Pack & Play: 12 Best Camping Games

Camping is one of our all-time favorite activities, in case that hasn’t been made abundantly clear at this point. But, with camping often comes a lack of everyday distraction – which is welcome most of the time. Sometimes, however, we find ourselves with a bit of time to kill and not a lot of options as to how to kill it. But, that’s where camping games come into play.

Whether on a trip with just yourself and a partner or in a large group of friends, games are an excellent way to bond through competition. Unfortunately, most traditional board games are less than friendly to take out into the wilderness. But that’s why we put this list together. The following twelve selections are our picks for the best camp-friendly games available for purchase. From the quick and easy to the long and arduous, there’s an excellent form of outdoor entertainment here for everyone.

Bicycle Playing Cards

As simple and obvious as it might seem, a deck of playing cards is one of the most packable and versatile camp-friendly games ever created. In fact, it’s actually more like dozens of games packed into one tiny pocket-sized package. If you’re hiking solo and you want to keep your mind busy before you zip up in your sleeping bag, there’s several variations of solitaire you can run through. If you’re hitting the trails alongside a partner, you’ve got war, poker, go fish, slapjack, and more. And with every person you add to your trip, there are card games to suit the situation. Even if you have to incorporate a second deck, the amount of space it would take up in your hiking backpack or your partner’s bag is negligible. If for nothing other than a contingency plan, you should always bring a deck of cards on caping trips.

No. of Players: 1+
Game Length: Varying
Learning Curve: Varying

Purchase: $7

UNO Wilderness Edition

Another space-saving card-based game, UNO is a lot more straightforward than the many variations of poker and has a very low learning curve. That also makes it an excellent candidate for camping trips, especially with family or if there’s drinking involved – two things that severely limit folks’ ability to pay attention to complex rules. And while the play style of this game doesn’t differ from the standard version of the game, the Wilderness Edition does feature some very neat artwork in tribute of the great outdoors and all the activities therein. Just keep in mind, if you’re camping with anyone who is particularly competitive, UNO can get a little rough and has a tendency to hurt fragile egos and bruise friendships. That being said, if you can handle a good time with a competitive card game, this one is an excellent candidate.

No. of Players: 2+
Game Length: Quick
Learning Curve: Short

Purchase: $10

Bananagrams

Scrabble, the game of words, isn’t just an excellent time-killing game – it’s also intellectually stimulating, as it requires players to flex their vocabularies, sometimes to the brink. But that game has one major downside that makes it extremely difficult to play around the campfire: it requires a board. Banagrams takes the same intellectual word-based approach, but does away with the need for a board. Not only does this allow for quick and easy play anywhere you might find a flat enough surface, but it also makes the game a hell of a lot more portable – since all you need is tiles that are conveniently stashed in a banana-shaped zippered pouch. There’s a relatively low learning curve for this one and up to four players can get in on the action with a single pouch (which can be expanded with additional pouches), so the limitations are only relegated to your dictionary knowledge.

No. of Players: 2+
Game Length: Medium-Long
Learning Curve: Short

Purchase: $11

Catch Phrase

The only game to require batteries on our list, Catch Phrase is perhaps one of the quickest in regards to learning curve and speed of actual play. The game is a little bit like Taboo, in that it hinges on teamwork between a selected player and his or her teammates – requiring the selected player to elicit the proper word or phrase from other players without being able to explicitly state the word or phrase. There are a few different ways this game can be played. For instance, you can split up into teams and keep score through a series of timed rounds. Or you can play it more like hot potato, where the player holding the game passes it off to the next person following a correct response, and so on until the time runs out.

No. of Players: 2+
Game Length: Quick
Learning Curve: Short

Purchase: $15

Backpack Bocce Ball

Like a strange hybrid of modern day pin bowling and horseshoes, bocce ball actually predates both by likely hundreds of years. This ancient backyard game first arose during the height of the Roman Empire and can be traced back even further – possibly the ancient Egypt. In an ideal situation, bocce ball requires a court of a very specific size and format to be played properly, but an open flat space, friendly competition, and lax rules works perfectly fine in the great outdoors. And it’s this flexibility and simplicity that really shines through and makes bocce an excellent camping game. One of the other benefits of this game, besides the possibility for team play and a relatively low learning curve, is that it can be as long or as short as you want it to be. Set a score goal as high or low as you want and play until someone reaches it. Or you could play just a couple rounds – the choice is yours.

No. of Players: 2+
Game Length: Varying
Learning Curve: Short-Medium

Purchase: $15

YAHTZEE National Parks Edition

Conveniently packing into the included dice cup, this version of YAHTZEE is ideal for road trips, backpacking, camping, and more. And while it features neat graphics on the dice, cup, and scorekeeping pad, it also offers up something else we appreciate greatly: a portion of the proceeds of every sale of this game goes to the National Parks Foundation. That means, when you buy this one, you’re not just getting a good bit of entertainment to be had around the campfire with your friends and family – you’re also helping to preserve some of the USA’s most important, beautiful, and precious land. Even if you want this game for your family night and never intend to take this game out camping with you, purchasing this version goes toward a noble cause. Furthermore, if you become enamored with the game and run through all the included scoring pages, you can always pick up a refill or swap in a pad from the regular game – as the dice still feature standard numbers in addition to their handsome graphics.

No. of Players: 2+
Game Length: Long
Learning Curve: Medium-High

Purchase: $17

The Appalachian Trail Game

Clocking it at a whopping 2,181 miles from end to end, the Appalachian Trail is the longest continually mapped foot path in the entire world. And that means it spans across several states (from Georgia to Maine), through a number of different ecosystems, and changes in elevation by nearly 2,000 feet from its lowest to its highest point. And while that’s a lot of ground to cover and a lot to learn about, the process can be eased by playing the associated game. A card-based board game, this entertaining activity doesn’t just let you and your companions play – it also teaches important information about the trail’s history, flora and fauna, general survival skills, and a lot of other useful information. And while there is a tabletop version of this game, the variety you see here features a paper board, perfect for folding up and stashing into your mountaineering backpack. That way, not only can you take it with you camping, you can use it to learn about the surrounding world while you are actually out in it.

No. of Players: 2-4
Game Length: Long
Learning Curve: Medium-High

Purchase: $20

Backpack Cribbage

This game dates back as far as the 17th century – which is an impressive bit of staying power, considering how many other things in worldwide culture have come and gone since then. And while your average cribbage board (and the associated pieces) is not necessarily a very travel-friendly game, this version is – thanks to its construction of durable ABS plastic, ability to fold in half, and handy integrated storage. It’s important to note that this camping game requires a standard deck of 52 playing cards – though most sets come with one, so you shouldn’t need to purchase any extra. This game also has one of the higher learning curves of all the other games on this list. And while we wouldn’t say it’s unteachable out on the trails, we’d definitely suggest that all players try to learn this one at home before playing it around the campfire – if not to learn the rules than to ascertain whether they even enjoy it enough to learn.

No. of Players: 2-5
Game Length: Long
Learning Curve: High

Purchase: $20

Folding Oak Mancala

Mancala is not unlike Backgammon – except that it takes less time, has fewer rules, and can literally be played with handfuls of rocks if the need arises. And that makes it arguably much more suited to camping than its bourgeois counterpart. A quick and relatively easy to learn game, this 2-player board-based form of entertainment is a great way to kill some time without having to focus too hard, but will offer up enough of a challenge between worthy opponents that you’ll want to play it again and again.

No. of Players: 2
Game Length: Quick-Medium
Learning Curve: Short

Purchase: $25

ALPS Mountaineering Eclipse Table

Checker and chess – two games which require a board and sets of pieces – are hardly camping-friendly most of the time. But, their pieces can be packed into a relatively small format – it’s the board that takes up a lot of room and can’t withstand the elements. Well, the ALPS Mountaineering Eclipse Table solves that problem by incorporating a play board into a ruggedized folding camp table. That means, so long as you can fit a camping chair in your car, you can probably also fit this table and the necessary game pieces. It even has an integrated zippered pouch in which you can store said game pieces. There are some other benefits to this table outside of just gameplay, as well. For instance, it features a second lower level with four built-in cup holders, so you can stash your drink while you play. It also doubles as a dinner table, in case you find yourself at a campsite that doesn’t offer picnic tables.

No. of Players: 2
Game Length: Varying
Learning Curve: Varying

Purchase: $35

Bucketball

We posit that there isn’t a full-grown adult in the United States between the ages of 21-40 who hasn’t at least heard of beer pong at this point. The competitive ping pong ball-tossing game, which is actually a variation called Beirut, is ubiquitous at just about every college campus, frat house, and house party across the nation. And while you might argue the merits of a competition that requires players to binge-drink questionable and sometimes warm beer, the game itself is inarguably an excellent test of skill – even if it’s a futile one. Bucketball takes the carnival-style entertainment and moves it to the outdoors and on a larger scale. The buckets are durable, stack into a relatively portable format (they even have a protective cover), and even come with the balls necessary to play the game. You don’t have to incorporate drinking into this one, but we won’t judge you if you do. One thing to keep in mind: this game does take up a lot more space than just about any of the others on this list – so you’ll need room in your car in order to bring it along.

No. of Players: 2-4
Game Length: Varying
Learning Curve: Low

Purchase: $45+

Jenga Ocean

Truly, if you’ve got the space for it, any version of Jenga is pretty good from a camping standpoint. Really, the only worry you might have is that the wooden variety isn’t resistant to moisture – and can absorb water, warping the pieces. Still, the likelihood is you won’t be playing Jenga in the rain. Still, if you’re going to be near a body of water, you could opt instead for the Ocean edition from Bureo. It can function just the same as the normal game, except the pieces are made from 100% recycled fishing nets. Or, if you want to, there are special edition rules that encourage new and interesting play, like ‘Save the Animals’ – a version of the game that encourages players to select pieces printed with specific animals species.

No. of Players: 2+
Game Length: Quick
Learning Curve: Low

Purchase: $50

Best Board Games For Adults

Heading back to civilization for a spell, but still looking for some group entertainment? Then our list of the best board games for adults is just the ticket for you.

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