In a perfect world there would be no reason to play games in the backcountry. Rain storms wouldn’t roll through, scattering people to their tents; the scenery and the solitude would be enough to ward off boredom (or restlessness); and your travel companions would be such engaging storytellers that evenings would pass unnoticed. Instead, there are usually moments on every trip where a game is the perfect answer. Here are some lightweight options to fill the gaps on your next adventure.
If dice aren’t already on your standard packing list, add them. Dice are the perfect solution to lightweight backcountry entertainment. In addition to being small and relatively light (about 1 oz for a set of six), dice are completely waterproof, which means you don’t have to keep them stashed away when it starts to drizzle. Here are two dice games to learn before your next trip:
Yahtzee only requires five dice, but bringing a sixth opens up other game options (see below) and makes the set useful even if one is lost. If you’re going lightweight, leave the box, the rolling cup and the score pads behind–but be sure to jot down the list of rolls and what each set is worth (ex. Full House = 25 points). You’ll also need a pen and paper.
This game goes by a number of names and the rules have endless variations—for a rundown of the basic tenets, check out these “official” Farkle rules. Unlike Yahtzee, Farkle requires six dice (and still a pen and paper). Turns can move quickly, which makes this both an easy game to play with large group and an exciting game to watch. Be sure to agree on the rules before starting a round. The number of variants are countless and failing to establish a set can cause a game to quickly devolve into an argument.
Cards have long been the go-to for backcountry entertainment because they’re easy to pack and they can be used for any number of well-known games. There are a few downsides to traveling with cards: traditional decks aren’t waterproof and losing a card renders the deck virtually useless (unless you know how to play Euchre—see below). However, on the plus side, if you get tired of playing card games, building card towers is an easy alternative.
This is a classic card game involving runs and sets. In addition to being an easy game to teach to non-card players and young kids, Rummy can be played quickly in a series of a single hands (Gin Rummy) or the game can be a longer commitment (standard Rummy), depending on how long that rain storm lasts.
If you’ve never heard of Euchre, than you probably didn’t grow up in the Midwest, where this game is especially popular. It’s worth taking the time to learn the rules because Euchre only uses part of a traditional deck, meaning you can leave some cards at home, thereby lowering your precious pack-weight. Another perk of this game is that it encourages creative cheating; as long as you aren’t caught in the act, cheating is completely legitimate. Euchre is traditionally played by four people playing on two teams, but there are ways to adapt the game for two or three people.
Because the score is traditionally displayed by pegs on a board, Cribbage spans the gap between card games and board games. However, this shouldn’t be a deterrent from bringing cribbage into the backcountry. When weight and space are at a premium, pack four matches (or toothpicks) and use an Ensolite pad to create a board. Another option is to forgo the pegs and simply keep score with a pen and paper, although it’s a little lackluster to skunk someone on a sheet of paper. Cribbage can only be played by 2–4 players, so it’s not a great option for larger groups.
Playing Backgammon in the backcountry is a quick way to score style points. This game is technically a board game, but it does require four dice. The board is easy to draw on a sleeping pad or on a spare plastic bag, although this is easier to do before leaving home. Each player (this is strictly a two-player affair) also needs fifteen pieces. These can be any small item, like pebbles or popcorn kernals. They can also be made of paper, but then the game is hard to play in windy conditions. This may seem like a lot of steps for a simple game, but if you’re burnt out on more mainstream trail games, Backgammon is a good way to bolster your repertoire of backcountry entertainment.