1st Time Summer Camp Packing Hacks


My daughter went to sleep away camp for the first time last summer.  After months of looking at websites and mailers with glossy photos of girls learning archery, canoeing, and singing around a camp fire, it was time to pack! I was on a search for all the 1st Time Summer Camp Packing Hacks. Her camp provided a detailed packing list which we printed and used to get started. Here are some helpful packing tips and the items she packed: 

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Summer Camp packing essentials including watch, sunscreen, and sunglasses.

The Camp Packing Process:

-Print or download the camp packing checklist

-Encourage your camper to take ownership

And the more ownership the better!  Have them gather items at home or shop for or order items together. Encourage them to actually place everything in the trunk/ bag so they know where they are! (In the Post-Covid World many camps no longer have parents come and set up their camper’s bunk so they must have an idea of what they are bringing and how they want to organize it).  We chose to place complete outfits in gallon ziplock bags (shirt, shorts, and underwear/socks in each bag) and this seemed to be an easy way to keep things organized. 

-Start with what you have/ can borrow

Packing for camp can get expensive! Depending on how long the camp is and how often laundry service is available you will likely need to pack at least 10-14 pairs of shorts and the same number of shirts. This is a great time for hand-me-downs or consigned clothing. Most items will come home wet, dirty, or not at all.   

-Look at your camp website for help

Photos from the rest of the website or on their Instagram can give insight into what kids use (sometimes called camp norms). What are they wearing in photos? What kinds of things are in their bunks? What type of bag they carry around camp? Which water shoes do they have on while canoeing? I would never want a child to think they needed a specific brand or item to fit in at camp but usually in a camp setting the most used items are the most used for a reason: functionality.

-Label everything

There are lots of great options for labeling items going to camp. There are clothing stamps, sticker labels or a good ‘ole Sharpie works well too! I have used Name Bubbles labels for our water bottles, lunch boxes, and coats since my kids started preschool. They are our go-to for easy labeling.

-Talk to friends

Our friend’s daughter attended my daughter’s camp several times and was an invaluable resource. There are also usually Facebook groups or parent connection opportunities for new families. E-mailing your camp is a great place to start if you are having trouble connecting with other camp parents. Sometimes hearing it from another parent is just the reassurance you need.

Mom sealing a compression bag of camp bedding.

Packing Essentials:


Bedding is the bulkiest item to pack for summer camp. My bedding packing hack is to use a compression bag for the sheets, pillow, and blanket. Use the compressed bag as the base of the duffel or trunk. 1st Time packing hack: some camps offer to have bedding bundles delivered to your camper upon arrival. If your camper is flying, or space is tight, on the way to camp, this might be a good option.

We send twin sheets we are not currently using but these Jersey ones from Amazon are inexpensive, soft, and easy to put on a bed. Many camps also recommend an egg crate/ mattress pad etc. Talk to other families from your camp on this one. We sent the cushy mattress pad linked and it worked well. Take the weather into consideration about how heavy of a quilt/ blanket to send.

Bunk Decor

Finish off their bunk with a fun sports pillow/ squishmellow for a homey feel! Photos from home (we made a little collage on Shutterfly that was simple and didn’t require packing tons of pictures and tape), a small foldable clock, and a bunk organizer. Some camps allow kids to really go all out with fun garlands or twinkle lights.


Your child will definitely need a lot of casual/athletic shorts and shirts. You can send a packing cube of each and they can select one from each cube daily. 1st Time Summer Camp Packing Hacks: complete outfits (underwear, socks, shorts, shirt) in an individual bag gallon zip lock bag. This felt easier for her first time at summer camp.

In addition to these basic outfits a raincoat, sweatshirts and sweatpants, pajamas, swimsuits, rash guards, and possibly 1-2 nicer outfits for camp ceremonies or services. (If attending a girls scout camp or boys scout camp don’t forget their uniform!) Then are the wild card items: Many camps now do Christmas in July, silly-sock days, and others have various theme or costume nights. Blue Jeans are another common item on packing lists from camp.

Socks and Shoes

Every camper likely needs at least the three basic types of camp shoes:

  • sneakers (send the old ones!!)- many camps request sending 2 pairs
  • water shoes (Merrell or Chaco Water Sandals are practical and popular)
  • shower Flip Flops

Other shoes to consider are hiking boots, riding boots, and dress shoes or sandals. Pack 2 pairs of socks per day.


Shower shoes, towels and wash clothes and/or loofa, toiletry caddy with toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, soap or body wash, brush, toothbrush WITH A COVER and toothpaste, hair ties, deodorant), a robe or velcro towel with hair wrap for changing or getting ready are also helpful.

Items for Around Camp

  • Flashlight or headlamp (with new batteries or extra batteries)
  • Watch
  • Crazy creek chair
  • Small backpack to take around camp to their different classes or activities
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen and insect repellant (more and more camps are requiring non-aerosol versions)
  • Pool/ lake towels
  • Water bottle
  • Goggles
  • Laundry bag
  • Sports equipment such as a tennis racket or shin guards.
  • Camera- this can be tricky since most camps don’t allow phones. Consider a digital camera, a disposable camera (I promised your child will be amazed by this!), or a Polaroid type camera

Quiet time activities

Most camps have a rest period during the day. Campers usually have to stay quiet in their bunk for about an hour. Learning how to occupy their time without a screen is such a great skill for a developing brain and one of the reasons we love camp!

  • Books (don’t forget to send any books of the school required reading list. )
  • Small crafts like friendship bracelet kits or small needlepoint projects
  • Notebooks for journaling or drawing
  • Stationary with stamps and pre-addressed envelopes
  • Bible or devotional book


Most camps require prescription and over-the-counter medications to be administered by a camp nurse or staff member. See your camp’s website for forms to fill out and their required medication packing procedures. This may require a signature from a pediatrician so start this process early!

Money for Camp Store/ Snack Bar

Most camps now have systems where parents can load money onto a child’s account to use at the camp store or snack bar. See your camp store website or talk with veteran camp parents to determine a reasonable amount for your child to have access to that week.

Sleepaway camp essentials including a small travel clock, flashlight, and portable fan.

More Camp Packing Links

Bracelet Kit

Girls Baseball Hat with Ponytail slot

Travel Checkers/ Tic Tac Toe

These Tiny Lego Kits in Bags

Everything Summer Camp is great for Trunks and its of other camp gear.

Questions about packing for Camp:

Should we pack a trunk or large duffel?

The honest but less than helpful answer is- it depends. Some camps have strict requirements that will make the decision for you. There is something really special and nostalgic about a camp trunk. Camp trunks, however, are a single-use item and can be expensive. If you are confident your camper will love and return to camp for many years it is probably a good investment. Some camps also use the trunk or bag as part of the camper’s storage space for the week. In this situation, a trunk is generally easier to keep organized. A large duffel or rolling duffel is a great alternative that your whole family can use at other times. Many camps have kids unpack into chests of drawers or under bunk storage upon arrival and at that point, it doesn’t really matter how their belongings got there.

What type of swimwear is best to pack?

In addition to a packing list , many camps provide a dress code including swimwear parameters. Some faith-based or high adventure camps will likely require a one-piece suit that it is free of ties, tassels, or cut outs. A traditional one piece is the best option for comfort and maneuverability during water sports. It is also easier to manage when using a harness for a water zipline or taking on and off a life jacket.

What should my child NOT take to summer camp?

To cover all bases anything illegal or illegal for the age of the child attending or could cause harm will not be permitted at camp. In addition to that, many camps have a no electronics policy. These usually include phones, iPads, and texting watches. (If your child typically reads with a Kindle you will likely need to order a few paperbacks for the week). Food is also usually a no-no as it can attract bugs/ animals to the cabins.

Should I pack expensive items?

Please No! Even if he just saved up for some new sneakers he wants to show off or she just got nice makeup for the first time camp is just not the place for it! Things that go to camp rarely come home in the same condition! (Hello slip and slide or team color face paint!) That is they do come home! Even with all the counselors and kids working together to keep up with things items can easily get lost or end up in someone else’s trunk.

What if we forget something?

Despite all the 1st Time Summer Camp Packing Hacks, every year my daughter has attended camp we have forgotten something or had some sort of packing issue. The first year we discovered her water bottle top was cracked and was leaking in her backpack on the drive the morning of drop off. The next year we forgot her favorite stuffed animal in an overnight bag we used the night before she went. In both situations her counselors and camp staff helped her problem solve and she figured it out. She either used some of her money at the camp store or borrowed something from a friend. I felt horrible once I realized what happened but even as I write this it has occurred to me that part of them being at camp is learning how to manage their own belongings and solve problems when things arise.

In addition to buying and gathering ALL THE THINGS here are some helpful ways to Preparing Your Child For Camp that you might enjoy.

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