19 Essential Backyard Camping Ideas and Hacks

For many of us, summer camping is an experience we look forward to all year. We make our reservations as soon as possible. As the season approaches, we make sure our gear is in working order. We clean out the camper. We stock the cooler. Then finally, we hit the road.

But sometimes, that’s not possible. If there are things keeping you home this summer (a tight budget, recent injury, or social distancing rules), you don’t have to give up camping. Instead, try a new location: your own yard. We recently shared our ultimate beginner’s guide to backyard camping to help you get started. Now it’s time to share 19 essential backyard camping ideas and hacks that’ll turn you into a backyard camping pro. Plus, whatever tricks you learn this summer can be used on your next away-from-home camping adventure.

1. Fire-Free S’mores

Do you live in a city where fires aren’t allowed? Or are you simply hoping to avoid extra work? Either way, you can still enjoy a classic camping dessert. To make fire-free s’mores, simply spread marshmallow fluff and chocolate spread (try them with Nutella!) between two graham crackers. And since you’re probably near a freezer, you can take the extra step of adding ice cream!

Marshmallow and chocolate spread smores

2. Bungee Paper Towel Holder

Even when you’re camping at home, it’s important to have paper towels on hand for quick clean-ups. But the last thing you want is dirty (or grassy) paper towels. Make a simple paper towel holder by stringing a bungee cord through the center of a paper towel roll. Hook each end of the bungee cord from deck rails or on a tree branch.

3. Instant Lantern

To make a camping lantern that will provide a nice cozy glow, all you need is a one gallon jug of water and a headlamp. Strap the headlamp onto the water jug with the light turned on and facing in. Depending on the color of the bottle, this trick could also work with a plastic Nalgene bottle full of water.

Water Jug and Head lamp lantern - Backyard camping hack

4. DIY Fire Starters

Start a fire fast with homemade fire starters. We’ve got 10 easy DIY ideas to try.

5. Festive Fire Starters

If you have any trick birthday candles from past celebrations (you know, the type that won’t go out?), use them for your campfire. The candles make good fire starters that will actually stay lit as the kindling catches fire.

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6. Natural Bug Repellent

For a natural way to cut down on mosquitoes, throw some bundles of fresh sage, mint, or lavender on your fire.

7. Quick Meal Caddy

Reuse a cardboard six-pack container for a utensil caddy and cut down on your trips to the kitchen. Fill each compartment with napkins, forks, spoons, cups, and condiments like salt, pepper, and ketchup packs. Or, you can also use the container as a snack caddy and fill the compartments with granola bars, fruit snacks, and packages of trail mix.

Backyard Camping Ideas - Burgers and hot dogs

8. Mini DIY Fire Pit

Don’t have room for a full-sized campfire but still want to roast some s’mores? Make your own mini fire pit from a terracotta pot. First, set a terracotta pot on a level fire-safe space on the ground such as a concrete patio or sandy spot in the yard. Line the pot with heavy-duty aluminum foil and fill it with charcoal. (The kind you’d use for a charcoal grill.) Then light the coals and let them burn for a bit until they turn white. Then break out the roasting stick and made some s’mores.

9. Party Lights

Make colorful lanterns by placing glow sticks inside mason jars.

glow sticks in mason jars backyard camping idea

10. Bug-free Beverages

To keep bees or other bugs from getting inside canned or bottled drinks, there’s an easy solution. Poke a hole in the center of a paper muffin liner using a straw. Then place the straw in your drink, letting the muffin liner cover the top.

11. Easy Drink Holder

Use a muffin tin as a drink holder. It’s easy to pass around and will prevent drinks from getting knocked over.

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12. Gear Tote

Sleds aren’t only for snow. They’ll also slide over grass. Load up a plastic sled with your camping gear and supplies, then drag it to the place in your yard where you plan to set up camp.

13. Instant Camp Beds

If you don’t have a sleeping mat or air mattress, try using a pool lounger for a comfy bed. Bring as many as you need inside your tent, then top with sleeping bags or blankets.

14. Fire in a Flash

Instead of using fire starters, another easy way to get a campfire going is to use some Doritos! (Fritos and other corn chips also work.) Place the chips in your fire pit and put some very small pieces of kindling on top. Then light the chips. They should light quickly and will help get the fire going.

15. Avoid Falls

Sooner or later, someone is going to trip over the tent’s guy lines. (And it’ll probably happen when it’s dark!) Make them easy to see with pool noodles. Cut a 1-foot section of a foam pool noodle and then make a vertical slit down the side. Attach the pool noodle to the guy line where it’s connected to the ground. Repeat for the tent’s other guy lines.

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16. Solo Cup Speaker

One of our favorite musical backyard camping ideas is simply placing a smartphone inside a clean (empty!) Solo cup for an instant speaker.

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17. Simplify Snacks

Make snacks ahead of time so you’ll spend less time prepping food for hungry kids and more time just enjoying the outdoors together. Try our make-ahead snack recipes or our allergy-friendly snack recipes.

18. Save Sticky Marshmallows

Have you ever prepped s’mores ingredients, only to find that the marshmallows have all stuck together inside the bag? There’s an easy solution! Pour at least 1 teaspoon of cornstarch into the bag of marshmallows. Then close the bag and shake it. The cornstarch should help absorb extra moisture and help separate the marshmallows.

19. Supply Organizer

Keeping your camping supplies organized outside will help cut down on trips back and forth to the house. Hang an over-the-door shoe organizer from a tree branch or deck rail. Then fill it with the items you’ll need throughout the campout such as flashlights, sunscreen, bug spray, and first-aid supplies.