Benefits of Camping in Your Own Backyard

If you're like me, you love the idea of camping, but you're just not crazy about buying the big tent, lanterns, cots, the mess kit and other supplies. There are benefits to camping in your own backyard and it may be just what your family needs.

You don't have to be Grizzly Adams to give your family the experience of camping out. If you're not a regular camper and don't have a lot of camping supplies, borrow a tent and some all-weather sleeping bags from a neighbor or friend and you've got an instant backyard camp experience.

How to build a campfire
If your yard is big enough and local laws allow outdoor fires, a permanent campfire site is a versatile addition to your property. When you're not using it for backyard camp-outs, you'll have a place for outdoor party bonfires.

Build a campfire in a back corner of your yard, but not near a fence or other structure. Dig out the grass in a circle with an 8- to 10-inch-deep center and surround the circle with a ring of rocks. Keep a bucket of water, a fire extinguisher and a shovel nearby to put out any fire that gets out of control.

You'll need tinder and kindling to start the fire and logs to keep it going. Old, thin, dry branches work well for kindling, and you can probably find dry grass or fallen tree leaves that will work as tinder. If you don't have old logs for fuel in your yard, you can purchase them at most hardware stores and home centers.

Start with a small pile of tinder. Light it with a match and gradually add tinder to keep the fire going. Then start to add kindling, increasing the size of the sticks. When you have a good fire going, add fuel, one piece at a time.

It might get cold
When planning your campout, remember you may feel colder when the sun sets. Despite the cold weather, be sure your campfire is put out before you go to sleep. Use heavy, cold-weather sleeping bags if the weather is chilly. Wear loose layers of warm clothes. Hand- and foot-warmers are nice at a time like this too. If you're having warm weather, try sleeping under the stars, without a tent, for a real outdoor adventure.

Camping fun
For camping activities, take some tips from the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America. Their Web sites are chock full of games and outdoor fun that use a minimum of equipment.

Roast marshmallows and make S'mores by placing a hot marshmallow on top of a graham cracker, topped by part of a Hershey chocolate bar and another graham cracker.

Set up a nature scavenger hunt by giving everyone a list of things to find: a flower or blossom, something red, something scratchy or pinchy, a feather, a rock that looks like a face, a spider web or anything you can come up with.

Flashlight games are fun for everyone. Play Flashlight Tag, where you're "it" if you get spotted in the beam of another player's flashlight. Inside your tent, play Flashlight Disco: Whip a flashlight back and forth as fast as you can while someone else dances and moves. The moving flashlight creates a strobe-light effect.

Tell scary stories, but beware. Even older children may get scared by a story told outside in the dark. Keep your stories lighthearted.

Breakfast over a fire
As tempting as it will be to go inside and plug in the coffee maker first thing in the morning, try to resist. A coffee percolator, sold at camping stores, set over the campfire will heat up coffee easily. Some will work with campfires, or you can get a camping stove that runs on propane or fuel cartridges.

To cook breakfast for your campers, keep it simple and remember that everything tastes good when it's cooked outdoors.

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