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Most of us are highly entertained by our wilderness activity of choice.  If not, you wouldn’t find us dragging ourselves out of bed at 4:30 am, strapping a 40 pound pack on our back, lugging a kayak toward a white water stream, or tossing and turning about how well our stove will perform at over 10,000 feet. We’ve got a lot going on in our tiny little outdoor adventurer brain.

Guys playing Bid Euchre in wilderness
Playing Cards: Bid Euchre

This does not imply, however, that we don’t need additional challenges.  We do.  The drive to the wilderness can be long and boring.  Backpacks and kayaks are heavy.  Peddling and paddling make our muscles ache.  If not careful, our mind wonders to evil thoughts such as:

  • when are we gonna get there?
  • my feet are killing me
  • why again was this a good idea?

Games are a great way to fill time, stay fresh, and push away the negative thought demons.  Some games are played while driving to and from our outings.  Others can be played while hiking, peddling or paddling.  Others still are better for resting in the shade or huddled in our tent during a freak snow storm.

Games fall into three main categories

  • Mental games, requiring no supplies
  • Simple games, requiring minimal materials
  • Serious games, requiring significant material and planning

Mental Games

Mental games are the lightest and easiest to pack.  They require nothing more than knowledge of the rules and a willingness to engage.   The best way to get reluctant participants to engage is to sing.  Most people would rather play any game than to endure that.  Because mental games do not require materials, they can easily be played while traveling.

Potential mental games include:

Simple Games

Deck of Bicycle Playing Card
Playing Cards

Simple games require minimal materials.  Some can be improvised but others, such as a deck of cards, must be carried.  Because of the materials, most simple games are played during a rest break or at camp.

Potential simple games include:

  • Bid Euchre – only requires 24 card deck
  • Guilli Danda – hand-eye coordination stick game

Serious Games

Serious games require significant materials.  To play these games in the wilderness requires a willingness to burden the required supplies, or the ability to really creatively improvise.

Potential serious games include:

  • Kubb –  viking tournament stick game


The wilderness demands of us creativity, strength and a survival instinct.  Although wilderness games are certainly entertaining, they should not be confused with entertainment.  Music is entertaining, but there are no winners and losers.  Well, unless you’re listening to Yoko Ono or someone like that.  Games are about winning.  There is nothing more satisfying than winning.  Except maybe backpacking.  And kayaking.  And fishing.  And don’t forget mountain biking.  Well, anyway… it’s up there.

Game on!

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