The Best Games for Backpackers
By Steve Gillman
Which ones are the best games for backpacking trips? Taking
the games you'll actually enjoy makes sense, of course. But for
ultralight backpackers the criteria should also include being
lightweight and easy to pack. With that in mind, here are some
suggestions. Some of these won't even add an ounce to your pack
A classic game that can be played on any piece of paper. You
can also scratch out a tic-tac-toe board in the dirt, or make
one with four straight sticks of the same length. What if you
don't want to scratch your x's and o's in the ground? Just use
five each of two different objects, like pebbles and pine cones,
or sea shells and leaves.
Years ago I took a white handkerchief and used a ruler and
pen to draw lines on it, making an eight-by-eight grid of squares.
I darkened in the appropriate ones with a permanent marker to
create a chess board. Then I bought $3 chess set, threw out the
board, and put the lightweight chessmen in a small plastic bag
with my folded up cloth board. I have taken this 3-ounce game
with me to other countries and on many backpacking trips over
The average deck of cards weighs just a few ounces, and you
can even get a miniature deck if you want to really cut that
weight down. For variety, this is a great plan. There are perhaps
a hundred different games which can be played with one deck of
cards. Chances are good that you already know a few. This may
be one of the best all-around entertainments to bring with you.
If you are stuck for hours in the tent waiting out a storm, you
have something to do. Even if you are hiking alone there are
games such as the classic solitaire. If you are with others you
can play poker using pretzel sticks or peanuts as money.
You can look up the simple rules to this game online. It usually
consists of a wooden board with six depressions carved out on
each side, and a larger "bank" on either end, plus
24 glass beads per side. The boards I have seen aren't small
enough for backpacking, but once you know the game, it can be
played on the shore of a sandy lake or stream by digging two
rows of six holes and putting four pebbles or pine cones in each.
Granted, you will probably get all the physical exercise you
need from hiking, but there are still some games that you may
enjoy which require only a little athleticism and effort. A flying
disc, for example, or just a ball to play catch can be great
for a group, and both are relatively light. You can even set
up target for either, or create your own flying-disc-golf course
by designating trees and rocks as "holes" for the course.
Survival games can be played without the need to carry anything
along. For example, if the members of you group know a few wild
edible plants, you can challenge each other to spot the first
wild raspberry or cattail plant as you are hiking along the trails.
When you are in confusing territory, you can each guess what
your heading is before checking the compass, to see who can guess
In your tent or in camp for the night, you can play mental
games. For example, you might create a survival scenario and
try to think of the best way to get out safely. Or choose an
item like a pine cone or trekking pole and then see who can think
of the most ways to use it in a survival situation. Out of all
the various games for backpackers, these are some of my favorites.
They're fun, while they also test your knowledge and hone your
Some of the best games for those who really like to keep it
light are the ones that weigh nothing in the pack. I don't mean
close to nothing, but absolutely no weight. These are the games
that you can play using materials already with you or ones that
are out there in nature.
As mentioned above tic-tac-toe and similar games can be played
by scratching out a board in the sand and using stones for the
marks. Stones can be used for a natural version of the game of
marbles. Pine cones can be thrown at targets for points. Finally,
boats made on the spot from whatever is available can be raced
down mountain streams. The only limit to the camping games you
can play is your imagination.