How To: Pack Your Kid For Summer Camp

How To Pack for Camp

It's summer time and some of you might be getting your kid ready to go to summer camp. A little-known fact about me: before working with renovations and real estate, I worked at a summer camp ... for over a decade! Random right? This summer my eight-year old is going to that same camp, and I'm excitedly getting him ready. As I was packing I thought I'd share some tips I use to pack up my kiddo, based on my experiences working at camp.         


1. Buy a sturdy footlocker trunk

Trunks will get opened, closed, pulled, pushed, sat on, and lived out of daily. The trunk needs to be sturdy. Make sure you call the camp to see the recommended size. The camp my son is going to has a requiredment that trunks fit under a bunk and be no more than 15.5" tall. We got ours at Amazon, but I always thought these trunks were the best.

How to Pack for Camp

2. Label Everything

Lost and found at a camp is beastly. Believe me, I once had the job of sorting it. If your things are labeled well then they'll easily get back to your kid. Label clothing, shoes, water bottles, laundry bags, bedding, socks ... basically everything that goes to camp. I use Sharpies for labeling. You can actually buy iron-on or no-iron labels for your clothing too.

Tip: If your kids pass clothes down to siblings then only put your last name on the label so it's not confusing next year when your kid's sibling packs the passed down shirt.

How to Pack for Camp

3. Pack what they need least at the bottom.

For example, I always suggest packing your kid a sweatshirt and pants. Since he or she probably won't need it, it's at the bottom.


How to pack for Camp



How To Pack for Camp


4. Pack fun costumes

Our camp tells us what types of parties the kids will have. I always pack their costumes at the bottom of the trunk because they'll only need them once. 

Cool Mom Tip: Pack your kiddo glow sticks for the entire cabin. It's such a fun thing for camp, and will totally help them make friends. Face paint is a winner too.

How to pack for camp

5. Put their underwear and socks in a tub

Socks and underwear are a daily (or multiple times a day) thing, but if not contained, will fall into different places of the trunk. Your kiddo will dig for them and any semblance of order in the trunk will be destroyed. The chances of them making it neat again ... yeah, pretty low. To set them up for success, place them in a tub.

How to Pack for Camp

6. Pack their clothing in separate stacks

Some moms pack outfits together in bags. This is a great idea, but the reality is that camp means independence. If your kids want to wear a specfic shirt, then they'll just tear apart those cute outfits you've chosen, and make a mess. Separate stacks help them look for their clothing more easily.

Don't Do: Don't pack your kids' clothes in vacuum storage bags to get more stuff to fit. More than likely there will not be a vacuum for your kids to use when packing to come home ... which will be a problem.

How To Pack for Camp

7. Pack toiletries in a shower caddy or tub

First of all, a caddy helps prevent explosive disasters inside your trunk. Also, more than likely, your kiddo will take the caddy out of their trunk and put it in a bathroom cubbie. 

Tip: Don't forget to pack your kid a couple cans of sunscreen and bug spray.


How to Pack for Camp



How to Pack for Camp


8. Pack only a few very good shoes

In my experience, the only shoes you need for camp are two pairs of good tennis shoes and a really good pair of water shoes (must have a strap on the back). Flip flops don't count. The tennis shoes are self explanitory, but most people get the water shoes wrong. Kids will play in the lake and "bad water shoes" get lost. This means your kids might not be able to get in the lake anymore.

Flip flops and crocs will get lost. I have had to call parents countless times to get them to send more. Chacos [left photo] are my absolute favorite because they last forever and can be passed down to siblings. Water shoes like these from Target will work too because they tighten and have a strap.

Packing Tip: Pack your shoes on top of the clothes because your kid will more than likely store their shoes in a cubby. This way they can remove them without digging through their clothes.

How To pack your Kid for camp

9.  Pack fun activity supplies in pouches

Camps usually have a rest period or cabin time. Some good things to pack are cards, string to make bracelets, coloring and writing utensils, and paper. Pouches keep it all collected and organized. I always leave one of the pouches mostly empty for things they will collect during their stay; letters, rocks, and small crafts. I tuck these pouches into the front of the trunk.

Tip: don't pack crayons because in the hot weather they might melt. Sharpened colored pencils work best.

How to Pack for Camp


How to Pack for Camp


10. Pack letter writing supplies in a container

I pack my son's letter supplies in a two sided storage clipboard. On one side I put a journal, paper, pens, stamps and pre-addressed envelopes. For older kids you can pack an address list.

On the other side I put my son's hobby stuff. My son is into origami and drawing so this year his trunk if filled with those books. The closed clipboard gives him a place to draw or write.

Don't Pack Food: There are exceptions, but more than likely it will get thrown away. These days, with all the food allergies out there, over night camps are not allowing food into the cabins. It is safer for them to provide the snacks for your kids.

How to Pack for Camp

11. Pack more than one swimsuit

Your kiddo will be swimming a ton and packing two will give one swimsuit a chance to dry out. Pack it towards the top because (hopefully) it'll be one of the first things to get used on arrival.

How To Pack for Camp

12. Pack cheap flip flops for shower shoes

This is important so your kiddo doesn't get athlete's foot or other creepy crawlies.

How To Pack for Camp

13. Pack a labeled laundry bag

Pack the laundry bag at the top so your kid can get it out the first day and hang it on the side of his bunk. My son's camp does his laundry once during the week, so the laundry bag is important. Even if your camp doesn't provide this service, it will help keep the dirty clothes away from the clean stuff. At the end, he or she can repack the trunk with all the dirties. Have fun opening that trunk!

How to Pack for Camp

13. Pack towels and sheet set at the top of the trunk

The first hour of camp usually consists of getting settled into the cabin. The kids will make their bed and put their towels away in a cubby.

A fun thing for your kiddo to do is choose pictures from home to hang up on the inside of the trunk. Leave some room and pack some washi tape for all those letters you send, or crafts they will create.

Tip: Pack a water bottle for your kiddo and make sure your kid stays hydrated the week before camp. My advice would be to cut back on soda the week before. I have seen many a kid faint on the first day because their body was not hydrated as they were adjusting to being outside more than being in air conditioning.

14. Pack a comforter, blankets, a sleeping bag and extra bedding in a duffle

I always pack one twin sized comforter, a blanket (not pictured), a roll-up sleeping bag, and an extra set of sheets for my kiddo in a labeled, medium-large sized duffle. 

For older kids it's nice to have clean sheets if the stay will be more than a week. For younger kids it's always good to have a pair ready just in case of accidents. I always pack two idential sheet sets, so just in case accidents happen, no other camper has to know about it.

In the summer there's no need to pack a sub zero sleeping bag. This Coleman warm weather sleeping bag from Amazon [middle photo] is perfect for summer camp. 

Tip: If your camp has an overnight camping trip on the schedule, don't plan for the sleeping bag to be the bunk bedding. The sleeping bag will get gross and it will be nice for your kid to come back to different bedding in his/her cabin. If you do, however, use the sleeping bag as bedding have your little kiddo unzip it and use it like a blanket. Sleeping bags in bunk beds can be dangerous becuase they can't get their feet out if they fall. 

15.  Dont forget ....

A hat ... I always pack a hat in the duffle.

A stuffed animal ... if your kid wants a stuffed animal then maybe convince him or her to pack one that they are okay with losing. Their favorite one needs to stay home. 

A good book ... is one of the best things to have at camp. 

Tip: I usually pack medication in the side pocket of a duffle so is easy to get to if a counselor or you needs to take it to the nurses station. Or, it is easy to get to if you camper needs it. Your camp will probably have instructions about medication so make sure you ask.

What about the pillow?

Pack for Camp

Attach it to your duffle bag by the straps and you're ready to go!

Final Tips:

  • Life Jacket: Call your camp and ask if they provide these. Our camp does for non-swimmers. We also don't pack one because the rule in our family is you can't go unless you are a confident swimmer.
  • Rain jackets are always a good thing to pack at the bottom of the trunk.
  • When I was confident my kiddo was ready for overnight camp, one of my favorite books to prepare me, as the parent, was a book called Homesick and Happy By Micheal Thompson. It is helping my nervous mama heart as we speak.
How to Pack Your Kid for Camp
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Is your kid going to summer camp? Please share any tips you have too. This mama is sending her kiddo this week ... cue the tears.


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