4 Portable Camping Games You Can Play in Your Tent

Downtime in camp has never been so fun.

Photo: HagePhoto via Getty

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

You’ve already read your trail guide, that juicy 400-page murder mystery, and your partner’s guide to edible fungi. You memorized the field repair instructions for a stove that never fails. You identified every constellation and planet in sight. And still, you find yourself bored and tentbound, looking for ways to keep your mind occupied. Luckily, we’ve got you covered with fun, easy-to-learn camping games.

Camping Card Games

A deck of cards is light, compact, and a godsend when you’re stuck in the tent for more than a couple of hours. Here are some of our go-to card games to keep us entertained in the backcountry:

Accordion (1 player)

There’s more to solo card games than Solitaire. This game is simple to learn, but 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. Begin dealing cards faceup in a long row from left to right.
  2. As you deal, stack cards with matching suits or values. For example, you may stack a 4 of hearts onto a 4 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, reshuffle and try again.
woman cooking and playing card games
The 52 cards in a deck represent 52 weeks in a year, and the four suits represent the four seasons in a year. (Photo: Johner Images via Getty Images)

Spit (2 players)

Camping games can keep the energy up after a long day on the trail: 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 does.

  1. Split the deck evenly between two players.
  2. Each player deals five facedown stacks from their deck. 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’s enough room between each person’s row of cards. A lot of the game play will take place in this area. Each person’s remaining cards—their “spit cards”—will go here.
  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 3 of any suit can be played on top of a 2 or a 4 of any suit. Aces can be played on both Kings and 2s.
  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. Players can only use one hand to move cards—this part can get fast and aggressive!
  7. If both players run out of possible moves, reset the center piles. 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 moves 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 fewest 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.
Friends playing card game while camping in forest at dusk
The modern set of playing cards was invented in France. The joker, however, was an American contribution. (Photo: Cavan Images via Getty Images)

President (4 to 7 players)

A great camping game 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, 3s are the lowest value, and 2s have the power to reset the center pile. Whoever plays a 2 may immediately play again to start a new center pile.
    • If a player matches the previous card (a 6 is played atop another 6), skip the next person in the circle; they 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 throughout the game.
  3. If a player is unable to make a move given these rules, they must pass. If nobody can 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 earns 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.
Friends playing board games while sitting at lakeshore
Bored of playing Go Fish? There are still plenty of trail-friendly board games you can play. (Photo: Cavan Images via Getty Images)

Camping Board Games

You don’t need to lug around a Monopoly box in your pack to have board games in your tent. With a sleeping pad or piece of paper, a marker, and some imagination, you can make your very own camp-friendly game board. A full-length sleeping pad will accommodate two to three Monopoly-size boards per side, or up to eight games per side if you shrink the scale. Clean the surfaces of your pad (smooth covers work best) with a damp rag. Dig out your favorite games to use as templates and trace an outline of each game onto the pad, or just onto an ordinary piece of paper. Then use a ruler or T-square to render the boxes and geometric shapes on the game board. If it all looks good, go over the drawings with a permanent marker.

Your selection of games could include universal favorites like checkers, chess, backgammon, and tic-tac-toe. Everybody knows the rules for these games and can easily improvise the pieces. In fact, you can devise one set of lightweight pieces for all four games with scissors and a cereal box. Cut the appropriate number of disks, then draw Xs, Os, pawns, rooks, or knights on the plain brown side of the cardboard. For white and brown game pieces, add special marks or use paint. Carry your game pieces in a small zipper-lock bag.

If you spend a little time organizing the game pieces, you can pack virtually any other board game out there. Stratego and Scrabble travel well, and Monopoly could be simplified for the trail.