HDYDI: Pack for Summer Camp

Raise a flashlight if you’ve been to summer camp.

Raise something alcoholic if you’ve ever packed your child for one.

This summer, I packed both my boys for a one-week, “away from home” sports camp. Talk about an educational experience. I’ve been a camper, a counselor and now a parent to a camper. With that in mind, I have a few tips to share on the must have’s and the must leave at home. On Wednesday, I’ll share why I think every kid should experience camp. It should be a great top ten.

Is your son or daughter headed to summer camp? Raise a flashlight! This has packing tips for your teenager or elementary-aged child. These easy ideas are sure to keep your sanity intact and your child ready for an awesome summer!

1. If the camp has a website (and it should, y’all), take some time to familiarize yourself with it. Pay particular attention to the “suggested packing list.” These people have done this before. Trust them. Better yet, ask a friend who’s been before for any packing advice.

2. Buy yourself a hard plastic footlocker instead of a metal one. You can get them at any sports supply place – Dick’s, Academy, even Wal-Mart. Why plastic? If you are the mom of a boy, the answer is simple. Powerwash. Yes, you will want to completely dip that thing in a bleach bath when it comes back to you. Metal and wood? Eww. Not to mention, the plastic is much lighter to carry.

3. I suggest laying out all those clothes/items in piles so you can get a sense of what you have, what needs to be packed and what should just stay home.

4. After you lay out the piles, put each day’s outfits in a separate plastic bag. Make it easy for ’em: underwear, socks, shorts, t-shirt. {Caution: do not assume they know they need to change clothes everyday. They won’t.} I labeled them with the day and had a separate bag for “special event” nights, as well. The bonus is even if your child wears the same outfit all week, you don’t have to wash all 8,000 other clothes in the footlocker because they stayed clean in those bags! Win-win.

5. Label, label, label. Well, label the things you care about getting back. I didn’t bother with undergarments and socks. If you lose those, no big shake. I did label the sheets, towels, shoes, sleeping bag, water bottle, swimsuit, t-shirts/shorts they loved and the toiletries.

6. Now, I only labeled the toiletries so they weren’t brushing their teeth wish someone else’s toothbrush! Then, I put all those toiletries into a caddy, purchased from Target, so they could cart it to and from the bathroom. Don’t be surprised if the shampoo and soap come back unused. Hey, we try. Consider buying the caddy and towels in August, when they go on sale, for next year.

7. Consider instituting a color for your child. My oldest loves green and his brother is a fan of blue. So, the sheets, the sleeping bag, toothbrush holder and the labels I made for the trunk were all in the corresponding color. It just makes it easier, I think. I also found some great velcro luggage tags (less than $1 for 3), in blue and green, from the Container Store that I attached to their footlocker, sleeping bag and duffle bag. It made luggage identification at pickup quicker and easier.

8. Print out a packing list and affix it to the top of the trunk. This was for both me and my boys. Me, because I kept track of exactly what I packed, and them as a checklist when they were packing it all back up. My oldest confessed that he forgot half his toiletries until he read the list. Granted, he’s the first-born, a rule follower. But, it doesn’t hurt. I ended up laminating it, too. Here’s a link to the camp tag, packing_generic.

9. Send them with pre-addressed stamped envelopes. For a week camp, I sent them with two in hopes that I *might* get one back. And I did! The camp did offer an email service, but I’m a pen and paper kind of gal. The handwritten note never goes out of style. Plus, it gave me a snapshot in time of their handwriting, which I love to see. On the flip side, I made sure to purchase some cards and I sent them a few during camp. I think we were all happy to go to the mailbox that week!

10. These are the things we left at home:
> Blankets/stuffed animals:  granted the boys don’t sleep with these every night, but I knew there would be crying if they got lost
> Money:  they had a camper account, with a set amount; they learned to budget for the things they really wanted
> Nice clothes:  we bought cheap athletic shorts and they took t-shirts they knew might be ruined, the Sunday best we left at home
> Electronics:  the camp has a policy that none be brought and we agreed!
> Camera:  the camp employs several photographers to shoot pictures of camp so we opted to purchase those and then take pictures ourselves the first and last days of camp, it was one less thing for our boys to keep tabs

11. Lower your expectations. It is summer camp, after all. I tried hard to include all the things I knew they needed, along with a few extras. There’s nothing worse than going on a trip only to realize you’ve left an important item at home. In reality, though, the boys learned to adapt and live life without mom around. They survived and even thrived in their new environment. It was wonderful to see their faces and meet their new friends on the last day of camp. I look forward to many more summers full of wakeboarding, fishing, blobbing and making memories.


  1. Molly on August 13, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Great ideas, Kathryn. Lucas is heading to All Sports Camp next summer! Granted, it’s down the street at the College, but these handy ideas will make mom stay away from the fun to be had. He’s counting down the days…around 310 😉

    • Wendy Ford on March 27, 2022 at 8:05 pm

      Do you have a link or dimensions for the footlocker?

  2. Beth Anne on August 13, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    I have I mean I used to have a special stuffed animal I used for when I would go away so I didn’t care if it got ruined/lost.

    One thing we used to do was get cheap throwaway camera’s so if they did get lost it wasn’t a big deal and if it didn’t we had some pictures. But I think boys and girls are a little different when it comes to pictures haha

    Great post! The ziploc bag thing is a GREAT IDEA! I spent many summers going to day camps and overnight camps. Fun memories!

    • Kathryn on August 13, 2012 at 10:43 pm

      Just picking them up and hearing all the songs brought back awesome memories. Great idea on the camera!

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  4. Melanie on August 21, 2012 at 8:46 am

    You are a better mom than me… I threw stuff in the suitcase= no labels= and pushed them out of the moving car…kidding folks, just kidding. Well, not about the no labels part.

  5. Jen on September 11, 2012 at 12:58 am

    These are such incredible ideas! I haven’t had to pack my kiddos up for camp yet, but I know the time is near, I will absolutely be coming back to this post. I especially love the idea of a pre-stamped/address envelope. Such a smart mama!


    • Kathryn on September 11, 2012 at 2:01 pm

      That golden nugget was from another mom who’s been at the camping gig for a while. Imitation is flattery, right?!

    • Laurie on July 21, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      You should also put your stationery and stamps in a ziploc bag. Nothing like humidity to seal your envelopes shut and stick your stamps to the wrong place.

      • Kathryn on July 21, 2014 at 9:13 pm

        Definitely, I forgot to mention that.

  6. Ines on June 11, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    I’m so glad I found this post! My son is going to his very first Soccer Camp (he’s 8 and only for a week), and I didn’t know where to start. Thank you! Do you have the packing list format? I love it!

    • Kathryn on June 11, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      check your inbox – there’s a goodie awaiting you!

      • Krissy on April 1, 2014 at 11:51 am

        I would love a copy of your packing list format also – that is so neat and organized! Is that possible?

  7. Tia on July 11, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Just discovered this list after doing a search, and I absolutely love your ideas! I’m going to “borrow” some of them for my daughter, who will be going to camp for the first time in a few weeks.

    May I also ask for a copy of your packing list? Both my daughter and I would find it so helpful! Thanks in advance. 🙂

  8. kim on August 3, 2013 at 11:03 am

    I found this link on Pinterest while looking for sleep away camp lists. I love the Ziploc idea and caddy. My 9 year old is going to Scout camp and I got lots of great tips from you to pack him more confidentially. Thanks so much!

  9. Deborah on August 10, 2013 at 12:04 am

    dont forget an empty garbage bag for them to put the dirty clothes into! and extra flashlight batteries….my kid usually gives them to someone else who got sent to camp with 1/2 dead batteries…

    • Kathryn on August 10, 2013 at 7:20 am

      Great addition to the list! We use a reusable, washable bag and it is great that the dirty is separated from the clean.

      • Lara on July 24, 2015 at 3:02 pm

        I made my two children each a reusable laundry bag when they were babies, with their names on them, so whenever we go away they have their own.

        • Kathryn on July 26, 2015 at 6:40 pm

          So smart!

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  11. Laurie on July 21, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    For those kids used to a nightlight, glowsticks are awesome! Also a great way to make friends fast.

    • Kathryn on July 21, 2014 at 9:13 pm

      That’s brilliant!

  12. Emma Murphy on February 1, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    I am going to summer camp myself this summer. I am a kid trying to be prepared and I love your packing list! Could You send me a copy? That would definitely make pack up a lot easier and would help ensure I don’t leave anything behind!

    • Kathryn on February 2, 2015 at 9:47 pm

      Emma, I don’t have a generic list, but you should be able to pull up the photo and make your own. Have a great time at camp!

  13. Marjorie on June 2, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    I mail a care package box so that it arrives about mid week. I filled it with silly things that my 14 year old wouldn’t normally enjoy, but with a bunch of other guys – lots of fun! Think dollar store stuff.
    Great suggestions!

    • Kathryn on June 4, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      What a great addition, Marjorie!

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  16. janette ross on May 16, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    Great ideas! I am a little overwhelmed at the moment with the packing list and how to organize all of her things not to mention that she has to wear white t’s and khaki shorts. If I can get her to change out of the dirty things and put them back into their empty bag that will be amazing!

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