Backyard Camping: Summer Adventure When You Can’t Get Away

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Do you dream of crackling campfires, starlit skies, and the sweet escape of nature, but find yourself bogged down by a packed schedule? Fear not, the great outdoors can be closer than you think. Backyard camping offers a convenient and relaxing alternative to traditional camping trips, allowing you to unwind and reconnect with nature from the comfort of your own home. 

Kids making a small tent with candles and lampions in the backyard.

A backyard camping trip can be a fun way to get young kids excited about the outoors, preparing them for future camping trips, or create a summer backyard adventure for pre-teens complete with ghost stories and other spooky stories, campfire pizzas, or an outdoor movie night.

It’s easy camping, too. It’s not hard to reach your campsite, it’s quite literally out your back door. It’s safe, you don’t need to worry about find an outdoor restroom, you don’t need to worry about campground reservations and fees, and you don’t have to pack in a lot of camping gear. Backyard camping will cut down on the hassles that of a traditional camping trip. And, if things go awry, just pop back inside.

Even as an adult, on a hot night, I’ve grabbed an air mattress, sleeping bag, and created a cozy bed on the deck. While it was more of a great way to escape the heat inside, I’m still counting it as a backyard camping adventure. We have air conditioning now, but there were usually a handful of night every summer that you’d find me camped out – literally and figuratively – on the back deck.

Here are some suggestions to turn your backyard camping into a fun outdoor adventure.

Create an attitude of fun – Don’t keep harping about a busy schedule, lack of time, or limited funds. Create an attitude and atmosphere of vacation fun. An outdoor adventure doesn’t have to require a long trip or an big budget. Pitch a surprise campout in your backyard, and present it as an easy way to have so much fun. You can be silly and hike around the house a couple of times before arriving at you campsite, or set everything up in advance so you just have to pop out when it’s time to settle in.

To tent or not to tent – If you don’t have a lot of serious camping gear, don’t worry, you don’t need heavy duty gear for the backyard. Inexpensive camping tents are available at discount department stores. Or, let the kids create a faux tent using an old sheet, blanket, or tarp. Remember making the blanket and pillow forts as a kid? It’s the same idea. Another idea is to use a tarp or old sheet as a tent, draping it over a clothesline or furniture or other equipment that you have handy. Corners can be anchored with rocks or inexpensive tent stakes.

If you’re in a buggy area, you may already have a netted outdoor tent. Something like this or this.

Or maybe you don’t need a tent at all. I like the open air of my deck and gazing up at the stars. If it rains, I’m just steps from a door where I can stay dry.

Keep dry – Put a tarp or plastic drop cloth on the ground, then top with an old blanket or comforter for a little cushioning. You can then spread out sleeping bags or just stick to loose blankets and pillows from the house. With the ground protected, you guard against dampness or cold ground. Since you have all your usual household items nearby, you can use things that you wouldn’t ordinarily pack up for camping trip.

Make it cozy – One big advantage of camping out in your backyard is the easy access to soft bedding materials and the accoutrements that add a little luxury to the experience. Line the sleeping area, or floor of the tent, with sleeping pads and then lay out the sleeping bags and pillows. On the deck, I put down an air mattress, put blankets over that, then sleeping bags, then more blankets, and top it off with lots of pillows. (I’m a big fan of pillows!) If you’re making this a family camp out, each person caqn create the comfortable environment that best suits them.

Mood lighting – Battery-powered lanterns or individual flashlights are practical in the darkest part of night, although if you live in an urban neighborhood, it may never get dark enough that you need lighting assistance. 

For a couples camp out, consider adding some outdoor string lights or tiki torches to create a romantic outdoor space.

Make it delicious – If you’re allowed to have open fires in your neighborhood, throw a couple of pieces of wood on the fire pit and make it a campfire. If no open flames are allowed, use the barbecue grill. No barbecue grill? Cook indoors and bring outside to eat.

Easy food like hot dogs and s’mores (graham cracker, chocolate square, roasted marshmallow) can be a treat for the whole family. It only takes a little more effort to create tinfoil dinners – organizing an assortment of meat and vegetables and creating foil packets that can be cooked in the hot coals of a fire or on a barbecue grill. 

You’ll also need some beverages, whether it’s lemonade, soda, or just a handy water bottle. Adults may want to add a cold beer or a favorite bottle of wine. 

Get active, or not – Young kids may enjoy singing around the campfire, while older teens and adults may prefer karaoke. Fun lawn games like corn hole or croquet, a nature scavenger hunt, or nature crafts, can round out an active evening.Watch the noise level as it gets later in the evening, or invite the neighbors over and make it an impromptu block party.

Storytelling, especially ghost stories, usually works for all ages, and is quieter in the later hours. Card games like UNO, Phase 10, or Exploding Kittens are great, and even a basic deck of cards can be used for a fun activity.

Stargazing is my favorite late night activity. While our neighborhood still has a lot of lights, I use the Sky Guide app to locate stars, constellations, and planets. I also like to read before bed, even when bed is sleeping outdoors. With a Kindle, I don’t need any additional light.

Roughing it – I’m not much on roughing it, so having my creature comforts make a camping experience more palatable. If you want a more rustic experience, feel free to ban technology and othern modern conveniences, and incorporate traditional roughing-it camping activities.

Backyard camping is convenient, inexpensive, and fun – and you don’t need to leave home to have a great time.

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