Summer Camp Packing Tips - What I've Learned After 10 Summers of Packing For Camp

This will be our 10th summer at Camp Newman. When we started, I packed for everyone — now my kids can pack themselves. These are my tips from 10 years of packing for summer camp.

You’re going to forget something, and that’s OK
There will always be something that your kids will forget or wish they packed, but don’t worry — camp is a community, and they will share clothes and shampoo and help each other find what they need... and that’s part of the fun. Don’t overpack, and don’t worry; your kids are learning how friends help take care of each other.

Just like Las Vegas — sometimes what goes to camp, stays at camp
Not everything that goes to camp comes home again. Don’t send anything to camp that you would be heartbroken to lose. If you love it and can’t live without it, leave it at home. And label EVERYTHING you bring with you. 

Label everything
I can’t say this enough. I have seen the inside of a cabin halfway through camp: stuff is everywhere. The kids just throw all their stuff together and shove it under the bunk when they’re in a hurry to clean up. Things fall off the clothesline, towels get left at the pool… I have even seen a sleeping bag in the lost-and-found - if you label it, you are more likely to find it again.

Ziptop bags are the best
In addition to toiletries and stationary, put underwear and socks in separate bags; it makes it easier to find clean socks and underwear when they’re not tossed in with the pile of clothes.

Be prepared for “color wars”
Bring things in red, blue, yellow and green — and not just a t-shirt. Bring lots of things in those colors — shorts, bandanas, headbands. The more you have, the better. And if you don’t use it, you will likely have a friend who will want to borrow it.

Lots of sunscreen
Seriously – lots. I also send a sunscreen stick to make it easier for kids to put sunscreen on their faces. Kids will share, counselors will remind kids to apply and reapply, but I try to make it as easy as possible for my kids to stay slathered in sunscreen.

Regarding your feet
Closed-toe shoes are a great idea. I love my Keen sandals; I'm sure they have saved me from a bloody foot on more than one occasion. Many camps are requiring shoes that have either a closed toe or heel; make sure to read and follow the rules. That said, bring a pair of cheap flip-flops for the pool or shower or for stepping outside to hang up a towel on the clothesline. They’re not an alternative to shoes — they’re an alternative to bare feet.

My kids suggest sending an extra set of pajamas, as one set gets dirty on the overnight. And an extra set of clothes so they have something to wear on laundry day.

Theme events
Pack some crazy accessories. As kids get older their groups have more theme nights and activities. Send hats, costume-type clothes… hit up the thrift store for unusual clothes — especially 80s things. Yes, parents, we are now old enough to be a theme night.

I send a fitted sheet to go on the mattress under the sleeping bag. No particular reason; it’s just a nice little touch of home.

A book
Or two. My kids love to read and sometimes there is downtime when a kid just wants to read. You don’t need to send enough for the summer — here is where the sharing thing comes in again — because kids will pass books around the cabin; my kids have discovered new authors that way.

Pre-addressed and stamped envelopes
If you want your kid to write, make it easy. And then don’t panic when they don’t write — if your kid isn’t writing, it’s because they’re having too much fun with friends to stop and send you a letter.

Don’t send electronics or cell phones

Do not try to sneak in electronics or cell phones. Camp is a chance to unplug. Your kids are well cared for at camp and they are learning independence, and that means not being able to call mom and dad. For kids struggling with homesickness, calling home tends to make it worse and not better. Send your kids letters instead - even if they don’t write back, campers love to receive mail.


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