Walking through a modern outdoors sporting goods store tells us we've come a long way since the primitive scouting days of yore, but a glance at the price tags for these newfangled marvels also reveal that there's still room for homemade camping gear.
What's Suitable for Making Yourself?
Not everything lends itself to do-it-yourself projects. For example, play it safe when it comes to your survival kit -- having a homemade potholder break apart is one thing, going science experiment on your water purification method when you're lost in the wilderness is a very different ballgame.
Likewise, if you're going into a cold climate, getting top-notch thermal clothing is a safer bet than reinforcing your old jacket with pieces of kitchen foil. Climbing gear in mountainous terrain is another example where modern products are worth the investment.
The bottom line: If it's something that's merely annoying if you make a mistake, you're fine to experiment, but anything where there's real danger to you or others, play it safe and pay a few bucks extra for the store-bought stuff. In addition, don't reach for the cheapest import stuff without taking a hard look at the quality.
These caveats aside, there are many areas where you can try your hand at making camping gear yourself. It may not be pretty, but it'll get the job done!
An old tarp, some rope and a few sturdy sticks makes for a quick and easy tent. A smaller, secondary tarp or a couple large trash bags on the floor will help keep moisture out. If you only have a smaller piece of tarp, you can still make a one-person shelter by tying one corner to a tree and use stakes to secure the other corners in the ground. Use a pine tree, if possible, since that will minimize potential rain getting into the inevitable exposed sides.
You probably already carry a thermal survival blanket with you as part of your survival kit. These are extremely good at keeping in body heat, and a lot cheaper than the top-of-the-line sleeping bags out there. Why not get two blankets and turn them into a sleeping bag? Silver tape the sides (not all the way up) and keep a thin, regular blanket between you and the survival blankets for comfort.
Can't sleep without something to put your head on? Keep your spare socks and underwear in a sturdy plastic bag and let the bag double as pillow.
The simplest solution to quick rain protection is to cut holes for your head and arms in a large trash bag. You can also save the largest size bags from Wal-Mart or similar markets and use them. If you want a sturdier solution that also covers the arms, cut up an old shower curtain and sew a raincoat out of it.
The classic bow drill or a metal/flint kit goes a long way towards making fire, but in less than optimal conditions, you may need some help with kindling to get a fire started. Cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly will catch fire quickly, as will a paper cup filled with sawdust and paraffin. Using shredded, dry milk cartons with wax coating is another way to get free but effective kindling.
Common household kitchen foil, preferably of the sturdy variety, is a common jack-of-all-trades for outdoor cooking. If you don't want to buy it, simply hold on to the tin cups some baked goods come in, like a 4-pack of cinnamon rolls or the like, for some light-weight, individual-serving cooking.
For the stove, there are many options for making a classic Hobo stove using a couple old cans. However, this involves flammable material with the potential to be hazardous. First, try a Web search for specific instructions for a specific model. Backpacking.net has excellent step-by-step instructions for dozens of models as well as other homemade camping gear staples.
Closing Words on Homemade Camping Gear
Making homemade camping gear is a special kind of challenge to add a little extra to the "Going Wild" experience, and it's not for everyone. Heck, some people wince at the sight of a tent when they watch TV in their 5-star hotel suite on their dream vacation. Still, quite a few people have discovered they can customize their gear for a fraction of the cost by improvising backpacks, cookware, and even sewing their own tent designs. So, if the repurposing of "trash" conflicts just a little too much with your aesthetic senses, remember that you can do a lot more than the quick tips here. It's only a matter of how much you want to put into your hobby. Good luck!