Sleepaway Camp 101: Demystifying the Camp Packing Process - Summer 365

2.27.20 by
sleepaway camp packing tips


Packing. First time packing for overnight camp. There is always this mystery surrounding it. Is there a secret list?  Should you really follow the list? What about the “extras”? Our momboss powered team of experts is made up of first time camp parents, camp veterans, and everything in between. As trusted advisors, beyond helping families find the best fit sleepaway camp, we are here with information, tips, and advice to help you in this new chapter of your parenting journey…so without further adieu here are some golden rules to abide by! 

  • YES.  FOLLOW THE LIST. No, there is no secret list. And repeat after us. Camp is the gift. Camp is the gift. But we get it and understand you need to send stuff – but let’s try and keep it to a minimum, ok?  We have said it before and we will say it again – you don’t need everything! LESS IS MORE! Also, while these camp stuff and clothing companies are great, don’t forget that so is Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, etc.  For your basic items, you are likely to save money purchasing from a store you already shop at then a camp specific store – save those for the more fun, special, and keepsake items!
  • CONNECT WITH SOMEONE OLDER at the camp so they know the specifics of that camp. Are you allowed a lockbox? What about a floor mat? Every camp has things they are and aren’t allowed, and has things that are popular/specific to their culture.  Not sure you know anyone? Ask us – with hundreds of clients that go up to camp each summer – we for sure know someone to set you up with to help with this.
  • MAKE A CAMP APPOINTMENT (for out of the tri-state area – you can do this over the phone!) While the discount may not seem big – use this time to also spring shop for your camper. Why not? They need new jeans and leggings? Great – add it to that order. You have to buy them anyway, you may as well get a discount. It is also a great way to start getting your happy camper excited!

Also in terms of a camp appointment – don’t save all those new items for camp!  Wash them and incorporate them into your camper’s home closets.  There is no reason you shouldn’t get more mileage out of them – and you never know if it will make its way home from camp (or what shape it will be in!), which segues perfectly into…

If your camp has a uniform and offers an appointment in your area – GO! It is a great way to see the products, feel them and most importantly, try them on to see the best size.  It is also a great way to get your camper into the camp spirit! No appointments in your area? Not to worry! Most camp outfitting companies will send you sample sizes to try.  Order early, anything that isn’t personalized can be exchanged for a different size if needed. When it comes to uniforms, our motto is to buy big. The kids won’t care if it’s a bit large and then you may get a second summer out of them (or a hand me down!)…because it is true – most of them will come home with MOST of their clothing.  Though we won’t lie – those white shirts often won’t make it. But they can always be turned into tie dye!

  • LABEL EVERYTHING. Nothing should go to camp without labels. Start now! As you do your laundry and put items away, label them! The more you label as you go, the less time it will take as the real packing begins.  This is often the most time consuming part so starting sooner rather than later is key. Worst case – you label something that doesn’t actually go to camp – then it is labeled for school! We recommend sending some up with your camper – and bringing up more on visiting day.
  • SHARPIES.  SEND ‘EM.  And not just black. Make sure you send the coveted silver sharpie.  It will write on anything the black one won’t. Black soccer socks? No problem.
  • MAKE SURE TO GET A PACK OF WHITE HANES T-SHIRTS. This way when your camper comes to getting a shirt signed, or decorating it, or tie dying it – they don’t pull out their new white Katie J NYC t shirt (and maybe have a brief conversation with them what that pack of t-shirts is for!)
  • WHEN SHOPPING FOR TOILETRIES – GET A SECOND SET.   Send the first set and bring one up on visiting day. Trust us – you don’t want to see what their toothbrush and toothpaste will look like 3-4 weeks in. Get new sunblock, etc.
  • BUY EXTRA WATER BOTTLES. (disclaimer: make sure these are on your camp’s packing list because some camps do not request them) Actually – don’t buy them. You definitely have that already. How many gatorade water bottles are lying around? If you are sending 3 water bottles – bring 3 new ones up and swap them out on visiting day. You may not even want the first batch back – but if you are sending hydroflasks, you are going to want to try and salvage them. Camp says water bottles are washed – and maybe they are – but after 3-4 weeks, you are going to want some fresh ones in that rotation.
  • COLOR WAR / OLYMPICS / SPECIAL DAYS ITEMS – you can often buy these at camp stores but you will SAVE a ton by going to either Party City or checking out our S365 Amazon Storefront (What? What’s that you say? You didn’t know we have our very own Amazon Storefront? We do we do! Check it out here.  Party City has all their gear sorted by color – so it saves you a ton of time just going to the color sections that you actually need. Do it early enough and they will still have the coveted July 4th red, white, and blue tutu.
  • BUNK JUNK – AGAIN, LESS IS MORE. But you know your camper.  We think it is nice for first year campers to have some options for rest hour.  Maybe they love to read? Or draw? Or trade baseball cards? Pack up a clear box of things that make them happy and they like to do.  This way before they really bond with their bunk – they know they have something to do – and in no time, they will all be sharing their items and using them together. It becomes a great icebreaker. Each year the kids go back, they bring less and less – because they aren’t worried about what they are going to do with their “downtime”.  Favorites of my son when he was younger included Tenzi, a deck of cards, baseball cards and album, Uno, Aaron’s Thinking Putty, and a diablo. My daughter gravitated towards her StickerBeans stickers and albums, string for friendship bracelets, a deck of cards, nail polish, face masks, and markers with paper.
  • ZIPLOC BAGS – each year it comes up that is how a lot of us pack, and each year new camper parents look puzzled. Yep. Ziploc bags and a sharpie.  Once everything is laid out to be packed – every category goes into a bag and we write the campers name (even though everything inside of it is labelled!) and the contents. So think: Avery Kaiden, 18 pairs of socks. Next bag: Avery Kaiden, 8 pairs of shorts.  Get the point? This keeps everything as organized as possible, everything can be layered on top of each other in the trunks, it makes it a piece of cake for the counselors that are unpacking them to know where to put everything (yes, counselors unpack. Swear!), and on that chance it rains a ton between when your trunks leave and when they show up at camp – everything stays dry.  I have even had years where when I get the trunks back – everything is in these bags. I have also had years where full water bottles opened and soaked everything. And the year when nail polish bottles were not closed and they dumped out (note to self: tell my daughter to toss those before she leaves camp – we do NOT need them back!)

We totally understand the stress and anxiety that goes along with your first time packing for sleepaway camp.  The good news? Next year, you will be a seasoned pro and others will be asking you for advice. Have more questions? Reach out to us – we are ALWAYS here to help and spread the camp love near and far.

Check out our other packing posts:

Pro Packing Tips from a First Time Camp Parent

Confessions of a Second Time Camp Mom: Packing Tips

10 Tips When You Get the Camp Packing List

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