Summer is here at last—and while restrictions surrounding the pandemic loosen up, there's likely been a halt in some of your upcoming travel plans. If this time has taught us anything, it's to find gratitude in the simple things: a roof over our heads, a family to hunker down with, home cooked meals, and our ability to get innovative—like hosting a backyard camping trip.
Now is the time to thrive in the great outdoors. Whether your kids have been begging you for years to drag their tents to the backyard or you're skipping out on the annual road trip, a backyard camping trip is just the pick-me-up the family needs this year. We tapped the outdoor recreational experts from Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) to provide you with the ultimate guide on how to make the quick trek to the lawn fun for the whole family.
Pack the Essentials
First, take stock of what you have at home. "Just winging it leads to a 2 a.m. wake up call and reshuffle back inside," advises Courtney Gearhart, senior public affairs program manager for REI. She recommends this checklist: a tent (plus, the footprint and stakes), sleeping bags and pads, camping pillows, headlamps or flashlights (with extra batteries), a table and camp chairs, lanterns (with mantles and fuel or batteries, if needed), a sunshade, a hammock, firewood or a portable fire pit, and a camp rug.
Stake the Tent and Set Up Your Campsite
"If you're getting a tent for the first time and want to fit your entire family, be sure to get a tent that will sleep everyone comfortably," says Gearhart. "For instance, the REI Co-op Kingdom 4 Tent ($300, rei.com) will sleep four people comfortably. Do not try to stuff additional kids or pets into the tent. Size up if you need to. Also, buying a quality tent guarantees it will withstand wind and questionable weather, and will last for future adventures together once COVID is up." Be sure to stake the tent properly, placing stakes at a 45 angle from the corner. This allows you to pull the line taught, making for maximum room inside.
Nights around the country can get chilly, so be sure you have the proper sleeping bags for a cozy night's rest. "Make sure everyone has a sleeping bag that's rated for the weather. The best way to tell is to look for a sleeping bag rating. For instance, the REI Co-op Radiant 20 Sleeping Bag ($149, rei.com) for kids is rated 20, which means your kiddos will be comfortable in that sleeping bag if it's 20 degrees, or the REI Co-op Kindercamp 40 Sleeping Bag ($70, rei.com) for kids will keep kids comfortable through the night if it only gets down to 40 degrees in your area."
Roll Out an Air Mattress
"Don't just use the blow up mattress that you let your relatives sleep on in your house," says Gearhart. "Most of them do not include a very important layer of insulation and you will wake up at 3 a.m. freezing cold and reeling to go back into the house." She recommends an insulated air mattress or, at the very least, a self-inflating sleeping pad.
Use an Entry Mat
"Use some sort of mat at the entry of the tent to give kids a place to take shoes off and help prevent tracking additional grass and dirt into your tent," suggests Gearhart. You can also create more of a glamping experience by adding a decorative rug inside the tent.
String Up Some Lights
Great lighting is necessary for enjoying the evening hours of your backyard camping trip for dinner, dance parties, bedtime stories, and other fun activities. "The MPowered Luci Solar String Lights ($45, rei.com) are rechargeable and fun to add ambience in the tent," says Gearhart. "The MPowerd Luci Core is solar powered and can hang or sit on its own. The MPowered Luci Explore ($75, rei.com) is solar charged, plays music, and lights up."
Gather the Games and Props
It's tempting to go back inside for screen time while you're camping in your backyard. Keep the whole family entertained with fun games and props. Choose classics like horseshoes and cornhole, put together a fishing in a bucket game, take out the guitar for campfire tunes, plan a scavenger hunt, or download an astronomy app for late-night stargazing.
Set Up a Campfire
Purchase a portable fire pit and round up the camping chairs. Roast hot dogs by day and marshmallows by night. "Make sure you have chocolate, marshmallows, and graham crackers stored up for whatever night you want to camp," says Gearhart. "A fire pit—far away from your tent—is a great way to enjoy the evening together sharing songs, stories, and s'mores before heading to bed. The Solo Stove Bonfire Fire Pit ($300, rei.com) has been a very popular pit that helps to burn hot and minimize smoke."
Make It Easy to Pack and Clean Up
"Don't rush clean up!" adds Gearhart. "Enjoy the morning and don't rush to take everything apart. Let the kids have fun in the tent for the day if it works for your family." To prevent mildew and to ensure a longer life for your tent, make sure your tent is completely aired.