The Ultimate Day Camper’s Packing List

From a former camper, counselor, Camp Director and mom comes the real list you need when sending your kid to day camp this summer.

Before your kid leaves each morning, make sure the bag is packed and some things are taken care of to prepare them for an awesome day.
Read the Welcome Guide/ A-Z Guide or Welcome Email.  Nothing is more annoying than parents that show up 30 minutes after their bus leaves and say no one told them or parents who want to pay their site counselors the balance when they can’t accept payments outside the office.
Pre-camp lessons.  Some kids will make camp their first stop before heading to Kindergarten.  Your kid should be able to change them-self into and out of their bathing suit within 5 minutes.  They should know that once you take it off it goes strait into their backpack and not thrown around a locker room.  Have them practice packing their own bags and checking behind them as they leave a space to see if they got it all.  They should be able to eat lunch in about 20-30 minute window and master all juice boxes and cheese stick wrappers etc.
 A Good Night’s Sleep.  You know your kid so let them get hit the sack early and be on their A-game.
Breakfast Fuel them up and get them ready.   All of their highly physical activities will burn a tons more calories than being at school.
Sun Screen I highly recommend doing this while your kid is in the buff or just in their bathing suit.  Use lotion to get all those places that will be exposed throughout the day and are hard to reapply to.
Bug Spray After they are dressed and ready for the day cover them from head to toe.   Extra sprays around the ankles and socks keep those ticks, and mosquitoes away.
☐ Do your daughter’s hair.  They will be sweaty, wet and it helps the spread of dreaded lice.  I find with my daughter, braids are best, they stay in longer and if the elastic breaks they might stay in place.  I really have no desire to play beauty salon in the AM for your kid and discourage my staff from doing it either.

The following list is intended as a guide for families. Please note that camper equipment need not be new and remember to write your camper’s name or initials on ALL camp gear and clothing!  This list is geared towards traditional outdoor day camps.

walking staff with campers

Come on slap your kid’s name on it!  The lost and found pile at your kid’s camp will be so massive by the end of the week it is crazy what people will just walk away from.  At some camps the parents will never see the pile so if it’s labeled we’ll make sure it gets tossed in their bags.  It is so much easier if you just label it once maybe twice.  I’ve also found that if you have things embroidered for cheap, staff will think they are more special.  We might shake our head, thinking you’re that parent, but you’re more likely to get it back.  Looking for some good products for labels or easy DIY options click here for my Back to School post that has links for permanent adhesive labels for purchase, free printable downloads and disposal cheap DIY options.  Full name is better than initials and even luggage tags work just fine.

☐ A Backpack that your camper can handle, they will be carrying it all day long.  Nothing worse than a counselor who acting like a Sherpa instead of teaching your kids camp songs and getting them to archery on time.  Some camps provide a location for bags during activities so make sure it zips close and can be stuffed in a cubby or tossed in a pile without loosing it’s contents.
Water bottle(s) are an absolute must.  There are two schools of thought pack one water bottle that can be refilled all day long.  (confirm the type of camp i.e. a boating camp may not be able to refill when on-board) or the other to send an AM and PM bottle.  The AM bottle should be iced and filled with cold water.  The PM bottle can be frozen.
☐ No-refrigeration-needed snacks and lunch (in reusable container or disposable brown paper bag) with beverage (water or juice).  Check with your camp, as some provide lunch, and or snack programs.  Try freezing some foods that will defrost in time for lunch it helps keep the rest cold as the morning heats up.  i.e. juice boxes, fruit cups.  Always pack heavy lunches, kids are so hungry spending a day in the sun moving and running.  Consider packing an AM and PM snack.  Check to see if your kid is attending a peanut-free camp.
Shirt guaranteed it will be covered in dirt, paint, grass, and shaving cream (yes, always a possibility)
Shorts or long pants 
Underwear (to wear!)
Closed-toe shoes sneaker are the best.  Just like in school, only send tie if your kid can handle it.  Crocs, or Keen sandals are sometimes permitted at camp or on the water front. The big one is no flip flops, we mean it, no flip flops!  Nothing is sadder than having to tell a kid that they have to sit out of rec field or adventure course because they are wearing Crocs or old navy flip flops.

To pack in your backpack each day:
Sweater or sweatshirt.  Surprising the early am wait at a bus stop can be chilly.
Bathing suit & towel (needed each day).  Set aside 1-2 sets.  Buy 2 of the same, so staff gets use to kids in the same gear.  We do remember who has the orange pineapple towel, and will call your kid out when we pack up from the pool each day.  Also consider a rash guard shirt these are great coverage from the sun.
Baby Powder this helpful items when placed on wet and sandy feet will absorb the water allowing you brush off the sand and get dry sand-free feet back into socks and sneakers for the hike after fun at the beach.
☐ A wet bathing suit bag or zip-lock bag they make great new pouches that will keep the wet suit from getting everything else soaked.  If you don’t have the pouch a gallon zip-lock bag works just fine.
Clear Gallon Zip-lock Bag toss the baby powder, bug spray and sunscreen in it.  Chances are your kid will use their backpack as a seat in the dirt while waiting for the nature staff to explain the differences between moths and butterflies.  Save yourself the headache of internal explosions.
Rain gear (rain jacket or poncho.  Boots if they fit in the bag)  Having a kid at camp will force you to become a local weather watcher.  Some camps have rain sites and can do most stuff indoors some camps keep a regular rotation and just alter programs having campers still walk from place to place.  Ask your Camp Director or previous camp parents what the scoop is.
Sunscreen.  Send both lotion, spray and chap-sticks.  Campers will often share and hap haphazardly apply the spray.  Which will cause you to take out stock in your local drug store sunscreen isle.  Most camps do not encourage sharing for allergy reasons and will avoid having a counselor apply sun lotion to your child and instead encourage other campers to help each other.
☐ Non-aerosol insect repellent.  
 Hat or Visor consider tossing in sunglasses if your kid would wear them.
☐ Extra pair of underwear place these in a clear zip-lock bag that can live nicely on the bottom of the backpack.  (very helpful after the other camper unit sneaks up on your group with coolers full of water balloons.)
☐ Optional: Small amount of cash (approximately $5—$20) to purchase items in the camp store, aka Trading Post.  Check with your camp as they will probably only have a specific day of the week where they will get to visit the camp store/trading post so you don’t have to send it every day.  Plus if your kids tells you they need $20 every day they are either flat out lying or skipping the camp bus and heading to the arcade downtown.

colton-rv-camping-with-kids-01Additional Equipment for specialty camps
Life Jackets- Don’t forget to label them.
Field Trips– If your camp has a special camp t-shirt wear it!  It only makes your kids that much safer when in a large group.  If you’ve lost it put them in a similar color.  Gift Shop money.  Don’t bother, nothing is more annoying than a kid that has $4 and wants to get a $18 dolphin from the aquarium or the kid who has $25 and just spent the whole amount on sugar filled pixie sticks.  This isn’t the time nor place to have a lesson in personal finances.
Sporting Equipment i.e. cleats, pads, helmets etc.

Seriously people just don’t bring the following; crazy that we have to say it but you’d be surprised. The following items are prohibited at traditional day camp programs: iPods, cell phones, jewelry, electronic games, weapons, pets, illegal drugs, and alcoholic beverages. You’ve sent your kids to be engaged in something new, making new friends, learning a skill.  None of that is accomplished if they are scrolling the internet checking on their friends in another group or camp.  If you need them, you have the camp phone number and if they need you; we’ve collected it all during the mountain of paperwork you filled in, back in the spring at registration.

Once your kid gets home it’s time to…
☐ Empty and re-load the bag.  Check out the art project that just came home or the gods-eye they worked on all day, or the friendship bracelet they are making for someone.  Make sure you pay attention to the weekly calendar of events.  Is it a dress up theme day? Are you suppose to bring something special? Kids that participate in the theme weeks, dress up days or activities have by far more fun.  The counselors are more likely to naturally engage with your kid if they are sporting an awesome pirate map they made and rolled up with sticks.
☐ Get them cleaned up.  A tub/shower can do wonders as well as give your a chance for a tick check.
☐ Get them a good meal.  Remember camps now post on Facebook, website, Instagram or even email out some happenings of the day.  I always post some type of conversation starter for my camps.  Ask your kid at dinner specifics about camp, new favorite song, least favorite meal in the mess hall, most talented counselor.
☐ Than it is early to bed, to do it all again the next day.

My goal as a Camp Director is to send your kids home tired and dirty with a smile on their face.  If you’ve found something to be helpful or should be added to your camp’s specific list, email your Camp Director.  We spend all of December, January and February updating our packing list, and paperwork; and welcome honest feed back.

Make memories, make friends and have an awesome summer!