The Essential Summer Camp Packing List Guide

The Essential Summer Camp Packing List Guide

April 10, 2020

Summer camp is a super exciting prospect for all kids. Unfortunately, that excitement rarely extends to packing for summer camp, which means that as a parent, you’re required to do a lot of the leg work. And this often means plenty of stress for you in the days leading up to camp! 

But this is where proper planning comes in. If you know all the items you need to buy and exactly what you need to pack, you can ensure a stress free couple of days for the whole family. That’s why we’ve put together the essential summer camp packing list guide, to help you decide what to bring to summer camp.

Your summer camp shopping list 

We find the best way to pack for summer camp, or any trip for that matter, is to first make a list of the things you need to buy. Shopping for items is the most time consuming and stress-inducing part of getting ready for a trip. Therefore, by planning this well in advance, you save yourself from those last-minute trips to the all-night drug store.

So here’s a list of what to bring to summer camp that you may need to first go out and buy:

  • Insect repellent: If your child’s camp is for a few weeks or more, we recommend buying the roll-on variety rather then the spray, as it lasts a lot longer. In terms of strength, 25% DEET should be fine in most environments.
  • Cough drops: Late nights and long days make picking up sore throats very common, so pick up a few packs of child-safe cough drops.
  • Sunscreen: You may have some sunscreen in the house, but it’s worth buying a full bottle for the trip. Creams work better in warm climates, while sprays can be more effective in very hot climates as it’s absorbed by the skin quicker. Below are guidelines for which SPF to use according to some leading authorities on skincare, so consider what the weather forecast is and choose an appropriate level of protection:
    • Low protection: under 15 SPF
    • Medium protection: 15 to 29 SPF
    • High protection: 30 to 49 SPF
    • Very high protection: over 50 SPF 
  • Hand sanitizer: Buy the small travel-sized bottles, so your child can pack it in their day bag when they go hiking or on other excursions. 
  • Ziploc bags: Buy a pack of 20 and that should provide enough for all the instances when your child needs to protect their items from water, mud and other camp hazards.
  • Snacks: Check the camp policy about bringing outside food, but if it’s permitted stock up on some of your child’s favorite ‘healthy’ snacks.
  • Reusable water bottle: Buy a good-sized bottle, such as 1 liter-sized.
  • Toiletries: Remember to buy all those items you share as a family in the home, such as toothpaste, soap, and shampoo.  
  • Poncho: Buy on quality, not on price. You want a poncho that will keep them dry even during a torrential downpour. 
    • Clip-on fan: this can be a lifesaver during hot and humid nights. 
    • Flip flops: Essential for camp showers.         

        What clothes to pack for summer camp

        Now your shopping list is taken care of, it’s time to focus on clothes packing. So here’s what to bring to summer camp, wardrobe wise:

        • Plenty of socks and underwear: If the summer camp is two weeks or less, pack enough to last the whole trip so they don’t need to do any washing.
        • Shorts: 4 to 6 pairs of shorts should be enough. Lightweight sports shorts are often the best choice. 
        • Jeans: A pair or two will suffice for the colder evenings.
        • T-shirts: Again, 5 or 6 t-shirts should be sufficient and provide plenty of variety.
        • Swimsuit: It’s best to check the camp guidelines when it comes to swimwear. Also packing two swimsuits is a good idea, then they can rotate between the dry and the wet one. 
        • Hoodie & sweats: Evenings can get chilly, so a couple of hoodies or sweatshirts are definitely necessary. 
        • Light jacket: This should preferably offer some water resistance, while also being super lightweight.
        • Pajamas: Pack several pairs so your child isn’t stuck wearing the same clothing every night.
        • A few different pairs of shoes: tennis shoes are usually the main go-to footwear at summer camp, but sandals are also really useful, as are hiking shoes when out in nature. 

        The other essential summer camp items  

        It’s now time to consider the other essential items your child has to bring to summer camp. Here’s a rundown of the main items that fall into this category:

        • Pillow: Vital for a good night’s sleep and for a sense of home away from home. Check out our backpack the Pillowpak which is the world’s first backpack designed around your pillow, for an easy way to travel with a pillow.
        • Sleeping bag or blanket: The choice depends on the climate. A light blanket may be more comfortable in a hot location.
        • Fitted sheet: To cover the (possibly very well worn) camp mattress.
        • Towels: It’s wise to pack two towels, so your child can rotate between wet and dry.
        • Day bag: Essential for days out hiking, a foldable bag is the best type to use here.
        • Sunglasses
        • Baseball hat
        • Stationary and pens
        • Swimming goggles
        • Flashlight
        • Charger
        • Headphones

        A few nice-to-have items

        Once you’ve got the essentials down, here are a few nice-to-haves that are worth considering, which can help make summer camp even more fun:

        • Power block: A good capacity power block will provide plenty of charge for devices taken to camp. It can be particularly useful when trekking, to ensure there’s always enough phone battery to take photos or check maps.
        • Portable speaker: Perfect for a bit of entertainment in the evenings.
        • Pack of cards: Much easier to pack than a board game and a great way to stay entertained.

        Items that are best left at home

        All summer camps have different policies when it comes to prohibited items, so check these before you go. But there are some common items that are a no-no for a lot of camps:

        • Rollerblades, skateboards, and wheeled shoes: These are normally not permitted for obvious reasons of safety.
        • Drones: Safety and privacy issues have meant that drones are usually off-limits at summer camps. 
        • Hoverboards: Muddy trails and mechanically propelled objects are not a great mix.
        • Lighters, matches, and penknives: While these are all items that experienced scouts may pack for scout camp, these items are usually not permitted at summer camp. 

        Mobile apps for summer camp

        Let’s face the facts, kids live on their phones. While summer camp gets them off their screens and into the great outdoors, they’re still going to have their phones on them. In which case, it can be worthwhile encouraging them to download some useful summer camp apps. Here’s our pick of the best:

        • Accuweather: This app is most likely way better than the pre-loaded weather app your phone came with. It provides hourly forecasts based on your precise location, enabling you to better plan what clothes you’ll need to take on any excursions you’re planning. Cost: Free
        • The Night Sky: This is one of the best apps for exploring the night sky, just point your device at the sky and it will tell you about the constellations you’re looking at. Cost: Free (with in-app purchases)
        • Party Glow Sticks Lights: This app turns your phone into a glow stick with a choice of 8 colors. Perfect for games of hide and go seek or to wave around during band practice or campfire songs. Cost: Free
        • This is a great app for trekking. You can download maps to use offline for when you venture into areas with no cell coverage, and it has thousands of trails and waypoints mapped. Cost: Free 

        Important things to check-off before you go

        With your summer camp packing list now largely taken care of, it’s time to make sure you’ve checked off all the important pre-camp considerations.  

        • Medical considerations: If your child has any medical conditions then you need to check you’ve completed all the relevant safety forms with the summer camp, along with any doctor’s letters that are required.
        • Prescriptions: Same as above, if your child has any prescriptions, then check with the camp how they want these to be carried and stored while at camp, and what forms need to be completed by you. It’s often the case that for a two-week camp, you need to pack twice as much medication as would be needed for that time period. 
        • Labels: Make sure your child leaves camp with all of his or her belongings by labeling all of their items.
        • Spending money: Check what’s sold at camp and calculate a daily budget for your child.

        Packing it all up

        Now you need to pack everything up. There are a few decisions you need to make here, which include the following:

        • Duffle bag, suitcase or backpack: The longer the camp, the more the gear, the bigger the bag. A duffle bag is usually adequate for a week-long camp, but doesn’t offer great organization, and sometimes can become too heavy for your child to easily carry. Depending on the location and conditions of summer camp, a suitcase might be a good option. Be cautious though of your child’s ability to easily roll the suitcase. As for backpacks, this style is usually the most convenient in that your child can carry their personal belongings in an organized fashion, and can avoid challenges of rolling a suitcase on grass or other uneven terrain. The best go to option, however, might be to utilize a large capacity backpack, and supplement that with a lighter-weight duffle bag that can be used to carry shoes and extra pairs of clothes. This approach avoids over-stuffing the duffle bag, and as mentioned above, ensures the bag doesn’t become too heavy for your child to comfortably carry. And yes, bedding can always be stuffed in a trash bag - a clean one, obviously :) Check out Pillowpak for an ultra-light weight, high capacity, machine-washable option!
        • Pack with your child: Make sure they’re involved in the process, so they know exactly what’s been packed and what hasn’t, this avoids any nasty surprises.
        • Packing list: You can include a list of everything you’ve packed and put it in the bag, so your child knows all the items he or she needs to pack up at the end of camp. 

        And just before you go      

        Remember that with proper planning and your own summer camp packing list you can ensure a stress free experience for the whole family. This way, you can share in the excitement of your child without stressing about the details.  

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