So your kids are going to summer camp, they’re excited, you’re excited…but before the fun begins, we have to pack those bags first 😉 I’ve been packing my kids for overnight camp for about five years now, so I have quite a few tricks up my sleeve. The camp’s packing lists usually cover the basics but most parents like to go a little bit beyond that. A quick browse on google for packing lists can be quite intimidating with pictures of Pinterest-worthy camp trunks, but take a deep breath. I’m here to help!
I. First things first, your camp’s packing list is your starting point. If it’s your kid’s first time at this particular summer camp then I would follow it faithfully. If it’s your 2nd or 3rd summer, you’ve probably learned what items work for your kids and what don’t. For example, even though the camp asks you to bring a full set of sheets, I never pack the top sheet…we don’t use them at home, so why use them at camp? For packing, I keep a running list on my phone (in either apple notes/reminders). In that list I can mark off what I’ve already packed, as well as a shopping list of items that I still need to buy. It’s handy to keep on your phone because you never know when you’ll be able to do a little camp shopping.
II. Next, you’re going to need a quality bag or trunk to put things in. Follow your camp’s directions on what works best. Some recommend trunks, others want duffels, some might even recommend suitcases with wheels. In our case, my kids have been to three different summer camps and none of them recommended trunks. We’ve had this durable duffel bag (#1) for five+ years and it still looks brand new, I highly recommend it.
III. Having an organization system is a must AND make sure your kids know it too! One year I put complete outfits each into separate ziplock bags for my daughter. She came home so frustrated because she ended up wearing the same outfit all week but had trouble finding socks and underwear since they were all in separate bags! Now hopefully your kids aren’t doing the same thing, but we’ve learned by trial and error that my kids like to pick their own outfits. Now I group things together in the same bag. You can use ziplock bags if you like or try packing cubes (#2) if you think your kids are ready for them (aka won’t lose them). I also pack my kids shoes in a plastic grocery or trash bag – those things are filthy when they come home and you don’t want all that dirt and sand getting in their duffels.
IV. We went with these laundry carry bags (#3) this year since it doubled as a bag to store their sleeping bags and linens for the flight there. If you think your kid will have a lot of wet clothing though, you’ll definitely want to go with a mesh bag. My daughter used to use a pop-up mesh hamper, but disliked it because she felt like it took up too much floor space and made her feel like her dirty clothes were too visible.
V. Go as minimal as possible when it comes to toiletries. Kids spend as little time as possible in the bathrooms. For my son, I end up not packing things like lotion or chapstick, because I know he just won’t bother with them. In fact, I pack a shampoo/conditioner/body wash in one for him and that helps save even more space. I also pack single-use wipes if I can, that way they don’t need to bring an entire bottle and end up wasting it. For example, I packed bug repellant wipes this year – so much easier for them to apply (and pack!).
VI. As for the toiletry bag itself, there are plenty of great options out there, but the one thing I highly recommend is that it’s made of mesh. It helps everything dry out between uses. We like these toiletry bags as they’re a bit smaller and easier to handle. You can also hang it by the loop if needed. This is another one we have and love – we use it for misc. items like headlamps (#11), fairy lights (#18) and cameras. A lot of kids use this type of shower bag so that they can carry their towels (#12).
VII. This bunk bed organizer (#5) is a tried and true summer camp must-have. It acts like a nightstand and can be a handy catchall for everything they need within arms reach – especially if they’re on the top bunk.
X. These stationary books with pre-addressed stamped letters make writing home a breeze. We’ve used the same one for each child for years. I make sure to pre-address and stamp them, that way they don’t need separate envelopes, an address book or stamps. All they need to do is write a letter, fold it, seal it with a sticker and put it in the mailbox.
XI. I always send them with a variety of brand new books to read, including one that might be a little more advanced than they’re used to. They much more likely to read it at camp, than they are at home 😉
XII. Also, super important: don’t forget to pack a family photo! I usually pack an extra copy of our last holiday card. One year I forgot and one of my kids was so homesick. They said it was worse because they couldn’t picture our faces and that made them even more upset – broke my heart.
XIII. In the last care package I send my kids, I include calling cards. Old fashioned, I know 😉 but it really comes in handy for kids that don’t know their email address or phone number. You can include mailing address and even usernames to Minecraft or Roblox. This year, I punched a hole and attached a friendship bracelet to each card.
XIV. In that same care package, I send a return packing list for my kids. I think it helps for them to have a checklist to reference so they know if they’re missing something. I don’t list every little thing, just the VIP items I hope make it home.
XV. I know lots of parents clean everything after camp and put it all back in the bag/trunk for next summer. We use our camp duffels year-round, so I have a storage bin the garage that I put all of our camp essentials in for next summer: bunk organizers, stationary, activity books, bug repellant, etc. It definitely speeds up the packing process for next summer!
You can watch what I packed for my kids this summer on my TikTok account here!
- Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 100L
- packing cubes
- laundry bag/backpack
- toiletry bag with 2 handles and toiletry case with 1 handle
- bunk organizer
- clothing name stamp
- water bottle with handle and straps
- shower shoes
- water sandals
- warm jacket
- head lamp
- cotton towels
- waterproof watch
- apple AirTag & waterproof holder
- fun camp sheets
- card games
- 3 in 1 shampoo/conditioner/body wash
- fairy lights to decorate their bunk
- paint by sticker books
- paper airplane book
- Where’s Waldo travel edition
- Camp letters book (so sweet!)
- travel case with makers and a drawing pad
- easy stationary for letters home
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