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21 Summer Camp Packing Tips for Newbie Parents from Seasoned Ones

Are you sending your child (gulp!) to overnight camp for the first time this summer? No worries, the kids at camps will have fun - it’s the parents who need the peace of mind. And getting the right items packed should help alleviate a little of this anxiety for you. This collected and curated advice about what to pack comes to you from parents who have been there, done that (and a few who were campers themselves as youngsters). These tips might be the only packing list you need.

These tips might be the only packing list you need:

Check the camp’s rules about what to pack and what not to pack for your child.

If rules allow, pack surprise snacks and gum in your child’s suitcase or bag for them to share these goodies with their friends.

Pack extra towels. Amanda Horn, mom of three boys, suggests that packing more than one towel is a necessary addition to the suitcase.

Tuck a few personal notes among your child’s packed belongings. Ashley Greer, mother of three girls, says this is a nice way to let your children know that you’re thinking of them.

Pack contingency items like aloe for sunburns and ointment for bug bites. “Send the items they’ll need when they don’t use the items you send,” says Brittney Lee, mom and former child camper.

Pack a roll or two of toilet paper.

Don’t forget to include a laundry bag.

Label everything! Kelly Mayfield takes advantage of purchasing personalized clothing and product labels for her daughter when going away to camp.

Include a notebook and pens/pencils for writing, drawing, and exchanging contact information with other campers. Teacher Julie Kohl points out that for today’s kids, a “calling card” with social media handles is probably in order.

Pack as many cheap clothes for your child as you can. You’ll be way less concerned when those clothing items don’t make the return trip home. The most important thing to come back home is your child.

Pack more clothing items than the camp recommends. When Alison Raymer packs camp bags for her daughters, she always packs extra. Kids will likely have to change their clothes more than once a day, and you don’t want them to run out of clothes. Summer camp is a dirty place.

Pack each day’s clothes in an extra large zipper storage bag. Keisha Newberry does this for her daughter: “She pulls out a bag every day and also puts her dirty clothes back in that bag.”

Teach your children to pack wet things in bags separate from their dry clothes. In case they don’t remember, you might want to open the suitcase outside when they arrive back home.

Pack an extra bed sheet for your child, even if a sleeping bag is required. Dawn Strait says this helps when kids might be sleeping on less-than-stellar mattresses. (At summer camp? Unheard of!)

Pack several swimsuits/swim trunks for your kid. Trust these parents when they say that packing one swimsuit or pair or trunks is not enough.

For all those wet clothing pieces and swim gear that doesn’t fit in pre-packed bags, pack extra plastic shopping bags.

Include the list of everything you packed in your child’s suitcase or bag. Your kid will need that list to make it back home with at least most of the things in their suitcase. Deb Bonner, whose sons are now adults, says this should help kids make it home with (nearly) as much as they took. You might need to include a reminder note to prompt them to look at the list before heading home from camp.

Pack a small flashlight or headlamp because ‘lights out’ in the cabin means bumping to the bathroom in the dark.

Pack ‘rainy day’ items like a deck of cards, pocket games, and, of course, books! Mary Ann Crawford, whose children are now adults, suggests the fun idea of putting in a guide sheet for shadow animals. (You’ll need to pack #18 on this list to help out.)

Pack a bungee cord. Mom and camp nurse Jean Nelson says you never know when it will come in handy.

And ditto for duct tape. This advice comes from Brandi Sharum, who with five children has had her fair share of summer camp experiences. That stuff fixes anything, right?

Rhonda is a freelance writer, mom of three boys, and former summer camp attendee. She’ll be using this list and checking it twice come summer when she helps her son pack for camp. You can find more of her adventures and tips on parent life and managing home with a pilot husband at

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