By Becky Ohlsen, Co-Author, One Night Wilderness: Portland, 2nd Edition
This time of year, people start itching to spend more time outdoors. Due to social distancing practices, none of us should go on any weekend backpacking trips right now. Yet there’s still plenty of fun to be had.
Pandemic or no, camping in your backyard or living room is an easy, low-risk way to squeeze in a bit of adventure and get kids (and adults) excited about longer camping trips to come after we’re given the all-clear.
Use your imagination. Planning a trip is half the fun, so pick an imaginary location for your camp-out. Read about it, look at pictures and watch videos online. Google Earth might help you visualize where you’ll “be.” What is the terrain like? How long will it take to get there? What’s the weather forecast? Study a map of the area or draw your own.
Practice basic camping skills. What’s the best way to choose a tent site? How do you tell if the ground is flat enough and which way to point your feet? What about finding shelter from the wind and getting (or avoiding) the first morning light? How do you make sure you won’t wake up in a puddle if it rains overnight?
If your family likes a little friendly competition, see how quickly each person can set up the tent. No tent? No problem. Lay a tarp flat on the ground, and string up a tarp, sheet, or blanket above it.
Work on your outdoor skills. Refresh yourself on how to use a map and compass. Learn how to identify animal tracks, plants, clouds and constellations. Practice bird-watching and nature photography. Try to identify the sounds you hear. Pack up your camping gear and fit it into your backpack.
Work on building emergency shelters, making firestarter pods and a first aid kit for future trips and using a water purification device.
Get a little extravagant. Because you can, add a few extras that you wouldn’t carry on a real backpacking trip: a string or two of colorful lights, extra padding for the tent floor (such as yoga mats), full-size pillows and a cozy comforter, a cooler to keep snacks and drinks handy and your favorite board games.
Enjoy the campfire. Find creative back country recipes to try whether you’re cooking over a fire, on a grill or in the oven. It should be mandatory to have marshmallows and hot chocolate in tin camping mugs. Be sure to take turns telling ghost stories, adventure stories, tall tales and jokes.
Stay off-grid. Put away your phone and other electronics for the night. Set rules ahead of time about going indoors: bathroom breaks are okay, but going in for snacks, phone checks or any forgotten items is strictly forbidden.
A screen-free camp-out is ideal but if you decide to allow screens at the campsite, set them to stream a wildlife webcam. As night falls, if you don’t have a campfire, switch to a video loop of a crackling fire.
Document the trip. Have children chronicle their camping experiences by writing, drawing, scrapbooking or whatever format they choose. What did they discover? What surprised them? What are they most excited about when it’s time to go on a real camping trip?
Check your gear. Backyard camping is a great opportunity to pull your camping equipment out of storage and inspect it. Make sure that everything is clean and dry and that there are no holes or leaks. Check that flashlights and headlamps have fresh batteries.
Do you need refills on matches, bug spray, sunscreen or hand sanitizer? Find a guidebook with a good backpacking checklist and make sure you have what you’ll need later on for a longer trip.