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(Not Quite) Roughing It

Ohioans with a knack for outdoor fun offer their advice for creating the ultimate backyard campout.

Don’t Skip the Tent.

The old sheet thrown over a clothesline isn’t going to cut it. And while sleeping under the stars may seem like fun, its best left to cowboys in old Western movies. “For the backyard, you can buy a tent between $100 and $150,” says Chris Newman, manager at Geiger’s, a northeast Ohio clothing and sports store. “The beauty of a tent is no mosquitos; no creepy crawlies.”

Keep an Eye to the Sky.
The ultra-bright North Star is easy to see no matter how much light is in your neighborhood. “It directly connects to the Big Dipper,” says Mary Rouse, manager of public programs at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “Even in the most urban kind of environments, as long as it’s clear, you’re going to be able to see [both of] those.” Now that you have your bearings, check out the free star and moon charts available at

Have a Campfire.
Even if you live in the suburbs, a crackling flame is key to that authentic camping feel. Swing by a home-improvement store to pick up a portable metal fireplace (they usually run $75–$150) so you can keep the flickering flames in check. “It’s like a big frying pan, if you will, without the handle,” says Chris Newman of Geiger’s. He suggests buying one that’ll keep the fire 12-to-18 inches off the ground. “They come with screens and tops, but you can just use the base.”

Bring on the Bugs
This one goes against all your instincts, but Kim Kaseman, one of the environmental educators at the Toledo Botanical Garden, suggests getting a glimpse of all the insects that call your yard home with this trick: Hang a white sheet and place a black light behind it to draw flying critters to the cloth’s surface. Fireflies, June bugs and beetles will be attracted, as well as lots of moths. “Sometimes, if the moths seem kind of calm and sitting there, gently spread their wings apart,” says Kaseman. “Some have really fancy hind wings with colors you’d never think of.”

Go (Scavenger) Hunting.
Camping and hiking go hand in hand, even if that trail happens to be the tree-lined sidewalk through your neighborhood. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s Mary Rouse says the key for parents is to create a list of engaging scavenger-hunt items that kids can keep an eye out for, be it a rock that’s shaped like the state of Ohio or items commonly found in nature. “[They could be] acorns or maple helicopters, or the seed pods off of a catalpa or locust tree,” she says. Providing kids with a camping journal allows them to document their finds and observations.


Tell Stories Campfire, Marshmallow (photo by Thinkstock)
Tell Stories.

As the sun dips low, it is prime time to captivate your kids with tall tales. Whether they’re spooky or full of wonder, stories create a shared moment. “Libraries and children’s librarians are wonderful resources for campfire stories, songs and activities,” says Linda Lewis, children’s librarian at the New Lebanon branch of Dayton Metro Libraries. Hers are a few of Lewis’ age-appropriate favorites to give your campout a scary spark:

Age 3–8
Miss Smith and the Haunted Library
by Michael Garland
“This is a good read before it gets too dark as the pictures really add to the story.”

Ages 8–12

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
by Alvin Schwartz
“This is a compilation of really creepy ghost stories that people of all ages enjoy.”

Ages 12+

Haunted Ohio series, 7 volumes
by Chris Woodyard
“These are especially interesting since they are set in our state and readers can generally find stories that come from their areas.”


Camping Snacks, Fruit (photo by Thinkstock)
HOW TO: Make Great (and Easy) Camping Snacks

With your kitchen nearby, you have the freedom to get a little more creative with snacking options. Faith Durand, a Columbus resident and executive editor of, a web magazine devoted to home cooking, offers snack ideas to help fuel your adventures.

Fruit Kabobs: “String strawberries, pineapples and melon on a skewer and toast it lightly over the fire,” Durand says. “It’s going to get just a little blistered and a little browned… and it makes [the fruit] super juicy.” Rest them on a plate for a few minutes before enjoying.

Granola Bark: Whether you’re hiking across the backyard or trekking through the neighborhood, try this fun spin on traditional trail mix. “Melt white chocolate and spread it along a sheet pan,” Durand says. “Sprinkle your favorite granola on top and let it all harden in the fridge, and break up into handheld pieces.”

S’more Switch-up: It’s easy to get creative with s’mores. “You can bring out a jar of jam or use lime or lemon curd instead. Spread that on your graham cracker then add your roasted marshmallow,” Durand suggests. For a savory switch on the classic, take a hearty wheat cracker, put a small ball of mozzarella on it, slice tomato and basil, sandwich it all together and cook it over the fire in a sandwich cage.


Grilled Pizza, Camping (photo by Thinkstock)
HOW TO: Grill a Pizza

Sure, you could order in, but a grilled pizza offers a camping vibe and it’s incredibly tasty. “I feel like a lot of camping food is compromised,” says Faith Durand of “But I feel like pizza is better on the campfire.” All you need is a grill grate to put over the fire’s coals. (Note: If your portable fireplace isn’t large enough or doesn’t have a grill grate, a charcoal or gas grill works well, too)  Here’s Durand’s easy, five-step approach to creating a perfect backyard pizza.

1. Make your dough ahead of time using your favorite recipe or purchase fresh dough from your local pizzeria or grocer. Stretch it out and “place it between
two sheets of parchment paper or plastic so it’s all ready to go.”

2. “Pizza needs to be cooked at the hottest temperature possible.” Let your flames burn down to coals and let your fiery coals cook your pizza. The same high-heat rule goes for charcoal- and gas-grill users.

3. Don’t forget the olive oil. “It’s important to brush the dough with a little bit of oil before you put it on the grill.”

4. “Put dough on the [grill grate] for just a minute or two. You flip the dough over and then you top it.” Remember, grilled pizzas cook incredibly fast, so make sure you don’t leave the dough down for more than just a minute or two.

5. Have the toppings ready immediately after the flip. “You want to have like a little tray with your sauce and your cheese and your basil and your pepperoni or prosciutto or whatever you want to put on top of it.”


Meet Our Contributors

Meet the five people who shared their ideas for our ultimate backyard campout.

Chris Newman: Chris is the manager of Geiger’s, a clothing and sports store with locations in Lakewood and Chagrin Falls.

Linda Lewis: Linda is the children’s librarian and former booklist committee chair at the New Lebanon branch of the Dayton Metro Library.

Faith Durand: Faith lives in Columbus and is executive editor for She is also the author of the cookbook Bakeless Sweets.

Mary Rouse: Mary, manager of public programs at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, spent 10 years as a Girl Scout leader

Kim Kaseman: Kim, a Toledo Botanical Garden environmental educator has been a Boy Scout leader for 17 years.