The Best of the Backyard 2021: The Year’s Best Gear for Your Great Outdoors
One of the only good things about the last year is our collective revaluation of outdoor spaces. If we didn't already cherish our backyards, and spending time there with the people we love, we do now. It is, after all, where we grow our flowers, take our hammock naps (if we're lucky), grill our food over open flames, get splashed from sprinklers and kiddie pools, and watch as our kids do something they can't ever do quite as well inside: play — in creative and active ways — for hours. The backyard is our family play space.
We at Fatherly take play seriously, so after weeks of research, we've pulled together all the newest and best gear — games, grills, furniture, toys, and more — for that most personal and fun of places. Whether you define fun as a 9-foot-tall giraffe-shaped sprinkler, a massive wood-burning grill, a machine that makes foam (seriously), or a mobile bar cart wagon — or all of the above — here are 52 of the best things to buy to help make the backyard your favorite place to be this summer.
Portable Suspended Barbecue by Burch Barrel
This tripod is to your outdoor cooking what a Leatherman is to your toolbox. It functions as a firepit, barbecue smoker, or 18-inch grill. The key here is adjustability: the legs move in and out to keep the tripod level on any surface, you can raise and lower the lid easily and toss in more fuel without stopping the cooking process. Plus, the design welcomes people to gather around and join in the experience.
SuperNest Hammock by ENO
Don't make the mistake of taking a camping hammock to the backyard. Splurge on this comfy, roomy version that can hold up to 400 pounds. It has pockets to keep your phone and drink handy — your real bed doesn't even do that. The contoured center is more stable than traditional spreader bar-style hammocks, and the two pillows make it easy to share space with someone else.
AlpenGlow Lantern by BioLite
Rugged enough to take camping, but refined enough for the backyard, this tomato can-sized 500-lumen lamp brightens a table or a dark corner of the patio with style. The LEDs inside are designed to accurately replicate natural light, illuminating in 360 degrees, or 180 to conserve battery life. And, of course, what is an LED in 2021 if it can't change colors, which this 13½-ounce BioLite also does for party time.
Lagora Washed Dining Set by Article
This 89-x-37-inch table is large enough to seat up to eight people, but doesn't feel hefty thanks to the midcentury modern design — shapely tapered and rounded-off legs combined with the crisp lines of the slats on top. The eucalyptus wood, stained in a whitewash, looks weathered out of the box and will patina to a soft gray over time. The six chairs come with thick foam cushions covered in a handsome gray.
Family Archery Set by L.L. Bean
Archery has been a recreational activity since the ancient Greeks embraced it, and clearly, they were on to something. What's not to love about shooting arrows using a bow? This set is family-friendly, easy on the eyes, and even easier to use. We especially like that the bow is simple to string and has an elevated rest and laminated wood riser, so it's simpler for beginners to manage. The set comes with three 29-inch fiberglass arrows and a paper target.
Wooden Climbing Pyramid by Plum
Of course you want an outdoor swing set for your kids. But why stop there? This play set includes a climbing rock wall, a rope ladder, and a den for hiding, in addition to the very attractive swings. The set is made from FSC-certified pine; the rock wall has handy hand and foot grips. Oh, and did we mention that there's an 8-foot-long slide as well? The weight limit is 110 pounds.
Dinnerware Set by Pottery Barn
This set of melamine dishes and bowls makes outdoor eating much, much easier. They're lightweight, unbreakable, stackable, and — unlike a lot of products in this category — super-good-looking. This set, with its relatively high plate rims, is particularly good for little kids who are still getting the hang of spoons and forks: those macaronis and watermelon slices will stay on the plate.
Grow With Me Garden Fort by HearthSong
Kids excel at making forts, but this might be the only one that they can grow from seed. The garden fort kit consists of a sturdy framework and netting, a tarp for the floor, and sweet pea and scarlet runner bean seeds, so it's satisfying on several levels: Kids can enjoy the planting, the watering and watching the plants grow, and finally the lush, shady, cozy fort.
Luma 450 Portable Full HD Smart Projector by Kodak
Portable protectors are either clunky, or they're low on battery power. The Kodak is neither. You get three hours of play time, which is plenty for watching the latest Marvel movie. The resolution is brilliant, as is the clarity. And you can stream directly from whatever service you prefer, or connect it with your iPhone, laptop, or tablet. There's even screen-mirroring. It comes with a remote, or you can control it directly from the monitor. Welcome to outdoor movie night, but better.
Kettle Joe by Kamado Joe
This cooker can handle everything from hot and fast burgers to low and slow hunks of pork shoulder, without the hefty price tag of a Big Green Egg. The hinged lid solves the problem of setting down a searing hot metal dome, and beneath that is a clever grate system that lets you cook at two different temperatures — that's flexibility most kamado cookers don't have. Below the grate, segmented ceramic plates retain heat to even out temperatures during longer cooking sessions.
Club Pro Bocce Ball Set by Perfetta
Backyards are rife with cheap, water-filled bocce ball sets, but these are the real deal. Made in Italy by the manufacturer who supplies competition-grade bocce balls, the set is laser engraved, meets the US and International rules for size and weight, and is proof that you take the game seriously. And the nylon bag has the rules printed on it to help settle any disputes about points.
Nobox Multi-Tool Pocket Knife by Barebones Living
Slip this tiny tool into your pocket and it should handle all those jobs that pop up in the yard, like cutting rope, boxes, bags of charcoal, maybe prune a branch. Then you can whittle a piece of wood to pass the hammock time. The hefty weight feels nice in your hand, especially when popping the top off beers with the bottle opener.
Takraw Juggle Volleyball and Soccer Game by Wicked Big Sports
A brilliant, and brilliantly insane, game that combines the hand-eye coordination of volleyball with the juggling skills of soccer. The goal, pardon the pun: Juggle the ball, pass it over the net, and to your opponent, without touching it more than twice. The set includes the ball, net, court lines, stakes, and a pump with a needle.
Modern Inflatable Swimming Pool by Mylle
By and large, inflatable pools are garish and tacky, and that's being generous. Not the Mylle, a study in understated minimalism. At 65 inches across, there's ample space for two adults to cool off. Or a squadron of kids. The vinyl is heavyweight, meaning it won't tear after one summer. As for the colors and patterns, it's hard to choose just one because they're all so good-looking.
The Puma by Nuke
Bored by gas grills and charcoal briquets? The Puma is an Argentinian-style grill that allows you to cook over wood — actual wood, like in a fireplace. The wheel controls the temperature: Raise it up 24 inches for cooler heat or, to cook over a legit fire, down to 4 inches above the coals for searing burgers, steaks, and veggies (and it's Argentinian, so sweetbreads count as veggies). The V-shaped grills funnel fat towards a drip tray, reducing the chance of flare-ups.
Brass Watering Wand by Haws
This delightfully unnecessary watering wand brings decadence to gardening and makes watering feel like a treat. Its gentle sprinkle is good for flower seedlings, of course, but also for kids, who will get a kick out of using it as a portable shower and sprinkler. Made of solid brass, by the 130-year-old British watering-can brand, Haws, in a workshop in the heart of England, it's sturdy enough to last a lifetime, too.
Ravine Card Game by Stellar Factory
A card game of a new breed. Up to six players use nearly 200 cards and 37 tokens to navigate after your crew has survived a plane crash and has to sort of finding food, shelter, and building a fire. Roll tokens to determine if you're healthy enough to survive and lead the pack, or if you're wounded ad likely on the dinner menu.
Outdoor Prep Table by Cuisinart
Chances are your outdoor kitchen is a lot like your indoor one—never enough counter space. This 36-x-22-inch stainless steel top rolls around wherever you need it and locks in place when it's time to work. And at 36 inches tall, it's a comfortable working height to prep meat, cut veggies, stash tongs. Not cooking? In a pinch, it'll work as a bar cart, too.
Lyon Silicone Watering Can by Liewood
Kids are natural gardeners: no one plays better with dirt and water than they do. This silicone watering can is designed for little hands and will encourage kids to think about plants and the joy of making things grow. It will also make them feel eminently productive — in the best possible sense of the word — as they play gardener (imaginary or real) around the yard (or castle-builder at the beach).
Charge 5 Bluetooth Speaker by JBL
About the size of a bottle of beer, the latest JBL speaker brings the party. And then some. It's got 20 hours of playtime. A powerhouse bass. It has a built-in power bank so you can charge your devices while blasting music. And, oh yeah, it'll survive if it ends up in the pool, making it fine to leave outside with kids around. Plus, using JBL PartyBoost, you can connect multiple enabled speakers for your own personal outdoor music festival.
Real Flame Baltic Propane Fire Table by Terrain
Tucked inside the shell of this 36-x-36-inch box is a propane tank that lets you put a fireplace just about anywhere — deck, patio, or lawn. The gray concrete shell comes with leveling feet and an electric ignitor so starting the fire is as easy as starting a grill, with flames that burn through a layer of rocks. The chunky edge around the pit is perfect for propping up feet or resting a drink.
Telos TR3 Tent by Sea to Summit
This three-person tent packs down ultra-light so you can take it backpacking or on a bike trip. The tension rods create tons of headroom inside with higher doors to keep more of the outdoors outside. Vent controls let you dial in the right amount of cross ventilation. And when you don't need a full tent, use the hangout mode to convert the rainfly into a semi-open shelter with some trekking poles.
Rechargeable Mosquito Repeller by Thermacell
Bug control isn't sexy, but it sure is necessary if you plan to enjoy the outdoors, especially while eating. The rechargeable Thermacell warms a scent-free, safe, invisible chrysanthemum-based repellent that will protect a 20-foot area for about 5½ hours per charge. All without lighting a candle or spirals and in an innocuous design that is discreet enough to put on the table.
Three-Lens Starter Kit by Moment
You could plan to capture precious memories with a clunky DSLR—or you could upgrade the camera on your smartphone. This three-lens kit, which seamlessly twists and locks into a special case (sold separately), is the booster shot your phone needs to capture all your summer adventures. Mix and match three lenses from anamorphic, fisheye, macro 10x, and a 58mm lens, along with a brush to keep them clean.
Giant Tic Tac Toss by Brybelly
Adding the word "giant" in front of any game is enough to make things interesting, and that's the case here. Toss a wrinkle in the old table-top standby with a lawn-sized version. The 30×30-inch rope box comes with durable plastic Xs and Os. Kids can immediately grasp the concept, and adults who'd rather play cornhole or horseshoes will get sucked in, too.
StarSense Explorer LT 80AZ by Celestron
We get it, you're not Galileo but you want to take a look at some stars. Pair this Celestron scope with your smartphone for a guided tour around the night sky. The app also generates a hit list of what stars, planets, and nebulae are looking good depending on your location. You pick what you want to see, then follow the app's directions to position the telescope.
Forge 15 Trailer-Mounted Grill by Hitchfire
So, you decide to take the family away for an overnight campout. This propane grill attaches to your car (!), with a swing arm that lets you position it around the back of your vehicle. It has two burners, with 7,500 BTUs each along with a built-in igniter. The grilling area is wide enough to cook for 10 people. And it even detaches for tabletop use, should you wish to go the more traditional route.
Splash 'n Spray Indoor/Outdoor 2-in-1 Bouncer by Little Tikes
It's a bounce house. Wait, no, it's a water slide. And a sprinkler. Actually, its a perfect mashup of all three: An inflatable bouncer with a slide, mini pool on the inside, and built-in ladder. Just attach a garden hose to spray water; the blower is included to inflate the thing. Best of all, you can use it with or without water, so it's good in colder climes, as well. The weight limit is 160 pounds.
eRove Electric Cooler by Furrion
Ahhh, those leaky, tired coolers of yesteryear that struggle mightily to keep your chops, brews, and sandwiches cold. Meet the eRove. You plug it into a12V DC or 120V AC outlet, and it goes to work. It's battery powered but also solar rechargeable, so it never runs out of juice. It can fit 72 cans of beer. And it's easily capable of freezing your wares to -8°F. Also, it's just one handsome beast.
FOAMO Foam Machine by Little Tikes
If you buy just one outdoor toy this summer, let it be the FOAMO. It's a foam machine for your backyard, and it's one hall of a good time. It's so easy to set up: You simply attach the hose, load in the foam solution, and let it rip. Each container of solution gives you two hours of foamy fun. Your kids will love it, but let's be honest: So will you.
Bird Silo Feeder by Pidät
Do you need a bird feeder that was designed by a Helsinki-based product-design studio? Not technically. But this feeder is so attractive, with a minimalist look that blends right into its natural background, and so thoughtfully designed — it's modeled after grain silos and was rigorously prototyped with bird testers — that yes, you might actually need it. The finches and woodpeckers that hold on to its tiny perches to nibble become even more beautiful to watch with this.
Solid Teak Wood Interlocking Flooring Tiles by Bare Decor
Transform a basic concrete patio in an afternoon with these teak click-n-lock tiles. Each box covers 10 square feet with 12-x-12-inch tiles that snap together without tools and can be custom cut with a basic circular saw. Teak is a durable tropical hardwood that won't require much maintenance, as it turns a silvery gray over time.
Metal Wagon Party Bucket by Pottery Barn
It's a bar cart. Or is it? In fact, it's a party on wheels, with a galvanized bucket for beer and wine, and a lower-level tray for whiskey, bourbon, and tequila. It has a built-in bottle opener. And the wagon-pull handle makes it truly mobile, so you can use it indoors and out — and back again.
Set of 6 Foundry Goblets by Tarhong
Look, unbreakable goblets are usually — well, not enticing, and that's being kind. These funky and elegant ones are made from acrylic, are dishwasher-safe, but look like they'd be right at home at The French Laundry.
Edison Pendant Light by Barebones Living
These portable pendant lights have sturdy hooks, so they can be hung from the underside of an umbrella or scattered around the deck. They cast a warm glow with modern LED bulbs, in the form of an exposed, Edison-style element — all wrapped in an old-school mountaineering lantern. The lanterns run for about 5 hours on high with a pair of AA batteries. And you don't have to baby them: they have a metal, water- and rust-resistant housing.
Garden Weeding Robot by Tertill
Just when we thought we'd seen it all, behold: a Roomba for your yard. It's a solar-powered weeding robot that goes to work after you press a button, weeding in 2- to 5-minute intervals, for up to two hours a day. It has a weatherproof shell, and has 10 plant guards so it doesn't destroy your prized plants and bushes. Watching it do its thing is entertaining in and of itself: It spins and bounces around, devouring any weed that pops out of the dirt.
Discovery Easel by Plum
The best toys do nothing but inspire kids to create and play. This is one of those toys. It's an outdoor easel with a paintable screen; you wipe it clean after kids are done creating their masterpieces. The frame is wood with a Perspex acrylic painting screen. Kids can use dirt, water-based paint, and more dirt to really unleash their inner creator. Plus, it comes with wind chimes and storage cups for brushes and tools.
RollR 45 Cooler by RovR
Sure, the RollR is bear-proof — yes, that's a real certification — but that's not why it earns a spot in your backyard. Instead, it's the gnarly wheels and luggage-like telescoping handle that make moving it easy when fully loaded. And the internal storage enables the cooler to act as a refrigerator, keeping your soon-to-be-grilled meats and veggies cold, but not soggy. Bonus: Add extras like a cutting board, for lime wedges, cup holders, and an umbrella stand.
Swingline Deluxe Playground by Slackers
This portable swing set connects between two trees with a main line from which a series of attachments hang. Younger kids can swing, while older ones try their American Ninja moves out on monkey bars and gym rungs. The attachments, as well as the placement, can be changed up, keeping things interesting. With a max rating of 250 pounds, it can hold a whole party of kids.
Spirit SX-315 Smart Grill by Weber
While it might seem like fussing over a grill during a party is fun, enjoying time with your guests is better. This Weber has brains built in to give your smartphone real-time data on temperatures and estimates for when the food will hit just the right doneness. For newbies, it will even tell you when to flip your burgers, which, with enough for about 15 patties, helps ensure everyone's eating at the same time.
Terra Kids Microscope by Haba
The way to inspire kids to love nature is by making it accessible and vibrant and real. That means having your kid examine a blade of grass, or a leaf, using a kid-friendly microscope with 30x magnification. It's hardy, it's easy for little hands to manage, and it will keep your explorer captivated.
Pro 60V 25″ Cordless Self-Propelled Brushless Lawn Mower by Greenworks
With a 25-inch wide cutting swath, this mower will help get your yard work done faster than a standard 21-inch deck. Plug in the two 60-volt batteries, and the Greenworks automatically switches to the second pack after it drains the first, so you can keep cutting. And in the fall, you'll use the turbo button to spin the pair of blades underneath faster, sucking up leaves and sending them straight into the bag — no rake required.
Dante Silicone Beach Toys by Liewood
Whimsical and fun, these sand (or dirt, or water, or…) toys are beautiful and thoughtful. Made from silicone, the set is lightweight yet durable. And we love the dinosaur shapes because — well, kids.
Yeti 200x Portable Power Station by Goal Zero
Without fail you'll be hosting a gathering and someone in your backyard will need a smartphone charge. Or maybe you have a speaker or pellet cooker that needs to be plugged in away from the house. This 5-pound brick has enough connectivity to charge everyone's devices and run a small appliance, from anywhere in your yard, and you won't have to run extension cords throughout the yard.
Portable Aluminum Picnic Table by Oniva
Don't mistake the Oniva's folding design for flimsy. Each seat holds up to 250 pounds, yet when you fold it all up, it clocks in at less than 25 pounds. Pop it open for a small party or hand it to the kids to set up on their own table—like Thanksgiving, but outside. There's even room for an umbrella in the middle of the 33¾-x-26½-inch top.
Fusion by Everdure by Heston Blumenthal
Set this modern charcoal grill near a power outlet and you'll be rewarded with a fire that starts almost hands-free. A heating element gets charcoal ripping hot and smoking in about eight minutes, then you're off and grilling on almost 240 square inches of cooking surface. A pair of pillars on either side of the grill pop up to spin the included rotisserie set over the coals. It's technology your grandparents used to start a charcoal grill, but sheathed in a sleek design you don't mind looking at.
Giraffe Sprinkler by BigMouth
The brand BigMouth makes the most outlandish sprinklers and floats, and we mean that in the best way possible. They're the epitome of summer: Vibrant, colorful, unexpected, fun. This one is a 9-foot-tall giraffe that connects to a garden hose and has water spraying out of its mouth.
PartyBox 100 by JBL
In your backyard, you're not worried about portability as much, which means big things for your playlist. This 160-watt JBL has a 12-hour battery and connects to your phone through Bluetooth to provide chest thumbing base to any size party — whether that's a few friends on the deck or the whole block on the street. Things get crazier at night with built-in lights and an input for a mic for instant karaoke.
The Joys of Summer by Snake River Farms
It's never been easier to upgrade your backyard cookout with better-than-grocery-store meat. This box of American Wagu beef — tri-tip steaks, ground beef, and hot dogs — just needs to be treated the right way over the fire. Add some salt. Maybe a beer. Grill the beef when the gang comes over, and hold onto the pork chops for yourself.
Pump & Splash Discovery Pond by Step2
This water table blows other water tables, uh, out of the water. It shows kids gravity in action, as they activate the water pump to get the water flowing through the pond. The water flows and pumps through the pond, creating splashes and waterfalls galore. There's even a lazy river. Best of all, it's spacious enough for smaller children to use it as a wading pool.
Zen Tabletop Fire Bowl by Vivaterra
A fire bowl that's both relaxing, and, in a pinch, can be used to make s'mores. This gorgeous one is filled with beach pebbles and uses clean-burning and unscented fuel that burns for three hours. And best of all, when you burn it, you hear the ultra-soothing sound of crackling wood. It can be used indoors or outside.
Modular Outdoor Sofa by Outer
Most outdoor furniture is about function, not comfort or style, and certainly not about quality. That's where Outer is changing things up. The relatively new brand is focused on sustainability, coupled with quality that's made to last years and years. This set is made from sustainably harvested teak wood and can be endlessly rearranged and reconfigured so you're never stuck with one design or layout. The teak is hardy and can be wiped clean. And with Outer, you don't have to worry about buying ugly and ill-fitting covers for your furniture: This set comes with the brand's OuterShell cover to protect your couch and chairs from dirt, bird turds, and mildew. You simply unroll it, and you're good to go.
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