The Most Organized Way to Pack for Summer Camp
Learn the best tips and tricks for the most organized way to pack for summer camp! Make your trip to summer camp as smooth and seamless as possible!
This year I sent my boys off to sleepover summer camp for the very first time. Part of me was super excited. They’re going to the same camp I went to growing up. (I was even a counselor there in college!) I’m so thrilled that they’ll get to experience all of the fun activities I got to do every summer as a kid.
But of course, the other part of me was nervous. I’ve never been away from them for so long before. What if they get homesick? What if they accidentally get hurt? Or what if they don’t have everything they need?
When I get nervous, I tend to focus in on the things I can control. I may not be able to pop up in their cabin whenever they’re feeling homesick. And I can’t prevent an accidental injury. But… I can do my best to make sure they have everything they need while they are away!
So I set out to organize their supplies as best I could so that they could easily find everything and keep their stuff tidy while they were at camp.
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I found these tips and tricks the most helpful while packing for summer camp…
Packing for Summer Camp? Read this first!
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
1. Know your camp.
Packing for camp– knowing what to send and how to send it– will be easier the more familiar you are with your particular camp.
Camps will generally provide a packing list and a list of prohibited items, but the more info you can gather about camp life ahead of time, the easier it will be to pack in an organized way and prepare your camper for what to expect.
Questions to Ask Before You Start Packing
Here are a few things that could be helpful to know before you pack for summer camp:
- Where do campers store their clothes? On shelves or in drawers? Or will they stay in their luggage? How much storage space is provided for each camper?
- Where do campers store their luggage? Does it need to meet certain size requirements to be able to fit under a bunk bed or in a storage closet?
- Is there laundry available or do campers need to bring enough clothing for their entire time at camp?
- Are showers in the morning or in the evening or sometime in the middle of the day? When does it make the most sense for the camper to change into a clean outfit? Will the campers need multiple outfits per day?
- Are there bathrooms in the cabins or is there a separate bath house? If the bath house is separate, are there cubbies for campers to store their toiletries there or do they need a caddy to carry them back and forth?
- Is a clothesline or other option available for drying wet bathing suits, towels, and other clothing items?
- If campers forget important toiletry items or need more clothing, is there a camp store available to purchase such items? Can parents send packages with additional supplies? What is the best way for campers to communicate to their parents that other items are needed?
- Are there any extra events or trips during the camp term that would require specialized gear?
- Are sleeping bags or sheets/blankets preferable? Will campers be in bunks or sleeping outdoors or both?
- What is the food/snack situation? Are campers able to bring their own snacks and if so, is there a safe place to store them?
- If your camper has food allergies, how are those handled at camp? Can they ensure that food is not cross-contaminated? Is the camper expected to provide his/her own allergen-free food?
Most camps will provide a welcome packet that includes most of this information. But you may also want to give them a call/send an email if it is your first year at this particular camp in order to nail down some of the smaller details if need be.
2. Take inventory a month beforehand.
My organized packing strategy actually started about a month before the boys left for camp. I printed off a copy of the packing list that the camp provided on their website and set about doing an inventory of my boys’ clothing and camp gear to make sure they had everything they needed. (You can also get a free printable packing list here!)
My boys were gone for nine days, and their camp doesn’t have laundry service. So I ended up having to order a few extra pairs of shorts, grabbed some additional underwear from the store, made sure their headlamps were stocked with fresh batteries, etc.
Completing an inventory a month in advance gave me plenty of time to order any necessary supplies, give them time to come in, adjust for any returns or exchanges, and so on.
Starting the packing process early also gave me time to…
3. Label everything!
Now, my kids are pretty responsible. But I am still constantly finding sweatshirts and socks and books and all sorts of things laying around our house, in our cars, and pretty much anywhere else they visit.
I knew that chances were fairly high that the boys would accidentally leave some of their stuff sitting around in various places at camp, so I wanted to make it as easy as possible for their items to find their way back to them.
For their clothes, I ironed simple name labels into the insides of their shirts, shorts, sweatshirts, etc. (I did not label their socks and underwear, but I guess you could if you wanted to!)
I saved money and was able to create the exact label design I wanted by making the iron-on labels myself. You can get the how-to for these iron-on labels in this post.
I also used my Cricut Explore cutting machine and adhesive vinyl to make labels for their packing bins so they didn’t get mixed up with anyone else’s.
For smaller items like their sunscreen, flashlight, water bottles, etc., I just used a Sharpie marker to add their name.
4. Fold clothes based on available storage.
I am normally a file folder. (See drawer photo above.) But for summer camp, I knew the boys would be storing their items on open shelving rather than in drawers. Because of this, it made more sense to create a neat stack of the boys’ items while I was packing them up.
I folded the boys’ items in the optimal way to be stored on shelves. So when we got to camp, it only took us a minute to transfer the neat stacks from their packing cubes to their designated shelf space. (Meaning I could get out of their hair more quickly. Apparently tween boys are mortified to have their mother dropping them off at summer camp. 😂)
And speaking of packing cubes…
5. Use packing cubes to store items by category.
I love packing cubes for any trip because they keep like items together and really help to make the most of the packing space available! Depending on the setup at your particular camp, they could even help to keep items corralled on shelves or in drawers.
Our camp prefers that extra containers be put away, so I didn’t leave the cubes on the boys’ shelves. But they were still great for transporting everything in a neat and organized way.
I had one cube for t-shirts, one cube for shorts, one cube for socks and underwear, etc.
6. Send a laundry bag.
Putting 10 tween boys in one small cabin is just asking for chaos, so I tried to help my kiddos by putting as many simple systems in place as possible!
Every time we go on vacation, we always designate a specific spot for dirty clothes, so they’re already used to separating their worn items from their clean things. For camp, I simply provided a mesh laundry bag that would be big enough to hold all of their dirty stuff for the time they would be away.
Then whenever they get home, I can just bring the mesh bags up to the laundry room and start washing right away. Clothes that are still clean can go back into the packing cubes and returned to drawers and closets when they get home.
Since they’ll be packing up to come home before I arrive to pick them up, this should make the process easier for them as well!
(I also packed a plastic garbage bag so that any wet items could be separated out from dry items.)
7. Use shower caddies to corral toiletries.
This one will depend somewhat on your camp’s shower situation, but I always think it’s helpful to corral like items in one place when possible!
Especially at camp where you have a lot of people living in a small area, it’s easy for things to get mixed together. A caddy like the ones shown below can help to keep all of your camper’s toiletry items together, making them easy to find and transport from place to place when needed.
8. Pack for summer camp in plastic tubs rather than suitcases.
I wish I could take credit for this genius idea, but it was actually our camp’s suggestion! Plastic tubs are super durable, can hold a lot, and can just be sprayed out with a hose after the kiddos return from camp!
We don’t have to worry about nice luggage getting ruined. And we made sure that we chose tubs that were short enough to be tucked away underneath the camp bunks.
Tween boys can be pretty rough on their stuff, but with these inexpensive tubs, I didn’t even have to worry about it. Plus, the lids are tight and can help keep out bugs and critters if necessary.
9. What to Pack for Summer Camp
Every camp will be a little different in terms of what they ask you to bring or leave at home. So be sure to check your camp’s website/mailings for their recommended packing list.
Summer Camp Packing List
With that being said, here is a general list of items we found helpful to bring to summer camp in order to be as prepared as possible:
- Large tub for packing
- Packing cubes
- Laundry bag + trash bag for wet items
- Toiletry caddy
- Toiletry items (soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste, etc.)
- Bug spray
- Sleeping bag and/or sheets and blankets
- Towels (I just sent beach towels, which they used for both swim and shower times. I sent 4 towels for a week-long camp term.)
- T-shirts (I sent about two shirts/day they were away.)
- Shorts (I sent one pair per day they were away + 1-2 extra pairs just in case.)
- Underwear (I sent about two pairs/day they were away.)
- Socks (I sent one pair per day they were away + 3-4 extra pairs just in case.)
- Warm clothing (Sweatshirts, sweatpants, etc. I sent about 4 sets for the week they were away. This will obviously vary based on the climate where your camp is located.)
- Raincoat and/or poncho
- Swimsuits (I sent three for the one week term.)
- Swim goggles
- Athletic shoes (I sent 2-3 pairs.)
- Water shoes
- Shower shoes
- Flashlight and/or headlamp (+ extra batteries)
- Reusable water bottle(s)
- Letter writing supplies (envelopes, stamps, paper, writing utensils, addresses; I pre-addressed and stamped envelopes to our home address to make writing to me as easy as possible! 😉 )
- Bible, other books
- Battery-operated clock and/or watch
- Disposable camera (if cell phones are not allowed)
- Prescription medications
(Snag a free printable packing list to help you get organized in this post!)
Have fun at camp!
My little campers were so excited for their time away! And I was able to go into their camp term confident that they had everything they needed to have a successful week.
By helping them to stay organized and eliminating some of the unknowns, the boys were able to head into their week as prepared as possible and ready to have a ton of fun!
What are your best tips and tricks for packing for summer camp? I would love to hear about them in the comments below!
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Thank you so much for following along! Have fun at summer camp!
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
Thanks for your blog. This was super helpful. I did have a question about the size tub you used. Was it the 31 gallon size? Did they have any problems tucking it under the bunk beds? Thank you!
Hi, Cathy! Yes– I used the 31 gallon size tubs. Our camp had specified in their literature that the bunks in the cabin could fit luggage/tubs 17″ or shorter, and those tubs came in at 16.7″, so we were good to go with no issues! You may want to double check with your camp to see if they know their exact bunk height. Have a great weekend!
As an anxious mom about to send the kids to overnight camp for the first time, I cannot express how helpful this post has been! Thank you so much!!
I’m so glad it was helpful for you, Christie! Hope they have a great time!