Dressing Your Kids for Camp

Happy Camper at Kids Summer Camps

An incredible and impacting experience at kids summer camps starts long before they step onto the bus for their first day at camp.  It Begins With the Right Preparation.

One of the main purposes for any kids summer camps is to imbue the kids with newfound strength and confidence.  You first have to feel strong to be strong.  But none of these life-changing ripples can be felt, if your kids are not FIRST feeling comfortable at camp.  There are certain discomforts your young camper will feel that you will not be able to influence.  Much of this type of discomfort will be rooted in their anticipation of their outdoor adventures, and will quickly dissipate with most kids as they settle into their new camp surroundings.

The biggest way you can support your kids comfort at camp is to prepare them with the right gear and clothing for their unforgettable camp experience.

I have fielded countless questions from parents over the years in regards to how to dress kids appropriately for camp.  This can be a daunting challenge, especially considering the likelihood that they will soon grow out of it.  Well worry not parents, we have all the tips and tricks for you below you as we delve into your kids camp packing list.  Let the stress and anxiety roll off of you.  We’re here to support and help our wonderful camp parents out there.  Lets get started! 

The First Questions to Consider on Dressing for your Kids Summer Camps

Where is the Camp Located?

The location of the camp is key to how to dress your young camper.  Considerations such as the region, the altitude, the surrounding topography, and the type of lodging all need to be taken into account when preparing for camp.  

I’ve found the surrounding topography to be an important, and often overlooked, consideration.  I admit that when I was starting out as an Outdoor Science School Instructor way back in the day, it didn’t really factor in for me as well.  That was until I started to work at some kids camps that happened to be located in some deep, narrow canyons in the mountains.

In the early mornings at these camps, the cold is slightly more piercing than usual.  This is due to the fact that the canyons act as a cold sink; keeping the cold trapped and the temperatures low in these areas.  Boy there were some nippy mornings for myself and the kids.  Those were the days when I always took my cabin group on a small hike before breakfast just to get the blood pumping a bit.  Nobody likes feeling cold.   

Any camps located at lower altitudes and coastal regions will have different considerations to a camp that is located at 6500 ft in a mountain range.  One camp will definitely be warmer than the other.  But keep in mind, that strong winds a blowing can be very cold at times at coastal camps.  Protection from the wind, more so than insulation, will be a key consideration for the kiddoes.

little boy hiking in scenic mountains

What is the Time of Year? 

This is clearly a bigger consideration for kids camps that occur outside of the summer season.  But it is still important to note given that the weather could be slightly different at the beginning of the summer season (June) than at the tail end (August).  

Be mindful of the differences in the dryness of the various camp regions and seasons.  With the wrong combination of clothing and the right level of dryness in the air, I have seen chafing on hikes exacerbate into ugly rashes for the kids.  Definitely something that can be avoided with the right prep and understanding of your young camper.  And don’t forget to pack the chap stick as well!

Winter is cold at times anywhere you go.  I still remember bright, sunny days walking around coastal camps back home in New Zealand as a kid.  No matter how warm the day felt though, we all knew to carry a jacket at all times.  Because when that wind started blowing strong from the south, an arctic chill was coming our way.  Winter won’t be as dramatically felt in most coastal camps, but in mountain camps, it’s a different story.  Plan accordingly!

What Kind of Camp Activities?

Keep in mind that it is actually the quieter and less active outdoor activities that will require more consideration for your kids warmth and comfort.  When we engage in active outdoor activities, such as hiking and kayaking, our bodies constant motion will keep our blood pumping throughout our limbs and extremities.  This will result in consistent warmth, and can even compel your camper to shed their layers at times.    

It is the two hours each night at the Campfire activity where your camper will be sitting almost the entire time, vulnerable to the cold and wind, that you need to consider a little more.  There are a few of these types of activities at every camp for kids and teens.  

If inclement weather is expected, the camps will not allow such activities to be conducted outside.  They will instead move to a large indoor space like the dining hall.    

Layering Up for Kids Summer Camps

It’s All About Balancing the Right Layers with Warmth and Breathability.   One super warm jacket won’t be enough, the right layering will be required for your kids to be completely comfortable at camp.  An ideal layering system looks like:  

Base Layer or First Layer – a simple t-shirt will suffice. This layer will either retain or dry sweat, depending on fabric. 

Mid Layer – a long sleeve t-shirt, fleece or down jacket. This layer is your insulation layer, and is responsible for keeping your kid warm.

Outer Layer – a wind and water resistant jacket or poncho. This layer is your protection layer from the wind and rain. It should keep the layers underneath dry and comfortable. 

If your kid is especially sensitive to the cold, add an additional mid layer.  Perhaps also consider a down jacket.  It not only feels like you’re wrapped in a pillow, it also traps a heck of a lot of body heat.  A down jacket from a trusted outdoor brand should last for years. 

What is the Right Fit?

Remember that effective warmth in the outdoors is all about trapping our body heat.  That is why down jackets and sleeping bags are so handy.  They all feature large, lofting compartments of duck and goose feathers that trap the heat and keep us insulated throughout the experience.  

Given this consideration of trapping heat, the right fit for layering is generally the tighter, the better.  Each of your kids will have different feelings to how encumbered they might be by their clothing.  I personally never liked feeling like the Michelin Man.  I wear clothing that keeps me warm, but still allows for free and unbound movement during camp activities.  

Techniques such as doubling up on the base layers (long and short sleeve T’s worn together), or wearing a mid layer vest have been particularly helpful for many kids and teens. 

For your campers outer layers, such as their water resistant jacket, it is okay to wear something that is a couple of sizes larger.  It will still work to trap the heat, and will provide a lot of more life as it will endure many more camp seasons.  

What About the Raingear at Kids Summer Camps?

Catching the rain at kids camps

Weather at camp can be unpredictable, especially in mountain areas.  It is highly important that your kid always have ready access to the right raingear just in case nature decides to throw a bit of a curve ball.  There is a ton of information to share on this important topic alone.  So we’ve decided that it deserved its own dedicated post.  Check it out, How to Pick your Kids Raincoats for Camp.

Synthetic vs. Cotton Clothing?

Cotton is comfortable, retains moisture, dries very slowly, and draws heat away from the body.  Therefore in hotter and drier outdoor locations, cotton will actually be more effective in keeping your young camper cool and comfortable in the heat.  It also provides decent sun protection.  Cotton also doesn’t damage natural coastal features like the chemicals found in sunscreen. 

Synthetics (nylon, polyester, fleece etc.) are more water resistant, dry far quicker, retain more body heat, and are far more durable.  This is very important in colder locations and those at higher elevations.  Synthetics typically last years longer than cotton clothing and provide superior warmth.

Denim is more durable than both cotton and synthetics.  But it dries even slower than cotton, does not breathe, and retains a lot of heat.  However denim can be effective, depending on the activity, such as a casual wear-around camp pair, horseback riding, or shorter roped challenges with harnesses due to superior durability. 

Make Sure It All Comes Back From Your Kids Summer Camps – Pack a Laundry Bag!

This will not only ensure that no clothes are lost, but it will also separate your young campers clothing to be ready for washing at home.  It can get quite dirty and smelly at camp.  

I have dealt with a mountain of lost and found clothes at the end of the camp sessions.  Its much more of a hassle to pick them up later, than to just prevent losing the clothes in the first place.  And many outdoor laundry bags, such as the ones included with our KCE Kids Essential Camp Bundles, are also water-resistant dry sacks that can be used in other outdoor adventures as well.

Consider the Level of Sun Protection in Each Piece of Clothing.

Two Campers Enjoying Majestic Mountain View at Camp

With thinner and more sensitive skin than adults, there needs to be more awareness in how sun protection is guaranteed for your kids at camp.  This will help to ensure an uninterrupted camp experience for them.

There are fabrics that are designed to reflect UV light naturally, such as nylon and polyester.  Fortunately for the kids, these fabrics are used in the vast majority of outdoor clothing today.

Another way to provide this protection is with clothing that features a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating.  Simply typing in “kids upf clothing” in search engines provides an immediate selection of effective clothing options.  

Be sure to pack the sunscreen and a hat for them as well!

Be Aware of Spray-On Bug Repellency Treatments!

Many parents are tempted by the lure of the absolute guarantee of no bugs hassling their kids with this highly priced outdoor clothing.  This clothing is very effective at the outset.  However we like to focus on outdoor clothing and gear that can survive the long haul, over many impacting camp seasons.  

All spay-on bug repellency treatments will eventually completely wear out of the clothing, depending on the number of washing cycles.  I doubt that any could be effective against a full 7 week summer camp season.

The Right Footwear Completes the Package at Kids Summer Camps.

The right footwear is critical for your kids comfort at camp.  It is one of the most important pieces of gear to consider for them.  Their feet are their wheels at camp, and hugely influential on the overall camp experience.  

I always recommend that they be first tested and then bought at a physical store.  It is very difficult to know how to size effectively without your kid actually putting them on.  Every outdoor brand sizes their shoes a little differently, there is no absolute consistent standard!  We provide a guide to this important process in our KCE Camp Tidbit – How to Prepare Your Camper.

Little campers hiking on muddy path at kids summer camps

Find Durable and Multi-Functional Kids Camping Clothing.

Your time is incredibly valuable as a parent.  Make sure you choose the right clothing the first time to ensure a maximum life as it grows with your kid.  The right outdoor clothing should be multi-functional and durable.  You might even have some already sitting in your kids closet that you can double purpose.  Any synthetic clothing can easily be used for the outdoors as well.  Synthetic pajamas make great base layers!  

That’s A Wrap!

Hopefully this post on how to dress for kids summer camps is helpful, insightful, and enjoyable for you.  There are so many incredible and life-changing values to be gained from Camp.  We absolutely cannot allow any clothing discomfort to get in the way of this unique adventure for the kids.  Its hard to burst with confidence and empowerment if your shivering and cold.  

With the right outdoor clothing and layering, they will boldly walk into every activity ready to embrace newfound confidence, regardless of the weather or conditions.  I hope I have faithfully guided you, our wonderful camp parents out there, and have helped to ensure the best experience for your kids.  This post contains some excerpts from our KCE Camp Tidbit – How To Prepare Your Camper.  Have a great time preparing your young camper for their unforgettable camp adventures!

“I’m comfortable with my body because of Camp.” 

– Former Camper

For more of the best kids camp tips and insight, subscribe to our free and exclusive KCE Camp Tidbits emails.  Confidence building is a major part of any awesome outdoor adventure.  Being properly equipped is key.  Nothing saps your confidence like being unprepared.  Never let it happen to your kids!  Check out our essential Kids Camping Bundles.

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