Camping trips are a lot of fun, but they're also a lot of work. When packing up the car and heading for the hills isn't a practical option, you can recreate much of that fun and magic in the privacy of your own backyard, with a few simple and ingenious DIY "hacks." Here are a few of our favorites.
1. A DIY Camp Oven
Sure, you could just go inside and use your own oven in the kitchen, but where's the fun in that? Instead, improvise a DIY camp oven out a cardboard box, some foil, and a few other things you probably already have lying around the house. Not only is it a useful skill to learn for your next "real" camping trip, it's downright fun to build and use. Bring on those desserts!
2. An Easy, Colorful Tent
One of the quintessential camping necessities is a tent, but that doesn't mean you're necessarily restricted to the store-bought kind with their bewildering assortment of parts. Those sleek and lightweight models are made for portability, which isn't necessary when you're setting up in the backyard. Instead, try this easy and colorful no-sew tent, which needs little more than a hot glue gun and some scraps of lumber and fabric.
3. A Backyard Movie Screen
Being out at the lake or in the middle of the woods brings its own set of entertainments, and that's something you can't really replicate in the backyard. On the other hand, being close to home and electricity creates a few entertainment options as well. One of them is an outdoor, open-air movie night, with a projector and this DIY backyard movie screen. It's just like the drive-in, except nobody can park an oversized vehicle between you and the screen.
4. DIY Brick Firepit
A lot of people can't bring themselves to call it "camping" unless there's a campfire (microwaved s'mores are just not the same!), but open fires in residential neighborhoods can be problematic. The backyard version of a campfire is a safely contained firepit. You can buy them pre-made, or create your own from bricks and decorative stone. The DIY version is a lot more satisfying, and you have the option of making it as colorful as you like.
5. Landscaping Stone Fire Pit
If you like the idea of a DIY firepit but want an option that looks more permanent and finished, building one from landscapers' stacking wall stones may be a good choice for your backyard. They're larger than bricks and lend themselves to dry-stacking, so the whole project comes together with surprising speed once you've laid out your circle and prepared the ground with a bed of gravel. If you're organized and plan carefully, it can take as little as a two hours to complete.
6. Easy Raspberry S'mores
There's absolutely nothing wrong with regular, plain ol' s'mores, by any means. The combination of marshmallow and chocolate on a graham base pushes a lot of the right buttons, especially when shared around a fire with a handful of your favorite people. If there's one criticism to be made, it might be that they skew pretty far toward sweetness, and might benefit from a contrasting flavor. These raspberry s'mores check that box, providing a bright, fruity acidity to balance the sweetness.
7. Campfire Skillet Apple Cobbler
If s'mores aren't your thing, you may find yourself wishing for a campfire dessert that's a little more adult-friendly, and a bit less chaotic than a ring of people toasting their own marshmallows. A campfire apple cobbler is just the thing: The filling and crumb topping can be prepared and stored in separate bags in advance, then arranged in a cast iron skillet once the rest of the meal is over. You'll have just enough time to let dinner settle and enjoy the warm aromas of apple and cinnamon before it's done.
8. Soda-Can Camp Stoves
If your yard is too small to have a firepit but you'd like the option of doing some light cooking during your campout — even just brewing up a cup of tea or coffee — these lightweight soda can camp stoves are just the thing you need. They take just a few simple tools to make, they use clean-burning alcohol for fuel, and they're powerful enough to boil water or do light cookery. Once you've made them, they're a great addition to your backpack when you go on "real" camping trips, as well.
9. DIY Tin-Can Lanterns
Light is a very evocative part of the camping experience, whether it's the stars in the clear sky overhead or the flickering of your campfire. Backyard camping can't quite re-create that wilderness ambiance, but you can create a pleasant glow with these upcycled DIY tin can lanterns. Between the paint colors you choose and the punched-out patterns, they'll bring a decorative element to your yard by night or day.
10. DIY Outdoor Seat Cushions
Backyard camping is great fun, but a laundry hamper full of grass-stained clothing decidedly is not. Before you plan your next backyard "escape," take a few minutes to stitch together a stack of these DIY seat cushions to protect everybody's clothing. They require only the most basic of sewing skills, and the multi-layer pads take up minimal space when they're not in use, but they're moisture-proof (for damp nights, or after water-based fun) and will keep the stains from little behinds.