How to pack for summer camp

For returning campers, shopping and packing are part of the excitement and anticipation as they eagerly count down the days to departure. For new campers, it is an important step in the preparation for camp.

Camps provide an outfit and equipment list, which usually includes helpful tips on what to take and what to leave behind. The camp may offer choices, which require a decision: sheets and blankets or a sleeping bag?

Any veteran camper would advise a sleeping bag, making it much easier and quicker to make up your bed in the morning as you rush to breakfast or your first activity. Pillow or no pillow? Pillows are bulky to pack, but if a child is accustomed to sleeping with a pillow, include it.

When deciding on individual items of clothing, choose comfortable clothing that does not merit special care − clothing that can survive close and constant contact with dirt, mud, sand, charcoal and water. Grandmother’s hand-knit birthday present sweater stays at home; the cozy fleece with the paint stain on the cuff

Include at least one pair of quick-drying long pants. Jeans are durable, but when they get wet, they take a long time to dry. Include clothing for hot, cold and rainy days. Sturdy, lace-up shoes are best for scampering along uneven paths rife with rocks and roots. Sandals and flip-flops may be acceptable for sauntering to the beach, but camp nurses prefer closed-toe shoes that protect feet and toes from injuries.

When deciding on quantities of socks, underwear, etc., be guided by the suggested number on the outfit list, your child’s habits and access to laundry service. Laundry service at camp is usually dictated by the length of stay. At camp, as long as clothes are comfortable, dry and provide protection from bugs, sun, rain or cold, clean is not a top priority!

When it comes to equipment, camps vary. For example, some provide life jackets, while others prefer campers bring their own to ensure the jacket is the correct size for their weight, rather than one randomly selected from the top of the pile. If new campers need to purchase equipment, the camp can offer suggestions for suitable sources.

Camp lists usually include a section of optional suggested items such as: camera, books, quiet, compact games for use at rest period, costumes for skit night and musical instruments for variety night. Be guided by your child’s age and ability to keep track of and care for these belongings.

Camps will advise NOT to bring jewellery, money, valued possessions or electronic devices. At camp, the emphasis is on the here and now, with face-to-face communication to create and nurture personal relationships.
Being plugged in and tuned out defeats the purpose!

Stationery, pens and stamped addressed envelopes will increase the chances of receiving a cherished letter from your camper.    

Once everything is assembled, label each item with the camper’s name using iron-on labels for fabric items and a permanent marker for everything else. Cameras, flashlights or sunglasses are easily forgotten and left behind in the dining room or activity areas. Well-labelled items are quickly reunited with their owners; unmarked items get buried at the bottom of the lost and found bin.

When packing, involve your camper in the process so they will recognize their own belongings. Include a list of all the items that went to camp, so that when it is time to come home, your camper, with the help of their counsellor, has a checklist of everything to be gathered and packed.

Hockey-style duffle bags serve well as camp luggage. They hold a lot and can be shoved easily under a bunk in a crowded cabin.

A letter from mom and dad secretly placed on top before zipping the bag is a much-appreciated surprise when a new camper unpacks at the end of a day’s travel to camp.

In my years as a camp director, the most memorable item that arrived in a camper’s hand luggage was a terrified hamster hovering on the brink of expiration! Against her parents’ explicit instructions, Suzie had agreed to look after her friend’s pet while the friend’s family went on holiday.

For the two days before camp, Susie hid the animal in the garage, then secretly transferred it to her backpack. By the time the poor creature arrived at camp after four hours without air or water, it was suffering from heat exhaustion. Fortunately the camp nurse rushed to the rescue, and Susie’s tent group welcomed a fifth occupant into their space, housed in a cardboard box created in arts and
crafts, and fed on a diet supplied by a sympathetic cook!

In Suzie’s defence, there was nothing on the outfit list specifically banning live animals.

Catherine Ross, retired camp director; author of several books and many articles on camping, Canadian Camping Association volunteer; Board Member Kids in Camp Charity.