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Don’t have to go far for camping

By Blake Toppmeyer

The Associated Press

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Backyard camping has a certain brilliance to it that goes beyond experiencing nature. If something goes wrong, your house is just paces away.

“If it all falls apart and blows up on you, you just go inside,” said Kevin Hill, owner of Uncle Lem’s Outfitters, an outdoors clothing and equipment store in Pigeon Forge. “So, there’s no reason for it to be an intimidating experience, because you’re in your own backyard.”

Hill’s family enjoyed backyard camping back in April as part of an event organized by Trail Life USA, a church-based boys youth group with an outdoors focus that is an alternative to Boy Scouts.

Backyard camping can be particularly appealing amid social distancing if you don’t want to deal with crowded campgrounds or if it’s frustrating to secure a campsite when reservations fill up well in advance.

Here are some backyard camping tips.

Need a tent

It’s hard to call it camping if there’s not a tent involved.

If you’re just getting started and want your kids to have a backyard camping experience, don’t feel like you have to break the bank. Stick to a tent in your price range or try to borrow one from a friend and see how you like camping life.

As for setting up the tent, let YouTube help you. That’s another bonus of camping in your backyard. You don’t have to worry about internet service. Pull up a video tutorial on a device in your backyard to help set up your tent.

“You can never have touched any of this stuff, and in your backyard, you can sit there with an iPad or your phone, and every product you buy, you can get YouTube tutorials on how to use it,” Hill said. “So, it’s a great learning experience.”

The top concern with family camping, Hill said, would be just staying dry.

He recommends a pole tent over an inflatable air-beam tent, and choosing a tent that is dome- or A-frame shaped to help water run off the tent in the event it rains.

Sleep tonight

You’ll need a sleeping bag, but with summer temperatures coming, you don’t have to stress about the sleeping bag’s temperature rating or buying an all-season sleeping bag, Hill said. Really, any sleeping bag will do.

You’ll want to sleep on a foam sleeping pad or air mattress so you’re not lying directly on the ground, giving you the chance to sleep comfortably.

Cook outside

Sure, you can cook a meal inside and take it outside to enjoy, but why not go all in on the experience and cook outdoors, too?

Fire up the grill or, better yet, try cooking over an open flame by using a fire pit with a grill grate.

Hill recommends buying some cheap cookware so you don’t risk an open flame tarnishing your good kitchen pots and pans.

Preparation is key to having a good meal, so write out a menu in advance of what you’ll need to cook your meal so you have all the supplies once you have your fire going.

If nothing else, try roasting hot dogs on a skewer or stick or over a grill grate. You can also cook biscuit dough by thinly wrapping it around a stick or skewer.

Don’t forget the marshmallows to toast. Try some fun s’mores combinations, like swapping out the Hershey’s for a Mounds bar.

And, remember, don’t stress. If your tent leaks or your meal is a bust, you can always retreat inside.

“You’re not trapped anywhere,” Hill said. “You’re not a four-hour drive away from home in a miserable weekend of rain. You’re right there in your backyard. There’s nothing to be intimidated by from this experience.”

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