9 Games You Need to Take to the Backcountry

Friends camping, enjoying campfire on remote mountain hilltop, Alberta, Canada
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The beauty of camping out in the backcountry and spending some time in nature (besides, well, the actual, physical beauty of it): It’s just you and your fellow explorers living off the land and enjoying the basic necessities of life. With zero television to distract you or Wi-Fi to send you surfing through social media, you get to put your feet up and actually enjoy the company around you. Occasionally, though, you need a little conversation starter to kick off the weekend or some amusement to keep you laughing through the weekend.

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So here you have ‘em, nine games to keep you entertained with your buds in the backcountry, all from athletes and guides who spend a ton of time outdoors. A few games involve prep, so you have to have the right tools (dice, for example), while others just require a sense of humor.

Either way, you’ll bring along a little friendly competition and a whole lot of memories to keep you talking about your trip for months to come—and we bet those convos will come laced with calls for a re-match.

1. Farkle

What you need: Six dice, pen and paper (or your phone’s notepad), and some math skills

The gist: Your goal is to reach 10,000 points (yes, it’s a high-scoring game!) by rolling different number combos including two- to six-of-a-kind and straights. Check out this video for full instructions and a link to a cheat sheet for scoring.

Best played: With a competitive spirit, but cheers for your pals is highly encouraged

Like Blackjack, this game calls for a little strategy and a lot of risk-taking if you want to win big. It’s a favorite of The North Face athlete, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, who compares it to his sport of big-mountain skiing—one reason he so passionately suggests you play.

“Sometimes you start slow—chipping away, building up steam, and eventually scoring,” Cattabriga-Alosa says. “And sometimes you start out with high rolls and the momentum takes off, which can be contagious. The trick is gauging when to say when, or to push on, continuing for the chance at big points or amazing shots. If you push too far, you run the risk of losing it all.”

So the question is: Will you take a major gamble or play conservatively?

2. Liar’s Dice aka Cachos  

What you need: At least two dice per person and one cup per person (buy a six-person set at West Elm for $34)

The gist: Each player has a set of dice and a cup. Everyone rolls the dice simultaneously, keeping the roll covered. The person who’s turn it is guesses how many of a specific combo there are on the table (for example, six dice with the number six on them). You keep going around the group, betting on a higher quantity of the same number or higher number on the dice until someone calls out “liar!” (The louder the better, really.) Depending on what’s on the table, either the person placing the bet or the one who called out “liar” loses a dice. The last person left with a die wins.

Best played: In a basecamp tent with a glass of vino and a poker face

“I’ve been skiing in the Andes for 14 Austral Winters,” says Eddie Bauer freeski athlete Drew Tabke. “Every Chilean I’ve ever met knows the game, and I love teaching it to friends at home or on my travels. It reminds me of the countless evenings passed playing dice and drinking Chilean wine with my adopted Chilean family. Knowing the amount of dice left in play and the resulting probabilities is key, but really, it’s all about bluffing.”

Time to work on those lying skills.

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3. Stick Golf Course

What you need: Some sticks and a small ball

The gist: You set up your own golf course and, basically, your own rules. When you find an eight- to 18-inch stick for everyone, dig some shallow holes in the sand. Then, count how many hits it takes for each player to get their ball in those holes. Set up rules along the way. For example, say you must hold your drink as you play and whoever spills gets one stroke added to their score as a penalty.

Best played: On a beach with a drink in hand (water, beer, doesn’t matter)—anywhere you can create some holes in the ground and gather some wood will do

“Too many times at the end of a long day on the river we needlessly bunch around a smoky campfire and stay there until moving a few more feet into the sleeping bag,” says Ben Stookesberry, a kayaking athlete with Eddie Bauer. “Usually the fire and cooking can wait and the last rays of sun offer the perfect opportunity to walk around on the beach with a little friendly competition and the intentional hydration in mind.” Cheers to that.

4. Man Crafting

What you need: A pocket knife

The gist: Find a few pieces of wood. You have work to do. Whoever can start a fire and carve a utensil (fork, spoon, spork, whatever) first—using nothing but the sticks you find in your surroundings and the knife in your pocket—gets to sit out of the cooking and clean-up duties for the night.

Best played: After a long day hiking, climbing, skiing, boarding, and so on—when no one really feels like doing much besides sitting back and relaxing

Jayson Hale, Backcountry ambassador and two-time Winter X Games snowboard bronze medalist, has a pretty convincing argument for why this should be added to your camping ritual: “In many cases, after hours spent crushing the backcountry, sitting around the fire results in the slow progression of one human after another drifting into silence or pulling the phantom card all together. Although dinner may not happen until the wee hours, this keeps the party rolling and creative juices flowing. Add your own check points, drinking-game twists, or just try to get it done before hunger takes over and your buddy’s leg begins to look like a tasty snack,” he says. “A word of caution: Slivers, blisters, and busted knuckles are all part of the game. Expect them and just remember, these are your badges of pride and well worth the effort. Feast on, Man Crafter!”

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5. Bocce Ball

What you need: A lightweight bocce ball kit (try this inside-outside set from Backcountry for $16 or get fancy with a glow-in-the-dark set from Duluth Trading for $60)

The gist: Just like the regular game, except you’re taking this one on the road. Everyone has two colored balls that you try to get as close as possible to a smaller, white ball. For a full list of the rules, head here.

Best played: In a large, flat space (desert camping, anybody?), though an area with trees makes it more interesting

“This is my favorite game for camping when the weight of your pack isn’t an issue,” says Jason Antin, runner, climber, and Merrell ambassador. “I experienced this game a few years back on a desert canyoneering trip, and it’s always a great way to spend the time back at camp just before dinner—or anytime really.” One thing to make sure you have with you: a measuring tool like yarn or tape to figure out which ball wins when it’s a close call. Someone is bound to question distances.

6. Jerk

What you need: Two log rounds, a rope, and a friend

The gist: Essentially tug-of-war, but you have to stay balancing on the log rounds, set about 10- to 15-feet apart. You compete one-on-one to see who can knock the other person off with the rope or collect all the rope from the other person. The winner takes on the next person in your group.

Best played: With a team of people to cheer you on, and a bit of cockiness to intimidate your opponent

Chris Coulter, a snowboard guide with Eddie Bauer, says this game is his go-to for a contest back at camp. Consider it like an arm-wrestling competition—the strongest man standing gets the glory of knocking everyone else out.

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7. Kick the Can

What you need: Nothing but your body and a place you can designate as “jail”

The gist: Make one person in your crew “it” and send the others to hide. As soon as the person in charge finds someone, they put them in jail. If another person hiding reaches the jail without the person in charge catching them, everyone locked inside gets to run free.

Best played: With a child-like attitude, some speed to run away, and clever hiding spots

You must have liked games like this when you were a child, so it’s time to bring it to the backcountry. Brian Tolbert, a Backcountry brand ambassador and ultrarunner, participates in this one on the regular, often because he’s camping with his three kids. “This game usually involves a good deal of heckling and arguing and often ends in tears, but in the end it wears everyone out—the real purpose of the game—before bed,” he says. You don’t have to be under 12 to want that outcome.

8. Whiffle Ball

What you need: A whiffle ball and trekking poles or sticks

The gist: It’s just baseball. But instead of an actual baseball, you use a lightweight whiffle ball, and instead of a bat, you use your trekking poles or nice, sturdy sticks.

Best played: In a spot where you have four markers for bases and enough people to cover the field

“I’ve had a few epic home-run derbies in the backcountry,” says Michael Benvenuto, a trail runner and Altra ambassador. Like Benvenuto, don’t leave home without your ball (which takes up little room in your pack). We suggest prepping some team chants to get the crowd rowdy.

9. Celebrity Name Game

What you need: Just a little pop-culture knowledge

The gist: One person says a celebrity’s name and the next person has to call out a celebrity whose first name begins with the first initial of the previous person’s last name.

Best played: During long treks when you’ve run out of things to talk about

“It’s the most time-consuming, never-ending game there is,” says Justin McLamb, trail runner and Altra ambassador. You can pick a more specific category, too, such as movie stars, athletes, or even mutual friends among your group. Whatever you choose, just don’t be the one to break the flow.

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