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Pack Them Lightly and Maximize Summer Adventure!

No one at your kids’ camp is hoping you will over-pack. Camp staff are busy scheduling the type of summer adventures that make lifelong memories, so resist the urge to over-pack your kids for camp. Keep your approach simple. Here are a few tips that will make your job easier and save you money and headaches.

Be a follower. Heed the camp packing list, even if you don’t understand every piece of advice. The staff has done this before and they know what is necessary and what is not. If you have a question, send an email in advance. Don’t wait until the last minute to pack. Divide and conquer the list early by laying everything out where it can be checked and double-checked. Expect it to all come back home in a jumble, of course.

Think duffel bag. If your camp does not tell you how to pack, invest in a large, sturdy duffel bag and do not over-fill it. You want to leave a bit of room for everything to come home after camp when it’s not packed as well as you packed it. In fact, tuck a collapsible nylon bag into one of the duffel bag pockets; it’s sure to come in handy on the way home. If your camp requires a trunk, consider a soft trunk for easier mobility.

Go with worn. Don’t go on a spending spree and send your child to camp with a whole new wardrobe. These clothes will likely come home stained and ripped - if they even make it home at all. Suffice it to say, pack old clothing that won’t be missed if it does not return home. Anything of irreplaceable sentimental value needs to stay home, even if it’s just an old T-shirt. Send favorites as long as they are replaceable. Have a variety of appropriate shoes. And if you buy new shoes for your child, definitely have them break in their new pair of shoes or hiking boots before camp begins.

Label almost everything. Use a black laundry marker or a silver Sharpie for black items. If you shop online, you can find a white laundry marker that will last a couple of years. But don’t go so far as labeling socks. Buy inexpensive socks of the same type and make sure your camper can identify them. Keep markings simple for most things by using your child’s initials.  Mark important items like boots, sneakers, and water bottles with a full name. Label luggage, too.

Like lightweight layers. Even if it will be cool or even cold at night, resist the urge to pack a parka. Go with lightweight layers. A T-shirt, sweatshirt, and a waterproof shell is plenty warm enough for active kids. For cooler locations, fleece is lightweight and warm. Jeans may not sound fierce but will come in handy on cool nights by the fire. Don’t forget a camp chair for damp mornings and evenings outdoors. And if you are going to pack anything extra, consider socks and underwear, a second bathing suit, and a back-up water bottle.

Expect damp. Sleeping bags should be easy to dry out in the sun. Pack any stationary, books, and papers in zip-top bags. You can separate small clothing into zip-top bags when packing. Include a few spare zip-top bags for your little camper to sort dirty laundry into while at camp. To avoid mildew, remind your camper not to zip anything damp into a plastic bag.

Repel critters naturally. Make sure camp cabins will be animal-proof before sending candy or snacks. Beware of ants and other bugs. When packing toiletries, invest in insect-repelling natural brands for shampoo, conditioner, and soap. You can always transfer liquids into small, spill-proof containers and leave the remainder at home. Natural scents that discourage bugs include tea tree, rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, and lemongrass. Try bath products with these scents and also pack traditional insect repellent.

Ease pressure. I am sure you want your kids to write to you from camp, so include self-addressed postcards or stationary. Then when drop-off day arrives, squeeze those campers tight, tell them you love them, and let them off the hook to enjoy a summer camp experience of their own creation. They may not write or call or even think of you much, and that’s okay. If they send one piece of mail, let it be enough until they return. The less they think about you and home, the better job you did packing them up for independence.

What to bring to camp:

  • Extra socks and underwear
  • Extra spill-proof water bottle
  • Extra bathing suit
  • Nylon laundry bag
  • Bathroom/shower caddy
  • Headlamp or flashlight and batteries
  • Disposable camera
  • Towels and bed linens
  • Camp chair
  • Raincoat or poncho
  • Sunglasses
  • Waterproof sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Feminine protection
  • Insect repellant
  • Back-up glasses or contacts
  • Pre-addressed stationary
  • A good book
  • Playing cards and small games
  • A few personal items (family photos, stuffed animal, twinkle lights)

Save on camp supplies:

  • Forget what other kids bring
  • Rock those hand-me-downs
  • Borrow from friends or neighbors
  • Shop resale
  • Search for online coupons
  • Leave irreplaceable things at home
  • Break shoes/boots in well before camp
  • Bring enough, but not too much
  • Focus on enjoying the experience

Author, journalist, and writing coach Christina is a notorious over-packer. Luckily her daughter is a performer, who has learned how to pack expediently yet thoroughly. 

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