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Backyards Gone Wild

You don’t have to go far to enjoy camping season: If you have a yard or even a balcony, you have a campsite. Here are 8 ways to make the most of very close-to-home camping.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Prep Your Gear

If you’re like us, half the fun of camping is using your gear. Start with these tips for every skill level.

Beginner: Practice setting up your tent. Seriously, this is the perfect time. Someday you’ll get caught pitching your tent in a storm and you’ll be glad you can pitch it fast. Make sure it’s taut, with good airflow between the fly and tent body, which minimizes condensation.

Intermediate: Got a tarp? You should. Now go beyond the basic A-frame with these pitching tips.

Expert: Ready to earn your PhD in tent pitching? Put it up blindfolded. And send us a video at for a chance to be featured on BACKPACKER’s Instagram channel.

Upgrade Your Lights

Yes, you can make do with a headlamp dangling from the tent ceiling, but the best outdoor lights turn your campsite into a glowing oasis—or a disco party, whatever you’re into. We like MPOWERD’s multicolor Luci Explore, which also has a Bluetooth speaker and solar-powered charger.

Keep The Bugs Away

The outdoors just got an upgrade: Campsite mosquitoes are now optional. That’s big news because the biting bugs thrive all over North America, and in recent years have been responsible for spreading West Nile virus and other dangerous diseases. Solution: Create your own mosquito-free zone.

A light blue Thermacell Radius Mosquito Repellant sits on a wooden surface with a green out of focus background.
Thermacell Radius Zone Mosquito Repellent is available on Amazon for $49.97.

Keeping mosquitoes away beats covering your skin in chemicals or heavy clothing. Do it with the Thermacell Radius Zone Mosquito Repellent. No DEET, no mess, no smell. Powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, this pocket size technology vaporizes a powerful repellent, creating a 15-foot area that mosquitoes naturally avoid. Just push the button and get more than six hours of protection on a single charge (each refill provides up to 40 hours of protection). Bonus: The Radius works at any elevation. 

Cook Over A Fire

Backyard fire pits range from deluxe (Biolite Firepit) to DIY (bricks do the trick). Check fire regulations in your region of course. Then make this decadent dessert.

Banana Boats

Sorry s’mores, this caramelized treat can’t be beat. With the peel still on, cut a slit lengthwise in a banana about half an inch deep—make sure not to slice all the way through. Stuff with marshmallows and chocolate. Wrap the banana in two layers of tin foil and place in the firepit over hot coals. Let cook for 8 to 10 minutes, turning often. Unwrap and dig in with a spoon.

Make Camp Cocktails

Close your eyes, picture an alpine lake, and take a sip of your blueberry-pine martini.

Blueberry Pine Martini is in focus with a blurred background. Liquid is purple. A toothpick with blueberries and a sprig of pine needles lay across…
Drink by the campfire in style when you camp at home.Photo by Mgg Vitchakorn on Unsplash

To make this mountain-flavored drink, you’ll need fresh blueberries, fresh pine needles, and blueberry-infused vodka or gin, plus your preferred vermouth. You can buy blueberry-infused alcohol, but what better time to make your own? Use 1 cup of berries to 2 cups of alcohol. Wash berries and then cook over medium heat until plenty of juice is released. Remove from heat and let cool. Add berries and juice to a large jar, then add gin or vodka and seal airtight. Store in a cool, dark place for a week, shaking jar once a day. Strain and serve.

Blueberry-pine martini: Use a shaker, ice, and 8 parts infused alcohol to 1 part vermouth (adjust ratio to taste). Pour into glasses and add 3 to 4 blueberries and a sprig of pine needle garnish. 

Play Yard Games

Yes, there are plenty of old standbys like horseshoes and cornhole and lawn Twister. You can also try blind-folded knot-tying and tent-pitching races for more outdoor-centric games. But our new favorite is called Beersbee. Here’s how to play.

Players: 2-4

You will need:
Trekking poles
A frisbee
Two empty beer or soda cans

Players should arrange themselves into two teams of up to two. Plant two trekking poles in the ground about 25 feet apart and balance a can on top of each (fill the bottom of each can with an inch of gravel or sand to help them stay). The object of the game is to knock the opposing team’s can off of its pole by throwing the frisbee, and to not let your own team’s can touch the ground.


The can must touch the ground in order for points to be awarded. Players can defend by catching their own can if it is knocked from the pole.

3 points if the frisbee hits the can directly and knocks it to the ground
1 point if the frisbee hits the trekking pole and knocks the can to the ground
Play to 21

For an added challenge, each player must hold a beverage at all times. Good luck!

Identify The Stars

If your constellation knowledge starts and ends with the Big Dipper, don’t be embarrassed—and don’t waste another clear night. Get a smartphone app like SkyView or SkySafari (both available for iOS and Android) or go all in on the new Celestron StarSense Explorer, which syncs with your phone for a real-time, real-location guide to the universe (starting at $180;

Tell A Ghost Story

Now is the time to practice the art of storytelling.

Fog covers a black and white road with silhouettes of trees.
Photo by Michael Mouritz on Unsplash

1. Pick a Good Tale
Would your friends object if you told it to their 9-year-old kid? Perfect.

2. Tell a True Story
That is, start by saying, “This is a true story.” If the 9-year-old asks, “Really?” say “Yes, I’m afraid so.”

3. Know When to Hold Back
When the story gets really creepy, pause. Sigh. Offer something like, “I really shouldn’t go on. Are you sure you want to hear this?”

4. Use Real Names
That is, names that sound real. See #2.

5. Practice Before You Have an Audience
Here’s a story to get you started.

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