By Megan Wild
Summer is just starting, and now that school is out, it’s time to start planning those super-fun summer activities like trips to the pool or beach, barbeques and of course camping! If you’ve got little ones who aren’t familiar with the idea of camping out, taking them into the wilderness can be a bit intimidating and can lead to a truly miserable trip for all involved. Instead of dropping them out in the woods and letting them fend for themselves, it’s often best to start small — set up a campout in your backyard! Here are a few tips and tricks that will help make your first backyard campout of the summer a total win.
Step 1 – Find a Tent…or Don’t.
If you’re using your backyard campout to prep your little ones for actual camping in the future, it might be a good idea to consider setting up an actual tent so they can get used to how they work — i.e. so no one panics when they can’t open the zipper for a midnight bathroom trip.
If you’re just camping out for the joy of being outdoors and you don’t have a tent, set up your own! It doesn’t take much more than a couple of sticks and a nice piece of canvas or tarp to set up a basic tent.
Side note: If you live in an area where mosquitoes or other biting insects are prevalent, it might make your night a lot better if you throw some mosquito netting over the tent as well. No one likes being mosquito snackables, after all, and it’s sure to put a damper on your campout. And speaking of damper…
Step 2 – Check the Weather!
Ok, we all know that for the most part, meteorologists don’t stick their heads out the window to check the weather, so you might still get rained on, but it’s still a good idea to plan ahead. Set up your campout for a weekend where there’s a low chance of rain, and keep your phone or computer handy and tuned to your favorite weather app.
Step 3 – Light a Fire!
You just can’t have a campout without a campfire! How would you cook the s’mores otherwise? We’ll get to that part in a second. You can set up anything from a wood-burning barbeque grill to an elaborate fire pit so you have something to warm you up, keep the bugs away and, of course, roast marshmallows!
Just make sure you keep your fire at least seven feet away from any structure, including your home and your tent. There’s nothing worse than burning down your tent, after all!
If you’ve got some additional prep time, there are a ton of DIY fire pit ideas that you could try, and most of them don’t require anything more than some paving stones and some elbow grease!
Step 4 – Plan the Menu
You don’t have to restrict your campfire foods to just s’mores and hot dogs. With a little bit of aluminum foil and a minimal amount of prep time, you can cook just about anything in foil packets right in your campfire! If you want to get everyone involved, just lay out the dinner options and let them set up their own foil packets with their very own custom meal.
You absolutely cannot leave out the marshmallows for s’mores, though. If you’re feeling traditional, pick up some graham crackers and chocolate bars to make original s’mores, or get super creative with your recipes.
Those foil packets that we mentioned earlier can be super useful for your desert menu as well. Make banana boats by slicing open a banana, stuffing it with yummy toppings, wrapping it in foil and throwing it on the coals for a somewhat healthier alternative to the sugar-packed s’mores.
Step 5 – Don’t Forget the Games!
It wouldn’t be a campout without some games and entertainment, if only to wear everyone out enough that they’ll be happy to fall asleep in the backyard.
If you have some prep time before the campout, it’s easy to set up scavenger hunts, outdoor games and everything you’ll need to keep your campers entertained. Here you’ll find a few fantastic ideas to help you get started.
Hide and Seek is a great way to get kids running around, and the after-dark version, usually called Manhunt, is an awesome way to keep the fun going. Just be sure that your little hiders and seekers avoid your campfire so everyone can stay safe while you’re having the time of your lives.
Step 6 – Expect the Unexpected
The best thing about camping out in your back yard is that if the crap hits the fan, so to speak, you have the best back-up plan in the world — head inside and camp out in the living room instead! If you get rained out or one of your campers can’t handle the great outdoors just yet, don’t fret! Just move the festivities inside and continue your campout!
Set up a tent in the living room and roll your sleeping bags out under it so you still get the camping experience. If rain has put a damper on your campfire-dinner, don’t worry! All of those foil packet recipes can be cooked just as easily in the oven at between 350-400 degrees, depending on the ingredients you’re using. And as a side note, they make a super easy dinner anytime you’re feeling hungry for a filling meal but don’t want to wash a ton of dishes. Simply bake and toss the foil afterward!
When it comes right down to it, the whole point of setting up a backyard campout is to have fun, so if you just focus on that, it’s easy to make everything else fall into place. Happy camping!
Photo credit: “Backyard camping” by Brendan Donelly is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.o International License.