Monday, August 1, 2016

Frugal Rock Travel- Backpacking Style

Hi Folks! It's been a while- summer is getting away from me. Been really busy enjoying life, getting outside and enjoying out of town company. Hoping to get a more regular schedule in place again for the fall; but thanks for visiting!

I'm back with a Frugal Rock Travel Segment- and want to share about the best mini-getaway I've ever taken. That's right- THE best. And it was the best for a few reasons: getting away for a long weekend, spending time with Mr. FR, having no phone, email or technology...ohhh, and the fact that it all cost less than 200 bucks. Get ready for a photo-heavy post!

Having been lucky to travel quite a bit nationally and internationally, I never would have thought to find such a cool getaway a few hours away. IF you are willing to rough it and enjoy the experience of the great outdoors, camping and backpacking are a wonderful and frugal way to go. In Wisconsin, backpacking and non-electric site (meaning no outlets nearby) costs $20 a night so a long weekend stay can be done for $40 a weekend- $50 with all taxes and fees. This would still be much below the hotel costs or even a night out for dinner and drinks.


Now one quick aside about gear.

Of course, the initial costs of camping gear can be expensive. Tents, backpacks, cook stoves, etc. can add up quickly. I am not advocating for the cheapest purchases all the way around ( after all, who wants to spend any money on a tent that leaks?), but neither do you need to go to REI and let them 'outfit' you with a special cook pot that costs over $100 and supposedly works better over the fire. I call hogwash. Other then our tent and backpacks, we tend to go cheaper/simpler options as best. Here is a quick rundown of our backpacking gear:                   

Only people for miles, right along Lake Michigan.

1 Quechua Tent- for sure the best purchase we have made. Tight fit for two people, but with room at the foot for bags. We have been out in some heavy rain and have never had a leak. Also while a tight fit, because of the small footprint, we tend to stay warmer. The big selling point for me on this one is it springs open and other then staking it into the ground requires no assembly.

A little chilly but nothing a hat won't fix. My
bag is a GoLite.
2 Backpacks- probably out most expensive gear. To haul all of our items comfortably, it's important that the bag be the right size for you and is able to help you easily haul everything you need. In this case, we needed to hike in and out about 2 miles, carrying all of our items. While not a huge distance you would struggle without the proper bag. We have used these not only for camping, but also for train trips or other getaways. Last year the Frugal Rock household took the train to DC, and then walked to the AirBNB, about 2 miles with all of our stuff on our backs. We bought these online (thanks Amazon prime!) but I would highly recommend walking over to a outfitting/camping store and trying on some bags before buying so you know the style that works best for you.

Mr. FR loving the outdoors and outfitted to hike out after a fun weekend!

1 Foldable burner and cook fuel. We had looked at more expensive options multiple times. JetBoil is the most popular one out there, but simple and light won the day on this. We use a simple fold out burner and a small fuel cell that we light. The pot for the stove- that we use for everything, making coffee, meals etc., was an old cook pot of ours that's gotten a little warped over time. When we replaced the pot in our home kitchen, it got repurposed for our outdoor needs.

1 Water Filtration. This is the first trip where we did not have easy access to drinking water.  Due to this we did have to make some purchases, including a foldable water jug, tablets to clean the drinking water (so we could pull it right from Lake Michigan!) and water filtration straws to help filter any left over bits from our lake or stream water. This totaled just under $30 and will be items that we plan on using in the future.

Other items:
Sleeping Bags
Ax- cutting up downed wood, instead of purchasing or hauling wood in (cuts down on invasives too- so double win)
Rain Gear
Clothes/Personal Items

Every so often we need to replace some of the small items, such as flashlights, but over the last 6 years, we have slowly purchased the big items so the expenses were spread out over a long period of time.

While we spend a lot of time hiking and sitting around the fire when camping, we also bring at least one travel game. A pack of cards will do, but lately we have been bringing Travel Chess or Battleship. A book or two generally gets shoved into one of the bags as well. We bring one of our phones for emergencies, but don't use it for distraction- ie. internet surfing during downtimes, though a podcast does come in handy for rainy nights!


The way backpacking differs from most camping, is the lack of refrigeration or coolers. Most foods will either need to be packaged and/or dehydrated to prevent spoiling.

There are several store bought varietis you can purchase if you want to go the easiest route. Here is one variety that came recommended that you can buy on Amazon. If you are worried about the sodium content in some of these package meals (Mr. FR) or just want something a little more gourmet for camping (me) you can also very easily and cheaply make your own food packs. The key idea behind this is something that will taste delicious, is nutritious- in these cases also packed with protein, and can be made with just boiling water and adding the food packet. I got a lot of inspiration from this blogger who made a variety of packaged meals. I also did some comparing to this site and played around with my own variations as well. I will admit that some of these were so good that I could see making and stacking them in the pantry for nights when you may just need an instant meal and don't want to do the same old pasta or rice-a-roni.

To make the recipes above I did go on Amazon (we have a prime membership so it's often cheaper to purchase in bulk from Amazon then run to the store!) and order a few things- freezer Ziploc bags, freeze dried veggies, fruit and chicken. With the help of the link above I made the following meals for our dinners/lunches:

Sundried Tomato Pasta w/ Salmon
Fiesta Rice w/ Chicken and Veggies
Thai Peanut Sauce and Noodle Dish **my personal favorite**
Vegetable Curry

Each bag I wrote the instructions as to how much water and cook time was needed to make things really simple each night. You will notice that these are carbohydrate heavy. One reason for that is that carbs are great in making you full without tons of food. Carbs stick with you throughout the day. When you are hiking 5-8 miles a day something lighter is not going to get you through! Finally, carbs work great in these meals since they come dried, they are uniquely good at being the base in instant meals.

For breakfasts, I did something similar and made homemade instant oatmeal packets. Again for ease and speed, you could bring Quaker Oats instant packs, but if you really want to be horrified- check the sugar content in just one of those packs. In addition, Mr. FR and I combined would eat about 5 packs in a morning so over 3-4 days we would generate a bunch of garbage to pack out. Instead, I made 5 serving breakfast packs again with dried fruit and added cinnamon or one decadent morning cocoa powder. Each morning we boiled water and then threw in the one breakfast pack and a few minutes later had a meal ready.

For snacks, there was applesauce and summer sausage (some varieties don't need refrigeration until opening so we bought small ones and ate in one sitting). And of course, plenty of instant coffee.

The COST Breakdown (rounded for calculating ease)

Site Fees/Reservations- $60 for 3 night at $20 a night
Food Costs- $50- including left over freeze dried items for future meals. I gave myself a budget of $50 and stayed to it pretty exactly.
Gas-$40 - I put $20 in my tank on the way there and the way back, but never was fully empty so the actual gas price is approximate
Restaurant- $35- We did a very un-frugal thing on the way back and stopped for lunch. Being frugal is also about knowing when to splurge, and we couldn't resist the lunch spot with goats on the roof.

Total: $185


So in case you are asking yourself- why all this work? Was it worth it? Absolutely! These below images of the beautiful scenery we got to enjoy. Not only that, but we were completely relaxed most of the weekend, and were truly away from it all. We did not have any other campers nearby and were miles from other people. We were able to wake up each morning with a view of the lake from our tent and songbirds overhead.  Not only that, but I had a huge sense of satisfaction during the trip of being pushed out of my comfort zone, and at times, pushing our endurance. It reminded me that the best vacations are not necessarily the most expensive ones, but the ones that nourish your soul. Needless to say, we already booked our site for next summer!

After several days of rain the forest was a bright green, as only seen in spring- with wildflowers blooming in the underbrush.
Little garden snake. After Mr.FR painstakingly got close to this little guy, I almost immediately stepped on another one.
They were everywhere!

A tree with personality...


  1. Wow beautiful spot! Way to go Mr and Mrs FR!

    1. Thanks Lexi! Nothing better then some time outdoors!