If you’re like me, no matter how much you plan, the Wing It factor always comes into play when you go camping with children. Somebody sprouts a new tooth; you forget the salt; nobody sleeps. That's why it's called adventure.
But now there's a book that can help you tame the chaos of smooshing your whole family and a ridiculous mountain of gear into a single tent. You won’t find a more comprehensive how-to on the subject than The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping With Kids. Author Helen Olsson leads you through practically every decision you need to make, from where and when to go to what to bring (less than you think) to what to cook (single best compendium of s’mores recipes ever) and how to keep the kids out of your hair (berry paints! photo safaris!).
At times Olsson, a former editor at Skiing magazine who now writes the Mad Dog Mom blog and is raising three outdoor kids of her own, is so thorough and practical with her advice she almost gives you a complex (I'm supposed to know arts and crafts?!). My husband and I take our two young daughters camping quite often, and our method basically entails writing out a list of menus on a piece of scrap paper, trying to remember to bring said list to the grocery story, laying in a lot of beer in cans (we second Olsson’s endorsement of Santa Fe Brewing Company’s Happy Camper as the perfect backcountry beer), throwing our camping gear into a big pile in the middle of the floor, shoving it into the car, and hoping we haven’t forgotten anything. You could say we have a system, but we’re not exactly systematic.