Tips on Packing for Summer Camp

Be prepared to lose everything you send to camp (except your kid).

During a week of summer camp fun, your little camper probably isn’t bothering to keep track of their socks or tidying up their duffel bag. Be prepared to lose anything you send to camp, except your child. 

To avoid losing valuable items or overpacking, it’s essential that parents pack smart. It’s just as important to know what not to pack as it is to pack what’s needed. Children need an extra bathing suit, not a cell phone; a water bottle, not a bottle of aspirin. Here are some tips to help send your child better prepared than the average camper.

The bag

  • Let’s start with the basics — the pack. Big duffel bags work best. They should be big enough to have some extra space after everything is inside because we all know dirty balled up clothes take more room than clean folded ones. Within the duffel bag you can invent your own ways to organize things. Large zip lock bags work well for things like underwear, socks and toiletries. Extra pillow cases could hold shorts and T-shirts. If you want to go the expensive route you can buy nylon stuff sacks in lots of different colors and sizes from camping suppliers. 
  • Trunks or big plastic tubs can also work, unless your camp prohibits them. The advantage is that they hold their shape and keep the things inside from being tossed around. The disadvantage is that they’re hard to move around.

The clothes

  • Every camp clothing list is pretty much the same: shorts, T-shirts, underwear and socks. That’s the easy part. But there are some very important things that often get forgotten. 
  • Bring an extra bathing suit. Many camp’s activities are based around swimming or water. If that bathing suit gets misplaced or your child forgets to let it dry out, they may end up missing out on fun water activities. 
  • When a packing list says 12 pairs of socks, expect to find about four in your child’s bag when he or she comes home, and none will be pairs. For any normal summer camp, cheap low-cut white socks should work fine. 

The flashlight

For kids, flashlights are more of a security blanket than a necessity. Campfires are not much fun when the most commonly heard phrase is “if you turn that flashlight on again I’m taking it away.” It’s part of the camp experience to be outdoors at night. Children are amazed when they turn their flashlights off and can actually see that the moon casts shadows. Any small and cheap flashlight will do the trick. 

Don’t forget toiletries. 

During a week of swimming in a lake, sweating outside and being a kid, campers need a shower. But no one showers every day, not even counselors. Just send enough toiletries for them to get by; hotel-sized or sample bottles are great. Obviously, a longer stay at camp requires more stuff. Make sure to include a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a tiny lotion and deodorant. Put all of this into a lightweight bag that campers can easily carry to the bathroom each night.

Medication and first aid.

  • If your child needs medication, be sure to give it to the camp nurse with instructions on when it is to be given. Inhalers also go to the nurse. Don’t send any medication in the child’s bag, even if it is over-the-counter. If you want to make sure your child gets a particular over-the-counter medication, send it to the nurse. She’ll put your name on it and can administer it to your child if necessary. 
  • Don’t send your child with an entire first aid kit. Camps want to be responsible for properly treating and documenting any injuries. Counselors carry first aid kits and are also never bothered by taking kids to the nurse’s office. Campers are there to have fun, not to play doctor.

Sleeping bags. 

Every family has those old nylon sleeping bags that are great for sleepovers. They’re great at-home fun, but not so great for campers. To say the least, they soak up water like a super sponge and then hold onto it for dear life. 

Bedwetting happens, counselors know it happens and they know how to deal with it. The faster they can dry your child’s sleeping bag, the less of a chance that other campers are going to notice anything different in the cabin. Buy a sleeping bag to fit your child. A child who is 4 feet tall doesn’t need a sleeping bag that can fit a fully grown adult.

Water bottle.

Every camper needs a water bottle. Pull top or sport bottles are the best bet for price and usefulness. Kids don’t usually reach for a glass of water — especially when juice, pop or milk are offered at the mess hall — so keeping water close by for easy hydration is essential.

Follow these tips and send your child to camp with confidence. When you pick your child up from camp, the only thing that will matter is the smile on his or her face. The duffel bag will be a mess, it’s a given. But you’ll also have a child who is begging you to sign up for camp next summer.

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Chicago Parent Editorial Team
Chicago Parent Editorial Team
Since 1984, the Chicago Parent editorial team is trained to be the go-to source for Chicagoland families, offering a rich blend of expert advice, compelling stories, and the top local activities for kids. Renowned for their award-winning content, the team of editors and writers are dedicated to enriching family life by connecting parents with the finest resources and experiences our community has to offer.
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