Build The Ultimate Backyard Camping Experience
Backyard camping can be a fun way to get outdoors and maximize family time while still respecting social distancing best practices.
Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.
Whether you’re a newbie naturalist or boast a long list of campsites conquered, backyard camping can be a blast! Especially now, when we’re all sticking a little closer to home and being more careful about socializing. Backyard camping is a great way to get the kids outside and fend off the stir-craziness that comes with warming weather.
An avid camper might already have all the snacks, gear and games they need to build the ultimate backyard camping experience for their family. But if that’s not you, here are some tips to help. And whether you’re in the backwoods or the backyard, always keep in mind these basic camping safety tips.
You’ll Need the Right Tent
Every one of us probably has an old tent rolled up in the back of the garage somewhere. But make no mistake, tents aren’t a one-size-fits-all piece of equipment. Your local outdoors store probably carries 50 varieties, and if you’re shopping online prepare to find thousands more. The keys to choosing the right tent are space, season and number of people. Ask yourself:
How Much Flat Space Do You Have in Your Backyard?
You’ll need enough room to pitch your tent on a relatively level plot and walk around it comfortably without tripping over retaining walls or running into fence posts. Nothing will ruin your backyard camping experience quicker than waking up with a tent full of water, so shoot for a flat space or a slight incline in case of rain.
Do You Need a Two, Three, or Four-Season Tent?
Two-season tents are exclusively for warm weather camping — probably not ideal for spring or fall, and useless in the winter. Three-season tents are the most common and most versatile. They’re less expensive and lighter to transport. A four-season tent is unnecessary unless you’re committing to backyard camping all winter long.
How Many People Will Be Joining Your Backyard Camping Experience?
Tents are designed to provide shelter while still maximizing airflow. Air is what keeps your gear dry inside, but it also keeps it cool. The last thing you want are large pockets of cool air filling empty places in your tent. Try to match your tent size with the number of campers you plan to have.
Splurge on Sleeping Bags
Right next to that old tent in your garage probably lives an old worn-out sleeping bag or two. Like tents, sleeping bag technology has come a long way since you zipped your dad’s feather-filled military mummy bag up to your chin and tucked in for the night. Temperature and water resistance are the primary considerations when it comes to sleeping bags. Ask yourself:
How Cold Is It Going to Be While We’re Backyard Camping?
Comfort ratings are issued in degrees and determined by the International Standards Organization (ISO) — a bag sporting an ISO rating of “35 F” is comfortable for the average person at 35 degrees F. Keep in mind ISO ratings are estimates, not guarantees. Age, gender and sleeping position all impact one’s comfort level. As a general rule for backyard camping, it’s probably best to overestimate when it comes to the warmth of your sleeping bag.
What Does the Weather Look Like?
If the weather doesn’t cooperate and your tent fails you, the last line of defense between you and sogginess and shivers is your sleeping bag. Again, different bags are rated higher or lower for water resistance. But reasonably priced waterproof sleeping bags do exist and they come in kids and adult sizes.
No Shame in Sleeping Pads
Sleeping pads aren’t a necessary piece of equipment for backyard camping. But if you find yourself on the wrong side of 20 years old, your back will thank you for the added investment. Whether it’s inflatable or foam, the proper sleeping pad can make a massive difference between a peaceful slumber and tossing and turning all night. Three more things to keep in mind:
A Sleeping Pad Can Keep You Warmer
If you’re planning to purchase one, take note of the sleeping pad’s “r-value,” which measures its ability to insulate you. Usually ranging from 2 to 5.5, the higher the value, the better insulating properties it has.
A Sleeping Pad is Not an Air Mattress
If you’re thinking you’ll just pull the self-inflatable 18 in. air mattress out of the guest bedroom and use it for backyard camping, think again. As evening temperatures drop, so does the temperature of all that air beneath you, which makes it difficult to stay warm. If it gets too cold, the air molecules shrink and escape, leaving you sleeping on the cold ground.
Think Carefully Before You Go With a Cot
Camping cots are designed to fit all shapes and sizes of campers. They are extremely versatile and can be really comfortable. But if you anticipate a cool evening for your backyard camping, the space between the ground and the underside of your cot acts like one big cooler.
Allow For After-Hours Lighting
Your backyard camping experience is going to come to a swift conclusion if you don’t plan for some nighttime lighting. You may be tempted to go with the old-fashioned Coleman two-mantle propane lantern — if you camped as a kid, you’ve probably got one of these around too! But if your family’s younger campers aren’t ready for propane-based light, here are three alternatives to consider:
There is a wide variety of battery-powered lanterns for kids and adults. If you envision yourself backyard camping frequently, the long-term value lies in the rechargeable lantern.
Another fun option for camping with kids is to get each one a headlamp and let them do their best Indiana Jones impression while they explore every square foot of your yard.
Developed for emergencies and natural disasters, solar-powered lanterns are the ultimate in eco-friendly luminescence. They last surprisingly long and often come with a manual crank to recharge during evening hours.
Find The Right Fire Pit
There might not be a more iconic symbol of camping than the ubiquitous campfire. Easy enough to build with leftover bricks from your last edging or retaining wall project. Before you commit to your DIY campfire, check city ordinances to make sure it’s permitted in your area. If you don’t want to ruin your grass, or you’re looking for something a bit more professional, you’ve got options:
Simple Fire Ring
The simplest way to turn your backyard into a campsite. A traditional fire ring is simple and durable. And if you’re not fully committed to the campfire concept, it’s easily removable.
Grass-Saving Fire Pit
Trading your healthy lawn for an occasional backyard camping experience is understandably undesirable. You’ve got a few options, but a raised fire pit is where they start. It’s a simple solution that offers functionality, portability and an aesthetic edge over the traditional fire ring. A higher end option is the smokeless fire pit that combines cutting-edge construction and innovative design to maximize fire time.
Permanent Fire Pit
If you’re looking for a more permanent addition to your landscape, a stone fire pit won’t disappoint. Make sure you’re committed before going down this path as stone represents a notable upgrade in price.
Add Some Entertainment
Even the best backyard camping experience will fall flat without a serious supply of games and entertainment. You could build cornhole boards or a life-sized Jenga game, but both might be advanced for readers with younger campers. Consider three alternatives:
During daylight hours, Seek by iNaturalist is an amazing app that lets you and your youngsters identify the tree, shrub and plant species in your yard just by pointing your smartphone camera at them. At night, SkyView is a free augmented reality app that helps you find constellations around the world in real time.
TV, movies and streaming services are filled with shows about zombies, vampires, witches and crime. Suffice it to say, there are enough scary stories going on inside your television. Luckily, there are still some kid-friendly camping stories you can tell that won’t cause nightmares.
This one requires those headlamps or other individual lighting we mentioned earlier. Family members take turns hiding a small trinket or toy somewhere in the backyard while everyone else stays in the tent. The hider then gives hints about the toy’s location until someone finds it. Be sure there is a prize for the finder.
Stock Up on S’mores and Other Snacks
This one goes without saying. Camping goes hand-in-hand with cooking over an open flame, so make sure you’re planning something special for your backyard camping experience. Here are some ideas.
You’ve had the traditional graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate version, but these 24 new ways to make s’mores offers something for everyone.
Backyard camp cooking can be more than just hot dogs over an open flame with these camp-friendly recipes.