Card Games for Backpackers

Downtime in camp has never been so fun.
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 A deck of cards is light, compact, and can be a godsend when tentbound for more than a couple of hours. Here are some of our favorite games (and how to play) so you’ll never be bored in the backcountry again. 

Accordion (1 player)

There’s more to solo card games than Solitaire. This game is simple to learn, but incredibly challenging to win. The object of Accordion is to get the entire deck of cards into one stack—or as few stacks as possible.

  1. Shuffle your deck well. Begin dealing cards faceup in a long row from left to right.
  2. As you deal, the goal is to stack cards with matching suits or values. For example, you may stack a 4 of hearts onto a four of spades, or onto a 7 of hearts. You may stack a card only on another that is directly to its left, or three cards to its left.
  3. As you form piles of cards, transfer the entire pile along with the top card when making a move to a new stack.
  4. Continue to deal out cards until there are no more possible moves. Once you’ve assembled as few stacks as possible, re-shuffle and try again.

Spit (2 player)

This fast-paced game will draw out the competition between you and your hiking partner. The object of Spit is to get rid of all of your cards before your opponent.

  1. Split the deck evenly between the two players.
  2. Sitting across from one another, each player starts by dealing five facedown stacks from their deck in a row in front of them. The first stack has one card, the second has two cards, the third has three cards and so on. Flip the top card on each stack facing up.
  3. Make sure there is enough room between each person’s row, as much of the game play will take place in this area. Each person’s remaining cards may be placed to the side. These are called “spit cards.”
  4. To begin the game, say “spit.” At this moment, each player will place one card from their stack of spit cards in the middle area. These cards form the base of two piles that will grow throughout the game.
  5. With speed in mind, both players now try to move cards from their rows onto the center piles. A card from your row can be stacked on a center card if it has a value that is one number higher or lower than its own, regardless of suit. For example, a three of any suit can be played on top of a two or a four of any suit. Aces can be played on both Kings and twos.
  6. Once a card from your row is played in the center, flip the card beneath it and continue. The goal is to play out your entire row before your opponent. Cards can only be moved using one hand—this part can get fast and aggressive!
  7. If both players run out of possible moves, the center piles must be reset. Repeat the instructions in step 4 to do so, then continue.
  8. Once one player runs out of cards in their row, they must slap one of the center piles to end the round. Since the goal of the game is to get rid of all of your cards, it’s strategic to slap the pile that appears smaller, as it will be added to your spit pile in the next round. Keep an eye on your opponent throughout the game—even if they run out of cards first, whoever slaps the smaller pile first gets to take it.
  9. Once the center piles are collected, each player shuffles them with their remaining cards and the round begins again at step 2.
  10. If one player ends up with fewer than 15 cards after a few rounds of play, the game continues as follows: Assemble your row of five piles as best you can. For the player with fewer cards, the piles will be incomplete, but that’s ok. The game will continue with only one center pile (instead of two), since the player with fewer cards no longer has spit cards to contribute. Imagine that the second center pile still exists with zero cards—when a player plays all of their cards, they can slap this imaginary empty pile. This is how one player ultimately wins.

President (4-7 players)

Great for groups, the objective of this game is to play your entire hand before anyone else and become “President”.

  1. Deal the deck as evenly as possible between all players. Players should keep their hands secret.
  2. The player with the 3 of clubs begins the game by placing that card face up in the center. Participants will then take turns, moving around the circle. To make a move, you must play a card that matches or exceeds the value of the previous card played onto the center pile. In addition, the following rules apply:
    • Aces are high, and 3s are the lowest value. Twos can be played at any time, and have the power to reset the center pile. The player that plays a 2 may immediately play again to start a new center pile.
    • If a player matches the previous card (ie, a 6 is played atop another 6), the next person in the circle is skipped and must forfeit one turn.
    • Any pair of cards beats any single card. For example, you can play two 4s on top of a King. Similarly, triples beat both pairs and single cards. You can play three 5s on top of an Ace, or two Jacks.
    • If your hand includes four of a kind (for example, four 7s), you may play them at any time, regardless of turn.
    • Suit is irrelevant in Presidents.
  3. If a player is unable to make a move given these rules, they must pass. If no players are able to make a play, the pile clears and the last person to play restarts the pile with a card of their choice.
  4. The round continues until everyone runs out of cards. The player who runs out of cards first becomes “President” and is awarded one point. The player who runs out of cards last is “scumbag.” Before the next round, the scumbag must give the President their highest ranking card in exchange for a card of the President’s choice.
  5. The game continues until one player earns 11 points and wins.