packing suitcase camp

packing suitcase campBy Cathy Ashby

For many families, packing for summer camp is much like the annual to-do surrounding the choosing and buying of school supplies. The kids spend hours laboring over the list of what the camps suggest to pack, adding their own special touches and must-haves to the mix. And they look forward to the requisite trips to Wal-Mart and Target.

Whether or not you plan to buy all new supplies or pack things you have on hand, packing for camp is a crucial part of the summer camp experience. And sticking to the camp’s unique packing list is a must.

The lists will vary from camp to camp, based on specific program needs. Traditional, outdoor camps require different things than sports camps, academic programs require different things than adventure or travel camps, and so forth. So, if you haven’t received a list of what to bring to a camp your child is registered to attend, call to request one. Generic lists probably won’t do much good.

Camps often also recommend specific kinds of luggage, trunks or footlockers. If possible, follow the recommendations because camp staff have experience with their facilities and storage capacity, and they know what works best.

Pack old things and pack lightly for camp

Keep in mind that families don’t need to go overboard buying new things before camp. Usually, you can find almost everything yours campers will need in your house. New toiletries and incidentals are one thing, but new clothes, towels and linens are another. In fact, when it comes to these items, camp staff members agree — the older, the better.

Campers are less likely to care deeply if old things get lost or damaged. If you must send new clothes or linens, remember to launder them before packing them. Shrinkage and discoloration are often problems for kids who do laundry — perhaps for the first time — at camp.

The old adage “less is more” also applies. Campers are less likely to lose items when they don’t bring as much stuff.

Label everything you pack for camp

Everyone brings white socks and a pair of jeans to camp. And almost everyone brings a blue towel and a pair of black shorts. How do campers tell them apart when they get mixed up at the pool, in the bathroom or in their cabin?

They don’t. So make sure the camper’s name is clearly and permanently on everything you send.

Jon C. Malinowski and Christopher Thurber, authors of The Summer Camp Handbook, write: “If you haven’t labeled it, there’s no hope of getting it back.” They recommend three methods of labeling: indelible ink stamps, laundry marking pens and iron-on/sew-on labels.

Leave valuables (and contraband) at home

It almost goes without saying, but camp experts say it anyway (because kids just keep bringing these things to camp, year after year): Expensive items don’t belong at camp. Things get lost, things get stolen and things get damaged in the hectic fun of camp life. Campers should leave their valuables at home where they’ll be safe. (Of course, campers are strictly forbidden to bring alcohol, drugs or weapons to camp.)

What they don’t tell you to bring to camp

Camp packing lists are comprehensive about what campers need. But don’t overlook the things they’ll want.

Childhood pillows, pictures from home, favorite books and magazines, contact with Mom and Dad. These are the things that many campers miss the most when they’re away at camp. Consider sending a few comfort items along to help ease anxiety. Small stuffed animals and pre-written letters go a long way toward making campers feel at home and heading homesickness off at the pass.

4 tips to pack like a pro

Tips from The Summer Camp Handbook by Jon C. Malinowski and Christopher Thurber

  1. Label everything. We can’t say this enough, so we’ll keep saying it. Label everything.
  2. Make a list of everything that you’re bringing to camp and tape it to the inside of your trunk or suitcase. If you’re packing into a backpack or duffel bag, put that list in one of the pockets. Use the list at the end of camp to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.
  3. Instead of stacking neatly folded clothes in your trunk or suitcase, roll the clothes neatly and pack them upright like pencils in a jar. That way, you can see everything that you have, without unpacking a thing.
  4. Pack small items in zippered plastic bags so they all stay put.

Cathy Ashby, a freelance writer and editor, is a former camp director and counselor.