Whether you’re trying to access remote fishing spots or just want to spend some time in the great outdoors, backpacking is a great option. While much of a backpacking trip is spent romping around trails, there’s also plenty of downtime, especially once the sun goes down. At this point, lots of folks crawl into their sleeping bags and wait out the evening doing not much of anything.
With a little planning, though, there are plenty of ways to entertain yourself after dark. And, in addition to being fun, having something to do at night can keep you at ease.
Here are eight ideas for ways to stay entertained into the night.
1. Play games
Probably the most obvious way to stay busy once the sun goes down in camp is to play games. There are options for any size of group (even solo trips). That said, while solitaire will maybe get you through an hour or two of tent time, games are probably a better option on trips with two or more people. Make sure you cater the game you bring to the number of players, since 4-player games can be pretty boring with only two people.
Two of our favorite 2-player games are Hive and Seven Wonders Duel, although there are plenty of other options like cribbage, mancala, and chess. Even something as simple as a deck of cards or a set of dice can give you hours of entertainment. If you’ve got three or more people, many classic board games can be fun. Just bring whatever will fit in your pack! Remember to see if your favorite game comes in a travel version for extra space-saving.
2. Find constellations
If you’re in camp on a nice night, looking at the stars and finding constellations is a great way to pass the time either by yourself or in a group. Apps like Star Chart and SkyView can show you in real-time where to look, but bringing a good old fashioned star chart is a better idea if you want to stay engaged for a long time, since most of the fun is in trying to find the constellations without the extra help from your phone.
While you’re looking for constellations, you may get other fun treats from the sky, too. The International Space Station might pass through, or you could spot a shooting star. Check to see if any meteor showers are going on around the time you’ll be on the trail.
While I often bring a book regardless of the number of people in my group, reading is one of the best ways to entertain yourself on solo trips. This one activity alone can keep you busy for the entire length of your trip. All you need is a book and a headlamp.
Instead of bringing paper books, I usually like to bring my e-reader along. The battery stays charged long enough for most backpacking trips, and on longer trips, can be charged with a battery pack. There are definitely benefits to bringing an e-reader. First and foremost, you can bring multiple books along for less weight and space than a single print book. If you finish a print book, you’re now hauling around a bunch of paper you won’t touch again. An e-reader loaded with a few books can keep the material coming long after your first read. Additionally, many are backlit so you won’t need to waste headlamp battery for hours at a time.
4. Get creative
If you’re the creative type, there are lots of things to do around camp that can keep your mind busy. Grab a stick and carve it into something. Spoons, chopsticks, figurines, or intricate walking sticks are all good options.
If you’re into photography, you could try taking some long-exposure photos of the sky or landscape. On a cloudy night, editing photos from earlier in the day can hold you over.
Another great creative outlet for entertainment is writing. This could be anything from working on your next novel to journaling about the trip so far. This is a great idea if you’re on a trip alone and have plenty of time to kill.
At the end of the day, what you want to create is up to you. It all depends on what you’re willing to carry in your pack, but anything from painting to knitting can be viable.
5. Bring an instrument
Obviously, some instruments aren’t really appropriate for a backpacking trip. There are, however, some that are perfectly at home in a cramped pack. Probably the most popular option is a harmonica. Not only is it small and lightweight, but it has the perfect sound for sitting around a fire.
Some instruments, like the harmonica, are good by themselves or with a group. The ocarina, a small wind instrument with finger holes, also fits that bill.
Others are better for a group, particularly percussion instruments. While you probably won’t get a ton of enjoyment playing a tambourine, maracas, or small drums by yourself, they go great as accompaniment.
And, if you’e really feeling daring, you could try bringing something a little bulkier like a string instrument. A guitar is probably out of the range of backpacking, but a ukulele might be worth it for some.
6. Recap around the fire
For group trips, one of the most fun and natural ways to spend an evening is by BS’ing around the fire. Odds are, you’ll run out of time before you run out of things to talk about.
Recapping the day is always fun, since there are usually plenty of mishaps, surprises, and funny stories to talk about into the night. Additionally, if you’re with a group of longtime friends, you’ll probably have plenty of stories from past trips to discuss as well.
If you’re in an area with a fire ban, you can improvise something to sit around. A small lantern works, or you can fashion your own from an opaque jug and a headlamp. These may not be feasible for the lightweight backpacker, but are a nice addition to a dark evening when fires aren’t allowed.
A really productive way to spend your time in the evenings is to pore over maps to plan for your upcoming days in the field. Even if you already have your route planned, you may find better alternatives that are shorter or more scenic. Additionally, you may notice features you hadn’t seen before, like overlooks or cool landmarks. For fishing trips, maybe there’s a lake not far off the trail that you can hop over to. Plus, maps are just cool to look at. Getting a bird’s eye view of where you’re exploring is always fun.
8. Make fun food
Good for both entertainment and refueling is a good meal at the end of the day. While many people opt for freeze-dried or dehydrated meals (and for good reason if lightweight hiking is the goal), bringing good food along is a great treat if you’ve got the space.
Apart from treating yourself to nicer ingredients like veggies or dried meats on shorter trips, longer trips can also be fancied up a bit. Adding extras to dehydrated meals is one way to do that. Think of lightweight add-ons that go well mixed with just-add-water meals. For example, adding a pouch of tuna to mac and cheese makes it a whole lot more filling.
If you want more entertainment than just adding extra ingredients, try preparing what you kill or catch along the way. It takes very little to prepare basic recipes like simple campfire roasted trout. Any small game or fish can make a tasty meal at the end of the day. To spice up these meals, check out How to Bring Spices, Sauces, and Oils Camping.
How do you find entertainment in the backcountry after dark? Let me know in the comments!