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Jonathan Stull | 06.04.2019

With new parents and young families that I know, I can sense the daunting task of managing the life of a big-eyed, fresh-faced human. I try to reassure them that the hikes and camping trips that they pine for are no less in reach than they were before they became parents, but my experience suggests to me otherwise.

Most new parents deal with less sleep, constant colds, and in a paradox of loves and pastimes, spend more time following their children with outstretched hands than carrying them down a wooded forest trail. In kind, thru-hikes are projects of the childless, vanlife is not usually a parent’s province, and with kids a trip to the beach requires expedition-level logistics.

For those parents, I tell them to try backyard camping. Backyard camping is a fun and care-free way to initiate your children into the outdoors. Here’s how to do it the right way:


Minimizing mosquitos with a product like Thermacell Repellants will help eliminate distractions and keep your kids comfortable.

1. Eliminate distractions and disruptions.

There is one thing in the outdoors that every child hates: mosquitos! Nothing will make a child run more quickly for the bug-free safety of the house. In the past, you’d have to resort to messy bug-repellant sprays and creams, but therein lie more challenges.

There’s an alternative, and it’s as simple as flicking a switch. Pick up a bug repeller from Thermacell. Thermacell repellers set up a zone of safety that keeps mosquitos out before they can land, and unlike citronella candles and torches, they really work! They require no sprays or creams, so no mess and no fight. They are scent free, easy to use, and they repel black flies and other biting insects, not just mosquitos. Early studies suggest that Thermacell’s repellers are up to 98.6% effective, more than doubling the effectiveness of citronella candles, and Thermacell backs up their repellers with a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Thermacell offers several different options for the right environment, including portable repellers that attach to backpacks for transport and even an ultralight one that can be powered by your stove fuel for backcountry excursions. Most ideal for backyard camping are the torches and lanterns, which repel mosquitos under the glow of LED light—so you can repel pests and build ambiance that will make your child feel safe and comfortable.

2. Create a space that will make your child feel safe.

Speaking of safety, some kids struggle to feel comfortable in a foreign environment, even those right outside your back door. Set up camp like you normally would with a tent, sleeping pads, and sleeping bags. Special lighting is a really great way to make an environment feel magical. String lights inside your tent or along fences, and place lanterns throughout the yard to create a sense of depth. Then incorporate your kid’s favorite toy, a special blanket, or an especially important stuffed animal—anything that will help your child feel comfortable and at home. Use your imagination to build a sense of place.


Curiosity in the outdoors starts in small ways, like a backyard campground with your child's favorite fun and games. Kristi Parsons.

3. Make it fun and imaginative!

Play games and invent scenarios that mimic the outdoors. When I was little, I liked to pretend that I was an explorer in a far-off land, a place no human had ever been before, full of mysterious plants, rocks, and animals. Tag-team with your partner to play the role of nature, like a bear scrounging for grubs. Get dirty and explore your backyard with a scavenger hunt. Use items that create learning moments—like small animal figurines, feathers, flowers—and make it playful. There are countless board games that are connected with the natural world, like Trekking the National Parks, which could help you inspire a journey down the road.

4. Look to the stars.

When playtime is over, you have the stars, and they are among the most inspiring and mysterious aspects of nature. There are entire worlds just like ours somewhere out there. Try to find them through a telescope, point out constellations with a laser pointer or a star map, and tell the story of Andromeda while looking at the closest galaxy visible with the naked eye.


Stories shared under the stars in a tent create intimate memories that your kids will never forget. Matthew Williams.

5. Take story time into the tent.

When you’re ready to turn in, turn off all the lights and bring out your flashlight. Tell spooky stories from the trail, like the time your camp was invaded by mountain goats. Read from Native American legends and lore or childhood classics like Where the Wild Things Are.

With a night like this, you're sure to make a lasting impression on your children that helps them come to understand and love the outdoors. While you're at it, you might remind yourself, too.

6. Take the leap from the home backyard to the regional backyard

Once you've got your backyard camping approach dialed in, don't be afraid to make the leap to a regional campground, such as those at a local state park near where you live. Bring the creative comforts and environmental touches that made your kiddos feel at ease in your own backyard to give them a sense of familiarity somewhere new.

Exploring new locations fosters a sense of adventure in all of us, and even if done at a campground relatively nearby, a local overnight camping trip to a two-and-a-half year old may feel like the equivalent of a PCT section thru-hike to an adult in terms of adventure. You've got plenty of options to work with, fortunately, as most states have numerous state park campgrounds and almost all of them offer something unique and interesting in terms of exploring the outdoors and the natural world.


With a little time and patience, your kids will become outdoor pros in no time. Vanessa Davids.


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Thermacell provides zone mosquito protection that keeps mosquitoes up to 15 feet away, stopping them before they can bother or bite you. Thermacell’s zone repellent technology eliminates the need for messy lotions or sprays, so you and your family are free to enjoy the outdoors without worrying about mosquitoes or the harm they may cause. Thermacell repellent devices are either powered by a small fuel cartridge or a rechargeable battery, providing effective and efficient scent-free mosquito protection. If you love the outdoors like us, but don’t love mosquitoes, get a Thermacell repeller.

Sponsored by:Thermacell