We’ve still got a lot of summer left for camping out with the kids! If you love the idea, but you’re not sure you’re ready to head out into the wilderness with the family just yet, a backyard campout is a great place to start.
If it goes wrong — and it very well may — then all you have to do is head back inside and get a good night’s sleep.
I’ve found this simple night of fun may spark a passion for camping in kids. My own 14-year-old now spends 2 weeks each summer in a canvas tent, braving the elements, building fires, and cooking his own food with his friends (and trusted chaperones). But his love for the outdoors started with fun, low-pressure backyard campouts with his dad.
So, if you’re wondering where to start, I’ve got some tips for your first backyard campout, to help you make terrific memories with your kids.
Related: 15 great camping recipes that make sleeping on the ground worth it
Photo Timothy Meinberg via Unsplash
1. Learn how to build a campfire.
If you haven’t built a campfire before, you can get some smart tips for building your own fire from this YouTube video by Invisible Man. Because the fire’s what camping is really all about, right? While you’re setting up, have your kids run around and gather the kindling pieces. It will keep them busy and free you up to focus on the task. Before you get going, however, just be sure to check your local permit requirements for building a campfire.
2. Don’t go crazy with gear.
You’re only walking a few feet out into the wilds of your own backyard, so unless your home backs into a heavily wooded forest, you don’t need specialized gear like backpacks or ultralight bedrolls. Obviously, you’re going to need a tent — but you can borrow one from a neighbor or rent one from your local outdoors store. Cots or an air mattress will give you a better night’s sleep, but you can bring sheets and blankets outside rather than sleeping bags. And, just turn on your outside lights or use a simple flashlight rather than investing in expensive lanterns. Only when you know your kids like camping do you need to start searching the web for deals on camping essentials.
Related: Ready to try camping with kids? Here are 8 camping essentials you need, and how to get them affordably
3. Remember, you’re still “in nature.”
Even though you’re just camping out in your backyard, you’re still outside. Make sure trash is away with lids on tightly so that raccoons or the neighbor’s dog can’t get into it. Zip up the windows on your tent if it’s supposed to rain — we learned this one the hilarious way. And don’t forget bug spray, tick repellent, and sunscreen.
Related: The best safe tick repellent for kids
4. Keep activities simple and fun.
Don’t overthink the night’s plans! Simply sleeping outside for the first time is going to be amazing for your kids, so you don’t need to schedule any elaborate activities. Download this free nature scavenger hunt printable at Craftivity Designs and have the kids forage for tiny treasures. Grill hot dogs or roast marshmallows for s’mores over the campfire. Then tell some stories by flashlight inside the tent before bed. The kids will probably be asleep before you know it.
5. Let the kids help with the planning.
As with any family trip, get your kids excited for your backyard campout by having them help plan. They can help pick the food, gather their own sleeping gear, and keep track of their own flashlights. Teaching them early to take ownership of their their experience will prepare them to develop real survival skills later.
That said, don’t tell them about the fun plans too early. In my experience, once they hear you’re planning to camp out in the backyard they’re going to want to do it that very night.