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Backyard Camping: A Complete Guide

Has there ever been a better time to go backyard camping? Weeks spent at home with no kind of getaway in sight and tensions running high will take its toll on even the most resilient people. So, as absurd as it may sound, planning (and carrying out!) a backyard camping trip is something you absolutely should consider.

Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or a once a year type camper, the benefits of setting up your tent for a night or two in your garden or backyard are invaluable. A little bit of fun, adventure and excitement might just be the difference between an enjoyable isolation experience and one that is only just bearable.

Of course, camping at home isn’t just reserved for times of crisis, like we’re in now. You can do it any time you like, and there are loads of reasons why you should.

Read on to find out why camping in your backyard should be high on your list of mini adventures. Plus, you’ll learn how to do it, what to take, what to eat and what to do during your at-home getaway!

Man sitting by tent in backyard

6 benefits of backyard camping

01You can do it during pandemic lockdown!

We may only be allowed to leave the house for essentials, but that doesn’t mean we can’t spend as much time as we want in our backyards and gardens. If you’re lucky enough to have outdoor space then please, take advantage of it! Planning your camping trip will give you and your family something to look forward to, and doing it will be an ideal distraction from all the challenges you may be facing. Plus, if you sleep badly, you’ll have a new appreciation for the luxury that comes with being isolated in a home that is warm and comfortable. Things ain’t that bad after all!

02It’s a good test for new campers

If you or your kids are new to camping then trying it out first in your backyard is highly recommended. Firstly, you can test the waters without investing in loads of gear (see below). Once you’re hooked, you can start to accumulate your own stuff. Secondly, you should never go camping in a new tent without putting it up at home first, to check that it works properly. Thirdly, camping can be scary for little ones. Knowing that they’re close to home might make it feel more safe for them. Then, once they realise they love it, heading out further afield will be a breeze.

03You can do it without all the proper gear

If you just want to try camping out, you can do it without any proper gear at all in your backyard. When I was little, my sister and I would sleep in the garden without a tent on warm, dry nights. We’d put down a sheet of plastic on the grass and then layered up duvets and blankets from the house to stay cosy. No fancy air beds or techy sleeping bags in sight. And we loved it! Some nights we were woken by light rain, but we just grabbed all our bedding and dashed inside to the comfort of our beds.

Skip to the backyard camping checklist section for a list of gear you may want to take. This includes alternatives that you’ll probably have kicking around your house already.

04It’s a free getaway

Sure, camping at home may not be as exciting for adults as for kids. But if times are hard and you need to save some cash, then it’s an ideal way to have a break from normal life. You’ll be surprised at how much it feels like you’re really getting away. Then, once the kids start to get into the swing of how to do it, you can just leave them to it for the weekend while you cosy up indoors with a quiet house all to yourself!

05It’s not just for kids

Many of you will have read the above option and reversed it in your heads: how about the kids stay in the house and we have a backyard camping getaway! Yes, camping in your garden is certainly not just for kids. Make your setup extra special with fairy lights and lanterns, cook a gourmet meal over the campfire, and you’ve got yourself a backyard camping date night!

06There’s a get out option

Finally, camping at home means you can easily abandon your mission. This is an especially appealing option for those with young kids living in unpredictable climates. If the conditions get so awful that your tent is leaking or you’re so cold that frostbite is setting it, you can just walk away from it all and snuggle up in your own bed. You can always try again the night after, but you’re better off bailing than sticking it out and making your children hate camping forever!


Kettle and food cooking on fire

How to camp in your backyard

If you’re an experienced camper, camping in your garden is just like regular camping. Plan it, pack for it, set up your campsite properly, and do all the usual things you do when you’re camping.

If you’re new to camping or just after a little inspiration on how to make camping in your backyard a success, then read on.

Plan it like a proper camping trip

Part of the fun of camping is the planning of it. Sure, you can’t plan day trips and hikes in the same way if you’re just staying at home. But you can plan your menu and get the right groceries in. Research some new recipes to try over the campfire. Stock up your marshmallow store. Sharpen your knives. Gather wood for the campfire. Charge up your lantern. And don’t forget to organise a few games and activities to do whilst you’re hanging out in your backyard campsite.

Gather your gear

As mentioned above, you don’t need lots of fancy gear to camp at home. For the best experience, however, it does help if you have a tent (although sleeping under the stars or under a tarp can be just as magical). But if you don’t own a tent or a tarp then consider borrowing or hiring one.

Aside from a tent, you can get away with using everyday items from your house. See the backyard camping checklist for camping gear alternatives.

To avoid constantly trekking in and out of the house or garage, try gathering up all your gear in one go before you start setting up. You’ll probably miss stuff, but that’s OK; you can just nip inside and grab it. The sooner you detach yourself from indoors, however, the more you’ll feel like you’re properly camping.

Start in the daytime

To get the most out of your home camping adventure, set up camp during the daytime. The earlier the better, especially if it’s your first time! This will give you loads of time to get everything you need as you set up. Plus, the sooner you get set up, the longer you’ll have to enjoy all those backyard camping activities you’ve got planned.

Set up like you would at a proper campsite

Just like setting up a tent at a campground or in the wild, you should consider the position of your tent in relation to its surroundings and the elements.

A few things to consider:

  • If you have a campfire, where will the smoke go?Close windows and doors to your house, pitch your tent upwind of the fire and consider your neighbours.
  • Which direction is the wind blowing? Pitch your tent with the door facing away from the wind.
  • What’s the view like from your tent? Ideally, pitch it facing away from your house. Doing so will help you forget you’re in your backyard!
  • Where’s the sun? To get the most of the day, position your tent in an area that gets the sun the longest. If you’re a morning person, where will the sun be first thing?
  • Save space for games. If possible, try to save some space for playing games. Either a bit of lawn for active games and sports, or space to sit to play campfire games or camping board games.
  • Set up an extension lead. If you have an outdoor extension lead, does it reach your campsite? Some power is useful if you don’t have camping lanterns, and you can set up pretty fairy lights, too!
Kettle on fire

Cook your meal

If you’ve planned your home camping trip well, then hopefully you’ll have something delicious to cook for you and your family. Make an event of cooking together. And if possible, encourage your little ones to do as much as possible to prepare and cook the meal. If you don’t have a proper camping stove then cook over your BBQ or grill. And if you don’t have that, then cooking over a campfire is loads of fun!

Get a fire going

As the light starts to fade there’s nothing like a campfire to put your right in the moment. The glow of the fire creates a small sphere around your little campsite, blackening out everything beyond it. With your focus firmly fixed on the flickering flames, you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’re out camping in the middle of nowhere. Relish that feeling of remoteness and keep the fire crackling to prolong its effect.

If you don’t have an appropriate place to build a campfire then consider making your own fire pit ahead of time. Here’s a great way to do it with an old washing machine drum!

Leave technology behind

To truly gain the full effects of camping in your own backyard, make a pact with your camping companions to leave all devices in the house. Bring a proper camera to take photos and instead of telling the world about your night out under the stars (via your phone) try telling the people sitting next to you a story about a past adventure. Or perhaps you’ve got an idea for a future adventure that you’d like to share? Now’s the time to get scheming and planning, and appreciating what’s right in front of you.

Enjoy outdoor time

As well as all the necessities of camping (pitching the tent, cooking etc), camping is also the perfect time to sit back and enjoy whatever your outdoor space has to offer. Whether that’s watching birds feed at the bird table, doing a scavenger hunt around the garden, stargazing or spying on the bats as they swoop for bugs at dusk. Backyard camping offers time to slow down and notice. Embrace that time and lap up all the calming effects that come with it.


Campfire and tent

Backyard camping checklist

This is a very basic checklist for backyard camping. As you will see, there are a couple of options for each item including alternatives that you probably already have in your house or garden.

The list doesn’t include food, personal items or entertainment.

For a more comprehensive and full list of items read our camping checklist article.

Backyard camping checklist and home alternatives


Backyard camping

Backyard camping activities

Although there are a few limitations compared with normal camping, there are still loads of backyard camping activities that can be enjoyed by everyone. Come prepared with lots of options to ensure that your first home camping trip is a huge success.

  • Scavenger hunt

    Do a scavenger hunt around the garden

    This is an ideal way to keep little ones occupied while you set up camp. Create one yourself, based on what you know is in your garden, or print off one of our scavenger hunts.

    More info: printable scavenger hunts

  • Whittling knife and wood

    Try whittling a spoon

    If you have a sharp pocket knife and some wood kicking around then try your hand at whittling. It’s a highly relaxing way to while away the afternoon. Plus, you need something to eat your dinner with, right?!

    More info: a guide to whittling for beginners

  • Boule

    Play games on the lawn

    From croquet and boules to frisbee and soccer, there are loads of camping games you can play in your backyard. If you only have a small garden then adapt the games to fit the space, opting for problem solving challenges and precision tasks over ball games.

    More info: top lawn games for camping

  • Knot

    Learn knots and build something

    Knowing a couple of simple knots is a super useful skill to have as a camper, to fix and secure things. But knot tying is also useful when it comes to making stuff, like a tripod to hold a washing up bowl. Practise the knots until you can do them with your eyes closed, then try to put them to use around your mini campsite.

    More info: the most useful camping knots

  • Board game

    Play cards and board games

    If you’re really limited on space, or just fancy doing a chilled activity, then bust out the cards. Getting absorbed in a good card or board game will make the afternoon disappear. It’s also something you can do inside your tent if the weather starts to turn on you.

    More info: the best card and board games to take camping

  • Campfire

    Sing songs around the campfire

    If you’ve got forgiving neighbours then grab the guitar and get singing! You can always invite them over to come join you. Be sure to quiet down at a respectful time, though; you don’t want your first backyard camp to be your last!

    More info: campfire songs for all the family

  • campfire cards

    Play games sitting around the campfire

    The less musically inclined might prefer to delve into a round of silly campfire games as the evening’s entertainment choice. The best games to play around the fire are ones in which everyone can stay sitting or at least move around as little as possible. Think Chinese Whispers, Mafia, Wink Murder, Contact, and Charades. Hours and hours of hilarity.

    More info: campfire games for adults and families

  • Man in spooky woods

    Tell spooky stories around the campfire

    Another way to pass the time during your evening of backyard camping is to tell stories. Of course, they don’t have to be scary – and perhaps shouldn’t be if there are little ones around – but the spookier, the better! A sure-fire way to ensure no one gets a good sleep… moohahahaaa!!

    More info:

  • Roasting marshmallow

    Roast marshmallows

    No camping trip is complete without roasting marshmallows. If you’re camping with kids then try to do it earlier in the evening to ensure their sugar rush will have died off enough by bedtime! To make an activity of it, you can search out sticks from around the garden and whittle them into skewers.

    More info: marshmallow roasting tips

  • Stargazing

    Lay back and stargaze

    Pick a clear night to camp and, depending on where you live, you might get a starry ceiling to fall asleep under. Lay a groundsheet or tarp down on the grass, snuggle under some blankets and turn off all your lights and lanterns for the best chance of seeing the sparkles.
    More info: learn the constellations


Cooking on a campfire

Backyard camping recipes

A big part of camping, for me at least, is cooking and eating yummy food. To make your backyard camping meals a success, you’ll need to do a little bit of planning. Consider what your fuel source will be (stove, BBQ, fire etc) and what cookware you have. Then go from there.

If you’re new to camp cooking keep your meals simple. Cook something you’re already good at cooking in your kitchen. Adapt it to the tools you have and take your time over it.

Camping food doesn’t need to be complicated. But if the idea of making a meal over a fire or a tiny camp stove fills you with terror, you can always make something ahead of time. Don’t let food complicate matters, and certainly don’t let it put you off all the other joys of backyard camping. Make a one pot meal in the house that you can just heat up in the garden later. (Or you could just cook inside and bring it out – no one’s watching!)

Here are a few of my favourite camping recipes. They’re simple and fun and they can all be cooked over a fire if you don’t have access to a stove.

Breakfast Burritos

Jam-packed full of energy and great nutrition – the perfect start to a day out in the wild.

Camping breakfast burritos
Makes 4 burritos

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe tomatoes – diced
  • 1 tin of black beans
  • 1 spicy chorizo sausage (150g) – sliced
  • 10 large eggs – whisked together
  • 1 bunch of fresh coriander
  • 4 large flour tortillas
  • 100g of grated cheese (cheddar or monteray jack)
  • 1 avocado

Method

  1. Throw the chopped tomatoes into a small saucepan, and fry lightly on a low heat. Stir constantly to prevent the tomatoes sticking to the pan.
  2. Once the tomatoes have softened, add the black beans and stir together until heated through. If you want to add a kick to your camping breakfast burritos, then some chilli or paprika can be added to the bean mix.
  3. Take off the heat and pop a lid on the pan to stop the heat escaping.
  4. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over the campfire or on your camping stove and add the sliced chorizo. The chorizo will generate its own fat so you don’t need to use cooking oil.

Cooking breakfast burritos on a campfire

  1. Once the chorizo is lightly browned and there is fat in the pan, add the eggs and stir on a low heat until the eggs are cooked to your preference. I prefer them slightly moist and in big chunks so I gently turn the eggs over as they cook instead of stirring.
  2. Take off the heat when cooked to your preference.
  3. Re-heat the black beans if necessary and then add a dollop of black beans mix onto each tortilla.
  4. Top with cheese and then put the scrambled eggs on top of the cheese to make sure that it melts nicely.
  5. Add a couple of scoops of avocado, some salt and pepper if needed, sprinkle with coriander and wrap the whole thing up.

Bannock bread recipe

Pre-weigh the ingredients at home to make this basic bannock bread recipe easy to whip up at camp.

Bread-on-napkin

Ingredients

  • 3 cups self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp salt (optional)
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp oil or butter
  • 1 cup warm water

Method

  1. Put everything but the water in a bowl and mix with your fingers until crumbly.
  2. Slowly add water and mix until the dough feels soft. It may seem like you don’t have enough water, but keep working the dough and be rough with it until it holds together in one big smooth lump.
  3. Take a small handful of the dough and roll into a thin sausage. If you go too thick it won’t cook through but you can play around with this.
  4. Gently wrap the dough around the end of a your whittled stick.
  5. Hold the bread over the hot embers of the fire until it is golden all over. You will need to rotate to ensure it is cooked evenly.

Chickpea and Mushroom Tagine

This is an easy one-pot camping meal that can be prepared on one gas ring or over a campfire.

Chickpea and mushroom one pot meals
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 tbs oil
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 cm of fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 large punnet of white mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained
  • 1 can of plum tomatoes
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 10 dried apricots or dates, chopped
  • 1 small bunch of fresh parsley or coriander (optional)
  • A small pot of greek yogurt (optional)

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and stir in the onion, garlic and ginger. Cook for a couple of minutes until soft.
  2. Stir in the spices and add a dash of water to form a paste.
  3. Add the mushrooms and stir them into the paste.
  4. Fill the empty tomato can with water and add the water to the pan together with the chickpeas, tomatoes, stock cube and apricots or dates.
  5. Leave to simmer for 10 minutes or until the mushrooms are cooked through.
  6. Add a dollop of greek yogurt and a sprinkling of fresh herbs and serve with pita bread or couscous.

Banana Boats

Campfire desserts don’t get any easier than this. Plus, they’re fun to make with kids.

Banana-Boats

Ingredients

  • 1 banana per person – unpeeled
  • Chocolate chips or chunks of chocolate
  • Optional extras: marshmallows, seeds, nuts, honey, raisins, peanut butter, caramel sauce etc!

Method

  1. Slice the banana lengthways through the skin and almost all the way through the banana (but not through the skin o the other side)
  2. Stuff the chocolate into the split and push the banana back together.
  3. Wrap the banana in tin foil and place it in the embers at the edge of the fire.
  4. Prod the banana every 5 minutes or so. Once it feels soft, carefully remove it from the fire using heat-proof gloves or tongs.
  5. Unwrap the foil, pry open the skin and top with option extras if you fancy. Otherwise, grab a spoon and scoop out the mushy, bananary chocolatiness and enjoy!

Smoky BBQ Flavoured Campfire Popcorn

This sweet and salty recipe is ideal as a stand alone snack to replace a bag of chips pre- or post-dinner. Its smoky flavour makes it all the more suitable for munching on whilst sitting round the campfire.

Popcorn ingredients
Serves 1 or 2

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs oil (coconut, sunflower, rapeseed oil)
  • ½ cup of corn kernels (or enough to cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer)
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper

Method

  1. Mix all the herbs and spices together and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large pan.
  3. Add the corn kernels and mix them around so that they are covered in oil.
  4. Put the lid on the pan and wait.
  5. Once the corn starts to pop, shake the pan a little and leave until the popping slows right down.
  6. Take the pan off the heat once all the corn has popped but leave the lid on for another minute just in case there’s more popping to be done!
  7. When ready, sprinkle the BBQ mix over the top of the corn and serve.

Popcorn in a bowl

About the author

author-joey

Joey Holmes is based in Cornwall, UK, and runs Cool of the Wild. She can’t get enough of being outdoors – whether that’s lounging around the campfire cooking up a feast, hitting the trail in her running shoes, or attempting to conquer the waves on her surfboard – she lives for it. Camping is what she loves to do the most, but has also spent many hours clinging to the side of a rock face, cycling about the place, cruising the ski-slopes on her snowboard, and hiking small mountains and big hills.

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