Your Guide to Backyard Camping with the Kids
Looking for a change of scenery? Want to get away from it all? Well, the adventure that you seek may be no farther away than pitching a tent in your own backyard. A backyard camping trip is a perfect activity for the whole family or as a special occasion sleepover for kids' friends. Unplug those devices and recharge with a healthy dose of outdoor fun with the kids.
With the right camping equipment, yummy food, and a steady flow of fun activities, backyard camping can also serve as a nice introduction to real tent camping in a big national park or local state park. So grab your sleeping bag and a sense of adventure. We’ve worked out all the details so that all you have to worry about is finding batteries for the flashlights.
Best Backyard Camping Gear
The most obvious piece of equipment for backyard camping is a tent. This is the perfect time to test out your tent-building skills from the comfort of home vs. in the rain or at a dark campsite! You may even get away with using an indoor play tent if the conditions are mellow, e.g., warm, dry, and not too windy. If you would like to invest in a tent, my family loves this one from Coleman. With a little practice, it takes my 9-year-old and me about 5 minutes to set up. I also love the 5am sun-busting, "dark room" technology.
A portable camp cot is the perfect way to avoid sleeping on hard rocks or lumpy patches of grass even in the backyard. It also makes a great spare sleeping surface around the home!
Take the opportunity to teach fire safety.
Fire safety is very important, so make sure you use only materials that are intended for campfire building. Fires should only be set up no closer than 15 feet to your tent. Additionally, we like to make sure that hair has been tied back and we always have a bucket of water on hand in case any accidents happen. This Adjustable Fire Pit Grill Grate makes cooking over an open flame a breeze. This isn't an item to skip given that a good chunk of the night is spent around the campfire.
Having a sturdy cooler allows you to keep all your cooking ingredients at a safe temperature without running back into the house. We love this heavy-duty one from Rtic. It keeps my ice frozen for at least a solid 12 hours (if not more.)
When the sun goes down, having several extra blankets on hand may save your campout. A good wool blanket has many uses: its utilitarian "no frills" vibe makes it easy to throw on the floor of a tent or snuggle up with around the fire.
This s’mores caddy has been the true MVP of my summer for many years. With perfectly sized compartments for all the s’mores ingredients, it’s not only perfect for serving but also for storing the ingredients until the next campout.
Kids can make easy DIY lanterns for the backyard camping adventure.
Best Activities for Backyard Camping
Make Your Own Lantern
What’s a campout without a lantern? These mason jar lanterns are an easy DIY for just about anyone. We used black glass paint to paint stars and silhouettes on the outside of the mason jar. We added a string of battery-operated LED fairy lights to make our jar shine.
Sing Camp Songs
There is something about a campfire that makes people want to sing. If you have a guitarist in the family, this is your time to shine! Repeat and answer songs are a lot of fun and easy to learn on the spot and will get everyone up and signing.
Play Flashlight Tag
Once the sun goes down, the real fun begins at a backyard campout. Get everyone up and moving with a game of Flashlight Tag. There are many ways to play this game, but our favorite is a combination of Hide & Seek and Tag. The rules are simple: the person who is "it" counts to a high number and gives everyone a chance to hide. Then, the person who is it turns on their flashlight and goes looking for the hiders. The hiders can be tagged with the beam of light.
When it gets dark tell spooky stories around the campfire.
Tell Stories Around the Campfire
Once you set up camp, it’s time to tell stories while gathered around crackling flames. Older kids may love to make things a little spooky by telling ghost stories, we love these 17 kid-friendly spooky campfire stories. Or, let the kids create their own stories by playing a game of Pass the Story.
Play Card Games
I have fond memories of sitting in our tent with my dad while he taught me how to play Gin. A deck of cards is a must for any campout. After all, they're small and portable and good for hours of no-tech fun for kids of all ages. Check out our list of 25 card games for a little inspiration.
Gaze at the Stars
After hours of running around the backyard, it’s time to calm things down to take in the wonder of a star-lit sky. Grab a blanket and set it up on the grass; shut off all the lights and flashlights — the darker the better! Everyone should close their eyes for a good three to five minutes to give them a chance to adjust to the night sky. It’s amazing what is visible once we give our eyes a chance to see! Check out this interactive star guide and get your bearings before heading outdoors.
It's not a campout without s'mores.
Best Backyard Camping Recipes and Snacks
Where there is fire, there are s’mores. That toasted marshmallow sandwiched between graham crackers and chocolate is the perfect way to kick off any campout. Get your s'mores game to the next level by with one of these amazing S’mores Boards for everyone to share — probably not feasible on a big camping trip but definitely doable so close to home.
Ice Cream in a Bag
Make your own ice cream without an electric ice cream machine with this homemade ice cream recipe, making it the perfect backyard camping treat.
Hot dogs and potatoes make an easy foil packet BBQ dinner.
Foil packet cooking is a campfire classic for a reason: it’s simple to prep, requires no special skills, and is really easy to clean up! Plus, your pan becomes your plate - how much better does it get? I like setting up a “serve yourself” buffet so that everyone can customize their meal to their liking. There are a seemingly endless amount of recipes out there to pick from. So, give everyone a piece of tinfoil, and let them create their own personalized tin foil packet meal.
There is nothing quite as yummy as food cooked right over a campfire. These doughboys only require two ingredients and are really easy to make. Fill them with Nutella, fresh fruit, hot dogs, cheese, eggs, or anything else the family loves. We simply mixed Bisquick with milk until a dough was formed. The dough should be thick enough to stay on the end of a stick but not too heavy that it falls off. Wrap the dough around the tip of a thick wooden stick and hold it over the fire. Cook until they are brown and crispy on the outside.
Backyard camping is low-key enough to weave into any summer break. If you're ready to plan a bigger trip, uh, beyond the yard, check out all our favorite campgrounds across the country, or consider booking one of these East Coast beach campsites for next summer.
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Photos by the author