What images come to mind when you hear the word camping? Do you instantly think of a shaded grove of tall trees that you hang your hammock on to watch the sky explode with stars? Or maybe you see an image of people swapping stories around a warm campfire as marshmallows hit that perfect boundary of almost burnt? When you think of camping it can invoke feelings of warm summer nights, an annoying mosquito nipping at your neck, and good times spent in a tent away from the stress and pressures busy city life can evoke. Camping really is special in that way.
Unfortunately, a camping trip isn’t always possible. Inclement weather, devastating wildfires, wilderness closures of your favorite areas, and even unforeseen worldwide pandemics can prohibit you and your friends and family from those tent adventures.
But what if I had Option B for you to try? What if I told you all the ways you can go camping without the worry of man or nature stopping you from a fun time? Backyard camping! That’s right, you can have all the camping experiences right in your very own backyard. Here’s how.
Tent Set Up
The way to guarantee any great camping trip near or far is to have the best sleeping set up. Nobody enjoys an uncomfortable night of tossing and turning do they? One massive bonus to having a camping trip in your backyard is you have easy access to whatever sleep solution you need. This means no overstuffed car trunks or lugging heavy backpacks for miles to set up your home. So what do you need?
It may feel obvious but the first critical item needed is a tent. You can find rather large ones at any outdoor gear store like REI. These guys can hold up to 20 people in some sizes and are very sturdy against rain, wind or dust. You probably do not need something that large, and a cheap tent from Walmart could suit your needs just fine.
Don’t feel like buying a tent for just your backyard? Well, if you do not have a tent you can literally build your own! You will need a sturdy canvas that is large enough for your needs, some twine and branches or other stakes to prop it up in a classic A-frame design. I will admit there are downsides with this tarp version. One is there is no containment or doors to shut out critters. Also you may want to lay a tarp on the ground to not wake up soaked by morning dew. But a DIY tent is a cute and easy way to have a barrier of protection without buying a tent.
Now that you have a roof over your head, you need something to lay your head on. Traditionally, when camping you would pack sleeping pads or fold up egg crates to sleep on. At home you can opt for more luxury. Try a blow up mattress, or even haul out a regular mattress to sleep on. Make sure you protect the mattresses with a tarp on the ground or even wrap it in many sheets and blankets. Even a thick yoga mat can be a comfy alternative if you have it. The last steps are adding sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, a stuffed animal or two and you have your very own home outdoors. Of course you can always use fun sleeping bags for your backyard campout.
Food to Share
I think camp food is the best food. There is something about sweet and savory classics that just taste better with a dab of fresh air. When you are at home in your backyard the possibilities really are endless for what type of spreads you can create. But if you want to stick to the classic camp food here are some favorites to try:
Veggie Grill: If you have a grill this is an easy and healthy treat for you. Simply cut up your favorite vegetables such as bell peppers, onions and zucchini and place in a foil bundle. Season with oil, salt and pepper and let the fire do the cooking.
Campfire Nachos: Think of all your favorite nacho toppings: black beans, olives, salsa and of course ooey-gooey melted cheese. Place all of these plus the star of the show – the tortilla chips – in a Dutch oven over your grill or fire. If you do not have a Dutch oven then simply use foil to create a nacho filled packet.
Classic Hotdogs and Burgers: I mean this seems to be a given at any camping experience. If that sounds too dull make sure you add all the toppings. Maybe teriyaki cabbage, a runny egg or brown sugar bacon on top is just what you need to fill your tummy.
Adult S’mores: Now backyard camping is not just for the kids. If you are over 21 then this is the drink for you! All you need are the classic s’more ingredients: marshmallows, graham crackers and your favorite chocolate. Then simply dip each tasty nugget into a glass of creamy Bailey’s Irish Cream and take camping to a whole new level.
Games, Movies and More
The main purpose of camping is to connect with each other and have fun. But what is there to do that will entertain everyone? Here are my favorite ideas to try:
Rock Tic Tac Toe: I love a good game of Tic Tac Toe. And to make it more outdoorsy, add rocks and a tape lined grass board for fun. It really is as easy as that. Collect rocks and apply duct tape in X’s and O’s, as well as lay out a board to use. Then see who can be the champion of three in a row!
Board games: Monopoly, Game of Life, Candyland – all fun classics that evoke nostalgia in adults, and fun in new players. A game of Clue or Chess can spur loads of conversations without the need of electronics.
Create your own ladder toss: All you need is some balled up socks and a ladder. Pull a ladder from your garage and number the steps starting at 1. Then with the balled up socks, take turns to see who has the best aim to win.
Think about setting the mood with some easy hanging string patio lights. Don’t have patio lights? Christmas decorations, flashlights, or lamps are just as good.
Remember the mosquitoes! You may want to have everyone wear a big repellent bracelet or light a candle designed to repel unwanted guests. Just remember to blow it out before you nod off!
If you want to make it something unique, think about a theme. Maybe you are at a Hawaiian luau or perhaps cowboys heading west. Everyone can dress up and add their own imagination to make it special.
Have a few flashlights with batteries handy. Even in urban settings it can get dark at night just in case anyone gets scared or simply needs to use the loo. Anther bonus is the hand puppet opportunities flashlights provide.
Now, I realize backyard camping is not your go-to first choice. The views may not be as grand, there is a possibility of a forgotten sprinkler timer wetting you down, but the memories, the laughter, the opportunity to reconnect is still there. And really isn’t that what camping is all about?
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Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would not be a forever home for all of them, they adopted their daughter buckets and are legal guardians to their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus