Summer Camp Packing Secrets

Ahhhh….. the house is quiet.  Things that were clean this morning are still clean, and truth be told…I miss my boys!  It’s that time of year again.  Time for camp.  As I write this we are on camp number 2 of the summer.  My kids are 21, 17, and 13, so by this point I’m a pro at camp packing, and I wanted to share some tips for some of you first timers.

Let me start by saying that if your camp issues a packing list, follow it to the letter.  Remember that the people who prepared the packing list know what will be happening, and there is a good reason they have included the items they have chosen to include.

Ziplock Bags:

Ok, on to the details.  Gallon Ziplock bags.  Buy them.  Trust me.  They will change your life.  I first learned the beauty of Ziplock packing when my daughter went off to Cheerleading Camp.  A mom instructed me to pack each individual outfit complete with socks, underwear and hair bow into a Ziplock.  Then my daughter had no guess work.  She just grabbed the appropriate bag, labeled for the correct day, and put on what was in the bag.  My sister later went on to use this for her four kids when they went away for Church Camp.  It cut down on confusion, and kept them from ripping apart the neatly packed suitcase.

If you don’t have little ones, or kids who have assigned outfits for each day, the Ziplock still has a purpose in your packing.  Have you ever opened your suitcase to find shampoo leaked all over the clothes you plan to wear for the next week?  Well I have!  You can solve this by simply packing your toiletries in the Ziplock bags.  If they leak, no worries!

Sunscreen and Aloe:

Sunscreen is usually on every camping list, but if it’s not, please get some.  I recommend you grab the spray on kind.  Kids are going to be asking other kids to spray the back side of their bodies, and I guarantee you the odds of having their little backs completely covered goes up dramatically if you use a spray.  No more “You missed a spot” moments!  Go ahead and pack the aloe too.  While you hope your child doesn’t get sunburned, it’s better to have relief provided just in case he does.  They will argue and tell you they need neither of these things.  Pack it anyway!!!!

Twin Sized Sheet and a Light Blanket:

I am still crossing my fingers that my boys actually put on the sheets I sent this week, but they are in their suitcases none the less.  I can assure you that your kids aren’t going to encounter full sized beds when they arrive at camp, so go ahead and purchase a cheap pair of twin sized sheets.  I recommend you only send a fitted sheet.  I doubt your child will take the time to properly dress their bed with a complete set of sheets.  And send sheets that you don’t care about.  If they get ripped, lost or stained, you don’t want it to be Egyptian cotton that just got ruined.  Also pack a light blanket.  I tend to send a blanket that is easy to identify so that no one claims it is theirs, and the blanket walks off.  And again, we send a blanket we don’t have an emotional attachment to, just in case it doesn’t make it back home.  I also suggest you take a travel sized pillow.  You can find them at Walmart or Target, and they fit nicely in a suitcase.


So every year I try and send at least three towels, and every year I walk into Jackson’s room after drop off to find one towel still folded, sitting next to where his suitcase used to be.  “Mom, you need one towel for the shower, and one for the pool.  No extras.”  Well, he is a pro at this, so this time I didn’t question him on it.  Send two towels, and instruct your camper to hang them to dry after each use.  If you have towels with their monogram on them, this might make life easier.  One less thing to get mixed up with other camper’s belongings.

Laundry bags:

I can promise you that your child will come home with clothes that will smell worse than a high school locker room, but let’s hope they haven’t thrown those dirty clothes back in the suitcase with the clean ones!  Purchase a mesh laundry bag like the one you see above.  This is nice for several reasons.  Sometimes kids get lucky and have access to a washer and dryer.  If you have one of these bags, you just throw the whole thing in the washer, and go.  No risk of someone opening a washing machine and grabbing the wrong laundry.  Your name is on the bag!  If they don’t have access to a laundry room, this handy little bag will at least keep the dirty sorted from the clean.

Water and Snacks:

Every camp is going to feed your child, so don’t worry that your baby is running around with a rumbling belly.  But if your kid is going to a camp that is physical, like say, a wrestling or soccer camp, they are burning LOTS of calories.  This means they get hungry long after the cafeteria has closed.  And I can assure you they need to be drinking lots, so the waters won’t go to waste.  Just be sure you aren’t sending snacks that will make them feel sick once they start being sweaty and active again.  Stick to things like water, fruit snacks, peanut butter crackers, granola bars, and dry cereal.  Now don’t be surprised when you come to pick them up, and there isn’t even a crumb left!  And PLEASE nag them to drink the water!!!!

Phones, Charging Cords and Charging Boxes:

When I went away to camp eons ago, we all lined up and waited our turn to use the pay phone to call home.  My how things have changed!  Odds are good you are sending your child away with their smart phone, and instructions to report in daily.  First, please don’t get your feelings hurt if they only talk to you for two minutes, and then make excuses to get off the phone.  Or maybe they don’t text back until bedtime.  They are having fun!!!!  And you paid lots of money for them to be staying off their phones and being busy at camp.  Be glad they are doing just that.  BUT…..If they don’t have a way to charge those phones, you certainly won’t be hearing from them, so pack those chargers!


Every camp is different.  For example, two weeks ago I sent my teen away with cash.  I knew the camp would have a store, plus he was traveling and would need “On the road money”.  But this week’s camp opened their store online weeks before, so we were able to pre- purchase everything the boys needed, and leave cash at home.  Remember that the money you send may get lost, stolen or wasted on silly stuff, so make the appropriate judgement call based on your child’s age, type of camp, and likelihood of needing cash.


I peaked in on the oldest boy while he was packing for this week, and saw that he had both a backpack and a suitcase.  My youngest on the other hand kept arguing that he had absolutely no need for a small backpack.  Keep this in mind.  Suitcases get left in the room, but there may be things that your child needs while out and about the camp during the day. (Towels, sunscreen, water, or sports gear)  Rather than trying to carry all that stuff by hand, it’s nice to have a backpack.  It was a bit of a struggle, but I convinced the youngest he needed a backpack for the day to day stuff.

Pad Lock:

Many camps will offer your child a locker to put valuables in.  Invest in a pad lock so that if your child has this option, he or she can take advantage of it.


I know.  I know.  Who needs a swimsuit at wrestling camp or dance camp?  Pack it!!!!  Just trust me on this.  Campers are almost always given a little free time, and many camps have access to a pool or body of water.  Make sure they have a swimsuit so they can join in on the fun.


You spend hours doing laundry to make sure they have enough socks and underwear, and then you get to camp and your kid says, “Mom, where are my cleats?”  Be sure if you are going to a specific camp to learn a specific skill that you have packed the gear for that sport.  There is no bigger headache than running to the sporting goods store and dropping a couple hundred bucks simply because you left mandatory equipment at home.  This is a triple check item on your packing list!

Final Thoughts:

Pack extra clothes.  My boys are gone for six days, yet they will have three 3 hour sessions each day.  In between sessions they will have the opportunity to change out of their sweat drenched clothes into fresh clothes.  Camp is busy, messy, and sweaty.  The kids will be grateful you sent them a few spare pairs of clothes.

Also, don’t be afraid to pack cheap stuff that you won’t be sad about getting ruined.  We ran to Marshalls and TJ Maxx the week before camp to stock up on athletic clothes because I was not prepared to spend $40 bucks a pop on shorts and tees.

Pack the big suitcase.  I had a mom look at me yesterday and say, “I wish I had insisted on my child using a big suitcase.  Now I have all these extra bags and buckets because everything wouldn’t fit in his suitcase.”  The more you can pack in ONE PLACE the better.  The fewer extra bags they have to keep up with, the better.

Sharpies are your friend.  Label anything that you can.  Almost every tshirt and pair of shorts has a tag on it some where.  Find that tag, and put your child’s initials on it.

And finally, if you are worried about everything coming home that you sent, make a check list.  List out how many pairs of shorts you sent, how many shirts, blankets, etc.  This is not a must by any means, but it is the easiest way for your child to take quick inventory when the week is over, and make sure he or she repacks everything.

I hope this helps.  Now go pack your kiddo, and look forward to margaritas on the back porch with your honey while your kids are living it up at camp!  Happy summer y’all!

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I'm a Christian mom and wife, former journalist, and southern girl. I love monograms, sweet tea, and saying yes ma'am and ya'll.