The Ultimate Summer Camp Packing List: 19 Things Not to Forget
Packing for Summer Camp
Even though you may have packed your child up for a family vacation lots of times, packing for summer camp is different. Once you’ve got the obvious covered—clothing for hot days, cool evenings, and wet weather, personal toiletries and any medications, a backpack—sorting out the must-haves can get a bit confusing.
The first thing to do: check with your child’s camp to find out exactly what is and isn’t provided. For instance, a few camps require that you bring your own bedding or bath towels. Also ask if any “performance” clothing is required. Many camps have the kids put on productions or skits for which costumes or special garments might be needed. Another possibility is a dance or awards dinner, which may call for clothing you probably wouldn’t think to pack, like chinos. Lastly, find out if your child will need a tent or other outdoor gear. Some summer camps have kids sleeping under the stars as much as possible, while at others, campers are nestled in their cabins every night.
You’ll also want to consider how long your child will be there. Camp sessions of two weeks or longer may necessitate packing items (such as nail clippers) you’d be able to skip for shorter stays.
Ready to make your final checklist? Here's where to start.
Honest-to-goodness water shoes are the kind of thing that kids may not need all that often, but when they do, they’re absolutely necessary. They protect feet from glass and sharp rocks while giving them a secure grip on slippery surfaces. Plus, if his sneakers go missing (what happens at camp stays at camp), a good pair of water shoes can pull double duty in a pinch.
Our pick: Keen Kids’ SeaCamp Water Shoes are a hybrid water shoe/sneaker, with flexible rubber soles and latched-down laces so the fit stays snug. Available in 15 colors, they can take a kid from exploring a river bank to arts-and-crafts hour and back again.
The thought has likely crossed your mind: if I’m not there to remind him, how often is he going to brush his teeth? Packing a brand-new, cool-looking toothbrush is your best defense against after-camp cavities.
Our pick: Arm & Hammer Kid’s My Way Spinbrush is customizable with stickers so there’s no chance of it getting mixed up with another kid’s (gulp). Power toothbrushes seem to have kids brushing longer than they do with regular ones. Meaning, if she does skip a brushing or three, it’s less of an issue.
Flops have one crucial use at camp: wearing to and from--and in--the shower. Bare feet on always wet, communal shower floors is not what summer dreams are made of.
Our pick: Ipanema Brazil Flip-Flops are a cushy-comfy basic with an Earth-friendly spin: they’re made from 100 percent recyclable plastic.
Nothing ruins a game of Red Rover faster than a sunburn. Sunscreen is an absolute must for summer camp. Kids tend to resist using traditional lotions, though, when you’re not there to put it on for them (“Sticky” and “annoying” are common complaints.) Sprays, meanwhile, aren’t practical to use on the face, and some camps don’t allow aerosol cans. Sticks can be a good solution.
Our pick: Australian Gold SPF 50 Kid’s Sunscreen Stick is water resistant for 80 minutes, won’t sting if it gets in his eyes, and is fragrance-free. That’s important, since scent attracts bugs.
With forests to explore and grassy knolls to run around on come...discovery and memories, yes, but also mosquitos. Arm your kid with a DEET insect repellent so itching doesn’t spoil the fun. As with sunscreen, the common spray can is not ideal. The camp may not allow it, and if it’s windy, they can be tricky to apply.
Our pick: Ben’s Tick & Insect Repellent Wipes protect against all kinds of biting buggers. The individually-packaged wipes are super easy to carry along and use, which ups the odds your kid will, in fact, use them.
The classic camp accessory, a flashlight comes in handy when kids who are camping outside need to make their way to the latrine after dark. They’re also used in all kinds of fun evening games. You can opt for a traditional flashlight, or an electric lantern-style nightlight. Either way, don’t forget to send spare batteries
Our pick: Energizer Waterproof LED Lantern is uber portable, tough, and water-resistant, a great nighttime take-along. It casts 360 degrees of light when the glow-in-the-dark button is pushed. It also has a nightlight setting, just right for ghost stories.
Even if bath towels are supplied, they’re likely to be standard issue, and a bit scratchy. A personal towel to take to the swimming hole or pool will be appreciated.
Our pick: Pangaea Voyager Towel will stand out in the pile at the lake, so it’s less likely to get left behind and lost. Rather than traditional terry, it’s made of microfiber, which is softer and harder for sand to stick to.
The great outdoors is, well, great and all, but rain is an inescapable part of enjoying it. Most camps will not cancel a scheduled hike because it looks like rain. Some type of rain poncho can make all the difference between an “awesome!” hike and one that “way too long.”
Our pick: Charles River Apparel Pacific Poncho will keep your kid dry without bulk. Available in five colors, it comes in its own travel pouch, and weighs less than an ounce, total. The heat-sealed seams make it extra durable.
What’s worse than a kid arriving at camp, being invited by her new pals to go swimming--and realizing she forget to pack her bathing suit? Not much. It’s not a bad idea to send along a second one, to wear to a late-day dip if the one worn in the morning is still wet.
Our pick: Janie and Jack Floral Swimsuit is fully lined and has SPF 50 protection built into the fabric, making this blooming beauty camp-pool worthy. (Janie and Jack has plenty of amazing boy styles, too, of course.)
Popular with boys and girls, a rash guard looks cool, and protects backs, hard to reach with sunscreen, from burning. It’s never a bad idea to throw on a swim shirt for mid-day swims on sunny days.
Our pick: Vineyard Vines Rashguard protects kids from the sun in style, with SPF 30 fabric that’s soft and stretchy, but quick-drying.
Children’s eyes need protection from the sun, too. Even if your kid never wears shades kicking around outside at home, she’ll be in the sun for many more hours over the course of her stay at camp. It’s a good idea to tuck a pair into her backpack.
Our pick: Babiators Aces Navigator Shades are made of flexible rubber, so they bend, not break. They provide 100 percent UVA/UVB protection, and come with a lost-and-found guarantee: If your kid comes back from camp without them, Babiators will replace them free.
Any round of Marco Polo in the camp swimming pool is more fun with swim goggles. For Shark and Minnow or Diving for Treasure, they’re a must.
Our pick: Mai Poetry Swimming Goggles come with nose clip, ear plugs, and a swim cap. We love this cool silver option. They’re shatter-proof and won’t fog up.
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There comes a time...usually sooner than a parent expects...when a kid needs to start paying closer attention to personal hygiene. Even if that realization hasn’t...ummm...hit you yet, the long, active, sticky days of camp may be the turning point. Better safe than have his bunkmates be sorry.
Our pick: Tom’s of Maine Wicked Cool Deodorant is a perfect “starter” deodorant for first-time users. It’s made entirely of natural ingredients, and has no aluminum or parabens so it’s gentle on kids’ skin.
A designated bag for dirty clothes ups the odds that every item makes it home. It also keeps dirty laundry from being tossed in with the clean clothes in his suitcase when it’s cabin clean-up time.
Our pick: Kikkerland World Map Laundry Bag is sized for toting on trips, and will help your kid keep dirty duds corraled.
Hydration is crucial for kids romping around in the summer sun day after day. So much so, that many camps urge bringing two refillable water bottles, so a misplaced one doesn’t lead to “I don’t feel good.”
Our pick: Anature Stainless Steel Water Bottle has double wall insulation to keep his water cool for hours. Made of food-grade stainless steel, it’s BPA, lead, and phthalate free.
Bathroom supplies may be small in size, but they add up, even for a kid. To make sure her toothbrush, toothpaste, hair brush, and all the rest stay together, pick up a caddy.
Our pick: mDesign Caddy Tote will keep her body wash, shampoo, conditioner and other necessities together for quick and easy trips back and forth to the shower. Drainage holes keep everything dry.
If you have a tween who doesn’t yet have a phone, you may be wondering if this foray into independence for a week or longer warrants getting him one. Of course, you aren’t sending your kid to camp to be on his phone all day. Most camps won’t allow that, anyway. But if you’d feel better knowing you can occasionally check in, and he is able to text you when he feels like it, now may be as good a time as any.
Our pick: Nuu Mobile R1 Phone comes completely unlocked and is made for rough-and-tumble, outdoor use. In fact, it’s military grade, so should have a decent shot at holding up in the hands of a tween at camp. Whether it winds up sitting in the broiling sun all day, forgotten out in the rain overnight, sitting at the bottom of the stream (up to five feet for 30 minutes), or dropped off a cliff during a group hike, it’ll withstand it. Plus, the battery will run longer than a day with just one charge, even it’s being used for videos.
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Cafeteria trays. Frogs. Basketballs. Worms. Enough said.
Our pick: CleanWell Botanical Hand Sanitizer Spray smells nice, which can’t be said for most hand sanitizers. (That can only up the odds your kid will use it.) This botanically-based, orange-vanilla scented pick is gentler than traditional sanitizers too, so it won’t sting cuts or bug bites.
A Little Bit of Home
For beginning campers especially, remembering to put a personal item into her bag, something you know will make her smile, can go a long way towards easing first-day jitters.
Our pick: Dream Pillow DreamAnimals will chase away any homesickness in the youngest, first-time campers. This cuddle pillow has a hidden pocket to hold your kid’s choice of the 60 “dream wish” notes for her sweet dream of the night. You can tuck your own personal note to your kid into it as well.
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