I'm fresh out of banjos.

I'm fresh out of banjos.

Remember playing Oregon Trail as a kid, and having to pack a banjo or a deck of cards for the long trek from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley? It’s a physically taxing journey, and the group needs to keep their spirits up, especially after losing 50 pounds of salted meat because you tipped over when fording a river. The point is, you need some form of entertainment when you have a large group going on some kind of extended trip in the wilderness. The same is true for camping with friends or family, even if you’re just car camping.


So here are a few tips for entertainment:

1)      Some things haven’t changed since the Oregon Trail. Bring a deck of cards!

2)      If anyone in your party is musically inclined and has an instrument that will fit into your means of transportation, then remember to add it to your packing list. Cars are for guitars, portage packs can fit a ukulele, and backpacks definitely have room for a harmonica.

3)      If no one plays an instrument, then bring a portable Bluetooth speaker. Connect your smartphone to it and play some tunes. But do it sparingly – you’re supposed to be enjoying the sounds of nature, right?

4)      You can never go wrong with a good book. After a long hike, paddle, or swim, settling into a hammock or leaning back into your camping chair with something to read is a nice reward.


Games are also fun, and you don’t even need equipment! Here are a couple of conversation-based games that we like to play with groups.


The Categories Game

Someone chooses a category, such as brands of cereal, vegetables, movies starring Tom Hanks, etc. Anything under the sun, really! Then each person in the group takes turns saying something that fits into the category. If you say something that’s been said already, you’re out. Though before giving an answer, you can ask, “Has X been said already?” It’s a friendly game, after all. You can also self-eliminate if you can’t think of anything. Be conscientious, and count yourself out before exasperating all your friends with the amount of time you’re taking! To win, you must be the last person standing, and you must give a final answer for the category AFTER the second-to-last person has given up. Effectively, you have to give two right answers in a row to win the category.


Optional rules:

-   Enforce a time limit.

-   Asking if X has been said already can only be done three times. Three strikes and you’re out!

-   First person out can choose the next category.


Ideas for categories:

-   Brands of beer/cars/other commercial products

-   Characters from your favorite TV show or books

-   Countries in Asia/capitals of Europe/cities in your home state

-   Songs by a famous musician/singers or music groups that start with letter A

-   Primetime network TV shows that aired in the 1990s

-   Professional sports teams (NFL/NBA/MLB/NHL)


Go as broad or as specific as you want. Cater to the common interests of your group! Katie and I once played the category, “Seinfeld Characters,” during a canoe trip and it lasted hours! We are major Seinfeld buffs, obviously. We even half-considered naming our future canoe, “Dolores.”


The Unknown Person Game

One person walks away from the group, outside of earshot. The remaining group members choose a person that everyone in the group knows. It must be someone you know in real life, and not a celebrity. Once the group has agreed upon the identity of the Unknown Person, call your loner friend back into the fold. Everyone is in on the identity of the Unknown Person, except the person who is “it.” If you’re “it,” then you ask each person, in turn, a metaphorical or indirect question in order to figure out who is the Unknown Person. For example, “if this person were a character in Game of Thrones, which person would they be?” Or “if this person were a movie genre, which one would it be?” You can’t ask direct questions such as “what does this person do for a living?” If you’re “it,” you get three chances to guess, at any time.


Game tips for good laughs:

-   If you’re providing answers, be creative and don't go the obvious route! But make sure you can back up your answer after the round is over.

-   If you’re “it,” then tailor your questions to the interests of the person giving you an answer.

-   Anyone is fair game when choosing the Unknown Person, so long as everyone in the group knows the person. This includes anyone playing: either one of those giving answers, or even the person who is “it!”

-   If you want to throw someone off, choose a pet as the Unknown Person! 


Sure you might not survive dysentery, but you won't die from low morale!