HDYDI: Pack Your Kids for Summer Camp

Because VBS kicked my tail, I’m taking a few days off from blogging. In my absence from the interwebs, enjoy this post from a couple of years ago about packing your kids for summer camp, along with my case for why every kid should go and how to choose the best camp for your child. Our kids will be heading to sleepaway camp later this summer and I know I’ll be re-reading this post! Happy packing.


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.

Pack for Summer Camp

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.

hdydi_summer camp_007

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.

hdydi_summer camp_016

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.

hdydi_summer camp_011

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.

hdydi_summer camp_021

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.

hdydi_summer camp_002

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!

hdydi_summer camp_012

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.

If you’re lucky, your kids will come home looking like this!

camp o, blog_001


  1. Adrie | A Little Wife's Happy Life on June 30, 2014 at 11:42 am

    Yay Camp!! We both live and work at a summer camp- and let me tell you, what an amazingly powerful experience!

    I just thought your readers might enjoy a couple of my summer camp tips (from someone who lives here! ; ) )

    Why Camp Matters:

    How to Help your kid get the most out of camp:

    Summer Camp and Dietary Needs: Tips and tricks for gluten free, dairy free, peanut free campers:

    Camp is so awesome- thank you for making it a priority in the life of your family!

  2. Lauren on June 30, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Wow! Thanks for this. Our oldest is going to an away camp later this summer, and it’s a first for our family. (I read your original post about the importance of camps awhile ago and took it to heart. When it became clear that our oldest was struggling to find good friendships as she moved on to middle school, I remembered your post and thought that this would be a GREAT way for her to make new friends who hold the same values as she does (and we do), a great way to discover the fun and the joy of our Catholic faith, and just great fun! So thanks, truly, for writing that original post and putting the bug in my ear.)

    And I’m so glad to see this post because I don’t heart organizing and this was an eye-opener. It would have been so very stressful to sit down to pack her the night before she left, only to realize it was this extensive. Well, that it involved a special trip to Target, anyway.

    Thanks so much!! Bookmarking this now and heading to the camp’s website (yes, indeed, they have one. You’re right. It would be sketchy if they didn’t) and going to start my list. … And now I feel like I’m on top of the world, because I have 4 weeks to go before camp. I’m never this on top of things. 😉

    • Kathryn on July 1, 2014 at 10:26 am

      Oh I’m so glad to hear it. She will have a blast at camp. Happy packing 😉

  3. Rhonda Ortiz on July 1, 2014 at 7:32 am

    What about candy? 😉 Of course, that’s always susceptible to being eaten by mice. #campissues

    • Kathryn on July 1, 2014 at 10:24 am

      Ha! No candy allowed because of the ants!

  4. Cristina on July 1, 2014 at 8:27 am

    I’ve never packed for camp, been camping, or counseled anyone in the wonderful camp life. After seeing all of this organization, I think I need my kids go to camp. You had me at labels for toiletries and pre-packed ziplock baggies for each day of the week. I think I should just do this and send myself to sleep-away camp!

    • Kathryn on July 1, 2014 at 10:25 am

      It would make life easier I think 🙂 Camp is so awesome.

  5. Hilda on July 3, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Oh, how I miss working at a summer camp! I spent 9 wonderful summers working at a great camp. After I finished law school, my first “grown up job” employer granted me unpaid leave several summers so I could work at the camp instead of in our office. I can hardly wait to send my own kids to summer camp!

  6. […] how to pack your kids for summer camp […]

  7. Melanie on July 29, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    very nice! we go to a family camp each summer. One thing I do differently, I bought each person a mesh lingerie bag to use for toiletries. They zip shut so stuff doesnt fall out, and they have a loop so they can be hung up on bathroom hooks and such.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.