Read This Before Sending Your Kid to Camp

Read This Before Sending Your Kid to Camp


Going to summer camp can be an exciting prospect for kids who are eager to explore the great outdoors and make lifelong friends. Unfortunately, getting ready for sleepaway camp can tend to be less fun (read: stressful as hell) for parents who are in charge of handling the ever-so-important summer camp packing list.

But packing doesn’t have to be a daunting chore. Ahead, we’ve listed some of our top tips and a list of summer camp essentials to help make your summer camp prep a breeze.

Things to remember

The earlier you begin packing, the less stressed out you’re going to be — but first, you need a game plan Before you rummage through your kiddos’ closets, check with the camp about their policies. Chances are, they will have a list of items that they supply for each camper. Additionally, they may provide a list of recommended or prohibited items that you should consult before stocking up.

You should also consider how long your kid will be at camp to determine the amount of clothing and toiletries she’ll need. The camp should also be able to tell you if and how often laundry services are provided, as well as its policy on mail and summer camp care packages (not all camps permit gifted goods, which could be bad news if you forgot that one toy your child absolutely needs to fall asleep).

Feel free also to include your campers as you pack. Having their help will likely make them more involved and independent, as well as allow you to prepare your kids for summer camp and answer any questions they may have.

Camp packing list

Here are a few items you’ll want to pack, whether your kiddo is going to a camp nearby or one of the many unique summer camps across the country.


Let’s face it: Your kid probably isn’t as organized as you are, and if you want to ensure they’ll come home with all of their socks, underwear, and gadgets, you’re going to want to label everything. These sleepaway camp labels from Mabel’s Labels are fantastic because they’re waterproof and safe in both the laundry and dishwasher. Plus, they’ll send you 114 customizable labels with each purchase, meaning you can pack some extras.

Sleepaway camp label pack, $39.95 at Mabel’s Labels


Makeshift knapsacks are cute, but they’ve got nothing on the modern daypack. Look for a lightweight daypack that has plenty of storage for things like snacks, chapstick, water, and a lightweight jacket. This option from Osprey is especially great because it comes with a hydration pack so your kid won’t forget to drink his H20 on the go.

Osprey HydraJet 15, $69.95 at Amazon

Toiletry bag

You’re going to want to send your camper off with all of the essentials, including a toothbrush, toothpaste, sunscreen, shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. Make sure all of these items are easily accessible with a quality toiletry bag. A hanging option, like this one from Wayfarer Supply Co., is excellent because kids can hang it in the shower or off the side of their bunks as they get ready.

Wayfarer Supply Co. hanging toiletry bag, $15.99 at Amazon

Hiking shoes

Summer camp is rife with outdoor activities, like hiking and recreational sports, and they’ll need a shoe that’s durable enough to tackle it all. Look for kicks that aren’t too heavy and have solid traction on the soles, like this breathable option from Merrell.

Merrell Trail Chaser hiking shoe, from $34.95 at Amazon

Lightweight jacket

Don’t let unpredictable summer weather prevent your kid from having a good time. Make sure to pack plenty of layers, starting with a lightweight jacket. We like this one from Columbia because it’s also waterproof — perfect for summer showers, supervised hangouts by the lake, or whatever messes go down in the dining hall.

Columbia Switchback rain jacket, from $24.95 at Amazon

Swim goggles

Whether they’re taking a dip in the pool or in a lake, you’ll want to make sure your campers’ eyes are protected with a pair of swimming goggles. This pair from Speedo has UV-protected lenses and an anti-fog coating so kids can focus on what matters most: having fun.

Speedo Junior Hydrospex goggles, $16.99 at Amazon


Not getting to talk to your kid about every day about their summer camp adventures can be tough, especially if he’s gone for a month or longer. Encourage your camper to stay in touch by providing him with a stationery set he can use to write weekly updates. Don’t forget to stamp the envelopes!

Adventures at Camp stationery set, $14.95 at Paper Source


Sunscreen is a must for campers, and while you may not be on hand to apply it, you can sure as heck make sure your kid has at least one bottle in her bag. There are dozens of options on the market, so do your research to ensure you’re picking the right sunscreen for your child’s skin type.

Thinkbaby sunscreen SPF 50+, $12.99 at Amazon

Shower flip flops

The only thing grosser than a stinky camper is a germ-ridden shower floor. Protect your kid’s feet with a pair of inexpensive flip-flops they can wear to, from, and in the shower — because nobody wants this little piggy to end up in the nurse’s office.

Rainbow-printed flip-flops, $3 (was $4.99) at Old Navy

Here are some other summer camp essentials you’ll want to pack:

  • Bandana/scarf
  • Hat
  • Glasses/contacts and cleaning solution
  • Prescription medication
  • Sunglasses
  • Dress clothes and coordinating belts and shoes
  • Jeans
  • Rain gear or umbrella
  • Shorts
  • Sweatshirt
  • Swimsuit
  • Swim shirt with UV protection
  • T-shirts
  • Tank tops
  • Underwear
  • Sweatpants or warm-up pants
  • Pajamas
  • Cotton bathrobe
  • Bras
  • Athletic support (jock strap)
  • Boots
  • Cleats
  • Shoes, plus a spare pair
  • Socks
  • Bedding — check with your camp checklist for what, if any, to bring for bedding
  • Hand towels
  • Beach towels — can be used for bath or swimming
  • Shower caddy
  • Comb or brush
  • Deodorant
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Bug repellant
  • Lip balm
  • Nail clippers
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Shaving cream and razors
  • Soap in carrier
  • Tissues
  • Toothbrush, toothbrush container, and toothpaste
  • Camera
  • Flashlight and spare batteries
  • Laundry bag
  • Reusable water bottle or canteen
  • Spending money (but check with your camp for policies)
  • Comforts of home, like a family photo or a stuffed animal
  • Entertainment, like books and deck of cards

A version of this article was originally published in May 2011.

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