities.)
11. Buy cheap silverware so you’re not being wasteful
I’ve retired from buying plastic silverware, using them once and throwing them away. It’s a complete waste and it harms the environment since plastic takes so long to decompose. But the dollar store sells real silverware for $1 (usually two forks or spoons per pack) that I keep in my camping bins.
12. Kitchen utensils are much cheaper and just as good
Kitchen utensils seem to get destroyed at campsites. Whether it’s from someone holding them too close to the flame, burning them black or melting them to rubbish, or getting food caked on that you can’t get off, they get destroyed. But dollar store kitchen utensils don’t have to look good. They just need to work. Buy a full set for $1 per utensil and use them as dedicated camping utensils — plus they’re just as good as the expensive ones.
13. Plastic plates, bowls and cups can be used, washed and reused
Like I said about not using plastic silverware, I try not to use one-use disposable plates, bowls or cups either. But the ones you can get from the dollar store are firm enough so a hamburger won’t fold it in half and they’re usually dishwasher safe so you can keep reusing them trip after trip.
14. Oven mitts are a fraction of the cost and work just as well
Have you ever realized how expensive over mitts are? They’re essentially just layers of old shirts people throw out. You can make your own with said shirts, or you can buy one from the dollar store for, wait for it, $1 each. They’re just as good and they’re one of the most underrated camping supplies out there.
15. Reusable water bottles instead of one-use plastic water bottles
Instead of buying a 24-pack of plastic water bottles, using them once each and recycling each (who knows if they’ll ever make it to a recycler or if they’ll be tossed in the landfill), get $1 plastic water bottles, a 5-gallon jug of water and help save the planet!
16. Aluminum foil is cheaper and just as good
Camping without aluminum foil is like putting a piece of raw chicken straight on your kitchen’s burner. You never know what was one that camping grill (or which animal went to the bathroom on it), so you always want to throw down aluminum foil as the base of your cooking. Instead of buying it at a big-box store, get the same roll for $1 at the dollar store.
17. Create your own charcoal grill
For those epic DIYers who don’t want to use the campsite’s grill or those camping without a grill, grab a few foil pans, charcoal and a stand to make your own. It’s simple. Place charcoal into one of the foil pans, place the other foil pan on top, fill it with food and let it simmer almost directly on the coals!
18. Use outdoor solar lawn lights to surround your campsite for hands-free illumination
Lighting your campsite is important for your safety so you can see what’s around you. Using outdoor solar lawn lights from the dollar store gives you all-night, hands-free illumination that doesn’t need batteries, electricity or fire to start. They’re $1 each and can be set all around the campsite.
19. Create a DIY first-aid kit on the cheap
Speaking of safety, every campsite needs a first-aid kit in case someone gets cut or burned. (I’m not sure I’ve ever been camping when at least one person wasn’t burned by the fire or grill — it happens all the time.) Stocking up on $1 items and creating your own first-aid kit is much cheaper than buying a premade kit, and you can craft it with all the supplies you’ll actually need.
20. Use a pool noodle to cover the tent’s stakes
I’ve stubbed my toe and stepped on the stakes holding my tent in place more times than I’m proud to admit. It happens. After about 10 times, while still tip-toeing and somehow finding them with my toes, I found a better option: pool noodles. You can cut-up a pool noodle and wrap them around the stakes, so you’ll never stub your toe or step on another one again!
21. Glow sticks can be fun ways to light up the campsite
Glow sticks aren’t just for children’s parties at a skating rink. They can be used to light up the campsite, too. (They can also be put on your tent’s stakes so you know where they are at all times.)
22. Use candles to light the campsite more naturally
If you don’t want to drain the batteries on your camping lights all night but you still want illumination, lighting up the campsite, especially the picnic table, with candles is a great alternative. Two or three candles usually do the trick in complete darkness.
Keeping Yourself & the Campsite Clean & Organized
23. Candles can also keep your tent zippers sliding perfectly
Those candles can be used for more things than providing light. Candle wax can also be put on your tent’s zippers to keep it zipping and unzipping smoothly for the duration of your trip. After all, who wants a broken zipper to let in bugs when you’re trying to have a nice camp?
24. Plastic carriers can be used to organize smaller items
I know, this list of dollar store camping hacks has a bunch of items on the list. You’re probably wondering about an efficient way to carry and organize everything. Well, the dollar store sells these amazing plastic tote carriers that are perfect for housing all your camping gear — large or small.
25. Shoe organizers can be used for organized storage
Speaking of organizing, show organizers can be hung from the backseat of your car or a tree to create a makeshift storage facility. Now you can say goodbye to the camping picnic table being cluttered with all your stuff or, even better, hauling around multiple tables while you’re camping.
26. Use mesh laundry bags for drying dishes & storing dirty clothes
Mesh laundry bags are extremely useful when camping. I have three mesh laundry bags: one for storing dishes, another for dirty clothes and another for random stuff I have no other place for. After cleaning your dishes, put them in the mesh laundry bag, hang it from a tree and enjoy a nice Mother Nature air dry!
27. Make your own hand-washing station
Sanitation at a campsite is nearly nonexistent, especially if you’re relying on water from your drinking bottle. But grabbing a 5-gallon jug of water, equipping it with a roll of paper towels and soap or hand sanitizer and putting it on the edge of the table creates your own hand-washing station to keep them clean during your trip.
28. Sanitizing hand wipes will become your sink (and sanity)
Speaking of sanitation, regular paper towels won’t properly keep your hands clean. For that, simply grab a $1 pack of sanitizing hand wipes at the dollar store and you’ve got yourself a frugal camping hack that’s just smart business.
29. Make a DIY camping toilet
Alright, a DIY camping toilet is definitely not for everyone. If your campsite has a bathroom, that’s a much better (and more sanitary option), but there are tons of free campsites across the United States that don’t have bathrooms. A DIY camping toilet is better and more comfortable than digging a hole.
For this, get a 5-gallon bucket with a handle, line it with a trash bag, put the handle through a roll of toilet paper and put a pool noodle around the rim of the bucket. While it’s not the most sanitary toilet you’ll ever see, it does the trick and is pretty comfortable.
30. Use a collapsible laundry basket (line with trash bag) as a portable trash can
Instead of tying a trash bag to a tree or hanging it from the edge of the table like most campers do, get a collapsible laundry basket from the dollar store, line it with a trash bag and, voila. You’ve got yourself a fully functioning trash bag that will stay open and won’t be covered with old food and gunk that gets all over your hands when it’s time to take the trash out.
31. Create a clothesline with rope
If you’re going to be swimming at your campsite, this one’s especially important. Getting a line of dollar store rope and hanging it between two trees creates the perfect clothesline to dry your swimming gear and towels.
32. Buy plastic dollar tree tablecloths & use large plastic clothespins to keep it secured
Dollar tree tablecloths are surprisingly sturdy, and they’re much cheaper than going to a big box store. They keep your table clean and make for easy cleanup when it’s time to leave. But getting them to stay on the table and not blow away with the wind is the task. Luckily, the dollar store sells large plastic clothespins, which can be used to clip the tablecloths to the table.
33. Trash bags at the dollar store come in smaller packages
Speaking of cleaning up, grab your trash bags at the dollar store before you go camping. They come in a much smaller box. This way, you won’t have to worry about not bringing enough or bringing a box of 100, smashing the box and regretting it every time you take out the trash at home for the next few months.
34. Put a few moisture eliminators inside the tent to keep it dry
While not all dollar stores will carry moisture eliminators, you may be able to find them in humid areas during the hotter months. These are great to keep your tent (and everything in it) dry while you’re camping. The last thing you want to have is a wet sleeping bag or tent that becomes the perfect place for mold growth.
35. Bring a handheld broom and dustpan to keep the tent clean
We’ve all been there. You’re packing up the campsite after an amazing weekend when you get to the tent. The floor of it is caked with dirt and mud, but you still roll it up and put it in the bag, promising yourself you’ll clean it out when you get home. Fast forward a few months, you’re setting up the tent for another amazing weekend filled with S’mores, hot dogs, a few cold drinks and — uh um — all that dirt and mud from the last trip you forgot to clean.
Bringing a handheld broom and dustpan will hold you to your word at the campsite and leave you with a clean tent every time! It’s much more compact, so it doesn’t take up much space. Plus, it’s only $1!
I hope you enjoyed reading through all these dollar store camping hacks and that they’ve made your camping trip a whole lot better! If you have any more hacks you use, drop a comment and let me know!