Not many people consider chess to be one of the better camping games. But I happen to like the combination of outdoor activity and mental activity. Of course, bringing a big board and pieces is one thing if you are camping next to your car or in your RV, but that’s a bit much to carry for a backpacking trip.
My own solution was to buy a three-dollar chess set to get the light plastic pieces, and then make a chess board from a white handkerchief, using a permanent marker. I carry the whole set in a small plastic bag and it weighs just three ounces – perfect for my lightweight style of backpacking.
As suggested, you can carry almost any games if you are camping in a recreational vehicle or with your car always at your side. Having a football or flying disc for use in the campground is nice, for example, and you can bring several board games. Just take whatever you have around the house. But if you are hitting the trail you need to think smaller and lighter. Add cheap to that (because it is my preference and perhaps yours), and we have the criteria for the following camping games.
Pine Cone Games
For the cheapest, and lightest games, carry nothing at all. Just use what is out there. Pine cones are a great example. You can use them in throwing games. Just pick a target and see who can make the most hits out of ten or a hundred throws. Or see who can be the first to throw a pine cone into a tree and have it get stuck there.
Pine cones work for mental games as well. Scratch a tic-tac-toe board into the sand or dirt and use pine cones as pieces (a different kind or size for each player). Make a ten-by-ten board in the dirt and see who can get the first four-in-a-row.
If you do decide to carry something with you for entertainment, the best choice may be a deck of cards. It is small and weighs only a few ounces, but provides the possibility of a hundred different camping games. Even if you are traveling solo you can play solitaire.
If you and the others in your group have an interest in plants, you can bring a small identification guide and make a game of pointing out particular species. You might make the contest one in which you all try to be the first to find any edible plant. You could also compete to see who is the first to spot a particular plant species. If you want a little more creative thinking involved, see who can come up with the most uses for a plant (I could name a dozen uses for a cattail).
Dice Camping Games
If you know the basics of craps or other dice games, they are good ones for camping as well. A pair of dice might weigh an ounce, and you can even invent your own games. Small, light, and definitely cheap – dice meet all the criteria.