8 Reasons Every Family Needs “The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping With Kids”


My husband and I camped quite a bit before having kids. But we’ve been a little hesitant to venture back out there since. That’s about to change.

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We’re planning a week-long road trip this summer that will involve quite a bit of camping. And while last weekend’s foray into glamping was nice, we need to step up our game if we’re gonna be ready for the real thing come August.

Advice on camping with kids from friends can be nice, but sometimes you need a little more. Enter “The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping With Kids,” your go-to guide for car camping with kids.

The 256-page book covers everything from planning your trip and gathering your gear to choosing and setting up your camp. There’s advice on what to do once you’re out in the field and some basic first-aid and safety stuff that’s always good to know.

Here are just a few of the reasons I think every family needs a copy:

1. It’s an honest take on camping with kids from a mom whose been there, done that.
When it comes to family camping, author Helen Olsson is anything but a novice. With three kids of her own and many, many camping experiences under her belt, she knows what she’s talking about.

What makes “Camping With Kids” such a fun read is that Olsson is honest and genuine in her advice – sharing her lessons learned from scenarios we can all relate to (and some we hope to never have happen to us). I love her bottom line: “When you’re traveling with kids, you have to go with the Whatever Works approach.” Amen, sister.

2. It’s organized in a read-what-you-need format.
“Camping With Kids” is perfect for those who’ve never camped before. But the read-what-you-need format allows even veteran backpackers to learn a thing or two about camping with kids in tow.

3. Oh, for the love of checklists.
You all know have I love making lists. “Camping With Kids” offers up a ton of packing lists throughout the book, which you can easily tailor to meet your family’s specific needs. (Plus, these lists are grouped together at the back of the book for even easier access.)

4. Can you say a weekend’s worth of recipes?
I’m no gourmet and my idea of camp food is pretty rudimentary. But if you’re a little pickier, Olsson aims to serve, providing a weekend’s worth of camp-ready recipes. My favorite? Six variations on the classic s’more.

5. There’s an entire section devoted to outdoor recreation!
Unlike camping with adults, camping with kids means entertaining said kids 24/7. And while many are content to go hiking, fishing, swimming or simply play in the dirt, others not so much. It never hurts to have some campsite boredom busters on hand.

Dad & The Little Explorer enjoying nature on our recent glamping adventure.

6. The Resources section alone is worth it.
This is the most thorough list of camping resources I’ve seen. It ranges from books (from how-tos to camping-themed picture books, chapter books and beyond) and organizations to stores, products and helpful online resources.

7. There are oodles of Smart Tips sprinkled throughout.
Olsson’s term, not mine. But these tips are pretty helpful, like the one that suggests bringing earplugs – even if you don’t use them at home – or bringing along a portable crib if camping with babies and toddlers (a true lifesaver, people).

8. Comes complete with helpful advice on keeping clean out there.
Wanna keep clean while camping? I don’t bother, but Olsson has some pretty descent advice for those of you who do. She even talks about the dreaded “p” word. Just in case you don’t already know what to do if your kid needs to go #2 while you’re out in nature.

A play tent is one easy way to keep your sleeping tent clean.

If you’re not already sold on picking up your own copy, let me sweeten the deal. I’ve got one to give away! To enter, leave a comment sharing one piece of advice for (or burning question you have about) camping with kids. Good luck!

  • This giveaway will run through midnight PST on Sun., June 10, 2012.
  • You must include an email address with your comment. Entries without an email address will not be included.
  • This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.
  • The winner will be chosen using the nifty random number generator at random.org.
  • Winner will have 24 hours to reply to my notification. If I don’t hear back after that, I’ll pick another winner.

You can read more from Helen Olsson on her blog, Mad Dog Mom.

Note: I received a free copy of “The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping With Kids” in exchange for providing my honest review with you. Read my full disclosure policy for more information.

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  1. says

    Thanks for stopping by, Helen! I've added a mention about your blog to the end of the post, so thanks. (And I'm following now, too.) Thanks for such an amazing resource!

  2. Pediatrics Doctor says

    This book is really a great investment. My best advice is to let your children explore and discover things on their own. We can only be there to guide them and keep them safe. Camping is really a great way of family bonding, right?<br /><br /><br />vistavillagemd2@gmail.com

  3. says

    Thanks for the great review! I hope the book will inspire folks to get their kids out camping. It&#39;s the best way to make lasting childhood memories. Cliched, I know, but true! Your readers might also enjoy my blog: http://www.maddogmom.com. I just posted about Boulder&#39;s Nature Detectives program, which was a super fun way to get the kids out on the trail looking for frogs and dragonflies. Cheers!

  4. CoreyAnn says

    Shucks…trying to enter via phone makes for poor grammar and accidental posting too early. My email is plazmik {at} hotmail.

  5. CoreyAnn says

    We&#39;re gearing up for the Great American Backyard campout and I&#39;m going to definitely be buying this book (that is if I don&#39;t win it). I&#39;m in the hard place of having to be mom &amp; dad to a 4yo girl (as Daddy is a workaholic) who&#39;s trying to instill a love of nature. The issue is having to take a tot camping solo. I&#39;ll admit that our few times last year were rough starts

  6. says

    So glad to hear you&#39;re going to give camping a go. Make sure to leave your email address to complete your entry! 🙂

  7. says

    Have been wanting to take the kids camping the last couple of years and I think we are finally going to go this summer. Now I need to get the prep work done!

  8. says

    We&#39;ve always had a &quot;camping kit&quot;. Its basically big plastic tub with a lid that locks on where we keep camping essentials such as an old skillet, sauce pan, foil, cutting board, plastic plates, old silverware, hand broom, etc. That way we don&#39;t have to constantly repack and re-remember what we need.

  9. elisabeth lind says

    We took our 18 month old camping a bunch last summer and hiking too and she is excited to go again this year! Being we live in Seattle there was definitely one camping trip with rain 😉 my advice with little kids is plenty of warm/cool clothes for varying weather and new coloring books, books and bring easy toys like balls. This year we&#39;re going to get her her very own sleeping bag and that

  10. says

    My tip: have fun! Remember the novelty and excitement of camping as a kid (if you went) or newly-camping adult, and recognize that it is that much of an adventure for your kids. Try not to stress about the little things. Forgot the bowls? Eat oatmeal out of mugs, or pass the pot full around. Left the wire coathangers at home? Find some good, old fashioned sticks for marshmallow/hot dog roasting.

  11. Anonymous says

    This looks like a great read! Our little family loves to camp although we don&#39;t do it enough! Being in Colorado, my tip would be to pack the winter PJs. It gets chilly in the mountains at night, even in the middle of summer. tianapage(at)yahoo(dot)com

  12. says

    We took our 9 month old camping in January. It got really cold. I was glad that while the fire was going I put hot water in 2 thermos… it helped my baby in th emiddle of the night for a hot bottle, and in the morning as well.. no waitin for the stove. <br /><br />We just took him camping again at 13 months for a couple nights. I didn&#39;t bring his portable crib and I wished I had. He was

  13. says

    What great tips, Anasses! Make sure to leave your email address to complete your entry. Thanks! 🙂

  14. says

    My best advice is to not overpack. A few years ago we went camping with our then 1 and 2 year olds. We took everything but the kitchen sink. It was a little overwhelming, and took so long to set up camp that it was a bust, and we haven&#39;t been since. Those kids are now 7.5 and 6, and we also have a 4 year old and an 11 month old. I want to go camping so bad, but I&#39;m TERRIFIED!

  15. says

    We use a white noise mp3 to drown out the campfire chat of grownups after the kids go to bed.<br /><br />Lucia – Use a carabiner to &quot;lock&quot; the tent. You can use it on the outside zippers when the kids are in the tent and you&#39;re not; switch it to the inside zippers when you go to sleep. The older kids may be able to work it, but the little guy/gal probably won&#39;t.

  16. says

    Here&#39;s a burning question, how do I keep my kids from running off in the night? I have 4 kids, ages 6, two that are almost 5 and a 2 year old and my youngest is a notorious escape artist. The plan is to camp this summer at least once or twice but I&#39;m worried about waking up in the am and not finding one of them. thistledewbaby@gmail.com

  17. Anonymous says

    We are Senior Citizens with a very &#39;late&#39; four year old grandson. We haven&#39;t camped in YEARS, but would love to take him into the &quot;forest&quot;… He&#39;s rarin&#39; to go!<br />soozdooz@consolidated.net

  18. says

    I don&#39;t have kids yet but we plan on taking them camping when we do. Here&#39;s some advice I got from one of my recreation professors, &quot;slow down. The goal of camping with kids is not to hike tens miles anymore but to slow down and let them have an adventure. Even if it&#39;s looking at twigs for an hour&quot;. <br />thenavyelephant@hotmail.com

  19. says

    My big piece of advice is to just get out there. Put all of your reservations and fears aside and just do it. Camping with your children can be one of the most liberating things you will ever do as a parent. Make sure to make it a pleasant experience by using good and quality gear. -Corey King &quot;Backcountry Parenting&quot; email: idahoclimber1 &quot;at&quot; gmail &quot;dot&quot; com

  20. Anonymous says

    I camped a lot as a kid. Now I am a grandma and we want to camp with our almost 6 year old granddaughter. We plan to camp in the backyard this summer. But the book could refresh my memory of what to do once we venture out of the backyard. Any ideas where to go in Southern California? Lois524@hotmail.com

  21. says

    I need to get this book! I enjoy camping but I&#39;m nervous to take the kids camping for the first time this summer! We are going to start small and try it in the backyard first!

  22. says

    Perfect timing! I am itching to get out of town. 🙂 Our kids are 5 &amp; 2, and my burning question is how to keep our little explorers safe? The 2-yr-old is notoriously fast, leaps from tall objects for fun, and doesn&#39;t like rules (did I mention he&#39;s 2? 😉 ). It might also be useful for planning camping trips with my students (college = age 16 to 60). This book sounds great – thanks!<br

  23. says

    Looks like a great book!<br />A few tips: 1) Bring some indoor toys (like a coloring book and crayons). You never know when a rain storm will come through and force you into your tent/camper for an hour or two. 2) If you&#39;re just going for an overnight/weekend, just use paper plates and cups. Then you won&#39;t have to pack all the stuff needed to do dishes in the great outdoors. 3) Bring cash

  24. Kirstin says

    This sounds like a totally awesome book, and there are some great tips in the comments. I want to take the kids camping for the first time this summer, so this book would be perfect. treehugger0127@yahoo.com

  25. Jen H says

    Sounds like an awesome book! If i had to offer one tip that has worked for me when camping with the kids, it would be to bring cheap inflatable pool floats – the long rectangular kind – to put under the sleeping bags. They pack small and inflate easily and offer enough comfort for the kids to fall asleep without complaining about the cold/hard/rocky ground. Also, it helps to bring along a

  26. Michelle S says

    This sounds like a great book! We have gone glamping the past years in a cabin with our kids and love it! We have to do somewhere with electricity due to our son&#39;s special needs. Some advise that comes to mind right now, as I am actually packing to go glamping this weekend :), is to bring warm and cold clothes because you never know if the weather forecast will be accurate! We went once with

  27. Hannah says

    oops – my name is Hannah (didn&#39;t mean to post as anonymous…slip of the hand). And my question about camping with kids is how do you deal with everybody being in close quarters when they are used to sleeping in their own rooms???<br />still hfawilliams (at) aol (dot) com

  28. Anonymous says

    Would love a copy – I used to love to go camping, but haven&#39;t been brave enough to try it since having chilren. My son really wants to go camping, so maybe it is time to give it a go!<br />hfawilliams (at) aol (dot) com

  29. says

    When keeping with kids, it is a must that you expect the dirt. They will get wet, muddy, dirty, sticky. Bring plenty of changes of clothes and a line to hang out all the wet stuff!<br /><br />hmc3898 @ gmail .com

  30. says

    I would be thrilled to read this book! Sounds like it&#39;s right up my alley!<br /><br />jksparks@bresnan.net

  31. says

    Start small. We camped in our backyard a few times before moving on to a local camp ground so we could easily escape if needed. Then we did the far-away trip.<br /><br />teresa_winters(at)mac.com

  32. says

    Our big winner when we o camping – mac n&#39; cheese n&#39; tuna n&#39; peas. A box of velveta shells and cheese, a can of tuna, and a can of peas. Boil a pot of water and you&#39;ve got a complete dinner. Super simple for camping and a hit with everyone. TracyVH@gmail.com

  33. says

    Want to take the boys on their first real camping trip this summer, so I need all the advice I can get! Definetely wont forget to take the bug house, as they love catching insects! Thanks for the chance to win! Beachluvr@comcast.net

  34. Katie says

    Hi Debi, <br /><br />This sounds great! We are going to make our first attempt at family camping this summer! We&#39;ve been camping plenty of times before the little ones came along, but this will be MUCH different. My piece of advice for camping with kids, is to set up distinct areas for sleeping, cooking, cleaning, and campfiring. It will help keep things more organized for everyone! <br /

  35. says

    Hi Debi! What fun! I&#39;d love to get a copy for Family Adventures in Nature. in light of the task at hand, one tip I&#39;ll share is: to go camping with another family or more with kids! It is the single most tried and true way to have your kids enjoy the experience! :)<br /><br />That said, camping with just our family and our own kids is also wonderful, so my tip for this type of

  36. says

    I&#39;d love a copy! Tip: Bring a battery operated monitor so you can sit worry-free by the campfire at your friends&#39; campsite next to yours, drink a beer and laugh loudly not worrying about waking up the kids! Then run like mad if they wake up, of course! 🙂 courtneyoftaylor@gmail.com

  37. says

    Great book review! Hope to get my hands on this one. My advice??? Hmmm…when we went camping with our preschooler it was at a place with other campers all next to one another. Not out in the wilderness. So, he wasn&#39;t as &quot;free&quot; to &quot;tinkle&quot; at the camp site as he was when we camp at home. Even though he had been potty trained a while, we pulled the portable potty out of

  38. Anonymous says

    Great camping tip with kids. Pack all their old ratty underwear and socks! Once they wear them you burn them in the campfire! Kids think its cool and Mom&#39;s have less laundry to handle on the road or when you get home!<br /><br />Karen – ACNMGK22@yahoo.com

  39. says

    I need food and activity ideas. We get to the camp site and all they want to do is go to the playground on the other side. This book looks like it has great ideas. Thanks for the giveaway!

  40. Amanda Nash says

    Sounds like a big help for a camping trip. My husband and I have been camping a couple of times and seem to everything but the kitchen sink. I am not sure how to go about adding stuff for our daughter into the mix. Also not sure what all I should take to keep her entertained and clean and safe (i.e. bugs, snakes, first aid) without having to haul a trailer. Amanda – anash@hlkn.tamu.edu

  41. says

    It sounds like a great book. We have a few camping trips planned this summmer. So far all our camping has been just me with the kids… I can use all the tips I can get!<br />dawnsuzette (at) gmail (dot) com