What to Remember When Packing for Camp

A camp counselor talking wearing a green shirt is talking to a group of children who are wearing life vests at camp.
Photo by kali9/E+/GETTY IMAGES

Every year, the highlights of camp season are different. A new friend made, a new hobby discovered or perhaps a new favorite food. But the hard part of dropping your kids off is always the same. The worry, the rush and, inevitably, the forgotten items.

We spoke to local camp directors to find out what kids need most at sleepaway camp. Here’s what you can expect your child will need for those longer stays, including a checklist to make packing a little less worrying.

Liz Heilbronner, the director of Camp Horizons in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley; Grant Larsen, the director of Camp Wabanna in Edgewater, Maryland; and Lisa Handelman, the director of Capital Camps in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, share here what kids forget the most when packing for camp.

Bedding and Gear

Bug bites aren’t always the first thing to come to mind when packing for summer camp, but with many summer camps having activities near and on the water, or surrounded by nature, maybe it should be. Kids should be sure to pack bug spray and sunscreen to keep their skin safe and healthy so they can focus on having fun.

When it comes to clothing, don’t bring any outfit that can’t be replaced. At camp, kids are active, kids get dirty and sometimes clothing items can get misplaced.

Kids should also bring at least two towels. This is because, if they swim multiple days in a row, their towel may not have had time to dry yet. Another good reason to bring a second towel is because kids may swim in natural bodies of water as well as in a pool.

“Pillows are the No. 1 thing kids forget to bring,” Heilbronner says.

Kids also frequently forget to bring a backpack, toothbrushes and toothpaste. But, according to Heilbronner, the item she relied on most back when she was a camper was a small folding seat she could use to keep herself up off the grass and stay a lot more comfortable.

With all the running around, climbing, jumping and other activities at camp, it’s also easy to get dehydrated. Kids should always bring a reusable water bottle to camp to stay comfortable and safe.

Above all, it’s important to remember that unique camps have unique activities, and parents should always check with the camp about specific gear their child may need. According to Larsen, kids signing up and going to Camp Wabanna have oftentimes forgotten or not known to bring fishing gear.

Comfort Items

“Know that camp is an adventure, and it has ups and downs. It’s possible to be homesick AND have a great time,” Handelman says.

It’s very common for children, especially younger children, to experience some homesickness. This doesn’t mean they won’t have a great time, but there are things you can pack to ease them into this new experience.

Pack a comfortable sweatshirt, a stuffed animal, a picture from home and some paper for them to write letters about their experiences. Even if they don’t mail the letters, it can be comforting to write like they’re talking to their loved one.

Daily Fun

At camp, most of your child’s time will be filled with making friends, staying active, learning and experiencing new things. But, at every camp, there’s also downtime to consider. For the moments between the madness, kids should pack a book to read, a journal to keep track of their experiences and other non-electronic pastimes.

✓Don’t forget! (* These items are among the most forgotten)

Bedding (pillows included!*)
Clothes to get dirty
Bathing suits
Towels
Flashlight
Water bottle
Sunscreen
Toothpaste*
Toothbrush*
Book
Journal
(Optional) Backpack*

About Heather M. Ross

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