9 Simple Word Games to Spice Up Your Next Backpacking Trip

Whether you love it or secretly hate it, hiking is filled with opportunities to think.  There are miles and miles of screen-free nature.  Hours and hours of meditative motion.  For some, that is the appeal.  A long thru-hike is a great opportunity for diving inward, learning to know and love yourself.  It can provide the space and freedom to declutter a mind that’s overflowing with the BS from living a busy life disconnected from one’s self and environment.  Even a short day hike can clear the head or help put a problem in perspective.  Walking is therapeutic.

Getting Tired of Yourself

Sometimes it’s hot, and sometimes you wish you were on a freight train to anywhere else. That’s when it’s nice to have distractions.

But what about those times on the trail when that freedom is too much?  It can be overwhelming to be stuck with your thoughts alone for days at a time.  Sometimes all you want is the equivalent of a chill night on the couch while watching Netflix.  That’s where distractions come in.  If you’re hiking alone, then music, podcasts, or audiobooks can help you check out mentally.  Hiking with someone else, there’s a whole ‘nother human being to learn about.  Multiply that if you’re with a group of hiker trash.

Hiker couch.

However, hike for long enough and the conversations will temporarily sputter and run dry.  When this happens, if you’re still hungry for that trail-equivalent of Netflix, turn to word games.  They are both free, ultralight, and don’t require batteries.  Below is a collection of word games that are particularly suited to hiking.  Some are well-known classics, while others might very well be originals invented during a recent trip on the Sierra High Route by my partner, SpiceRack.  Give ‘em a read.  Maybe you’ll be reminded of one of your favorites, or perhaps you’ll find a new favorite.  One thing is for sure.  Remember all of these and you’ll be well-equipped to ward off any unsolicited personal growth or self-discovery.

Shoobee-Doobee

Crunchberry, hiking fast to catch up, doesn’t want to miss the next shoobee-doobee.

This is a game of rhyming riddles that is sure to produce timeless catchphrases.  First, one hiker thinks of two rhyming words, usually an adjective and a noun, that hopefully combine into funny pairing.  A rhyme of words with two syllables is called a ‘shoobee-doobee’.  If the words have just a single syllable, then it is called a ‘shoo-doo’.

Next, after informing the group whether they have a shoobee-doobee or shoo-doo, they give a clue in the form of two words (maybe more, if you feel it’s right).  These are sometimes, but not always synonyms of the rhyming words in the shoobee-doobee.  The clue does not need to rhyme.

Finally, the group must try to guess the shoobee-doobee or shoo-doo.  If an appropriate amount of time has not resulted in a correct guess, then the guessers may request another clue.  Once someone guesses the correct rhyme, anybody can jump in with the next shoobee-doobee or shoo-doo.  Keep it freeform and keep it fun.  There’s no competition here.

Examples:

Scroll to the bottom of the article for the answers

#1 Shoo-doo: rotund dog
#2 Shoobee-doobee: enthusiastic hello
#3 Shoobee-doobee: smelly dessert
#4 Shoobee-doobee: russet reptile

Odds

Ooo, I got one: What are the odds you go for a swim in that frozen lake down there?

This dare game can get you into a lot of trouble, but it can also spark the miraculous.  It starts when one person (the darer) asks someone else (the daree), “What are the odds you ?”  This can be anything, like speaking in an Irish accent for the rest of the day, or serenading the next person you see.  How about eating an entire pint of ice cream at the next town stop, or worse, not eating an entire pint of ice cream at the next town stop?  Food related dares are always a hit.

Next, the daree answers with a number, with 1 as the minimum.  This is the “odds” that the darer was asking for.  There is no upper limit, but trail decorum suggests that unless the action is illegal or extremely dangerous, the number be no greater than 10.  The lower the odds, the greater chance that the daree will have to do the deed.

Once the odds are chosen, there is a countdown from three (counted by a third party if present, or either the darer or daree if not).  At the bottom of the countdown, both darer and daree say out loud a number from one up to and including the chosen odds.  If the numbers match, the daree must perform the action.  If the numbers miss, everyone inevitably makes an “ooohhh, that was close” noise, but nothing else happens.

This game does not follow a structure and has no end.  Odds are bound to come up throughout the day.  No one is safe.

Wrinkles

Darer beware:  The daree has more than one way to fight back.  If the daree gives odds of 1, then both daree and darer must perform the action.  If the daree give odds of 2, then the game proceeds as usual.  However, if the odds don’t ‘hit’, meaning that the two said numbers are not a match (i.e. 1 and 2), then the darer must perform the action.  Daree is off the hook.  This fear of reprisal helps regulate the game.

Another hiccup:  The darer is on the hook for any costs incurred during the daree’s fulfillment of an odds that hits.  Yep, you need to buy that pint of ice cream even though you don’t get to eat it.

No recycling:  A specific dare may not be reflected or reused.  Hit or miss, let it go and move on.

That Movie

If my PCT hike were a movie: Young guy goes on a journey. He walks really far and eats a lot. The rain and snow crush his soul, then he is done.

In this game, one hiker tries to describe the plot of a movie (the more popular the better) in such a way that it does not give away the movie itself, as generic as possible.  The others try to guess the movie.  This is a fun challenge for both the person describing the plot and the people guessing.  

The trick is to stay faithful to the movie while describing it in a way that is purposefully deceptive.  A great example of this is portraying the plot of Star Wars from the perspective of Darth Vader being the sympathetic main character.  Sure, he’s evil, but without knowing that one might think that he got a pretty raw deal.  Those pesky rebels keep blowing up his home, after all.

Boiled down to their essence, movies all start to sound remarkably similar.  It is better to start the descriptions vague, then fill in some details if the people guessing can’t make any progress.  Yes or no questions are kosher, but obviously don’t give too much away.

Once someone correctly guesses the movie, they can either distill the next movie of their choosing or pass that privilege to someone else.

Examples

Scroll to the bottom of the article for the answers

Generic plot #1: A young man is dissatisfied with his life and decides to go on a journey.  There are many other people who join him, and he falls in love with one of them.  Their love is forbidden, and a large catastrophe prevents them from being together.

Generic plot #2: A father loses his son and he goes on a journey to find him.  Along the way, he meets a companion that is at first annoying and unwelcome, but then proves her worth.  She balances his rational logic with her creative and unique way of seeing the world.  Eventually they become friends and find his son.

10 Colors

Name 10 things that are green on the CDT in Colorado in October. Hah! Not so easy after all.

This one is so simple that you might wonder if I am insulting your intelligence.  Let me assure you that it is harder than it sounds and can be modified endlessly.  Together, with as many people who want to play, try to name 10 things (or more if you’re feeling feisty) of a specific color that you have seen or might see on this particular hike.  No duplicates, obviously.  When you struggle to hit 10, you can become more lenient and include pieces of gear, clothing, and accessories.  As someone who hikes with at least two rainbow-colored items, it kind of feels like cheating to use them for multiple colors, but I do.  Some colors will be easy, while others will take some imagination and rule-stretching.  Get creative with the colors too if the primaries are too easy.  Surprisingly, black* is particularly difficult.

When you run out of colors, try other descriptors like shapes, birds, or trees.  Or try to remember names of people you’ve met on the trail, or creeks you’ve crossed.  Possibilities abound.

*Yeah, yeah, blacks not a color, I know.  What are you in second grade? C’mon.

Humdrum

Is that “Three Blind Mice” or “Teenage Dream”?

Put those vocal cords to good use with this hilariously unmusical trail game.  It’s simple.  One hiker hums part of a tune while others try to guess which song it is.  The longer the sound clip, the easier it is to guess.  It’s usually a good idea to start short, then expand as needed if confusion grows larger than patience.  Very quickly, one realizes that humming makes a poor substitute to sung lyrics.  Even hit songs can be impossible to decipher.  Also if singing is difficult for you, then don’t expect humming to be any easier.

Move on to the the next song once someone guesses correctly, or everybody gives up.  In the latter instance, try recording the humming before revealing the correct song.  Once it’s known, the humming will sound obvious, and no one will believe that the hummer hasn’t altered their tune.

Variation:  If humming is hard or not getting the message across, try whistling instead.  It probably won’t sound any better, but it will definitely be more annoying.  And finally, if everyone is feeling a little loopy at the end of the day, replace humming with brahking like a chicken.  That’s a sure bet to enhance the wilderness experience of anyone you encounter.

One Word Karaoke

Out here, no one can hear you sing. Let if fly!

In this low-stakes music game, one person sings part of a song, trying to get the others in the group to correctly guess the song title.  Here’s the catch, that part of the song can only be one word long, and that doesn’t mean replacing all the lyrics with the same word.  Just one word, a fraction of a second.  Without the context of other lyrics or larger melody it can be maddeningly difficult to place a familiarly sung word in the correct song.

Reliable examples are “Shot” as in “Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame,” from Bon Jovi’s You Give Love A Bad Name, or “We” as in “We are never ever ever, getting back together,” from Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.  However, the possibilities are endless, and are only limited by the group’s tolerance for mangling their favorite tunes.

Would You Rather

Here’s a tough one: Would you rather hike in freezing snow, or not hike at all?

This is a classic game of hypotheticals that is perfect for pairs or groups alike.  One person proposes two different scenarios, and everyone else chooses which one they prefer.  Simple?  Not so much.  The challenge is in crafting the perfect pairing, one that does not have an obviously better choice.  And let the imagination wander.  There’s no reason to get bogged down in reality.  You’d be surprised how much useless knowledge you can learn about your friends with the right questions.

Don’t be afraid to follow the random threads of theoretical discussion that lead away from the game itself.  Getting philosophical about the differences between burritos and pizza is arguably the best use of your time while hiking.

The format of the game is easy.  Ask a question beginning with “Would you rather…?” followed by the two choices.

Examples

#1: “Would you rather thru-hike with a pebble in your shoe the whole way, or never eat ice cream again?”

#2: “Would you rather be able to fly for one minute a day, or live in a 10-foot bubble of mosquito-free airspace?”

#3: “Would you rather never need to filter water again, or have a fanny pack that supplied limitless quantities of your favorite chocolate?”

20 Questions

On question 30, at least. What the heck are you thinking, SpiceRack?

It’s a safe bet that most people know and have played this game at some point.  Here’s a reminder that it’s perfect for the trail.  One hiker, the answerer, thinks of an object, thing, or person (aka a noun or pronoun).  Everyone else takes turns (or not) asking yes or no questions, trying to figure out who or what the answerer has selected.  As the name suggests, the players have just 20 questions to narrow it down (Is it a person? Are they still alive? etc.).  Whoever correctly guesses the answer earns the right to be the answerer during the next round.  If nobody figures it out, then the answerer keeps their title before starting the next round with a fresh noun.

Variation, Endless Questions:  In reality, it can be really difficult to figure out the answer in 20 questions or less.  This is especially true with larger, less-focused groups.  More likely, the questions don’t stop at 20, and keep coming until someone guesses correctly.

Riddles

Long road walks are a perfect time to pull out the riddles. Crunchberry, Rooster, and SpiceRack are gluttons for this stuff.

While not a novel concept, riddles remain tried and true classic time-killers.  And if you’re like me, then you’ll be jonesing for boredom after working your brain overtime on a few head stumpers.  Any riddle will do really, but it’s best to do a little preparation ahead of your hike.  Riddles are as hard to remember as they are to solve, so look up a few before you get back on trail and jot them down (Let’s be real, screenshot them. Who still jots these days?).  Try them out on your best trail buds, while making sure to give ample time for cogitation.  Riddles, like the miles, should not be rushed.  If you run out, you can always try making up some of your own, but at that point it’s probably best to stop talking all together.  Riddling is virtually guaranteed to wear patience thin.

Have any games that you like to play on trail?  Let us know about them in the comments.

Answers:
Shoobee-doobee: round hound, rowdy howdy, stinky twinkie, tater gator
Movie #1: Titanic, Movie #2: Finding Nemo

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Comments 5

  • Heat Lightning : Aug 18th

    Another fun simplistic game is contact where u try and guess a word that someone else thought up. U get the first letter to start and try and make different words that start with the known letters to get more letters of the word. For this u give a clue and if someone thinks they know it they say contact and u both say what word u were thinking. If the person who thought up the word guesses correctly u don’t get any additional letters. If the person who thought up the word guesses wrong than u get the next letter to the word. This repeats until enough letters are known to correctly guess the word

    Reply
    • Owen Eigenbrot : Aug 19th

      Oh yeah, Contact, I’ve played that before. I can’t remember when exactly, but it was a long time ago. Thanks for the reminder! That’s another good one and is perfect for backpacking.

      Reply
  • Laura Runkle : Aug 21st

    Four Letter Word Tennis

    This is one that has whiled away many journeys. Start with a common four letter word, then change it to another four letter word by changing only one letter. The idea is to get as long a run of changes as possible without repeats. A group of people with large vocabularies and good memories can get a run of well over 100 words. Not all the words need to be common, but whoever uses the word needs to be able to give a definition if called on it.

    Example # 1: Ball to bell to belt to Celt to colt to coot to cool to coal to goal.
    Example #2: Hate to have to lave to love.

    Reply
    • Owen Eigenbrot : Aug 22nd

      Thanks, Laura. That’s a really cool game! I’ll definitely give it a shot on my next hike. Is there a reason the word needs to be four letters?

      Reply

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