Camping On A Nickel With Will & Sandy Pepper


There are so many missed opportunities for people and their families to get outdoors and enjoy some good ol’ fashion camping! Many people I have talked to say it’s because it’s so expensive, but I’m here to share great news with you today, that it doesn’t have to be! People feel that if they don’t have the right gear, or the newest fancy gear (the phrase is keeping up with the Jones’s) that they can’t get out there and have fun with everyone else. This article is going to give you some insight and ideas of how to camp on just the cost of fuel it takes to get there and back. I know it sounds too good too be true but it really is this simple! This story is inspired by one man, Will M. & his 3 year old Pitty Sandy Pepper. He is a dear friend of mine and I will tell you a bit about him, the way he lives and how he survives.

I have adopted this man as my Grandpa (I call him Grandpa Billy & he calls me Granddaughter. He even calls my 4 year old Pitty, Bella, his Granddog). He is not even close to old enough to be my Grandpa at the age of 59 years young, and he is not related to me legally or by blood. I was introduced to him by a friend of mine who goes way back with him and she calls him Billy, so I know him as Grandpa Billy but everyone calls him Will. He reminds me so incredibly much of my Grandfather who passed away in 1999, that I’m just in awe over it. Their looks, manorizms, interests, certains ways of their lifestyles, their beliefs, even the way they roll their tobacco in the morning for the day ahead while we sit around and he shares stories. It is unbelievable how much he reminds me of my Grandpa Sunny. Anyways, just to give you a little insight into his way of life and how amazing this man is I’m going to start out by introducing you to him.Grandpa’s story will hopefully inspire and motivate some of you to challenge yourselves and see if you too can camp on the cheap!

Grandpa and Sandy Pepper, travelled to Oregon from the East Coast, walking & camping, carrying their food and gear on their backs (Sandy Pepper has her own pack and carries her own dog food and the pack is padded by her bed in between when they travel). They do a lot of hiking and camping; he makes a living by walking the sides of the highways and back roads picking up bottles and cans and special finds that he can use at camp, repurpose, or fix up to sell. (Bottles & cans are worth a nickel in Oregon, hence the title “Camping on a nickel”). He makes enough income by doing this and finding cans in dumpsters up at campsites after busy weekends & the gear people leave behind just because they don’t want to haul it home, they forgot it, or it has some small flaw in it- he will grab it and make use of the resource; that is enough he is able to get by each month and buy his food, dog food, tobacco and necessities without asking for much help. The only help he asks for is a ride into town twice a month for food and supplies, and he kicks me down some money for gas. I go up and visit him more often than that though because I worry about him and miss him too much to leave him up there alone for very long. Many people miss out on knowing how kind hearted and hard working this man is because they judge him by the way he looks or the way he lives and it is really their loss because he is such an incredible, grateful, giving, caring and loving man with so much to offer that those who judge have no idea what they’re losing out on. He is a minimalist and he’s very happy with the way he’s living right now. He is not homeless by any means he is camped out on a claim working as a watchman for the season.

Before he would do anything at camp he pulled out his small close blade saw and cut some small branches and cut notches in them…building himself a hand made bow saw with the wood pieces and a bow saw blade he found. He was then able to cut some decent firewood to get a good fire going before getting to work so that it’s building a nice bed of coals while he’s busy working on other things. After he has enough firewood to keep him going for a little bit he’s able to get working on his sleeping arrangements because that has to be done in the daylight of your first day unless you’re planning on sleeping under the stars or in your rig. As long as it’s not raining, sleeping under the stars is amazing! This is how Grandpa set up his hand built hut/tent and bed.

He started out his camp by getting ready to build a hut tent out of materials he had found on the side of the road and brought home to wash. It was a lightweight boat cover, and he cut up a downed cedar tree with his bow saw and ax. He split the cedar into small/long boards that he used as beams, joists & studs, and twine/screws to hold it all together; making a hut that is A-frame roof, and is oval in shape, measuring 8′ tall x 16′ wide x 6′ deep. The boat cover is strapped down over it and has a door cut for an opening that he rolls up and ties open, which is how he leaves it most of the time. He cut the rounded poles out of large branches for the studs and the rest of the wood is cedar boards he cut. It smells really nice.

His bed was originally made out of (2) 1 x 4’s he had found, filled the bed with moss for padding, covered it with plastic and layed his bedding down. (Over Memorial Day weekend in his really cool dumpster finds, someone threw a 3″ foam mattress pad away and it was on top of the dumpster and clean so he put that over the moss to add more padding and the plastic over that and then his blankets down). He also found 3 camping chairs and tons of already bagged up bottles and cans that people didn’t want to haul back with them. People gave him left over food they didn’t want to take home, all sorts of cool things. God is Great! We ask and we shall receive and Will is such a great example of that. He is a very gateful and humble man, who gives as much as he receives and works harder than many men half his age. He did purchase a large tarp that is double the size of his hut and he set it up with poles he cut to size and rope at an angle that the rain would all drain off the back and that you have an awning all the way around, a bit larger in the front so you can come out of the tent and enjoy the fire and the outdoors still if it’s raining. He is camped out where he is for the summer and he’s panning for minerals and just putsin’ around.

The rest of his hut is large enough for dry good storage, all of his gear, clothing, supplies, Sandy Pepper’s food in 5 gallon buckets, etc. When I come up to camp I just set up my sleeping bag on the other side of his hut. I have a self inflatable air mattress and it fits in a standard sleeping bag, so I inflate it and put it inside my bag so I don’t slide off in the middle of the night. Then I bring Bella’s bed and she sleeps over to the side of me on the edge of my bed because it makes us both feel safe & Sandy Pepper’s bed is on the edge of Grandpa’s bed. That is her spot and she has never shared it with anyone but Grandpa and now me when I took a nap there one day, but she let Bella crawl up there and nap with her. It was pretty cute!

                CAMP POTTY    
The dredded “potty” thing that people are so embarrassed to talk about and do around others. Tehehe… This is why we chose a spot off to the far side of his large camp site where he dug a deep hole, used a 5 gallon bucket over two cedar boards that he cut to stabalize the bucket,  the bottom of the bucket cut out (lined with a bag for disposal) and two cedar boards on top for a seat. (I just ordered a bucket seat toilet seat from for $2.50, it is a toilet seat with lid that snaps onto any 5 or 6 gallon bucket top). (I AM NOT A PAID ENDORSER, VENDOR, OR, ADVERTISER FOR THIS COMPANY OR THEIR PRODUCTS, I AM SHARING MY OWN PERSONAL OPINION/INFORMATION ABOUT A PRODUCT I PURCHASED). We used a coffee can to keep our toilet paper rolls in and a bucket of ash next to it with a lid so that it doesn’t get wet and you sprinkle the ash from the fire pit (as long as you know it’s not hot) into the hole if you go poop so that it doesn’t stink up camp or attract flies. That Grandpa is one smart cookie! He is a very intelligent, educated, experienced, self taught man; and the experiences he’s lived I hope we can pass down some of the lessons to generations to come so that it’s not a lost art. 


What always comes after potty talk but food talk… For the dry foods it is stored in it’s original packaging in containers/buckets/crates with lids to keep the critters out (the buckets and crates were found at grocery stores and fast food restaurants and taken home and bleached out). One 5 gallon bucket full of beans and rice he buried so that it will keep longer. He did the same thing with the cooler box. He dug a hole, covered it with moss on the inside for insulation because under ground stays a consistent cool temperature and caged in the moss with left over wire he had from building his panning classifier. Then he made a little safe lid for it out of wood so the critters or worse the bears wouldn’t try to get into it.

He set his kitchen up between two trees and he built shelves out of cut poles, cross cut poles and particle board. He also made some shelves out of boards covering some stackable crates holding stored items (seasonings, canned goods, dishes, towels, wash cloths, cleaners & soaps, etc). The kitchen is covered by two tarps that were found on one of his trips. He has two tubs for washing dishes one for wash, one for rinse. He heats up his water on the fire, cooks on the fire, gets his water from the creek and runs it through a purifier. Bring food from home, you don’t need anything fancy…cheap and easy, stuff you already have works perfect. I do baked potatoes, wrapped in foil and thrown in the fire for 30 minutes, hot dogs on sticks, meat thrown down on the grill, breakfast… I think camp food cooked on the fire is the best experience of food you can have as a child or adult!

         IT’S THAT EASY!

My family does a lot of impromto camping trips…spur of the moment, just go somewhere we want to go! We tent camp and so I always have our gear clean and ready to go so all we have to do is fill the cooler and dry box with food, load up and drive off. We have gear that the both of us have collected over the years, it’s mostly pretty nice gear, some of it is just getting worn out from good ol’ wear n’ tear. I organize it in storage bins accordingly, one for kitchen goods, one for toiletries and one that stores our very large tent. Then all of our camping gear is stored together so we know where it is when we’re ready to go.

There are many places that allow you to camp for very cheap prices or even free, things that can make it cheaper as well is seasonal passes to your favorite spot. However many camping areas on Forest Service and BLM land are free to camp on as long as it has a fire ring and is not marked fee area or no camping. You can check out their websites for the area you’re looking at going to and find out all the free camping spots before heading in that direction and what the regulations are for staying there..

· You don’t need expensive gear to get out there and have fun.

· Bring food and supplies from home, don’t go out and spend a bunch of money that isn’t necessary.

· If you don’t have certain things, improvise…no sleeping bags? Use blankets… No tent? Build a hut…

· If you don’t have a cooler, get a cheap cooler bag and weight it down in the creek to keep it cool if you are only camping for a few days.

· Drag in firewood that is already down around your camp and cut it with eith a bow saw or chain saw. (You can pick up a bow saw for pretty cheap).

· If it’s okay to have a fire, use your fire to heat your water and cook on rather than wasting propane or charcoal or whatever you have to use. Cooking on the fire is so much better!

· Be safe! Don’t forget sun block & bug spray! HAVE FUN!!!

Now that you have these tips I hope to hear about some of your fun camping adventures. I would also love to hear what tips and what things you do to make your hobbies affordable and still have a great time doing them! Will, Sandy Pepper, Bella and I challenge you to camp on the cheap between now and July 5th, 2016 and respond to this post about it by July 7th, 2016 at 5:00pm PST with the header Nickel Camp Callenge, tell me who you are, town & state you’re from and tell me where you went, how you stayed on the cheap, what tips you may have for us for the summer. At the end of the challenge I will randomly select a name from those of you who respond to my Challenge on this blog page and I will send you a private message to exchange shipping information so that I can send you a free gift, no cost to you. I cover the gift and the shipping cost straight from the store. Thank you always for your continued love and support! I really look forward to hearing back from you all on this one! Have a safe and Happy Father’s Day!

Camp photos, hut, kitchen,


2 tired dogs…Sandy Pepper is Red and Bella is white & Brindle


Camp kitchen (which has been updated since this photo was taken)


Inside of hut


Grandpa & Sandy Pepper’s Bed



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