Camping toys and travel games

What are the best camping games and outdoor toys? And should we have folding bikeskayaks, stand-up paddleboards

We’ve been looking at what we’ll buy, borrow or hire for our next camping trip.

 Playing Kubb – a throwing game with a bit of strategy.

Beach and grass outdoor games

If you’re bored sunbathing and you’ve finished your book, you need to play! Well, you need to play even if you haven’t finished your book.

Boules (petanque)

Easy, quick, fun and packable. Plus you can play on sand, grass or gravel. The cheaper steel boules tend to rust after a while, but they’re more traditional than coloured plastic. Most come with etched lines so that you can tell whose balls are whose. The Jacques set is treated to resist rust for a ‘lifetime’…or you could go professional and opt for intimidatingly black Obut carbon boules!

Pittu Garam

And for a fantastic game that needs no special equipment – just a ball and seven stones – it has to be Pittu Garam. We saw two teams of Pakistani picknickers – men, women and kids – having a wild time at Bolton Abbey in North Yorkshire and just had to ask if we could join in. You get to throw a ball, tackle, run and laugh A LOT. See the rules at the end of this article.

Skittles

We love skittles too. You can find some funky sets, but decent weighted pins are a must or you’ll find they flop over in a breeze or on uneven ground.

Molkky

Recommended by lots of readers. It’s a Finnish version of skittles using numbered peg things. You have to get 50 exactly, so there’s some strategy as well as throwing skill.

Spikeball 

Also called Rebound or Slammo and great fun. Two players or teams bounce a ball off a floor-standing net. Rules included so you’ll know how to play!

Kubb

A great outdoor game, with a bit of strategy thrown in too. Kubb is a Viking game of knocking down blocks and whacking a king. Go for a heavyweight set – pine and lightwoods are too flimsy for real fun.

Badminton and hacky sacks

Although we do always take badminton racquets, it’s generally too windy. You can get ‘wind rings’, however, that give the shuttlecocks a bit more weight.

Wind isn’t a problem for games you play with a hacky sack. Invent your own, or simply see how long you can volley the hack between players before it hits the floor. The aim is for each player to get a touch (called a hack, and then a double hack). And it’s a chance to show off your acrobatic (ish) skills. No hands allowed!

Wet weather camping games and travel games

Here’s a shortlist of our favourite portable board and travel games. Ideal when the weather isn’t great, for whiling away an evening by the campfire or even for taking to the pub.

BEWARE…it’s addictive

Abalone is our current favourite game. Simple to learn, tactile, strategic, portable. 

You simply aim to push six of your opponent’s pieces off the board by moving one, two or three of your own marbles. Sounds easy, but there are endless challenges and ways to improve your play. There are even tournaments…but we’re a long way from that!

Catan

Catan – a lovely game involving building roads and settlements. You need a big table, the expensive travel edition or the less involved card-only version. Two to four players, kids and adults.

Dobble

A game of speed, observation and reflexes. Find matching images on the special cards. It’s harder than it looks!

Accentuate

Can you say “Open the bomb bay doors, Hal?” in a Swedish accent. You’ll soon find out you don’t know your Mumbai from your Mevagissey with this hilarious game for four or more.

Yahtzee

Good old Yahtzee. So addictive I’ve been known to invent a solo game! Just five dice and scorecards, so super-portable.

Nothing beats cards

And, of course, just a simple pack of cards (and a folding cribbage board)…oh, and a chess set.

Articulate 

A nice mini-sized version of the fast-talking description game. Great fun. For two or more players, or teams.

Codenames

Now this is interesting! Try to get your team to choose the right words by finding a connecting idea. Hard to explain, but easy-yet-compelling to play. There are lots of editions of this game too, including a Disney and a Marvel version.

A games table

Regatta make a camping table with games boards on the top, by the way. Not our favourite general table (find that here), but good for multipurpose!

Do we need bikes when we go camping?

If you’ve got a campervan or motorhome, then you’ll know how good it is to set up camp and then not have to move your van again for a few days or longer.

Trouble is, this means you can only explore the local area, take long walks or use public transport (which is lacking in many places). Unless you have a pub, shop or restaurant nearby, you’ll also have to plan your meals well and buy en route.

In the south of France last month, we borrowed the world’s most uncomfortable bikes – and had the best two days of the holiday.

We cycled into Arles, pedalled through streets crowded with photography festival-goers with a warm wind blowing. We freewheeled down ancient alleys and through elegant squares, stopped at a bar to hear a jazz band, pedalled on into

the dusk and into an evening of African music and food. We cycled back along the Rhone and never wanted to stop.

But is it better to buy bikes (with all that entails for carrying them in/on your car or van)? Or is it better to hire? Would folding bikes be the answer?

Folding bikes for camping?

Montagu folding bike

The Montague unfolds

Birdy folding bike

The unfolded Birdy is beautiful

If we decide on bikes of our own. The question is: do we want to carry them on the back of the van or do we buy folding bikes?

And, given that we live in the hilly Pennines, should we have some electrical assistance to make sure the bikes get used.

We’ve tested the Birdy and Montague folding bikes in the past. The Birdy is beautifully engineered (over-engineered, some would say) and looks stunning. It’s expensive and felt slightly too precious. A great ride, though, and lots of admiring stares. The Montague, also expensive, is unusual in that it’s a folding bike with full-sized wheels. Its problem was that the brakes needed lots of realigning (not always successfully) every time you reattached the front wheel.

For affordable folding bikes, including electric ones, have a look at what Decathlon has to offer. Many of them get excellent reviews. Our other favourite places to buy bikes (apart from local and trusted shops, of course) are Tredz (online and two shops in Wales) and Leisure Lakes Bikes (11 shops and online).

We tested the Brompton folding bike

It’s (almost) universally accepted that the British-made Brompton is the best when it comes to neat folding.

The Brompton folding bike

 

It has tiny wheels, however, and some would say it’s a clown bike or a bike just for city commuters. The fold is perfect, though. No other folder is as fast or well thought-out. They’re lovingly made, they hold their value and they’re light.

What’s it like to ride? Like a real bike actually, but with a nippy feel that gives you a sense of travelling with minimum fuss. Gears are a bit sticky at first, and the plastic levers seemed a bit flimsy. We needed to add better grips – the Ergon GP2 (S) – for real comfort.

The bikes are very customisable and cost from around £800, but you won’t stop at that…you’ll add more gears, a better saddle, easy wheels for rolling it along when folded, luggage and more. Secondhand ones are available on Ebay and that’s often a great way to get a barely used bike at a decent price.

So what about an electric Brompton. We tested one of those too. Read our special feature on electric Bromptons and the options available.

Crikey…we love the Kalkhoff bikes, though

Oh my goodness! They told us in the shop that we’d be chuckling as soon as we set off on these bikes. They were right.

The Kalkhoff Agattu electric bike

The Kalkhoff Agattu electric bike

The Kalkhoff German-made electric bikes make you laugh with joy and at the weirdness of suddenly becoming superhuman. Start pedalling and you’re transformed into a powerful cyclist who could go on forever. I even beat a bus up a VERY steep hill.

They’re strong, perfectly made, electronically and mechanically sophisticated (there’s even an on-board efficiency computer) and utterly comfortable. We tested the Sahel Compact Impulse 8 and the Agattu. They cost from £2,000. Like all but the most expensive electric bikes, they’re heavy.

While it’s fun to test folders and electrics, we probably won’t be spending thousands. Fortunately, there are plenty of electric folding bikes to choose from if you don’t need every sophistication.

There are good ranges at DecathlonLeisure Lakes Bikes and at Tredz! And, of course, if you can squeeze ordinary bikes onto the boot, the roof or a trailer, all the better.

All hail to those who kit up their bikes and leave the cars at home when they camp!

Sea Eagle

This is why you need a boat. The far side of the lake, no-one else there and full justification, after all that paddling, to lie down in the sun.

Something to play with on the water?

So there we were for a third year at the gloriously turquoise Lac Ste Croix and the Gorges du Verdon. And nothing to play with on the water. In previous years, we’d had a tandem inflatable kayak. This time, while swimming, we tried to come up with a design for the perfect boat-thing.

stand-up paddleboard

 An inflatable SUP and kit for around £300

Stand up paddleboard? Can I sit down, please!

These boards are ideal for easy carrying (especially the inflatable ones), but there’s nothing relaxing about standing up with a long pole pushing yourself along. It’s more sport than recreation.

This paddleboard comes with everything you need to use it as a sit-down paddleboard. Around £350

A simple seat to add to your paddleboard. Don’t forget you’ll need kayak paddles too.

So, maybe the answer is either to add a seat to your paddleboard. Or to get an SUP that comes with a kayak conversion kit – a high-back seat and shorter paddle.

A kayak or canoe

We loved our Sea Eagle inflatable tandem kayak, but the 10 minutes to get it ready for the water and the 15 minutes wiping it down and packing it up meant we didn’t use it as spontaneously as we’d hoped. It was super-sturdy (hit it with a claw hammer and see no damage, they said), had a strong rigid bottom, a removeable skeg, comfortable-ish seats, and stowing straps etc. Packed, though, it still took up a fair amount of boot space.

rented kayak

Two police officers took this picture…so we assume it was OK to paddle here!

We also found the tandem a bit sluggish in wind or tides and it took some co-ordination to balance the seating position for paddlers with different strengths. That was also true of the red one we hired first…see the picture. Having two smaller kayaks/boards would also mean we could race (or escape each other for a bit).

kayak white water

An enclosed kayak might make you claustrophobic, but you’ll stay inside when the river tries to turn you over.

The serious option and not the option for anyone with leg-claustrophobia would be a sit-inside kayak. You can paddle these in worse weather and tougher conditions because you’re inside a spraydeck. There’s all that rolling over to do, though.

sit on top kayak

A sit-on-top (SOT) kayak keeps your legs free, but gets you wetter.

A sit on top (SOT) kayak is a possibility. There are smaller types, they’re light and the better ones are useable on calm seas, lakes and reasonable rivers. Cheap too.

Canoe

Canoes are great for journeys – not so great for getting on and off roof racks. Rent one or get an inflatable

A canoe would be too big and cumbersome for most campers, and definitely so for us. All that kneeling is hard on your legs too. There are inflatable canoes, though, that could give you packability and the comfort (and sociability) of an open craft.

A pack raft

We’d never heard of these until we saw Alistair Humphreys making a Shetland Isle journey using a pack raft and Brompton folding bike. Bike on the raft at some points, raft on the bike at others. This one is under a kilo in weight and costs around £120.

A noodle, a lilo

Perhaps it’s all we need – a bit of bendy plastic tubing or floating beds and lilos.  Hmm. But don’t you think it’s much more interesting to explore the world of watersports and hunt for the perfect thing?

Out there, somewhere, is a tiny-but-sturdy, light-but-manoeuvrable, multi-sport-water-craft. It will be the size of a belly board, with a comfortable seat, and it’ll be fast and stable…oh and you can probably fit a tiny sail to it as well as paddle it. Steer us in the right direction, please!



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When we find a new piece of camping or outdoor equipment that we love and that really works, it’s here. Everything you see – from barbecues to mosquito repellent – has been tried and tested by a member of the Campfire team and is now one of their actual camping essentials …
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How to play Pittu Garam

You need a tennis ball and seven stones you can stack on top of each other. The aim is to break the tower and rebuild it before getting hit by an opponent.

  • Divide the players into two teams.
  • A member of team A throws the ball to try to hit the tower (decide on your distance and mark it for each team).
  • A player from team B is assigned to catch the ball after it gets thrown by team A. The rest of team B are fielders.
  • When a player from team A succeeds in knocking over the tower. team A needs to rebuild it while avoiding getting hit by the ball. Team B will be aiming to hit all players with the ball.
  • If team B succeeds, it swaps over to their throw. If they fail, the next member of team A throws at the tower.
  • After both teams have defended the team with most number of rebuilds wins the match.

A few rules

  • When a player from the defending team picks up the ball, they can’t move till they’ve thrown it.
  • Each player gets three tries to break the tower. If they don’t, it’s the next player’s turn.
  • If the team wins a pittu (a tower rebuild), the player who broke the tower gets three extra throws.
  • If a player breaks the tower but the opposite team catches the ball before it hits the ground, then the attacking player is deprived of his remaining tries.

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2 Comments

  1. Try an electric fat bike. They’re awesome fun. Recently tried a Haibike fat six and it was an utter riot, electrically assisted and go anywhere capabilities. Would be amazing in the Alps,Scotland or Wales. The worse the weather gets, the more fun they are!

  2. Woah! They look amazing. Not cheap, though! Have a look here…Haibike We’ve also found a cheap (£900) folding fat bike too. And Tredz have a decent range of non-folding fat bikes.

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