Hike, eat, sleep, repeat. That’s what camping looks like for most people.
There’s nothing wrong with it – I love all those things. But lately I’ve been planning a lot of downtime into my trips to relax, play games, and do other activities. With car camping, there’s always plenty of time. For a backpacking trip, I either keep the hiking short or lengthen the trip to get more time at camp.
Here’s my list of things to do with friends on a camping trip. Although kids might enjoy a lot of these activities, I made the list with adults in mind. Most of the list is camping games for adults.
Conversation games are all about getting to know each other better. Some of these are best played with close friends, because the topics can get personal.
Never Have I Ever
Players start with 10 pennies. Players take turns stating, “Never have I ever (fill in the blank).” Anyone who has ever done that action gives a penny to that player. Whoever has the most pennies after a full round wins (or however many rounds you decide to play).
To turn this into a drinking game: Whoever has done the action drinks. If nobody has done it, the person speaking drinks.
Two Truths and a Lie
Players take turns sharing three “facts” about themselves. Two of them are absolutely true. One is a complete lie. The other players guess which one is the lie. If you have trouble coming up with facts on the fly, you can each brainstorm at the start of the game and come up with a list of them to use.
To turn this into a drinking game: If you guess wrong, you drink. If nobody guesses wrong, the liar drinks.
Truth or Dare
Players take turns either answering a question (a truth) or performing a dare. The fun part is that the truths are often embarrassing. The dares possibly more so.
The rules are simple. I like the variation where each player takes turns as the asker, spinning a bottle to choose which player to question.
Some examples of truths: Where is the strangest place you have peed or pooped? What was the cruelest joke you played on someone? What is the most embarrassing thing your parents have caught you doing?
Some examples of dares: Let the group pose you in an embarrassing position and take a picture. Play a song by slapping your butt cheeks till someone guesses the song. Poll dance for 1 minute with an imaginary pole.
Here’s a list of more truth and dare ideas.
Would You Rather
Choose between one of two hypothetical choices. For example: “Would you rather give up chocolate for the rest of your life or change your name to Adolf Hitler?” Anyone can throw a question out there, everyone states their own answer. It gets lively as people debate.
Here are a few Would You Rather questions to get you started.
The Voting Game
Ask the group a question like “Who would survive the longest in a zombie apocalypse?” or "Who would lose an election because of something they did in high school?” Each person casts his vote anonymously.
It’s fun to find out what everyone thinks about each other. And personal stories are often shared after the vote.
To turn it into a drinking game, the person with the most votes drinks.
You can make up your own questions or get the game.
These are card games, board games, and the like.
Players take turns picking a word out of a hat and then acting out that word for the others to guess. The catch is that the actor cannot speak. The first person to guess correctly scores a point and picks the next word.
Here are some Charades words categorized by difficulty. It’s quick and easy to come up with your own.
Pass the Pigs
This is like a dice game, but with miniature pigs. You get between 0 and 60 points each roll, depending on how the pigs land. The goal is to get to 100.
After each roll, you can decide to roll again for more points or to pass the pigs to the next player which locks in your points for the round. If one pig falls on its left side while the other falls on its right, that’s called a “pig out” and you lose all your points for that round.
Pass the Pigs is really good for backpacking trips, because the pigs are tiny – about the size of a dice set.
To turn this into a drinking game, every time someone pigs out he drinks. If someone rolls a “double jowler” (60 points) then everyone drinks.
Any Card Game
A deck of playing cards is great to bring camping, especially when backpacking, because it takes up so little room and there are so many games you can play.
My favorites are Chinese Poker and Bullshit, because you don’t need anything but the cards. If I have chips (or pennies, or pebbles), then I’ll play any kind of poker. You can also work on your card magic.
Get a dual-purpose deck, like Conflicted: The Survival Card Game. Conflicted is a conversation game where you discuss hypothetical end-of-world scenarios. The deck can also be used as general playing cards.
Any Board Game
If you’re car camping, then you can consider board games. I suppose if you are a real board game fanatic, then you could throw a board game in your pack on a backpacking trip.
With a little creativity, almost any game can be made into a drinking game – like with Two Truths and a Lie and Never Have I Ever. But here are a few of my favorite drinking games.
Circle round and start counting. The first person starts at 1, the next person 2, and so on. For any number that contains a seven or a multiple of seven, clap instead of saying the number. So you should hear: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, (clap), 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, (clap), 15, 16, (clap), 18,…
If you mess up, you drink. If you hesitate, you drink. For advanced play, switch directions at every clap.
It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But trust me: it’s not.
I’m Going to the Bar
The first person say, “I’m going to the bar and I need to get a vodka Red Bull.” (or any other alcoholic drink) The next person continues, “I’m going to the bar and I need to get a vodka Red Bull, and a mojito.”
Each person repeats the list and adds one more to the end of it. The first person to mess up takes a drink.
This two-player game is a really popular Asian game similar to Rock-Paper-Scissors. You use both hands on each throw, leaving each hand either fully open (five fingers) or closed (no fingers). While throwing, one player guesses how many fingers will be showing in total, either 0, 5, 10, 15, or 20 – like calling a coin toss. Take turns guessing. When one person guesses correctly, the other one drinks.
You can play this with more than two people, which makes guessing harder because there are more possible fingers. When one person guesses right, the rest of the table drinks.
The outdoors, with all that space, is a great place for physical activities.
Capture the Flag
Two teams each have a flag (or any other marker). The goal is to steal the other team’s flag from their base and bring it back to your own. You can tag enemies in your home territory, which, depending on the agreed rules, eliminates them from the game, switches them to the enemy team, sends them back to their own flag, freezes them until freed by a teammate, or lands them in jail (which has its own set of variations).
Games played in a large area like this are called wide games.
At night, put a glow stick around your neck and toss around a glow-in-the-dark frisbee. Be careful not to run into a tree or trip over a rock!
Look for hidden objects using a GPS device or hide your own for others to find. This is a fun way to explore new places.
If you want to do something low-tech, you can hide something and make a map for your friends to go on a treasure hunt. Or do some orienteering.
Hide & Seek
Yes, adults can play Hide & Seek too. It’s more challenging in the woods.
For a variation, try Sardines, where one person hides and everyone else looks for him. When someone finds him, they have to hide along with him. The last person to find the hiding spot loses.
Few things are as exhilarating as this war simulation game where you shoot each other with paintballs. Keep it eco-friendly by using water-filled biodegradable paintballs. Or play Airsoft guns and biodegradable pellets.
Slacklining is like tightrope walking with flat webbing instead of rope. Beside the basic balancing and walking, there are lots of tricks you can do too, if you have the guts to try them. You can keep it safe by keeping just a couple feet off the ground.
Aside from games, there are lots of great activities you can do outside.
It’s fun to make things. And you can make a lot with a sharp knife a some wood. Start with making your own tent pegs instead of bringing your own. How about finding and shaping your perfect walking stick? If you’re more advanced, try making a fish hook and catching a fish with it.
Search for wild edibles like berries, nuts, and other plants. Use a good field guide to identify them. If you’re confident in your identification, make a wild green salad. Bring salad dressing (and maybe some bacon bits) if you plan to do this.
Build a Fire
Most of the work that goes into building a fire goes into the preparation – collecting tinder, kindling, and firewood. It makes fire-making an activity of its own. And nothing beats huddling around a campfire with friends.
I like to practice primitive fire-starting techniques like making bow drills and feather sticks. It’s fun to do and could prove useful if you find yourself without matches.
Gather round and tell stories with friends. If it’s nighttime around the campfire, scary stories can really set the mood. Watch some crime documentaries and ghost stories beforehand to prepare.
Read a Book
Hanging around camp is a great time to catch up on reading. I bring a headlamp with extra batteries in case I want to read at night.
Swing in a Hammock
After hiking for hours, it feels great to take a load off and hang in a hammock. Besides reading and lounging around in it, I sleep in a hammock because it’s so much more comfortable than sleeping on the ground. Get a portable camping hammock you can throw in your backpack.
Build a Shelter
Have you ever gone camping without a tent? Whether or not your brought a tent, building a shelter is a fun activity that can last hours. A lean-to shelter is one of the easiest to build and good to know in case of emergency. Aside from sheltering yourself from the top, don’t forget to insulate the ground. You can lose a lot of heat by sleeping on a cold surface.
Practice finding north using several methods. There are several ways to do it using a stick and some pebbles, a watch, or the stars. Try it during all hours of the day an night. This can be a life-saving skill.
Along with a map, you can use these techniques to get to nearby roads or rivers. For this reason, I recommend always bringing a map into the wilderness and keeping track of where you are – at least approximately.
Bring some rope with you to practice knot-tying. The number of knots out there might confuse you, but most are redundant. Try to learn one knot for each basic need like tying a rope to a tree, combining two ropes, or lashing two poles together.
You might also try making your own cordage out of materials around you. When I lived in Southern California, we used to make rope from yucca.
Get some great photos around camp or in nature. In particular, consider long-exposure and night photography which can be fantastic outdoors.