9 Backyard Camping Ideas for an Epic Outdoor Adventure, No Travel Required
Whether you’re hoping to introduce your kids to the joys of the great outdoors or you’re craving a staycation that’s a bit outside the norm, a backyard camping adventure is an excellent way to spend the weekend. And we’re not the only ones who think so. According to Pinterest, searches for “backyard camping” are up a whopping 335 percent. But before you go skipping into the backyard in your pajamas, consult our guide for the best at-home campout ever. Now, who wants a s’more?
1. Pitch a Tent
Let’s go over the most important thing first: the structure in which you’ll be sleeping! If you’re feeling particularly adventurous (and the weather report is ideal) you could go ahead and fashion your own tent with blankets and sticks (hot tip: ski poles are excellent for propping open a makeshift tent door). Otherwise, pick up a bright, roomy tent from your favorite outdoor store, like REI or Dick’s Sporting Goods. You might even have luck finding an older model that’s on sale or buying a refurbished one for less.
2. Stock Up on Outdoor Lights
Outdoor lighting can keep the fun going long after the sun goes down—and help banish nighttime scaries for the little ones. (Arranging Christmas or other string lights on surrounding bushes or around porch pillars can also offer some solace to those used to sleeping with a flashlight without disturbing the neighbors.) Cheap flashlights can be found at most pharmacies, corner shops or grocery stores (and, of course, Amazon), but headlamps (the ones real backpackers, explorers and mountaineers use) add a little extra excitement to your outdoor adventure. Then again, to prevent anyone from shining bright lights in anyone else’s eyes, one or two large lanterns might be best. You can be the judge of what works for your yard and your crew.
Buy it: Eveready LED Flashlight ($16 for set of four); GearLight LED Tactical Flashlight ($19 for set of two); Petzl Tikkina Headlamp ($20); Mr Beams String Lights ($30); Black Diamond Spot 325 Headlamp ($40); Coleman River Gorge Rugged Personal Lantern ($25); Black Diamond Voyager Lantern ($40)
3. Cook Up Some Campfire Classics
Hot dogs and s’mores and trail mix, oh my! Stock up on camping classics like marshmallows, mixed nuts and anything that can be cooked on a grill to nourish your family just like real backpackers out in the wilderness. Or, if you want to get a little fancy, you can prep some foil pack meals that are just as delicious as your go-to sliders and dogs.
As for drinks, having a cooler filled with water and juice (plus adult beverages for you!) means fewer trips indoors so you can really get into the camping spirit.
Buy it: Igloo 38qt Wheelie Cooler ($25); RTIC Day Cooler 28 ($28); L.L.Bean Softpack Cooler ($59); IceMule Classic Insulated Backpack Cooler Bag ($60); Hydro Flask 35 L Insulated Tote ($75); Orca Seafoam 20 Quart Cooler ($200); Yeti Roadie 24 Cooler ($200)
4. Pile On the Pillows, Blankets and Sleeping Bags
If you don’t already own sleeping bags, a pile of cozy blankets will do. Even if it’s hot during the day, the temperatures will drop come nightfall so you really can’t have too many warm coverlets, duvets or throw blankets. You might also want to break out an air mattress or try a sleeping pad for some additional comfort.
Buy it: Field & Stream Recreational 50° F Sleeping Bag ($30); Coleman Dunns Creek Cold-Weather 20°F Hybrid Sleeping Bag ($65; $40); L.L.Bean Flannel Lined Camp Sleeping Bag ($99, $79 for kids' size); Klymit Static V2 Sleeping Pad ($65); REI Co-op Trekker Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad ($80); Intex Dura-Beam Standard Series Pillow Rest Raised Airbed w/Built-in Pillow & Internal Electric Pump ($30)
5. Break Out the Lawn Games and Plan Outdoorsy Activities
What sleepover would be complete without a bunch of silly activities that will inevitably make everyone too giggly to go to sleep? Before the sun goes down, set up a nature-themed scavenger hunt to see who can find a leaf with four points, a ladybug or the biggest stick in the yard. And don’t forget to lead the group on an imaginary trail around the outside of the house, making sure to point out landmarks such as a beautiful secret waterfall (aka water trickling out of the roof gutters), ruins left by ancient peoples (aka scratches on the driveway) and even fresh bear tracks (aka paw prints left by the neighbor’s cat).
Buy it: Large Magnifying Glass ($13); Franklin Sports Glow-in-the-Dark Playground Ball ($16); Bry & BVL Binoculars for Kids ($23); Antsy Pants Cactus Ring Toss ($25); Outside Inside Backpack Cornhole Game ($30)
6. String a Hammock Between Trees
Or porch columns or a fence and bush or the car rack and a tree, whatever works for your backyard setup. Take turns swinging in the breeze or finding creative ways to get into and out of your nylon nest. If your kids aren’t the best at sharing (and, really, what kids are?) plan ahead by picking up a two-person hammock or extra large style that can fit everyone at once.
Buy it: Field & Stream Double Hammock With Straps ($30); ENO DoubleNest Hammock and Straps Set ($50); Grand Trunk TrunkTech Single Hammock ($60); Therm-a-Rest Slacker Double Hammock ($80; $68); Kammok Roo Single Hammock ($69); Eagles Nest Outfitters DoubleNest Hammock ($70)
7. Swap Scary Stories After Nightfall
Once the sun has set, take turns telling spooky campfire stories or using your flashlight to read from books (might we recommend the classic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark?). You can also download a stargazing app to locate and identify different constellations.
8. Set Up a Projector for a Unique Movie Night
Not a fan of scary stories? Try this drive-in inspired plan instead and set up a projector to display your kids’ favorite film on the side of the house, garage door or surrounding fence. There are a bunch of options that can connect right to your laptop so you can easily pull up their go-to Netflix flick.
9. Don’t Forget Emergency Essentials
The best way to get the full camping experience is to make it a rule that everyone needs to stay outside (except for bathroom breaks, obviously). Bring everything you think you might need, and then some, outside and stow it in a basket in the shade. This includes sunscreen, bug spray, bandages and the basics of an at-home first aid kit. You might also want to invest in some citronella candles to keep pesky mosquitoes at bay (just don't burn them inside the tent).
One thing that shouldn't be considered an essential? Electronics. You wouldn't be able to charge your iPad out in the wild, so you shouldn't be able to charge it from the backyard either. Have the second rule of the evening be that all phones, tablets, laptops and other electronic devices should stay indoors. And yes, that includes your phone too, moms.