The traditional view on camping is that it’s all about the great outdoors, roughing it, and spending time with friends and family. Personally, I love the fact that camping gives me and my family a great opportunity to break away from the daily exposure to the digital world and the constant connectivity to entertainment and social media.
But we have young kids, and there have been occasions when letting them watch a movie whilst we have been camping has actually given us adults a welcome break from the constant noise and activity. My wife and I have also occasionally watched movies from our tent after an exhausting day hiking through the countryside or when it starts to rain.
There are certainly benefits to being able to watch movies in this way, and whilst I don’t advocate you have it as a core activity for your camping vacation, there still might be occasions when you’re really relieved you brought the gear and knew how to set it all up.
It’s Easy, Cheap, and I Will Tell You How You Can Do It
What I intend to do with this guide is tell you how you can watch movies whilst camping. The guide includes details on what you need, what to be aware of, how to set everything up correctly, and some recommendations on products you could purchase if you want to do so.
I am not going to go into the rights and wrongs of whether you should bring technology away with you on a camping trip, it’s entirely up to you, and as long as you respect any other people camping in your vicinity, then I see no problem in doing so.
But given that you probably reached the Outdoor Movie Projectors website by asking the question “how can I watch movies on a camping trip”, I felt it only fair that I give you the best advice possible, so you can do it yourself.
It’s certainly becoming more popular. I have lost count of the number of campsites we’ve visited over the last few years which now come with free WiFi access… and they wouldn’t be doing that unless there was a demand for it from their guests.
I have also included some recommendations on movies to watch whilst camping at the end of the how-to guide. You should find something for everyone in there, so scroll down and take a look if you are stuck for ideas on what to watch in the great outdoors.
What You Will Need to Watch Movies While Camping
There are a few pieces of vital equipment that you will need to watch movies outdoors from your tent or when camping. You can see a list of those below, and then I will go into how they all connect and work together and any considerations you will need to provision for.
Some of these items are optional, and I have labeled them as being so – you don’t have to spend lots of money as there are also some alternatives that can be cheaper. The list below is your start point but continue reading as I explain each aspect in more detail.
- Portable camping projector (see my recommendation on Amazon)
- Camping movie screen (optional, but you can use special screen material)
- Speakers (optional, but recommended)
- Media player (can be a smartphone, USB stick, tablet, or flash drive)
You Will Need a Movie to Watch
Further down the page, I’ve listed out some movies to watch from camping. Scroll down to see those suggestions if you are stuck for ideas. But providing you already have an idea of what you want to watch, you will need some way in which to store that digital content.
Yes, you might be able to stream movies wirelessly, but that’s going to depend on the campsite having a WiFi signal, or you being able to pick up a connection whilst outdoors. In most cases, this isn’t going to be possible whilst camping due to network limitations.
That’s why my preference here would always be to have your movies saved onto a digital storage device. Your movie can be stored on the device itself that you play from, such as a tablet, smartphone, portable hard drive, SD card, USB stick, or flash drive.
Once you know how you are going to store the digital movie content you are then going to have to make a decision on how to project the film. Let’s talk about that next in a little more detail.
You Will Need a Portable Camping Projector
The most important item of the lot if you really want the best possible portable camping cinema and theater experience is the actual video projector itself. By using one, you can project a far larger image, giving you a great outdoor cinema and theater feel.
You could simply play movies from a smartphone or tablet, but where’s the fun in that?
This website is all about outdoor movie experiences, and that means watching movies on the big screen… so we need a portable camping projector that’s going to give us a great result, especially if you have a group of people wanting to watch a movie whilst camping.
With that in mind, you can’t go wrong with the AAXA portable camping projector (view prices on Amazon). It’s a mini pocket and portable projector that can project anywhere between a 10 inch to a 120-inch wide image. It only weighs 0.9 pounds too so easy to pack and store to take with you.
- 135-minute re-chargeable battery
- Weight: 0.9 lbs
- Size: 4.5 x 1.8 x 4.1 inches
- 720p HD resolution
- Built-in speakers
- 16:9 aspect ratio
- iOS and Android compatible
- HDMI, VGA, MicroSD, and USB slots
It’s dead simple to set up. Almost plug and play in many respects, and what it also has is those adaptor ports built-in to it, meaning pretty much any media device can be plugged into it. You can even plug USB drives and Micro SD straight into it to start playing video that way to save you having to bring a tablet or larger device to play from with you.
The battery life is advertised at 135 minutes, but in truth, it will very much depend on how bright you set the portable camping projector up for. It has 3 different brightness settings; standard, bright, and eco – eco will use less power but if you have ambient light interference (lamps, torches, and so on) then you might want to increase the brightness.
Because of this, I would always recommend that you take a spare battery with you. It uses a Lithium-ion battery which is easy to switch in and out to re-charge. Take a fully-charged replacement with you though, or alternatively have a power source to plug it into (which I will come onto further down the page).
Despite the AAXA portable camping projector not having a particularly high lumen rating, I didn’t have any problems using it at our campsite. It won’t work at all well in daylight hours though, as it simply isn’t bright enough to counter-act the sun (like the majority of outdoor projectors).
If you want something to use during the day, you are going to have to spend big bucks, and buy something that isn’t at all portable. It’s only really a product to use once it’s dark.
For a decent projector that you can use during the day and when the sun is out, take a look at my recommended outdoor projectors page (click here) and choose something over $500 that comes with a high lumen count.
The scenario I have mostly used this portable projector with is once the sun has gone done. What my family does is set up a little stool outside our tent about 3 feet away. The AAXA projector sits on the stool and points towards the door of the tent. Make sure that the door of your tent is pulled as tight as you possibly can. If it’s wrinkled and creased it will make it a little bit harder to see the movie properly.
We all then gather around and watch our movie against the tent door. When fully dark and pitch black, the screen is perfectly visible and is around 3 feet wide. We can adjust the focus using the small wheel on the projector to get a clear and crisp image at the right size to suit you. If you have a campfire, that could interfere with how well you can see the projected video, so it might be worth projecting in an area where this is no fire present.
In terms of sound and audio, the speakers that are built-in to this camping projector aren’t great, but as long as everyone is quiet and there’s no background noise in the camping area, then you can hear it. But, I would recommend using additional speakers if you want a clearer or louder sound.
This portable projector doesn’t come with a carry case and the tripod could be bigger. Instead, you will need to purchase those separately if these aspects are important to you. They are relatively cheap on Amazon, and you can pick them up using the links below if you want to check the prices and reviews.
I believe this is one of the best projectors for camping if you want something that is small and portable. It’s a great little portable camping projector and tends to have over 4 stars out of 5 in terms of Amazon reviews (read Amazon reviews here) – great feedback.
Want a Cheaper Portable Camping Projector?
If you find the price point on the AAXA projector too much for your own camping trip, then you might want to take a look at this product instead. It’s still a good solution for a camping cinema movie theater experience but has a lower price point than the AAXA product.
My alternative cheaper product recommendation is the Groview LED portable projector (view prices on Amazon).
It’s not as lightweight as the AAXA, as it weighs 2.33 pounds (more than twice as heavy) and you will need to plug it into a power source (see my comments on power sources lower down in this guide). But in terms of price, it is significantly cheaper. It’s just not as portable and easy to store on a camping trip.
Other than the size and weight though, it’s an almost identical spec to the more expensive model, with the exception of the brighter lamp at 300 lumens; so it can work better against ambient light interference.
- 720p HD resolution
- Weight: 2.33 lbs
- Size: 8.3 inches x 4.5 inches x 2.8 inches
- Built-in speakers
- 16:9 aspect ratio
- iOS and Android compatible
- HDMI, VGA, MicroSD, and USB slots
You Will a Need Power Source
You will need power. Obvious I know, but the projector, media player, and speakers are going to need to be powered somehow unless they come with rechargeable batteries.
Now you might have gear that is already fully charged and portable, or you might need to connect to a power source.
This entirely depends on where you are camping. Some campsites will have power sources available that you can use (most of the time for a small fee). You could even bring your own generator – but let’s be honest, they aren’t that portable!
The options available to you are:
- Back-up battery packs
- Portable power packs
- Car battery if you have your vehicle with you
- Only use re-chargeable devices
You Might Need to Use a Screen
You will need a smooth, flat, and light-colored surface to project the movies, sports, video, or TV onto. There are a few different options here, with my preferred choice being a built-for-purpose portable outdoor movie screen for camping.
More often than not though, you can simply project onto the door of your tent, either from the outside or when inside the actual tent.
You don’t have to use special screen material, but you will get better results with a clearer picture. Here are the various options that you can choose from.
The Cheap or Free Option
Given that you ideally want to travel with the least amount of gear possible, then the best solution might be to use something cheap and free (e.g. just project onto the tent).
The screen you use can really be anything if you aren’t worried about having an amazing viewing experience. After all, you are camping, so rough and ready will probably be fine in most cases.
With that in mind, you could use a roll of fabric or just a white sheet. You can hang a white sheet inside or outside of your tent. This will give you a better picture than simply projecting onto what is usually a dark tent wall or door material.
White sheets will be wrinkled, so the image might not be great. As an alternative, you can buy something called Carl’s Blackout material. This is a specially designed material that comes in a roll, so it is easy to store and carry with you.
The Carl’s blackout cloth is designed to watch films on and is actually used for backyard movie projector screens, so you can’t really go wrong with it. You can take a look at this outdoor movie projector material on Amazon – click for prices.
Once you have your material, you can cut it down to a smaller size if you need to and then hang it on your tent or elsewhere outside.
I’ve known some people to even watch movies inside their tent and project the video onto the tent wall. Some things to be aware of if you do decide to do this is that people outside will be able to see the movie through your tent wall.
The image you project could also be slanted, so if that happens, adjust the keystoning on the projector to change the angles on the image. The projectors I recommend will let you do this.
Large Portable Outdoor Movie Screen for Camping
If you want something larger and portable, with a screen material specifically designed to watch movies on then the Camp Chef portable outdoor movie screen might suit you. Be aware though, it stands up and is large at 80 inches (nearly 7 feet wide) and will need to be secured to the ground using cord and tent pegs.
It doesn’t require any power to run and offers a truly cinematic experience due to its size. Perfect for larger family gatherings whilst camping, but probably won’t be ideal if you want to watch movies discreetly or on a smaller scale.
If you like to think big though, then go see the latest prices on Amazon. As a camping projector screen, it ticks all the boxes for me and has great reviews online.
Small Portable Inflatable Movie Screen
Inflatables are great fun, but they will need to be tethered to the ground so that they don’t move around or bend in the wind. Thankfully though, most of the inflatable movie screens on the market come with cords and stakes to help you do this. But given you are camping, you should everything you need to secure them properly anyway!
There’s a product that is occasionally available on Amazon called the Inflatable Mini Movie Screen. It’s not very often in stock, so click here to check for availability – view on Amazon.
It’s very, very small as you can see from the product photos. Now you can go larger if you want, and I’ve actually reviewed some larger ones too which you can view on my outdoor movie screen recommendations page.
I like this mini one though as it will easily place in your camping area, and only weighs 13 pounds so can be taken with you easily enough.
But, and here’s the negative point. It will need power as you need to keep it inflated using a blower so only works if you have a power supply on the campsite or a generator.
You Might Need Additional Speakers for Sound
Again, this is entirely dependent on how many people are watching the movie and what level of sound and audio you want. The options for audio include:
- Portable Bluetooth speakers (battery-powered and WiFi)
- Built-in sound from your media player
- Built-in sound from your movie projector
If there’s just the two of you in a tent, and you don’t want to disturb your fellow campers then you can simply share a pair of headphones.
If you want something with a bit more “beef”, or have more people wanting to watch the movie, then Bluetooth speakers are a must. The portable Bluetooth speakers I recommend are by Dbsoars, are robust, waterproof, and can be fully charged before you leave with a battery life of 40 hours – which is more than enough for a camping trip.
If you are interested and want to know more then go take a look at the Dbsoars Bluetooth speakers on Amazon – click to read the reviews and prices.
And finally; your chosen media player is probably going to have some built-in speakers already. Whilst they probably won’t be ideal if you have a group of people trying to watch the movie, it might be just fine if there are two in a tent or just a couple of kids you want to keep entertained.
By using in-built speakers, it will also reduce the amount of stuff that you need to pack for your camping trip which is always a bonus.
Other Essential Things to Consider
My guide to watching movies whilst camping is designed to make everything as simple as possible. For example, I’ve recommended that you buy a small portable camping projector, have a small roll-up screen such as Carl’s blackout cloth material, and you play movies from a USB or thumb drive for easier portability.
The key here is to make everything as lightweight and easy to carry as possible. If you are hiking off into the wilderness, then it might not be at all practical as space will be at a premium.
Evidently, things will be easier if you are car-camping as you can take a lot more gear with you in the back of your vehicle.
But there are some other things that you should always consider when watching movies at a campsite. I’ve listed those below:
- For the best viewing experience, always wait until it is pitch black at night
- It might also be worth investing in a screen or using a white sheet
- Portable projectors have very poor speakers, so consider an additional sound source
- Be respectful of your campsite neighbors
The final point is so important.
Many people will go on camping trips to escape from the constant noise and chatter that modern life offers. That means many people who might be camping near you won’t want to hear movies, music, and loud noises, or have bright lights in the campsite that can come off the projector.
Be very respectful of their wishes at all times if you have people near to your camping and tent area. It might be worth asking them before you set your gear up.
Movies to Watch Whilst Camping
Now that you know everything about outdoor cinema and camping, how about some suggestions on movies to watch while camping?
The movies you choose to watch will very much depend on your audience, who’s with you, where you are, and what you like.
Needless to say, I don’t believe that The Blair Witch Project is going to go down too well with younger children, and in fact, it might not be a great idea no matter how old you are. I don’t think I am brave enough to watch that movie whilst in a tent somewhere in the wilderness!
So, what I have done is put together a list of great movies and films (including the Blair Witch Project) that work really well when you are outside in the elements on a camping trip. I’ve split them up into different suggestions for different scenarios, so hope that you can find some great suggestions here to watch from the comfort of your own tent.
1. The Best Funny Movie to Keep You Laughing
Chances are you camping with your family and on vacation, so what better movie to watch than National Lampoon’s Vacation. This hilarious film stars Chevy Chase as the hapless Clark Griswold who is desperately trying to make sure his family have a great time, but whatever he does tends to end in disaster. Sounds a bit like my camping trips to be honest.
It’s an absolute classic movie and seems timeless despite being filmed in 1983. I challenge you to watch this movie and not identify with some of the trials and tribulations he encounters whilst on the way to Wally World.
2. The Best Movie to Scare the Life Out of You
It simply has to be the Blair Witch Project. This 1999 release tells the story of three student filmmakers who find themselves hiking in the middle of nowhere whilst making a documentary using hand-held video cameras.
It really isn’t for the faint-hearted and has countless moments that are designed to make your hair stand on end. Would I watch this movie whilst camping? Probably not, but for the brave amongst you, good luck!
3. The Best Movie Actually About Camping
Another funny choice now, this time staring the late (and great) John Candy. The Great Outdoors also stars Dan Akroyd, and the two of them make for hilarious viewing as they go camping on a Wisconsin Lake.
The movie shows just about everything that can go wrong on a camping trip including bear attacks, pesky raccoons, and annoying campsite neighbors. It serves as a timely reminder that camping is meant to be fun. Things will go wrong, but that’s all part of the experience as I am sure you will agree.
4. The Best Movie That’s Sad and Thought-Provoking
Into the Wild is based on the true story of Christopher McCandless. In 1990 he decided to give up his home comforts and hike into the wilds of Alaska all by himself. He has to overcome multiple challenges as well as complete isolation in the wild.
Unfortunately, there is a very sad ending to the tale so it’s not going to send you off to bed happy. But as campers, you might be able to relate to his sense of adventure.
5. The Best Movie that Will Make You Feel Nostalgic
For a movie to watch whilst camping that will bring you back to the adventurous times you had as a child, then look no further than Stand By Me. This tale of camaraderie and adventure is timeless and can be watched over and over again.
I challenge you to watch it and not be taken back to those hot summer vacation periods you enjoyed as a kid, going off on long adventures with your friends.
Final Thoughts From Me
Watching a movie when on a camping trip can be great fun, and the technology that you will need has come down significantly in price over recent years, as well as the size too – meaning you can have a portable movie theater set-up in minutes straight out of your bag.
Having said that, when my family goes camping, we usually like to be completely technology-free. But there has been the occasional evening when we want to entertain the kids or wait until they are asleep and just the two of us cuddle up and chill out.
Most of the time we will read a book or Kindle, but having a camping movie theater option gives us a choice that we never used to have before. It’s only the last couple of years that we have done this.
If there is bad weather and it’s raining, it has been a fantastic way in which we can all retreat back into the warmth of our tent and spend a couple of hours together watching a movie.
If you have not tried it before, then give it a go. The equipment you need to buy can be reasonably cheap, and it could offer a great new angle to your camping trips this year.
PS: Since writing this post, I have reviewed a selection of portable camping projectors that are perfect for a campsite. You can read those reviews by clicking here. There should be something for every budget.