Let’s face, not all outdoor adventures take place in the backcountry. Though there’s little doubt you’d love to be trekking the Olympics or wild camping in the Scottish Highlands this summer, if you’re anything like me, you’ve got to juggle kids, work and rising costs of travel. So how to keep your kids outdoors and entertained? Let them do some backyard camping.
If you have the outdoor space and it’s safe to camp out in your backyard, backyard camping makes for an ideal summer activity for little kids as well as teenagers (and, if we’re being honest, adults too). Kids absolutely love the excitement of sleeping in a tent, and backyard camping gives them a taste of the outdoors without meaning you have to schlep all the camping gear to the nearest National Park. It even means the kids can have an adventure when you’ve got work in the morning.
It saves you money on everything from campsite fees and gas to camping food, since you can just cook what you already have in the fridge. Backyard camping also gets your kids accustomed to sleeping outdoors with the option of changing their mind halfway through the night, and it’s a good opportunity for you to test out any new gear and make sure you know how to pitch your new tent and inflate your sleeping pad before taking them further afield.
Pitching the family tent is by far the most exciting method, but if you live somewhere hot, a tent might be bit sweaty, so consider when you really need a tent or want to just pitch a tarp or canopy for a little shelter or have the kids sleep in hammocks instead, which they’ll love. Basically, there are lots of ways to approach backyard camping, from trying to recreate camping in the wild, to dragging the futon out and sleeping under the stars, but whichever route you take, these six tips will help make your experience all the more memorable.
1. Set up as a family
Get your kids involved with pitching the tent, inflating the mattress, unrolling the sleeping bags and slinging the hammock. They usually really enjoy getting stuck in with building their camp and this means you don’t have to do all the grunt work while they develop some valuable skills about setting up camp.
2. Opt for an air mattress
It’s true that most little kids can sleep anywhere, but the best chance you’ve got of them not waking up halfway through the night and wanting to head inside is to use an inflatable camping mattress if you have one rather than your typical sleeping pads. If you’re going to be joining the kids outdoors overnight, this also means you’ll get a better night’s sleep.
3. Light the place up
You might not want your entire backyard floodlit all night, but chances are your kids will be too excited to go to sleep the moment night falls and for safety, you’ll want to make sure there’s some lighting for them. Stringing up twinkling fairy lights looks lovely while a few sturdy camping lanterns like the Mountain Warehouse Wind-Up set the tone and kids love carrying them around. Children also love flashlights so make sure you arm them with one each for their nocturnal adventures as well as reading and telling stories in the tent.
4. Build a fire
Camping just isn’t camping without a fire, and in some backyards, you may be able to build a campfire or already have a firepit, which is brilliant. If you don’t have these options, consider getting a wood-burning stove like the Solo Stove Lite. The kids will love foraging for twigs for kindling, you can still gather round it as it casts off enough heat to warm your hands and of course, you can use it to make s’mores, without which no camping adventure is complete.
5. Have a cookout
It’s definitely tempting to just cook dinner in the kitchen and carry it outside when it’s ready, but cooking your meals outside is really part of the fun. Whether you’re using your camping stove meant for backpacking, a double-burner stove like the Vango Combi IR or just a regular backyard grill, you’ll want to prepare a feast outside. Grill up some sausages or burgers or make kid-friendly macaroni and cheese, pull out the camping chairs and feast al fresco – just think how nice it will be to not have to sweep under the table after dinner, and be able to use the dishwasher while camping!
6. Plan fun activities
You might just be trying to get your kids out from under your feet while you work from home, and if that means watching movies on the tablet from the tent, that’s fair enough. But if the whole objective is to get your kids off the screens and outdoors this summer, you might need to give them a helping hand finding activities. Furnish them with an entry-level pair of binoculars like the Kowa YF 8x30 so they can do some bird watching (or pretend to be Sherlock Holmes), send them on a scavenger hunt or set up some lawn games like corn hole.
- The best family tents: shelters for the whole tribe, tested and rated
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.