Simple Packing for Summer Day Camp

Packing for summer day camp sounds easy and mostly is, but there are a few tips and tricks that will save you some time.

Get or make a packing list – and customize it

First there are some standard items that every child will need for every camp – Summer Day Camp Packing List. Odds are that the camp you have signed your child up for has provided a list of specific items they recommend. Make sure you customize the list for your child so they have what they need.


Here are some reminders and memory ticklers to help you add any extras to your packing checklist.

Add Specialty Items

If you have signed your kid up for a specialty camp, there may be specialized equipment involved, especially for safety. The camps will often sell it to you at a premium, but if you are not sure about their commitment, try second-hand.

  • Bike, scooter, skateboard, skies,  snowboard or other applicable equipment for specialty camps
  • Bike helmet, elbow & knee pads, cleats, etc… or other applicable uniforms for specialty camps
  • Bathing suit, swim cap, goggles, towel and wet bag (or plastic bag) for swim days. Don’t forget underwear if you wear the suit to camp

Sample Special Events

Many summer day camps have theme days and special events. These can be a special kind of hell for working parents, as they just add to the complexity of getting your kids organized. Make sure you put these on the calendar as soon as you find out about them.

  • Costume Day – make sure they plan for a safe, simple and packable costume
  • Sports Day – special colored clothes for each team
  • Field trip day – Activity for the bus
  • Blanket, pillow, stuffy for movie day or for long bus rides for outings
  • Campfire day – lunch to cook over fire, marshmallows
  • T-shirt painting or tie-dyeing – Fresh, clean white shirt

Things not to pack

Here are some things that people recommend that I find don’t get used. You know your kid, but if you find that you have to remind them of these, or that they lose these things, you may not want to put bother putting them in their camp bag. Remember, they have to carry it, so the lighter the better.

  • Chap-stick – unless your kid loves this stuff, don’t bother. It will melt in the heat, all over their stuff.
  • Sunglasses – again, unless your kid is especially good at keeping track of their stuff, they will take these off and lose them in the first 5 minutes.
  • Wipes and tissues – if your child uses these at home without reminding, it may be worthwhile; if not, leave them at home. If your child has a cold and there is a separate compartment for them, you can tuck a travel packet in, but you may want to tell the counselor to remind them.
  • Band-aids – Most children seem to use these like stickers and apply as many as possible and then run out in the first week. If your child is more judicious, go for it.

Go shopping

Make sure you check your list ahead of time; there’s nothing like realizing the night before that you will need a plain, clean white shirt for an art project; I mean what kid owns one of those?

  • Get a really sturdy bag. it needs to be big enough to hold everything, and small enough to be manageable. Camp bags take as much or more abuse than a school bag.
  • They will need an insulated lunch bag and an ice pack or two; backpacks are often stored outside.
  • Buy an extra pair of running shoes. I have found that kids go through running shoes a lot faster at camp than other times; still not sure exactly why.

Don’t forget labels

Make sure you get labels ahead of time. There are some great pre-printed options out there, and they are the best option. They will save you a load of time. And get the sticky ones for the clothes; they work fine, and they are essential if you are not into ironing.

If you have a larger family, you may want to get your labels made with your last name and a unique image, many of them come with a choice of image. There’s no way you are going to want to make sure each kid gets their labeled lunch and snack dishes every morning.

But if you are in a pinch you can get these in a couple of days. I used them a couple of years ago, when I waited until the last minute, and some of them are still attached.

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Delegate packing to the kids

The biggest time-saver I can recommend to anyone is to get their kids involved. If your packing list is kid-friendly, you can get your kids to do most of the work. My daughter can do most of her own packing now, which saved me at least 30 minutes last week.

  1. Have them read through the list and ask about anything they don’t understand.
  2. Show them the difference between fabric and plastic labels.
  3. They should be able to label all of their things as they pack them into their bag.
  4. Clear out a drawer or shelf in their room for their camp clothes and let them select the week’s outfits, label them and put them in the drawer for the week.
  5. One or two kids can label their lunch stuff as you make it or as they pack it in their lunch bags. With more than two you may want to make it a family project ahead of time.
  6. Check over their packing using the list, help them with any correction, only if will help them for next time, and put a star on their checklist if they are into that sort of thing.

Pack the week before

Give the kids an hour the week or weekend before camp to get this done and dangle a reward in front of them. We do this on Sunday morning and then go to the park and have ice cream to kick off the summer and to celebrate being all ready.