5 Essential Summer Camp Packing Tips Every Parent Should Know

Your camp forms are filled out and you know where the bus drop-off point is. Now it’s time for the final step in getting your camper ready for camp – packing!

I’ve spent years observing what and how campers pack for camp. I’ve seen many kids arrive with too much stuff.  Some don’t know what their own towel looks like, and others struggle to find something they need (like their bathing suit), so I thought I’d share 5 essential camp packing tips acquired from my three decades as both a camp director and camp parent!

#1 Print out and use the packing list your camp provides!

This seems like obvious advice, but it’s fundamental to your packing success. Your camp has specific activities and requirements and has spent time carefully creating a list of appropriate and necessary items for your camper’s comfort. If the list is online, print it and use it as a checklist as you get items laid out for camp. If your camp mailed a paper list, make an extra copy in case the original gets misplaced.

Please look at the list early to see if there is anything you need to order ahead of time. Check out what the camp says about weather and what special items might be needed, such as outdoor sleeping bags rated to a specific temperature. You will get your camper off to a great start by making sure they have everything they need. The list may also include items NOT to bring to camp.  Read that part, too, and make sure your camper doesn’t pack any banned items. At our camp, that list includes things like cell phones and other electronics.

#2 Have your camper do most of the work.

When your camper is away, you won’t be there to help locate towels, socks, or flip flops. It’s important for kids to feel empowered and responsible for their own belongings before they leave for camp, because learning to keep track of their stuff is a way kids grow from their camp experience. So, whether it’s laying out items on the packing list, labeling things, or packing a trunk, let your camper lead the way. Even young kids enjoy counting out their six pairs of socks! For younger kids (under age 10), use a teamwork approach to packing. For older kids, just provide some oversight, like making sure they don’t pack a dry-clean-only shirt!


On behalf of all camp staff in America, I plead with you to make sure everything your camper brings is labeled. The lost and found table is often overflowing with unlabeled items many campers walk past without recognizing. Labeled items have a much better chance of making it home. You can use a Sharpie permanent marker and have your camper help label things with at least a first name and last initial, OR you can order stick-on labels that make it easy to delegate this task to your child completely. I’ve used these labels in the past and found them easy and very useful.

You may think, “Do I really need to label a toothbrush?” The answer, always, is “Yes.” That toothbrush, if left on the bathroom counter, can only make it back to your camper’s teeth if their name is on it.

#4 Keep same items together.

At some camps, campers live out of their luggage (suitcase, footlocker, duffel bag, or backpack). It’s difficult to keep a suitcase or duffel bag organized, so use large ziplocks or organizers to keep smaller items together (underwear, socks). Make sure camper knows where to find the different items. You might have your camper draw a quick map to show where smaller items are packed, especially if you use any side or smaller pockets. 

#5 Include some extras.

Your camp’s packing list may or may not include some optional, extra items that many kids enjoy:
• A comfort item to sleep with (stuffed animal, special blanket, etc.)
• A small photo album with pictures of your family, the family pet, etc. This is fun for campers to share with their counselors and new friends.
• Letter writing materials: Postcards or envelopes (already pre-addressed and stamped!) make it easy for your camper to write letters home, which you will REALLY want to get while your camper is away.
• Journal (if your camper is the writing type)
• Book to read: Many camps don’t allow electronics or e-readers, and even if they do, there may be no power source to charge the device. “Real” books made of paper are best for camp.
• An encouraging note to your camper can brighten their day.  Tell them how excited you are that they get to have a camp adventure, and write “I can’t wait to hear about all the new friends you’ve made and fun things you’re doing!” Place it somewhere deep within the luggage so that they’ll come across it a few days into their camp stay.

There you have it. Just a few camp packing tips to help make your camp preparations go smoothly. Do you have other tips from your camp packing experiences? I’d love to hear them. Please comment, so that I can include even more camp packing ideas in future posts!

Want more helpful information about summer camp?

5 Fun Ideas for Letters to Campers

What’s the Best Age for Camp?

Ep. 32: Benefits of Summer Camp for Teens

10 Messages for a Homesick Camper

10 Reasons GREAT Parents Choose Summer Camp for Their Kids

10 Surprising Things Kids Learn at Summer Camp

Happy Campers Book

In Happy Campers, Audrey shares what she’s learned from three decades of creating a culture where kids become happier while gaining important social and emotional skills. The book is based on her thousands of interactions with campers, camp counselors, and parents, her academic research in positive psychology, and interviews with camp directors from across the country.

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