Rating the Suburbs 2013: Backyard Adventures

Spend a night under the stars without leaving the comforts of your own home with these simple rules.

Camping is second nature to Phil Williams. He grew up vacationing on campgrounds and pitching tents in his Bay Village backyard. Now he teaches children how to do the same as program executive for the Boy Scouts of America's Greater Cleveland Council. We ask Williams to shed some light on backyard camping — a convenient and inexpensive way for families to recharge. "[It] allows you to get out of your normal routine and connect with each other and nature," Williams says. With the nationwide Great American Backyard Campout June 22, break out the s'mores and start planning your outing with Williams' advice below.

» GEAR UP. Purchase a water-repellant tent that is larger than what it is rated to accommodate. "A two-person tent can comfortably hold two people without gear. A family of four should consider a six- or eight-person tent," Williams says. Tents are $50 or more, depending on size, brand and quality. Lay a foam pad or thick blanket on the floor of the tent for support. Sheets and blankets are preferable over sleeping bags, so you can layer according to the temperature. "Pillows can come outside, but if you really want the camping experience, bundle clothes inside a jacket," he says.

» GET COOKING. If you're a novice camper, consider using a camp stove for cooking, rather than building your own fire, as the open flame's temperature can't be regulated. "You can cook anything outside that you can cook inside with a camp stove," Williams says. Plus, certain municipalities have special fire regulations, so check first with your city before foraging for branches and building your tinder bundle. One-pot meals or the traditional hot dogs and s'mores are easy, tasty and make little mess. Store leftover food in coolers and immediately dispose of garbage in trash cans, as animals — especially in the suburbs — are used to searching in the garbage.

» POWER DOWN. One of the best benefits of camping, Williams says, is the ability to disconnect from the fast-paced technological world and everyday amenities. Parents and children should make a commitment to leave their smartphones inside. "Pull out the playing cards or a board game, or sit around and tell stories and sing songs," Williams says. "Camping is a really good way to remind us of what's important: family, togetherness and sharing a meal."

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