For many of us outdoor lovers, the stay-at-home lifestyle we’re following under the COVID-19 pandemic has us sorely missing favorite campgrounds and backcountry hangouts. As we all hunker down in the name of public health, we can still get our camping fix on if we treat the old domicile as our tenting-out playground.
Here are some basic indoor and backyard camping ideas: useful for these strange lockdown times of ours, for sure, but also any situation when you don’t have the ability to get away to your go-to getaway in the great outdoors! Turns out camping in your backyard (or your den) can be an outright blast—and inspiration for planning your next farther-afield outdoor adventure, whenever you can actually pull that off.
Turn your living room into a cozy campsite by pitching a family-size tent or a couple of two-person units inside—or, conversely, by constructing one of those classic indoor forts out of sheets, blankets, and cushions. Part of the fun of camping is simply breaking the everyday routine, after all, and as it happens you can do just that with a tent or fort setup within your H.Q.’s familiar walls.
You can string some lights around the room to crank up the cozy and slightly magical quality of it all, or (cautiously) employ some candles for the whole flickering effect. Use a lantern to approximate the gather-‘round magnetism of a campfire (or queue up one of those endless loops of flickering flames on your TV, laptop, or tablet, if you want to get 21st century about it).
There’s no saying you can’t mimic campground cooking indoors. Get some hot dogs going over a griddle, oven-roast some baked potatoes or scrambles in aluminum foil—and hey, s’mores are just as doable inside as out! Here are few easy ideas.
In terms of entertainment, you could take advantage of your unique “camping” setup to watch a movie, or go the board game or puzzle route. Crack out that deck of cards or that Lego set, or maybe engineer a housewide scavenger hunt.
A flashlight is all you need, meanwhile, for a few before-bed ghost stories, which can be just as deliciously creepy in the confines of your own bungalow as back in the woods.
If you’ve got a backyard, you can camp out under the stars with the whole gang—even if those stars are twinkling (dimly or not) over an urban or suburban jungle. Again, you can set up a tent (or tents), or construct a one-of-a-kind shelter from whatever bedding you’ve got lying around, although you’ll want to double-check the weather forecast before taking that tack.
If you have a fire pit or outdoor fireplace already, you’re all set for getting that stay-at-home campfire a’-crackling. If not, though, you can often avail yourself of a fire setup fairly easily, whether with a premade portable fireplace, a dug-out fire pit of your own construction, or a burn barrel. Just remember to check your local city and county regulations to make sure you’re abiding by the rules. In a pinch, a charcoal grill or pellet- or wood-burning backpacking stove can usher you into the right territory, at least.
Whether you’re able to engineer some open flames for roasting or you bust out the campstove, you’re able to cook up anything you could in an actual campground or wilderness setting out there in your background. Romantic as fire-cooked wieners, veggies, flatbreads, beans, bacon, and the like are—and we’ll include a readymade Mountain House feast in that category—you’ve also (uniquely) got the flexibility of doing some or all of the cooking in the kitchen inside, but enjoying the meal alfresco-style. Camping at home also makes it super easy to make many types of camping meals without worrying about forgetting any ingredients.
In the tent/fort or on the grass, backyard camping games can take the form of just about any board game, card game, or puzzle—or a property-scouring scavenger hunt. You’ve also got all the more options for a little friendly competition: croquet, badminton, Frisbee, cornhole, ring toss, and other lawn games.
Even if your night skies are heavily light-polluted, you’re sure to be able to see at least a few stars (and planets)—barring cloud cover, of course. Whether sparsely glinting or absolutely blazing, the firmament overhead has a timeless, captivating appeal, and a backyard campout is a great opportunity to cue kids (and grownups, too) into the wonders of the broader universe. Outside the new-moon stretch of the calendar, this is also a fine time to enjoy moonrise and/or moonset, and teach your fellow backyard campers about the lunar phases.
When the sun’s still out, meanwhile, skywatching can take the form of classifying clouds—cumulus, stratocumulus, altostratus, cirrus, etc.—and, just as importantly, deciding what the clouds of the moment most resemble: from dragons and dinosaurs to letters and numbers.
You’d be amazed (if you don’t already know) the extent of natural phenomena going down in your own backyard, and camping out is the perfect opportunity to key into it. Practice identifying birds and birdsong, often loud and clear at dusk and dawn. Familiarize yourself or your companions with the kinds of trees and shrubs forming your landscaping. Zoom in and study the insects and spiders out and about in the micro-wilderness of your garden and turf. It doesn’t matter what age: Paying attention to Nature at home can broaden your perspective to a huge and wonderful degree, and remind you that we live in a vast and complex ecological web.
There’s plenty to be said for this brave new world of apps we live in: A smartphone or tablet can help you interpret any number of natural observations—and even report them in a fun exercise in “citizen science.” We’ll point out what’s likely obvious, though: A backyard overnighter can also be a prime opportunity to ditch the screens for awhile and concentrate on nature study, old-fashioned games, storytelling, and book-reading.
A backyard campfire (or lantern) is also a good excuse to gather around for a singalong. Just remember to check with the neighbors and be respectful of noise levels—really, as you would in a front-country camping situation of any kind.
Here are some things you don’t want to forget when camping at home in your backyard:
Just as when you go camping in the state forest or national park, you’ll of course want to have a well-stocked first-aid kit on hand for any nicks, burns, and bruises that might arise.
If pitching a tent in the backyard, pay attention to the weather forecast. Obviously you’ll have a handy-dandy roof over your head to escape to in a pinch if need be, but it doesn’t hurt to try to schedule your yard campout to coincide with amenable weather. That said, keep in mind a rainy campout can be pretty darn fun, too—and good preparation for the real deal.
Don’t forget to lock your doors and care (of course) for any and all pets as you would normally if you’re spending the night outside. Heck, those four-legged buddies may well be able to join you for the fun!
Even if you’re not able to get out to your favorite patch of woods, prairie, or lakeshore, we hope you can make the best of things during this challenging phase by getting your camping on in the living room, basement, or backyard. We’re all in this together! Remember: There’s a lot to be said for the spirit-lifting effect of pitching a tent and unrolling a sleeping bag, even if it’s simply inside your house. Camping at home can be a fantastic way to deal with cabin fever, needless to say! Follow #stayhomewithmh for more.