Want to get away without going away? Try backyard camping. The “staycation” equivalent of overnighting in nature is convenient, cost effective, comfortable — and more appealing than ever.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), nearly 46 million people surveyed reported camping in 2021 alone. By 2022, the number of people discovering or returning to the great outdoors had grown 26 percent since the pandemic’s start — the largest rise ever. And while the OIA doesn’t break backyard camping out from traditional camping, the explosion of articles, blogs, and websites about it suggest that backyard camping is doing its part. 

What’s the draw? COVID safety and fighting the boredom of being stuck at home are big drivers, alongside low cost, ease of transportation (open your back door and ta-da!), access to amenities, forgotten items and emergency shelter, and the adventure of sleeping in the backyard!

So, whether you’re revisiting your childhood, creating memories for your own kids, or even putting a twist on date night, your backyard is free and open for use.

Here are some ideas for making a backyard getaway a great — and safe — experience for everyone involved.

Don’t Rush In
It’s easy to think, “Well, we can come inside for that later,” but you should plan your trip just like you were going away. After all, packing is half the fun…right?

Things to gather:

  • Tent or other shelter. Get creative if you don’t already own a tent.
  • Cooking implements. Keep it simple — unfolded wire coat hangers, for example, are great (and all you need) for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows.
  • Sage, mint, or lavender. These natural herbs will fight bugs without stinky, sticky sprays.
  • Flashlights, electric lanterns, and fresh batteries. No one wants to get caught in the dark.
  • Toilet paper and a garden trowel. For those who want to experience the more rustic side of backyard camping.

Pick Your Shelter
Of course, kids love pitching a tent, but a blanket or tarp held up by sticks and a ground covering can do the trick. Then, look around and consider the “where” of your shelter.

What to look for:

  • Low areas. The pitter-patter of raindrops may lull you to sleep, but you won’t enjoy waking up in a puddle. 
  • Look up. If you’re under a tree, make sure no dead or loose branches are overhead. Also, avoid power or other utility lines.
  • Look down. Clear away rocks and sticks, being mindful of underground power lines if you’re staking down a tent or digging.
  • Get comfy. An air mattress, yoga mat, or folded-up blanket can make your outdoor adventure — and the next morning — much more comfortable.
  • Place your facilities. You can always run indoors for nature’s call, but if you must go outside, dig a small cathole (6 to 8 inches deep, 4 to 6 inches around) with your garden trowel for waste. The cathole should be about 70 steps from your campsite, and don’t forget to cover it up!

Heat Things Up
Everyone loves the smell, crackle, and mystery of a real campfire, but your local officials may feel differently. As an alternative, consider a propane fire pit.

Things to consider:

  • Regulations. Check with local facilities about guidelines for placing and operating your propane fire pit and follow all instructions.
  • Size. Fire pits come in sizes for yards large and small, but how you will use it plays a role, too. For example, a fire pit designed for cooking will differ from a more ornamental one. 
  • Safety. Keep a close eye on little ones whenever they are around a fire pit. Also, keep the surrounding area free of debris that could cause someone to trip into the fire.

S’mores are easy, tasty, and always welcome when camping.

Food for Thought
You can go all-out with elaborate “grown-up campsite” recipes and the like, but for us and our kids, simpler was always better — and easier.

  • Hot dogs. For extra flair, cut some Xs, curves, or other shapes about halfway through your hot dogs and get ready for fun as they change shape during cooking.
  • S’mores. Everyone’s favorite contraction (“s’mores” = “some mores”), the gooey combo of graham cracker, chocolate, and roasted marshmallow never gets old.
  • Popcorn. It’s cool to feel and hear corn kernels exploding in a campfire popper. Check your favorite camping store or online for all the options.
  • Veggies. We can’t guarantee it, but kids who run from veggies at the dinner table might try veggies roasted over a fire in an aluminum-foil packet.
  • Don’t forget breakfast. Remember those little boxes of cereal you could cut open and pour your milk into? Still a thing. Yogurt, fruit, and nuts are also great, no-cook options.

Ditch the Devices
Be the change you want to see: It’s hard to tell your kids or spouse to put their device down when you’re still glued to yours. So, unplug and tune into old-fashioned outdoor fun.

Things to do:

  • Star gazing. Just look up on a clear night. Even with city lights, you should be able to spot major constellations like the Big Dipper, the Pleiades, or Hercules.
  • Ghost stories. Age-appropriate tales of spooks, spirits, and sprites encourage bedtime snuggles.
  • Corn hole, Frisbee, tag, and more. Simple outdoor games help wear everyone out for a good night’s sleep.

With a lot less expense and hassle than a full-blown camping trip, backyard outings bring the family together for a mini-adventure and giant memories that will last long after the fire goes out and the tent comes down.

Author: Tim Fox is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.