There are many reasons why a “staycation” might be preferable to travelling elsewhere for your holiday. It’s cheaper, it’s more convenient – or maybe there’s a pandemic happening. Usually this just means having a few fun days at home instead of going somewhere new. However, if your family is coming down with cabin fever, you can shake things up a bit with a spot of garden camping.
With a bit of creativity and a dash of imagination, garden camping really can feel like a holiday, even if just for a weekend. As you’ll see when you read through our garden camping ideas, it’s also a low-stakes way of introducing younger children to the concept of sleeping outdoors.
So, pack an overnight bag, and come with us on a short trip through five different styles of outdoor living to find the perfect garden camping ideas for your family.
Classic Camping in Your Garden
The camping of my youth – and what I consider classic British camping – was all about loading up the car and pitching up at some mildly soggy, mostly empty campsite in the countryside. We’d bring a tent, some sleeping bags and a cool-box, and “enjoy nature” (read, walk around in the drizzle) for a few days.
The good news is that this level of camping is very basic, and is really about giving your family a change of scene with minimal effort (as, I suspect, were my childhood camping trips to the middle of nowhere).
Classic camping accommodation
For classic camping, you can just use whatever tent you have at home. If you’re looking for a new one, modern pole tents are the most practical choice. It’s actually a really good idea to field-test a new tent with a garden camping weekend, so you can get acquainted with where everything goes and how it all fits together.
Of course, if you’re only really interested in camping at home (and in good weather), you can get small pop-up tents quite cheaply. It’s still a good idea to have a groundsheet or tarpaulin underneath to protect the bottom of the tent and reduce the moisture coming up from the ground.
As for sleeping arrangements, make sure everyone has their own sleeping bag. Airbeds (or air mattresses, or lilos – whatever your family calls them), are a sensible addition, and of course you can add an extra pillow or blanket if that’s your jam.
Classic camping food
Classic camping calls for class British outdoor food. We’re talking about a BBQ. Portable ones are, naturally, the authentic choice, but if you’ve spent all summer tidying up your garden BBQ area, now is the time to give it some action.
Classic camping activities
If the weather is alright, it’s time to don your hiking boots and go for a wander in the great outdoors. The best walks (in my opinion) involve driving to a pretty, rural village for a coffee, then heading out into the countryside for a couple of hours (depending on the attention span of your party). Ideally, there’s a pub somewhere along the route so you can have a roast dinner before you head home.
More than likely, the weather will not be alright, so grab a travel-sized board game or a deck of cards as back up.
Classic camping decor:
Classic camping requires no decor whatsoever. However, lanterns look nice and a cosy blanket will make your tents feel more inviting.
Guide & Scout Inspired Garden Camping Ideas
Lots of us remember being a Girl Guide or Boy Scout with fondness, and for many it’s also the first real experience of traditional camping. If you want to recreate some of those experiences for your child – and maybe they’ve not been able to join a pack in 2020 – you can offer a version of scout camping in your garden.
Scout camping accommodation
Although the majority of scouts now sleep in modern tents when they camp, lots of units will still have a traditional canvas tent for older members or as a communal shelter. These giant green beasts are trickier to set up than their modern counterparts, and might be exactly the challenge you need to keep older kids on their toes.
As for sleeping, nothing beats an old-school bedding roll. Well, okay, most sleeping arrangements beat a bedding roll in terms of comfort, but that’s not the point. For the uninitiated (or the mentally rusty), this video will explain in more detail how exactly you go about making a bedding roll.
In my Girlguiding unit, we were always warned that, at any time, our bedding-rolling skills might be put to the test. This would mean one of the older girls gleefully chucking a bedding roll into the nearby river, to check whether it was sufficiently water tight. SO fun.
If you don’t have a nearby river or pond, feel free to just make up traditional camping beds. These should include groundsheets, camping mats and, of course, sleeping bags.
Guide & scout inspired camping food
With this style of camping, the majority of food is going to be cooked on an open flame. So, now is the time to set yourself up with a garden fire pit, if you haven’t already!
Teaching children how to safely light a fire is a valuable lesson, so make sure you’re up to scratch on the basics yourself. If you don’t have a fire pit (and don’t fancy lighting a bonfire in your garden), showing your kids how to light a barbecue is an alternative.
For the food itself, remember the golden rule: everything tastes better when cooked on a stick. Yes, you can wrap some jacket potatoes in tin foil and pop them at the base of the fire (remember to turn them), but that’s kind of dull to watch. Add in some sausages on sticks and then for dessert, marshmallows on sticks.
You could even take a lesson from our friends across the pond, and make s’mores! The process is simple: take a plain biscuit (Americans use graham crackers, but a digestive is an ok replacement), and put a thin square of chocolate on top – those “little bars” from Cadbury are perfect. Next, toast your marshmallow as usual and once it’s gooey, use a second digestive to slide it off your prongs and onto the chocolate, before sandwiching it all together.
Scout camp activities
Once you’ve wrangled a traditional canvas tent, made your bedding rolls and lit your fire, you probably won’t find too much time for extra activities. At a proper camp, this is about the time units would use all the available open space to play wide games (like manhunt, smugglers or fox and hound), but you might be limited by space and players.
Instead, try playing some lawn games like badminton, garden bowling, giant Jenga, or setting up an obstacle course for your kids. You could also teach them orienteering skills (like reading a compass and map), practice tying some knots, and learn some simple first aid tips.
Guide & scout camp decor
Just like classic camping, real scout camps don’t tend to encourage purely aesthetic elements, but you don’t have to completely play by those rules, seeing as you’re the troop leader.
You can make cute, camp-inspired decor like welly pegs (stakes that go into the ground outside the tent to keep your wellies upside down and dry). You could even come up with a family flag, pennant or bunting to decorate your patio area for the weekend.
Additional touches like a favourite pillow, or battery-powered fairy lights can make your tent seem much more cosy.
Festival Themed Garden Camping Ideas
It seems like big outdoor festivals aren’t going to be back for a while, which means lots of little ones will be missing out on their first family-friendly festival experiences!
For regular festival-goers, throwing a mini homage in your garden might be enough to get you through to the next festival season. And if you’ve never been to a festival? Well, if that’s been anything to do with the crowds, food, toilets or line-up – that’s all within your control when you’re running the show!
Festival style accommodation
Most festival campers bring a regular tent, or even a simple pop-up tent if the weather is promising. You can really use whatever you already have. The fun part is making your camping pitch unique – but we’ll talk more about that in a second!
As for sleeping arrangements, a comfortable night’s sleep at a festival is famously elusive. Fortunately, the fact that you’re really at home can, and should, be used to your advantage. Where many festival goers simply bring a sleeping bag and a camping mat, you can add multiple mats, squashy air beds and cushions, pillows and blankets until you’re certain you’ll sleep well.
Festival food ideas
Where festival food once meant a combination of cereal bars from home and greasy burgers and chips, most festivals now have a much better selection. In fact, half the food stalls are guaranteed to be some delicious-smelling, strange-looking international food that you’re definitely going to pronounce wrong.
In this spirit, to get an authentic festival vibe when you’re camping at home, you should order a takeaway from that unusual restaurant you keep looking at but haven’t been brave enough to try. Tonight’s the night! Bonus points if it’s vegan, too.
Festival-activities for garden camping
In the afternoon, get creative with decorating your campsite and pulling together some classic festival-chic outfits. We all know how eclectic festival fashion can be, so let the whole family loose on the dressing up box.
Face painting, or a glitter station is a great way to get kids (and, I’ll be honest, adults) excited about the rest of the evening.
With a little help from a laptop and YouTube (we know, it’s kind of cheating), curate your own playlist of music, comedians and kids performers. If you have a favourite festival, search for the highlights and best acts of previous years and get them playing in the background once dusk sets in.
These adorable shelters are the result of some family crafting, with messy paints and DIY stamps. You could make similar ones to use as sun shelters with your own family!
Garden camping ideas: festival decor
Family-friendly British festivals like Latitude and Camp Bestival are known for their gorgeous site decorations. Recreate their ethereal ambience in your own garden for that chilled-out festival feel.
Coloured paper lanterns are a great place to start – solar powered, battery powered, or even plugged in from inside. Bright fairy lights and multi-coloured garden lights will add to the effect. You can also make streamers, flags and bunting to go along your fence or garden path.
Don’t forget to personalise your tent, too – you’ll need to be able to spot it among the sea of other festival goers (or something). Add a windsock, flag, windbreak and lights to complete the look.
Adventure Camping Ideas in Your Garden
For some, camping is all about learning survival skills and living in the wilderness. Staying in your garden is a low-stakes way to introduce very young children to the lifestyle and start teaching them the basics.
Adventure camping accommodation
Being able to create your own shelter is a fundamental survival skill. If part of your motivation for having a garden camping weekend is to start teaching your family how to fend for themselves in nature, learning how to build a shelter is a great place to start.
Using basic materials like long branches, rope and a tarpaulin, you can create a cover that will protect you from wind and rain overnight. You might also want to practice stringing up a hammock – choosing the right trees and getting the right angle.
Remember though, your garden camping trip should be fun! Sleeping outdoors can be uncomfortable, so bring lots of snuggly blankets from inside to make it an enjoyable experience.
Adventure camping food ideas
Learning how to find food in the wilderness is another essential skill if you live an outdoorsy kind of life. There are ways you can bring the spirit of this into your garden camping experience (without having to hunt Flopsy in his hutch).
Start with some learning games about identifying different kinds of edible foods and berries, using things like the shape of the leaves and visible fruit. This doesn’t have to be strictly based on food that you can find in nature – it could be a way to familiarise your children with your vegetable patch, or kitchen garden, for example.
You can also teach your kids how to prepare the food they might forage or catch, with a little help from supermarket foods. Fresh fish, chicken, mushrooms, native vegetables and fruits can all be used to show how to clean food, season it and know how to tell when food is safe to eat.
Gardens and parks are a great place for kids to safely explore nature and start noticing the world around them. As an introduction for young kids, an outdoors-focused treasure hunt is a wonderful way to keep them busy and engaged with their environment.
Try creating a sheet for them to stick (or draw) different things they find, according to texture, colour, name or category – like birds, bugs, leaves and seeds.
Or, if you want something a little more thrilling, see if there are any outdoor centres close to where you live. Ziplining, abseiling and high-ropes courses are great for the slightly older adventurer.
Obviously, mother nature does all the heavy lifting when it comes to decorating the environment for wilderness camping – so nothing to worry about here! Emphasise “take only photographs, leave only footprints”, and demonstrate how to make sure we leave nature just as we find it.
Garden Glamping Ideas
Even though I’m a fairly seasoned camper, our last category of garden camping ideas is by far my favourite. Glamping is about bringing all the comfort of home into the outdoors, so it’s very convenient that you’ll be doing it in your own backyard!
This is the ultimate staycation for treating yourselves and having a completely relaxed family weekend in warm weather.
Garden glamping accommodation
Glamping isn’t about suffering drafts or drizzle. You can just use your existing tent, providing that you really deck it out, but you might also want to look into hiring a bell tent for the weekend. If you’ve got a treehouse or cabin, now’s the time to transform it into a luxurious residence for a night or two.
When choosing where to sleep, splash out on double-height air beds, or camp beds with a thin mattress. Layer with mattress toppers, sheets, duvets, blankets and proper pillows. No sleeping bags required!
Garden glamping food ideas
Your glamping trip deserves the finest food, so fire up that outdoor kitchen or wood-fired pizza oven, if you’re lucky enough to have one. If not, this is the one time you’re allowed to go back into your home and whip up a fresh, delicious meal in your own kitchen (but eat it outside, at least).
Alternative options are ordering from your favourite takeaway, or nipping to a fancy supermarket earlier in the day to pick up bits for a gourmet picnic.
Home glamping activities
Glamping is about putting your feet up, so there’s no need for running around. Treat yourself and your little ones to a mini pamper session, with face masks and nail painting. Board games, card games and laid-back lawn games are also acceptable (I just come from a competitive family so this doesn’t really translate to “laid back” in my house)!
Now could be a good opportunity to let your kids loose on those craft projects that you don’t want to take place inside the house. Set up an outside table with glue and glitter and whatever other sequins and bits of paper you don’t want to be vacuuming out the carpet for months to come.
In the evening, try wrapping up with some blankets and setting up your own outdoor cinema! We’ve got a list of garden cinema ideas to get you started.
Decorating your home glampsite
In comparison to the other garden camping ideas we’ve talked about, glamping is no-limits when it comes to decorating. Cushions, blankets and rugs are a must, as well as lots of ambient garden lighting. Fairy lights, festoons and table lamps – there really is no limit.
As with any camping trip in the UK, you’ll need a bit of luck with the weather. If it does start chucking it down, you might want to be prepared to pack up and head home – but at least it’s not far!
Tell us about your home camping experiences below, and let us know which one of these garden camping ideas and themes is your favourite!