The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Camping - Today's Homeowner (2024)

Remember the hallowed childhood tradition of backyard camping? That delightful feeling of setting up a tent right in your backyard, staring up at the stars, and telling ghost stories until the wee hours? Today, I’m taking you down that memory lane, rekindling that nostalgic vibe, and perhaps inspiring a new adventure. Let’s delve into the world of backyard camping — the ultimate staycation for kids and adults alike. Think toasted marshmallows, a canopy of twinkling stars, and the familiar comfort of your own lawn. Ready to dive into this journey? Let’s break out those tents.

In this article we will explore the world of backyard camping, safety tips, and leave no trace principles based on insights from our expert in the field:

    What Essentials Do You Need for Backyard Camping?

    “Backyard camping is the first step to adventures far and beyond as kids get older,” says Dr. Pimm. Before you get deep into the excitement, there’s a checklist to tackle. Being in your backyard might feel like you’re just a few steps away from your cozy bed, but the essence of camping is authenticity. And for that, we need the right gear. So, without further ado, here’s the ultimate list of what you’ll need:

    Shelter and SleepingTent, hammock, sleeping bags or blankets, air mattresses or sleeping pads, pillows
    Campsite SetupCampfire kit: firewood, fire starters, matches/lighter, comfy camping chairs or lounge seating, folding tables
    Lighting: lanterns, flashlights, headlamps
    Cooking and FoodPortable camping stove or grill
    Cooking essentials: pots, pans, spatula
    Mealtime essentials: plates, bowls, utensils, cups, cooler or ice chest, assortment of food, snacks, and drinks, trash and recycling receptacles
    Clothing and Personal ItemsLayers, rain gear, hat and sunglasses, insect repellent, sunscreen, basic first aid kit, toiletries, towels

    Remember, the key is to balance comfort with the fun of roughing it a bit. You’ve got this list — now let the backyard adventure begin.

    How to Set Up A Cozy Campsite

    So, you’ve gathered all your essentials and you’re raring to go. Now comes the magical part — setting up that campsite. Creating a cozy campsite isn’t just about throwing up a tent — it’s about making an outdoor nook that feels uniquely yours. Let’s walk through it.

    Setting Up Your Tent

    When setting up your tent in the backyard, choose a flat area on your lawn away from tree branches or anything that might disrupt your sleep. Clear away any sharp objects that could puncture the tent floor. Make sure to anchor it securely, even if there’s no wind forecast. A surprise gust of wind can be quite the prankster.

    For you to enjoy such a camping experience, you should have a healthy lawn. Our article details lawn maintenance service providers who can assist with managing your yard.

    Deterring Animals and Insects

    It might be your backyard, but critters still call it home. Keep food sealed and away from your sleeping area to avoid unwanted midnight visitors. Light citronella candles or use natural insect repellents to keep mosquitoes at bay. If you have fruit trees, watch out for fallen fruits — they can be a party invitation for bugs. You can also use pest control products such as traps or sprays to keep pests away. However, it’s important to choose products that are safe for use around children and pets.

    Backyard Camping Food

    When it comes to backyard camping, food is an important part of the experience. After all, no one wants to go hungry in the wilderness. Here are a few ideas for camping-related snacks that everyone can enjoy:

    • S’mores: A classic camping snack that is always a crowd-pleaser. Simply roast marshmallows over a campfire, then sandwich them between graham crackers with chocolate.
    • Grilling Delights: Hotdogs and burgers are always a hit at any gathering, and they’re even more fun to cook over a campfire. Just be sure to supervise children when grilling.
    • Trail Mix: This easy-to-make snack is a great way to get a boost of energy and nutrients. Simply mix together your favorite nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and chocolate chips.
    • Campfire Popcorn: To enjoy popcorn popped in the great outdoors over an open fire, the easiest and safest way is with a special campfire popcorn popper with a lid and a long handle. They’re easy to find online or in home improvement or outdoor equipment stores.
    • Easy Charcuterie Boards: This is a great way to share a variety of cheeses, meats, fruits, and crackers. Simply arrange the food on a board and let everyone help themselves.

    12 Outdoor Activities for Backyard Camping

    Now that your campsite’s all set up, it’s time to amp up the fun quotient. If you’re itching to do something more than just kicking back, here are 12 killer activities to make your backyard camping adventure legendary.

    1. Stargazing

    Nothing spells magical quite like a starlit night. Spread out blankets and pillows, lie back, and let the universe entertain you. And with a stargazing app you can even impress everyone with your cosmic knowledge.

    2. Outdoor Movie Night:

    Remember “The Parent Trap“? How about setting up a screen and projector and reliving such classics under the shimmering canopy of stars? Just ensure your neighbors are cool with it — maybe invite them.

    3. Outdoor Games

    Serve, shoot, toss! Set up games like frisbee, badminton, horseshoes, or cornhole. Who knows? You might just ignite some friendly family rivalries.

    4. Nature Scavenger Hunt

    Channel your inner Indiana Jones! Make a list of backyard treasures — peculiar pebbles, bird feathers, or specific leaves — and challenge everyone to a hunt.

    5. Campfire Stories

    Huddle up, roast some marshmallows, and trade spooky tales or hilarious family anecdotes. You could even reenact scenes from your favorite camp-themed movies.

    6. Nature Crafts and Journaling

    Tap into your artsy side. Use leaves, sticks, and pebbles to craft art. Maybe create a painted rock garden or make dream catchers. Later, pen down your adventures or sketch the scene.

    7. Build a Fort

    Turn back the clock to your childhood. Use blankets, branches, or anything handy to construct a backyard fortress. Role-playing knights or princesses? Why not!

    8. Glow-in-the-Dark Games

    When the sun bows out, the glow sticks come to play. Engage in games like glow-in-the-dark tag or capture the flag. Just remember, no sneaky hiding behind the neighbor’s shed.

    9. Garden Yoga

    The great outdoors is the best yoga studio. Stretch, meditate, and harmonize with nature’s rhythm. Maybe invite some squirrels for company.

    10. Backyard Birdwatching

    Ever wonder who’s tweeting in the wee hours? Set up a bird feeder and see what feathered friends drop by. Document them in your journal.

    11. Outdoor Cooking Challenge

    Ever tried making pizza on a campfire? Or campfire nachos? Get creative and see who whips up the tastiest campfire delicacy.

    12. DIY Obstacle Course

    Let’s burn those s’mores off! Design an obstacle course using everyday items. Who can hop over cushions the fastest or slalom between tree stumps?

    The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Camping - Today's Homeowner (1)

    Campfire Safety in Your Backyard

    While the nostalgic allure of a campfire, with its mesmerizing flames and cozy warmth, can be enticing, it’s essential to remember that human negligence is a leading cause of wildfires.

    The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Camping - Today's Homeowner (2)

    With human actions disrupting the atmosphere, fires are rapidly becoming a major threat to forests — they are going up in smoke.

    — Dr Stuart Pimm, Professor of Conservation at Duke University and President of Saving Nature.

    Making memories shouldn’t come at the expense of safety. With this in mind, let’s ensure our backyard campfires are both fun and safe by following the crucial tips below.

    Choose a Safe Location

    The perfect spot for your campfire isn’t just about ambiance but safety too. Ideally, your campfire should be contained within a fire pit or a ring and maintain a safe distance — about 15 feet or more — from your house and other potential fire hazards. Look for a clear area, avoiding overhanging branches, garden sheds, wooden fences, and any other flammable materials.

    Prepare the Campfire Area

    Before you start your fire pit or ring, ensure the immediate vicinity of your campfire is cleared. Remove dry leaves, twigs, and other flammable debris to create a safety perimeter, reducing the chances of stray sparks igniting an unintended blaze.

    Keep the Campfire Small and Supervise

    Remember, it’s about the experience, not the size of the fire. A manageable, controlled fire not only burns more efficiently but is also easier to oversee. Supervision is non-negotiable — a responsible adult with eyes on the fire should always be present. Furthermore, it’s prudent to have a bucket of water or a hose within arm’s reach, ready to douse any unruly flames at a moment’s notice.

    Extinguish the Fire Completely

    Once the stories are told, the marshmallows roasted, and the night draws to an end, it’s time to say goodbye to your campfire. Slowly and carefully drench the fire with water, stirring the embers to ensure every spark is out. Keep pouring and stirring until there’s no steam, and you can’t hear any hissing sounds.

    While a campfire can be the heart of your backyard camping experience, safety should always be the brain. With diligence and awareness, you can ensure that the only things you’re igniting are fun memories and toasty marshmallows.

    How To Practice Leave No Trace While Camping

    Nature has an unparalleled ability to heal, inspire, and connect. “I learned about sustainability, as did everyone I know, from camping. It takes me to wonderful places, with lovely forests and streams, or deserts, or mountains. Being there tells me how precious they are. I see how much at risk they are,” says Dr. Pimm. As we venture into its embrace, whether in vast national parks or our very own backyards, it becomes our solemn responsibility to minimize our impact. Leave No Trace is a set of principles that teaches us to interact harmoniously with nature, ensuring that its beauty and vitality remain intact for future generations.

    While it’s essential to introduce these values to young campers, it’s never too late for anyone to learn. Starting in your backyard is an excellent way to instill these principles before graduating to more expansive terrains. Let’s dive into the seven fundamental principles of Leave No Trace and how they apply to backyard camping:

    1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

    Before setting up your backyard camp, familiarize yourself with any local regulations and guidelines related to outdoor activities. Opt for a location that has minimal impact on plants and the creatures who call your yard home. Being well-informed about weather conditions can also ensure a safe and pleasant experience.

    2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

    Nature’s delicate balance can be easily disrupted. To protect it, use established trails or paths when navigating your backyard. When choosing a spot for your tent, level ground can prevent unwanted soil erosion.

    3. Dispose of Waste Properly

    Camping is fun, but waste is inevitable. Allocate a specific area for waste disposal, setting up separate bins for trash and recyclables. Before wrapping up your camping adventure, ensure that all remnants of your stay, from food scraps to litter, are packed out.

    4. Leave What You Find

    The beauty of nature lies in its untouched splendor. While it might be tempting, refrain from picking plants, disturbing local wildlife, or altering the natural setting. Stick to exploring existing trails — avoid creating ones that can lead to soil erosion.

    5. Minimize Campfire Impact

    Campfires are often an integral part of camping, but they can be a source of unforeseen accidents. Always check local regulations regarding fires. Stick to designated fire pits or rings, ensure the fire remains small, and use only dead and downed wood. When it’s time to call it a night, extinguish the fire thoroughly.

    6. Respect Wildlife

    Your backyard may be home to an array of critters, from chirping birds to scampering squirrels. Observe them from a safe distance, ensuring you don’t approach or feed them. Proper food storage is crucial, not just for cleanliness but to prevent wildlife from getting too close for comfort.

    7. Be Considerate of Others

    Even in the confines of your property, being mindful of others is essential. Keep the noise level in check, particularly during designated quiet hours, and be aware of your neighbors’ boundaries and privacy.

    Leave No Trace isn’t just a set of rules — it’s a philosophy. It’s about coexisting in harmony with nature, ensuring that our actions today don’t negatively affect tomorrow. By practicing these principles in our backyards, we prepare ourselves for a lifetime of responsible and enriching outdoor experiences.


    Embracing the great outdoors, even within our backyards, offers a myriad of adventures and experiences. From stargazing to teaching young campers the importance of Leave No Trace, the potential is boundless. However, intertwined with the fun is the responsibility of safety. It’s crucial to ensure that our outdoor escapades not only leave lasting memories but are also rooted in conscious care for both the environment and ourselves. Safe camping ensures countless more days under the open sky.

    Our Expert

    Dr. Stuart Pimm – Dr Stuart Pimm, Professor of Conservation at Duke University, is an internationally recognised global leader in studying biodiversity, especially present-day extinctions and what the world can do to prevent them. His message that we can all make a difference in our planet’s survival inspires a broad audience. Pimm’s commitment to the science-policy interface has led to his regular testimony to both House and Senate Committees of the U.S. Congress. He frequently visits Washington D.C. to engage policymakers on environmental issues. He is also asked to advise international governments on biodiversity issues and the management of national parks, especially in Africa. In addition to his conservation efforts in Africa, Pimm has worked in the forests of Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil. In the last decade, he has been active in training Chinese conservation professionals and spends a month each year in China. Pimm directs Saving Nature, a non-profit that uses donations for carbon emissions offsets to fund conservation groups in areas of exceptional tropical biodiversity to restore their degraded lands. Pimm is the author of over 350 scientific papers and five books, including the highly acclaimed assessment of the human impact on the planet: The World According to Pimm: a Scientist Audits the Earth.

    The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Camping - Today's Homeowner (2024)


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