You may not be able to go out, but you don’t have to stay in. As the weather is warming, why not take advantage of that green space behind your house to create some good old-fashioned family fun with a backyard campout. Not only will you create epic memories for your kids, but you’ll likely keep them entertained for an entire 24 hours sans screens. Sounds like sorcery, right?
Below, I’ve included my favorite gear for creating backyard memories. You can use as much or as little as your budget allows, because here is the thing with backyard camping: it’s all about time together. As long as everyone is warm and well fed, you can trust this will be the most fun your family has experienced all
Tip: Don’t have a backyard? Pitch the tent in the green space between condo buildings or even on that small balcony hanging off your apartment. And if none of those work, here’s another solution: try your living room. Sleeping in a tent is fun, no matter where you are!
REI Co-op Kingdom 6 | $499
If you’re the sort who will go camping after the virus blows over, consider investing in a tent that will pull double duty in your backyard as well as the campground.
My personal fave: the Kingdom 6. It’s massive 75-inch peak height means you can stand up inside and there are almost a zillion pockets lining the interior which means kiddos can stash various treasures all around the tent.But, the true standout feature is the mesh ceiling and walls that line half the tent. Your entire family can lay inside and stare at the stars all night long.
Two schools of thought: if you know that your camping will live and die in the backyard, don’t drop a lot of money on your sleeping pad. If that sounds like you, this Intex Comfort Plus Airbed will do a great job of keeping your butt off the ground for an evening. However, I’m willing to double down on your affinity for the outdoors and suspect you will have so much fun, you’ll want to do it again and again. If that’s you, nab yourself a pair of the Roamer self-inflating mattresses.
The inflate to just over four inches of thick, comfortable mattress cush that is totally toddler approved (Seriously, just ask our daughter who treats these things as her personal trampoline every time we go camping.) But where they shine is actually at home. Last year, we ditched our standard air mattress for guests in favor of these pads after my 64-year-old mother said they were more comfortable.
If you’re on a budget, please see above and throw some blankets out there and call it good. But if you’re looking to nab a fun longterm sleeping bag, we love the 20-degree Jazz double bag around these parts. It includes a whole slew of niceties you don’t typically find in sleeping bags: built-in quilted pillowtop for comfort, an integrated pad sleeve so you don’t roll off in the middle of the night, and a removable sheet so you can have that same sheet-blanket feeling as you do in your bed. Plus, our kid loves it.
Nothing says campout like a roaring fire, but if you’re on your balcony, please check with your HOA and report back. If it’s kosher, snag a Duraflame Outdoor Fire log and bust out the s’mores. Made from 100% renewable resources, these are tested to be cook-safe so you can rest assured that you aren’t eating hazardous chemicals. One case of three logs amounts to roughly a three-hour fire, so go to town.
I mean, you can use a lighter to get your Duraflame going, but what kind of lesson would that be for your kiddos? Instead, reach for the Firelight Kit to help your children learn how to responsibly light a campfire from the safety of your backyard. The kit includes a striker and steel to create a flame along with the cool tinder-on-a-rope.
Constructed from Caribbea Pine stumps, the tinder rope has an 80% resin content which makes it easy to light when wet—without any chemical additives. Bonus: The kit also includes the handy Grandpa’s FireFork, a stainless steel set of prongs that attaches to a stick so you can cook marshmallows or hot dogs over the fire without completely skewering them.
BioLite Fire Pit | $250
If a campfire sounds fun but you’re wondering where to put those darn logs, BioLite has a solution. This fire pit is built for wood or charcoal (who is up for hibachi?!), making it a great alternative for backyard camping or a frontcountry campground. But, the fanciness doesn’t end there: a mesh body gives you full wraparound views of the burning flames while you can use a free Bluetooth app to manually (and remotely) control their size. How’s that for sorcery?
Pro tip: backyard camping is a great time to engage in silly shenanigans with your kids. On the flip side, it’s darn embarrassing to admit you lost your kid while running around in the dark. These inexpensive micro lanterns clip onto anything with a carabiner, making it a cinch to see moving targets....like your stealth-mode child, running along the fence line.
ENO Singlenest Hammock | $62
You’ll definitely want a place to rest your weary legs after a rousing game of hide-and-seek, so if you’re after a chair, check out the recent roundup of our favorites. But a hammock makes for a great option—kid approved, too—that allows for oodles of day dreaming and sky gazing.
This option is meant for one person, so if you plan on packing in the fam, consider upgrading to their DoubleNest.
We’re all about ambience. You can certainly string up some twinkly lights if you have ‘em, but if you don’t, I think these Mini Flames are pretty darn cool—and resourceful. Screw this Mini Flame globe onto one of those half-empty fuel canisters you have laying around to create a small lantern, complete with contour lines of Mt. Tanigawa on the side for utter coolness. Plus, how nice does it feel to use every last drop of fuel?
Sleeping Bags to S’mores | $16
I’ll be the first to admit that this is self serving (since yes, I definitely wrote this book) but guess what? It will also help you have the best-ever backyard campout. My husband and I included an entire chapter on the topic, detailing eleventy billion games and activities you can play with your family, as well as tips and tricks for a successful backyard camping adventure. Have at it.