Everything You Need for an Epic Backyard Camping Adventure
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 pitch a tent just steps away from your porch, consult our guide for the best at-home campout ever. Now, who wants a s’more?
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.
Flashlights, Headlamps and Lanterns
Stock up on outdoor lights to keep the fun going long after the sun goes down—and to banish nighttime scaries for the little ones. 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); Black Diamond Spot 325 Headlamp ($40); Coleman River Gorge Rugged Personal Lantern ($25); Black Diamond Voyager Lantern ($40)
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.
A Mini Stove for Hot Dogs and S’Mores, and a Cooler for Drinks
You could always use a regular grill, but that’s not necessarily authentic to a camping trip. So seek out a portable stove, like the inexpensive ones you would use while backpacking. Their compact size also makes them much easier for kids to use (with adult supervision, of course) so they can roast their own marshmallows. Be warned: These stoves should never be used inside a tent, so find a spot on the grass or a rock to set up your makeshift kitchen.
As for drinks, having a cooler filled with water and juice (plus adult beverages for you!) means fewer trips indoors.
Plenty of 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)
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). 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.
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)