What are the best games for backpackers? Apart from being ones that you will actually enjoy, they need to be lightweight and easy to carry. Here are some suggestions, some for games that don’t even need to be carried anywhere but in your head.

Chess – 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 years.

Card Games – A deck of cards weighs just a few ounces. You can even get a miniature deck if you want to really cut that weight. When it comes to lightweight games for backpackers, this is a great idea, because there are perhaps a hundred different ones which can be played with one deck of cards. You probably already know a few, including games like solitaire that don’t require another player.

Mancala – If you have never played this one, you can look up the simple rules online. The game 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. There are no boards I have seen that are 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.

Tic-Tac-Toe – This classic can be played on any piece of paper if you have some with you. Alternately, you can scratch out a tic-tac-toe board in the dirt, or make one with four straight sticks. If you don’t want to scratch your x’s and o’s in the ground, you can just use five each of two different objects, like pebbles and pine cones.

Survival Games – There are many “survival games” that you can play without needing to carry anything. If the members of your group know a few wild edible plants, for example, you can challenge each other to spot the first wild raspberry or cattail plant as you hike. On winding trails you can each guess what your heading is before checking the compass, to see who is closer.

When in camp for the night, you can play mental games like creating a survival scenario and trying to think of the best way to get out safely. You can pick an item like a pine cone or a trekking pole and then see who can think of the most ways to use it in a survival situation. Of all the games for backpackers, these are some of my favorites, because they are fun and they hone your skills and knowledge.

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