There are times when you load the truck or RV up for a different type of adventure. Instead of heading out into the wilderness, you head towards the crowds and busy parking lots. Thankfully, the scenery you’re after is that of a crowded parking lot, and your preferred company is that of rowdy fans. Tailgating is like camping in many ways, except of course you don’t spend the night in the parking lot. You need plenty of coolers, grilling equipment and grillables, yard games, and a host of other amenities. If you’re looking to up your tailgating game or look like a pro in front of the tailgating regulars, here’s some gear to help you along in the quest to plan the perfect tailgate.
When that afternoon shower blows in or the midday sun becomes too much to contend with, you’ll want a big, reliable shelter pitched nearby for your guests. Space is the name of the game, and you don’t want your guests huddling like subway passengers under your pop up tent. Be ready for your crew to grow and neighbors to stop by choosing shelters with plenty of square footage. Of course, you’ll still want a shelter you can put up and tear down in a hurry. Hopefully you’ll have some thirsty visitors ready to help you pitch the pop up tent quickly.
Everyone is hyped up on heavy duty coolers these days, and a hot parking lot is a great place to test out the ice holding capability of an advanced cooler. Skip the small “cruiser” coolers and go for something with some serious cargo space. You never know when extra guests with food and beverages to cool will show up. As your tailgate regulars grow, you might consider branching out to two coolers, one for the water and soda and another cooler for adult beverages.
A tailgate is nothing without some good food to serve at it, and a grill is always the best option. Grill options can range from a tiny portable grill to a trailer smoker / grill. Just do yourself a favor and skip the “removable plate grills” as they never cook anything properly aside from maybe hot dogs. The key to successful tailgate grilling is to get to the lot early. You’ll want plenty of time to get the coals going, and then of course a good amount of time to enjoy the food before the game starts.
Aside from the grill, pop-up shelter, and cooler, yard games are a must-have at any serious tailgate. These days you’ll find one of the “big three” yard games played most often at a tailgate. The first is ladder golf. This game consists of throwing two golf balls tethered together with string at a three tiered bracket made from PVC pipe or wood. The higher you wrap the golf balls (or bolas) on the scoring ladder, the more points you get. Ladder golf is very portable and you don’t need a ton of space to place it, but the bolas can be kind of hazardous to bystanders when throws are off.
Washers is a portable version of horseshoes that consists of a box filled with sand and several large washers (as in those that pair with bolts) that are covered with reflective tape. In the middle of the box, a larger PVC pipe is placed as the “ringer” or shot that is worth the most points. Shots placed in the box and sometimes a foot near the washer box also count as points. Washers are fairly portable and don’t require a ton of space either, but the washers can be easily lost as they roll or get stuck in tuffs of grass.
Cornhole or bags are probably the reigning king of yard games these days. The set consists of a large box set on an angle with flip-up legs and a set of bean bags or bags filled with popping corn. A hole drilled on the surface of the box is the target players aim at, and it counts as three points. A bag placed on the box counts as one point. Cornhole is a bit heavier and bulkier than the other games, but the bags are easy to keep track of in any terrain. This game is probably the most “concrete friendly” as well since you won’t have bolas or washers bouncing around on the pavement. It does take up a bit more space, but it’s still the best option for a tailgate and makes for some heated competition for your guests.
These days, a lot of tailgaters have a complete entertainment center set up at their tailgate. Satellite antennas, big screen TVs and complete sports packages keep everyone glued to the games on before the game. Now if you spend almost every Saturday or Sunday at the tailgate, it’s easy to understand why you’d want a setup like this. Without it, you’d miss the majority of other games aired on TV. But let us suggest a more traditional entertainment setup: the radio. Sports coverage on the radio is a lost art form, and many times the announcers on the radio are better than those on the TV. As a bonus, radio coverage of earlier games frees you up to show off those yard game skills or keep a closer eye on the grill.
While there are plenty of good times to be had in the venue of a parking lot, the sun can exact quite a toll when its beating down and reflecting back up from the pavement. Unless you want to squint all day at the tailgate, protect your eyes from the harsh rays with a quality pair of sunglasses. Sun exposure can be especially hard on your eyes, and even effect eyesight later in life. Do your eyes a favor and make sure you have a quality pair of shades packed for the tailgate and the game. Make sure your go-to shades have a high level of UV protection. You’re not likely to find proper protection in cheap sunglasses (as cool as they are), so spend a little bit more and get something with proper UV resistance. Chances are you’ll nail more epic yard game shots while wearing them anyway.
Your tailgate is only as fun as you make it, and the more you can make your spot feel like home, the better things will go. Stock up on all the gear and amenities you’ll ever need, because nothing is worse than a depressing tailgate without all the necessary preparations.
Thumb courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.