5 Offline Games We Love for Camping (That Are Also Great for the Backyard) (2024)

Our favorite active games

Telling stories by the campfire and luxuriating in the wonder of nature is all well and good, but it doesn’t really get your blood pumping. When you want to move, active games—cornhole being a particularly popular example—are perfect campsite activities. They’re fun for adults, teens, and kids alike, and they provide an excuse to get up and work off the hotdogs without committing to something more strenuous like a hike.

To find the best games for this kind of situation, we tested five types:

  • ladder toss (often called Ladder Golf)
  • Spikeball
  • Kan Jam
  • washer toss
  • bocce

I have a lot of experience playing these games at various tailgates, campsites, and picnics. But I wanted to also test with a big group of Wirecutter staffers, so we set up these five on the courtyard outside our office in Long Island City, New York, and got down to testing.

Throughout our testing, we discovered both the limits of the games and the limits of our own abilities. As it turns out, some of these games require a bit more hand-eye coordination than others, which tripped up a few of our testers. After a number of washers, bolas, and frisbees had been thrown and balls spiked, we ended up with two staff favorites.

A straightforward yet tricky throwing game: Ladder toss

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Our pick

EastPoint Sports Steel Ladderball Set

A tailgate mainstay

You can choose from many versions of this popular throwing game, but in our testing, this set provided the best mix of challenge and accessibility for our testers.

Buying Options

$83 from Amazon

Ever since humans have had things to throw and targets to throw them at, they’ve made games about being the best thrower of things. From horseshoes to axe throwing to the rise of the American Cornhole League, these games have become so oversaturated that you’d think they’d be played out by now. That’s why it’s nice to play games that apply the same general principle with just enough variation to keep it interesting.

How it’s played: Ladder toss does this by using bolas—two weighted balls tied together with a string—and setting up the target vertically instead of on the ground, like most other throwing games. The tricky physics of the bolas can throw even the most seasoned bean bag tossers for a loop, but the general concept is simple enough that anyone can learn in a couple minutes.

Ladder toss has several variations of rules and scoring, but the goal is straightforward regardless of which version you play: Land as many bolas on the crossbars as possible to earn more points than your opponents, with the ultimate goal of being first to exactly 21 points.

Of the games we tested, this one was easiest for newbies to grasp. This meant that more of our testers felt like they had a chance at winning right off the bat, but more-experienced players were still able to enjoy the challenge of mastering the whirling bolas.

The weird physics keeps the game tense and exciting. Since you’re never quite sure how the bolas will react to the ladder—whether they will twist off a rung, wrap around it, or somehow spin right through the rungs without touching any—you’re always surprised by the result of a throw. And no one throwing technique reigns supreme, so every throw has a bit of drama to it, even when everyone knows what they’re doing.

It’s well built and portable. The set we tested folds down into flat squares for transport and storage. We liked the solid metal construction and sand-filled bolas. You can find sets made of flimsy PVC that are a bit lighter and might be cheaper, but the step up to a metal or wood set is worth the investment.

For Frisbee aficionados: Kan Jam

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Our pick

Kan Jam

A focused flying-disc game

This team game provides an invigorating mix of exertion and precision. From teens to adults, anyone who can fling a frisbee will have fun.

Buying Options

$40 from Amazon

$40 from Walmart

May be out of stock

Name a more iconic duo than parks and Frisbees. You can’t. The flying disc is the quintessential toy for directionless outdoor gatherings. But after a few minutes of zipping it back and forth, it starts to lose its charm.

That’s why organized disc sports have risen in popularity, and it’s also why Kan Jam is such a good outdoor game. It brings a fun and engaging structure to those disc-tossing skills.

How it’s played: Two teams of two set up with a player on each side of the playing field. In between each opposing player, a small plastic cylinder with an opening in the top and a small slot in the front is placed on the ground. The goal of the game is to throw the disc at the can, getting various points if you hit it (one point), drop it into the top (three points), or zip it through the front slot (an instant win).

The twist is that your teammate, who stands near the target, is allowed to bat at and redirect the disc as they see fit. (Most often, this translates into smacking it down into the top opening for more points.)

The game encourages a thrilling mix of skill and teamwork. A really good thrower can probably get at least a point each time but will be rewarded with more points if they place the disc in such a way that their partner can slam it home.

Kan Jam has a slightly higher skill floor than ladder toss, since at least one team member needs to have basic disc-tossing skills. But since you also have a partner who can make up for bad throws with a bit of athleticism and creative thinking, the Frisbee-challenged can still participate.

And whereas ladder toss can be played with a drink safely in hand, Kan Jam is more often played with a drink spilled down the front of your shirt. Still fun, just a bit messier.

Our favorite relaxed games

After a long day of hiking or swimming, sometimes you just want to chill out. It’s good to have games in your camping or outdoor kit that suit a more laid-back, less vigorous mindset.

Here are a few games that have found their way into my personal outdoor and camping kit after I camped and hiked all along the Rocky Mountains for a year.

A chess-like game of creepy crawlies: Hive Pocket

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Our pick

Hive Pocket

A fun game that travels well and resists the elements

This insect-theme, two-player game plays like chess, but it’s more portable and easier to learn.

Buying Options

$30 from Amazon

Hive Pocket is an ideal game to keep in a camping or travel kit. It crams all the fun of the original into a more compact package that takes up less space in your pack.

How it’s played: The game revolves around placing and moving bugs, represented by tiles, in order to surround your opponent’s queen bee. On each turn, players either place a new piece from their collection onto the table or move one that they placed in a previous turn.

Each piece—a beetle, ant, or grasshopper—has a unique method of movement, and when a piece moves, it must not leave any other pieces stranded from the group (referred to as “breaking the hive”). Once your queen is surrounded—whether by your opponent’s pieces, your own pieces, or a combination—you lose.

The game reveals new secrets and strategies every time you play. Its simple premise, combined with the variety of the powers each piece has, creates a game that gradually reveals itself to you over multiple plays. Unlike chess, which can feel opaque when you’re bulldozed by a veteran, Hive Pocket is refreshingly transparent. You discover different tactics and bug powers, learning more about the game and better understanding its depth every time you play—win or lose.

Hive Pocket’s clicky-clacky pieces are also perfect for outdoor use. The Bakelite bugs can stand up to any kind of weather, you can play on pretty much any surface, and when you’re done, you just throw all the pieces back in the bag.

A perfect game for a picnic (blanket included): Lacuna

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Our pick


A travel-friendly tube that holds a charming two-person game

This game packs a quick area-control game into a compact package with premium metal pieces and a rollable playmat.

Buying Options

$35 from Amazon

Few things are more pleasant than lounging on a blanket, surrounded by grass and bathing in sunshine. Add a straightforward game and I’m really in my happy place. And this combo is exactly what Lacuna excels at.

How it’s played: Lacuna is a two-player area-control game that sets up in seconds. Just unroll the play mat, give each player their metal pieces, shake the tube over the mat, and watch as little wooden flowers scatter out like confetti. Then, each player alternates placing their gold or silver piece onto the playmat between two identical flowers, collecting them to score points at the end of the game.

Once all the pieces are placed, players collect all additional flowers that are closest to the pieces they’ve already placed. At the end of the game, each player counts the number of identical flowers they’ve collected. Whoever gets the most of each color wins a point, and whoever has the most points wins.

Lacuna is sumptuous and leisurely, in a way that’s unique among games I’ve played. Its focus on uncomplicated enjoyment, from the gameplay to the lovely materials it’s made of, makes it feel almost luxurious.

This game isn’t tiny. But the cylindrical shape that makes it a tough fit on a shelf conversely means it fits very well into a backpack side pocket or a camping kit.

A game as beautiful as your surroundings: Azul

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Our pick


A tile-laying game you can play most anywhere

With a focus on pattern recognition and a fun press-your-luck type mechanic, this game is ideal for a picnic table.

Buying Options

$32 from Amazon

$32 from Walmart

Azul is a go-to recommendation as a good first modern board game for many in the tabletop gaming community. That’s because it’s simple to learn but tricky to fully master, has a pretty box and wonderfully tactile pieces, and feels distinctly different from classics like Monopoly and Sorry. But what has surprised me most about Azul is how well it fits in at a campsite.

How it’s played: Azul is played over a series of rounds, and your goal is to create a mosaic wall using a variety of colored tiles. You get points for completing rows and columns in a specific order, and whoever has the most points the round after someone completes a full row wins the game.

It’s a joy to play, even after dozens of playthroughs. Azul is among my partner’s favorite games, so I speak from experience. Lots of experience. Player interaction is subtle but impactful, and the competition for the limited resources (tiles) gets fierce as the game goes on. That forces you to choose between playing offense (taking tiles you want to use now) and defense (stealing tiles that another player needs).

It’s rugged enough to bring outdoors. Despite its size, it’s a sleeper hit for campouts because the sturdy cardboard boards hold up well, the coasters that the pieces are placed on can be arranged to fit a wide variety of playing surfaces, and the Bakelite pieces are satisfyingly clicky and resilient enough to survive the elements.

This article was edited by Ben Keough and Erica Ogg.

5 Offline Games We Love for Camping (That Are Also Great for the Backyard) (2024)


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