Photo courtesy of Aloha Camp - Fairlee, VT

7 Packing Pointers for Summer Camp

Camps have systems in place for helping campers care for and keep track of their belongings while at camp. Here are seven packing pointers that will set your camper up for success while away from home.

 1.    Camps almost always provide a packing list. Follow it. To the letter.

Each camp develops specific packing advice based on their typical weather, unique program activities, session length, and the direct experiences of children and adults in previous summers. They know what clothing, gear and personal equipment your camper will need and in what quantity. Camps often provide a list of
what not to bring also. Follow that too. If the camp stipulates what to pack in—whether it be a backpack, duffel, trunk (hard- or soft-sided), or other type of bag—don’t pack in something else. What families of new campers might not realize is how each item on a packing list is well-thought out, especially in terms of specs and quantities. Follow the advice of the folks who will help your camper manage all this stuff! “More” is not better; in fact, too much stuff creates problems for campers—carrying stuff, storing stuff, tracking stuff, and keeping stuff in their assigned space, to name a few.

2.    Put a label on it!

If you want the item to stay with your camper and to see it again at home, label it! Label makers can revolutionize camp packing. Labels have come a long way! Iron-on, no-iron, stick-on, and sew-on to name a few. Various types of custom clothing tags are out there. But, remember, you don’t need to buy labels; Sharpie permanent markers work on clothing and most other surfaces. Some camps may have suggestions or requirements about labels, especially if items will go into the camp laundry. You’d be amazed at how similar campers’ belongings can look when everyone’s using the same packing list; when items are labeled, there’s no question about the owner! You can drastically increase the chances of an item’s return home if you label it.

3.    Your camper should do as much of the packing as possible (with adult oversight).

Don’t make the mistake of doing all the packing for the child.  It’s tempting. It’s easier for you. But in the long run, it won’t be easier for your camper. Campers struggle when they have no knowledge of what supplies and equipment they have with them or where to find them. Imagine not being able to locate your towel when the group goes swimming or your flashlight when darkness falls! The items in the day camp backpack or the overnight camp duffle might not be found or used if the camper doesn’t help pack them.
Campers of all ages are capable of some packing! Parents/guardians are the best judge of how to partner with a particular child in the packing process.

4.    Getting ready for camp means packing more than a duffel.

Feelings of homesickness are completely normal and camps are ready to help campers who experience it. But you can take steps to minimize homesickness before camp and during the packing process.

  • Practice sleeping away from home.  Visit friends and/or relatives for progressively longer periods of time—first one night, then two or three nights. Having a recent memory of a successful time away from home can help a child get through the first few days of camp!
  • Discuss what will happen if homesickness hits at camp. Plan how your family will support their ability to overcome homesickness and thrive at camp. Assure the camper that the camp will help with this.
  • Consider packing something to remind the camper of home—a favorite photo or stuffed toy.  Remind campers that they always have their memories of home and loved ones with them at all times.
  • Pre-address and send mail to camp in advance of opening day or bring a couple of letters to drop off when you deliver your child.  Encourage campers to write a couple of words of encouragement to themselves. Follow the camp’s communication policies and be positive in your letters. Bad news and sad news are tough to read at camp. Consult the camp if you must share bad news with your camper.
5.    Don’t pack a cell phone (unless the camp expressly tells you it’s okay to do so).

Speaking of communication, camps spend a lot of time thinking through camper communication policies and training their staff on them. Your camper might be able to bring a cell phone that is kept locked at the office and which can be used under certain conditions. It’s best if campers don’t try to sneak one in to a camp where cell phones are not welcome. Contraband phones cause group problems and often sustain irreparable damage from the rigors of cabin life. More often than not, they’re discovered and confiscated. Camp presents many opportunities to unplug and interact in person with other children and adults. Most campers learn a lot from their time in a no cell phone zone!

6.    Pack letter writing supplies. And do follow the camp’s suggested communication practices.

Write postcards and letters and mail them a few days before your child’s first day of camp. If you want a letter back, make sure your camper has postage, writing implements, and paper or postcards. Pre-printed address labels for family and friends will also help make letter writing easy. Perhaps your camp allows other forms of communication such as emails or faxes. If they don’t take comfort in the fact that your camper will be reading and writing of letters while away! If you don’t receive letters, don’t worry. Your camper is probably too busy to write!

7.    Pack the list!

As you pack, create a list of everything that is contained in the trunk, duffel or bag. Your camper will be able to use this packing list when prepping to return home. And, you’ll be able to use it again at home to determine what, if anything, is missing.

Your focus on being prepared for camp will benefit your camper! (S)he will have what's needed while at camp, whether that is a flashlight, a camp t-shirt, a teddy bear or a few words from you in a card or note that was packed with all the camp gear and clothing.