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Packing tips for overnight summer camp

In our first Camp Chatter series, summer camp expert Jill Tipograph, founder of the premier camp/teen/family resource Everything Summer® and author of Your Everything Summer Guide & Planner, tackles the topic of what to pack (and what NOT to pack) for overnight camp. She will be writing the series all summer long — so check back for tips!

Summer Camp

The final days of school have come and gone and kids are officially into summer – which means camp is right around the corner. Parents are frantic about what and how to pack their kids for overnight camp. Packing can be less stressful if you follow these simple guidelines and helpful tips.

Start EARLY by reviewing the camp’s clothing and equipment list (uniform, clothing, linens, etc.). Involve your child and commit together to stick to it!


Most campers will require a trunk for overnight camp. There are two basic types of trunks:

  • Collapsible Cargo TrunkIf campers will have storage space in the bunk, always opt for a collapsible cargo trunk made out of ballistic material. They are virtually indestructible and they are so easy to store at home. I have re-used mine repeatedly over the years, and it even comes in handy for family ski trips.
  • If campers will not have bunk storage and are expected to use their trunks as storage, purchase a hard trunk. These are available at army/navy stores, outdoor suppliers, the Container Store and more.

The type of trunk also depends on the type of transport that will be required (e.g. parents bring up, camps have shipped, airline vs. bus use, etc.), so check with the camp before purchasing. Check out or for a variety of trunk options to purchase.

Review deadlines for trunk pickups or deliveries and establish a time frame to accomplish the shopping and packing. If the trunks are to go in the next few days, and you have not completed your shopping or labeling, just prioritize on essentials. You can always ship items to camp.

Also, check the allowed number and the size of luggage your child can bring to camp. Buy the luggage and/or trunks from an established camp supplier (see above) that offers guarantees. I have used, and still use, the same trunks that went to camp with my kids to move them to/from college — and the supplier replaced them free of charge when ripped!

Camp clothes

Camp Labels

Look through the closet to see what your child really needs that he or she doesn’t already have. Comfortable clothing and shoes are more important than having everything new for camp. Many items return damaged, or not at all!

Order camp clothing from the assigned catalogs and make a list of items to purchase locally or from the camp supplier (some standard items can be found cheaper locally or online). If time is of the essence, order essentials and anything that can be pre-labeled through the camp supplier (yes, many sew on labels for you!). Ease your child into the camp spirit by letting him/her wear the camp T-shirt or sweatshirt until it is time to pack.

Find out what storage facilities your camper will have in the bunk (cubbies, trunk, closet) etc., and whether plastic containers are advisable and permitted to hold some of his/her belongings. Pack an over-the-bed shoe bag — especially if your child will be on an upper bunk bed.

Packing shortcuts

More packing shortcuts and space savers:

  • Put paired/rolled socks and undergarments in washing bags with holes, which also keeps them neatly stored in a loose cubby shelf.
  • Pack folded and rolled shirts and pajamas in clear zip-loc bags. Label the bag with contents and quantity.
  • Stuff breakable items (e.g. tennis racquet) in thick, cushioned items (e.g. comforter) as space and protection savers.

Other packing recommendations

Summer Camp Bathroom Kit

Make a list of the following items to help your camper feel comfortable during his or her stay:

  • Plastic bags to hold laundry or wet items will come in very handy, as well as zip-locks to keep small items together. Many camps ask you to buy the camp logo laundry bags to facilitate laundering.
  • Pack enough sun care protection (hat, sunglasses, and sun block, lip balm with SPF, as well as insect repellant). An extra pair of prescription glasses may be a good idea too!
  • Prepare a bathroom kit with toiletries and shower shoes.
  • Send any required medications separately to the infirmary.
  • Schedule a pre-camp call with a camp nurse to review any medical requirements, including food allergies.

Home away from home





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These tips will help your child feel at home and will help ease any homesickness they may feel while at overnight camp:

  • Include books, small games and a flashlight for cabin time and pre-addressed stationery with stamps to write letters home.
  • Help your camper personalize his/her space with family photos, mementos of home, and a poster.
  • Do include a favorite comforting item your child can turn to in times of emotion that helps him/her feel secure (e.g. stuffed animal or blanket).
  • Check the policy on the permitted use of cell phones and electronics, and any special gear or musical instruments. Avoid sending any valuable permitted ones.

Final steps

Once everything is gathered, begin to label every item and take inventory of everything that is going to camp, to help adjust packing for the following year. Then start packing as soon as possible. Don’t over pack! It will make it difficult to lift the trunk or duffle and cause rips.

Finally, put a copy of the inventory list in the camp trunk. It will serve as a reminder to your child of what was sent, and help him/her develop responsibility for his/her belongings. You can also email one to the camp for repacking to ensure most of what you packed returns home!

You will feel empowered when your camper is packed up. Remember to take a photo of him/her sitting on the luggage! It marks the beginning of the camp season for them – and you!

Do you have a question for our camp expert Jill?

Do you have a question for our summer camp expert, Jill Tipograph? Go to our camp message boards here and post your question.

Want more tips from Jill? Check out her site and read her Everything Summer blog here. You can also connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.


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