The Ultimate Packing List for Any Camp

The Packing List for Camp can be a Challenge for Any Parent.  An Unforgettable Camp Adventure First Comes Down to The Right Preparation. 

Over the years, I have fielded more questions from parents about the packing list for camp than any other area.  It is a challenging list to deal with, especially the first time, and should never be left to the last minute.  This is unnecessary stress that can and should be avoided.  Your time is too important and the gift of Camp is too great.

The aim of this post is to guide our wonderful parents with thorough and helpful camp insights on the camp packing list.  I’ve been asked all kinds of questions over the years, and hopefully, I cover all of them here.  Please feel free to let me know in the comments section below anything I might have missed.  Camp, after all, is a community effort and it always takes a village.  Lets get started!

The Typical Packing List for Camp

We have sourced our packing list for camp from the American Camp Association.  This is the foremost accreditation authority for Camps in the United States.  They are about as trustworthy as it gets, and a great source of info for the wonderful world of kids camping.   

Headgear

  • Scarves
  • Bandannas
  • Baseball Caps
  • Sunhat
  • Eyeglasses
  • Sunglasses
  • Swimming Goggles

Clothing

  • T-shirts/tank tops
  • Shorts
  • Long Pants
  • Jeans
  • Jacket
  • Raincoat
  • Sweater
  • Sweatshirt/Sweatpants
  • Swim Suit
  • Dress Clothes (check with camp)
  • Pajamas and Robe
  • Polos
  • Fleece Outwear
  • Underwear

Footwear

  • Boots
  • Tennis Shoes
  • Sandals/Flip-flops
  • Dress Shoes (check with camp)
  • Socks

Gear

  • Bags/Duffels/Totes
  • Books and Magazines
  • Compass
  • Fan
  • Flashlight and Batteries
  • Frisbee
  • Reusable Water Bottle or Canteen
  • Seat
  • Sharpie
  • Writing Paper, Envelopes, Stamps

Bed and Bath

  • Towels — Bath, Hand, and Beach
  • Mattress Pad
  • Blanket
  • Pillow and Pillow Cases
  • Sheets
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Laundry Bag
  • Lint Roller

Bathroom Kit

  • Shower caddy
  • Brush and Comb
  • Shampoo
  • Soap and Soap Container
  • On-the-go hand sanitizer
  • Toothbrush and Holder
  • Toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Anti-itch Ointment
  • Insect Repellent
  • Feminine Products
  • Sunblock
  • Shaving Gear

Pack a TON of Socks.

Parents are always confused about the high number of recommended socks. Your kids feet are their wheels at camp.  They will have a direct impact on their attitude and comfort throughout the entire experience.  

I personally wear two pairs of socks a day at Camp and recommend others to do so as well.  Having and maintaining comfortable feet is all about preventative preparation.  Which basically falls down to not letting their feet get wet from sweat or from the water around camp.  They also provide extra cushioning for hiking activities which is an area where your kids will gladly accept all the extra support they can get.  

Moist feet that are allowed to persist for hours at camp can lead to your kids feet resembling swiss cheese a bit.  They become pale white, the skin starts to crack, and the resulting blisters can be awfully painful.  My feet have been there too many times!

If warmth is the primary concern, then merino wool socks are the best in the biz.  They are the most effective option for heat, and also feature natural odor resistance.  

Just keep in mind the thickness of the sock.  I can tell you from many personal experiences that the thickest ones don’t breath well at all.  My feet always end up drenched in sweat from the inside.  I only recommend these socks for the most sensitive kids or for adventures at higher altitudes.  Thin liner socks, made from some sort of Cool Max technology, worn in addition to merino socks would work well for longer hiking days.

What About Laundry Services at Camp?

If the camp session lasts less than a week, don’t count on the kids having any sort of access to laundry facilities.  If the session lasts longer, there should definitely be access to some sort of on-site facilities for the kids.  Be sure to ask your camp about the specific frequency and access.  

Many Camps will also sell small amounts of detergent and conditioner at the camp on-site store.  Or tuck shop as we used to call it back in the day at camps in New Zealand.  Inquire with your camp staff as to exactly what might be available for your kids.

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.  Trust me, it’ll all get quite dirty and smelly at camp.  

Over the years, I have dealt with a mountain of lost and found clothes at the end of each camp session.  Its much more of a hassle for parents 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.

little boy hiking in scenic mountains

Label Everything.

We don’t want you to waste ANY of your hard earned dollars that you so lovingly give to your kids for camp.  One way to ensure that your kids camping clothing and gear lasts the distance is to make sure that labels, with their name clearly visible, are on everything.

Kids tend to lose things at Camp ALL the time.  I’ve seen an absolute mountain of it over the years, and the vast majority unfortunately never finds its way back.  This vast majority also shares another trait, its all unlabelled without a name anywhere.  Be sure to double and triple check all of your kids camping clothing and gear.

How Should I Prepare the Toiletries?

Pack simple here.  Be sure to pack and separate these items with a small bag.  These are items that will be used constantly as the campers will be carrying them from the cabin to the bathroom frequently throughout the days.  Camps will usually maintain a limited supply of these items (including female-specific items) but never depend on this just in case. 

One useful tip that I gained over my years at camp is to always pack a small package of toilet seat covers as these are not always provided by the Camps.  These bathrooms can get overwhelmed and left in quite the messy state sometimes.  Carrying this small package of seat covers can make a big difference with the campers sense of comfort. 

Pack a Headlamp for Their Personal Lighting.

Headlamps are worn around the head and allow for helpful hands-free lighting for campers in unfamiliar locations.  We don’t want them falling out of their bunks or missing those beautiful rare wildlife sightings on their night hikes.  Headlamps are also much more durable and far more versatile than your standard flashlight.  

Always check for the lumen capability on the headlamp. This is related to the power and the lighting distance; at least 40 lumens is appropriate for trail use.  All of our Kids Essential Camp Bundles come with a headlamp of at least 50 lumens.

Remember to Think of Layers When Packing.

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 the 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, but it also traps a heck of a lot of body heat.  A down jacket from a trusted outdoor brand should last for years. 

Our recent post, How to Dress for Kids Summer Camps, provides the ultimate guide to picking the right clothing for your kids next outdoor adventure.   We cover layering and many other important clothing considerations for the kiddoes.

Little Camper Hiking in Mountains at Camp

What About the Out-Camping Activity?

The Out-Camping Activity at camp will require a deeper consideration for your kids and teens packing.  The weight and compressibility, in addition to the warmth and weather resistance, will need to be considered for all clothing and gear.  

The good news is that the Camp will provide the lions share of the group camping gear.  Just remember that whatever the campers are carrying with them will be on their backs.  Everything will need to fit in its place and maintain a balanced hiking load.

This awe-inspiring camp activity was always my favorite when I was a kid.  It creates powerful moments of empowerment that go beyond words and have to be earned every time.  I have seen many kids and teens profoundly affected by these incredible experiences.  Please check out our recent post, The Out-Camping Activity at Summer Camps for Kids, to find out more. 

Leave the Electronics at Home!

There are far too many screens dominating the kids lives these days.  Camp is all about unplugged experiences and realizing confidence through challenge, friendship, and community.  For this reason, most Camps will forbid the campers from bringing any sort of personal electronics.

Exceptions can be made in regards to the campers music, but the Camp will require that the device have no WiFi or internet connectivity whatsoever.  That means no matter what, the phones and video games have to stay at home.

This can be a tough discussion with your kids, and an even tougher one with teens.  This hurdle can be much more easily scaled if your camper has some familiar faces to share the experience with.  Sharing an experience like this with their best mates will help them to comfortably embrace it.  And its also the best way that you, as a parent, can mitigate the potential separation issues with their electronics.  

Keep in mind though I have seen some very sneaky teenagers over the years that are capable of going to extreme lengths to ensure they maintain their phone for camp.  As a parent, start the conversation early and from a point of understanding.  Realize that this issue could cause significant anxiety for your kids and teens.  As soon as you start to demand it, they will mentally switch off.  

I have recounted to campers over the years that the most powerful and impacting moments in my life were all on top of tough mountain summits.  Moments that I honestly cannot put into words that would do justice to them.  I also stressed to them that these moments take you to places that go far beyond electronics where there are no shortcuts to the top.  They require a deeper strength that, when you find it, will stay with you and drive you forever.  But you’ve got to get unplugged first!

Its the kind of strength that you realize in a moment that you’ve had to work extremely hard for.  A camera or a social post can feel like it is detaching you from that deep moment.  Some even feel that they cheapen it. 

There are very few pictures of me on any mountain summits because those moments are deeply personal for me.  I always tell campers not to worry about not capturing the photo, they captured the moment in their Hearts.  And its not going anywhere!  

Mount Tyndall in Eastern Sierras summit photo

This picture is of a couple of mates and I at the summit of Mt Tyndall in the Eastern Sierras.  I’m the one with the black head wrap and the green jacket.

How Should I Pack my Kids Camp Meds?

Your kids camp meds will be collected and inspected by the Camp Medical Technician on check-in day.  It should be packed in clear zip-lock bags with all Rx labels clearly visible with your campers name on them.  They will not be accepted if the original Rx labels are missing or showing any other name.  

It is also helpful for your Camp Medical Technician if you include a notecard of the dosage schedule for each specific medication.  You should also include any other notes that might be helpful.  Once these notecards are confirmed against the info in the camp registration packets, they will be referenced and used more than the packets.   

The Camp Medical Technician is the most important person in ensuring kids safety at Camp.  I have worked this job myself, and I can tell you that it is the most mentally taxing role at camp.  Find out more with our recent post, The Essential Camp Meds Guide for Parents.

What About my Kids Rain Gear?

Nature can always throw a bit of a curveball or two.  Never let your kids and teens hike into these situations unprepared.  There’s a ton to talk about here.  This is such an important topic that we’ve actually dedicated an entire post to it.  Our recent post, How to Choose Kids Rain Gear for Camp, is the ultimate guide to everything that nature could throw at your kids.  After reading this post, you’ll confidently send your camper off to face the elements on any camp adventure.

What Not to Pack for Camp.

  • Electronics – These won’t be necessary for a true camp adventure.  They won’t be allowed anyway.
  • Valuables – Forgetful minds and sticky fingers can have parts to play at camp.  For absolute assurance, better just to leave all of the valuable stuff at home.  This would also include expensive colognes and perfumes.
  • Food Items – Camps don’t allow any kind of food to be kept in the cabins (except with certain medical exceptions), and its usually not allowed to be included in the mailers as well.  The camp kitchen will provide nutritious food, and loads of s’mores too, to keep the campers happy and ready for their camp activities.  
  • Weapons – Many kids want to bring pocket knives to camp.  I was one of them myself.  But they actually have no functional or utility purpose at kids camps, the counselor will have everything they need and will be prepared for any situation.  The only exception to this rule is possibly a campers personal archery kit. 
  • Nice Clothing – Keep in mind that “formal” at camp holds an entirely different meaning for events like the Camp Dance or End of Summer Dinner.  Its really just a shower, a button-up shirt, dress or a fun onesy, and some clear hair.  No need to pack any expensive stuff.  Keep it at home, where it can maintain its condition and not get damaged.  Camp can make quick work of any clothing. 

Adventuring friends arm in arm at summer camp

What Can I Mail to Camp?

The camp mailer is a proud tradition that carries on at many kids camps.  It is a helpful way for parents to remind their campers that they are thinking of them.  It is encouraged by many camps that any packed play items be able to be shared with the entire cabin group.  These play items can include things such as a fun, new card game or a soccer ball.  Most Camps will not allow food and candy to be sent in the mailers.

Always keep in mind the timeliness of the delivery.  If the camp session lasts a week or less, it is best to send any letters or packages up with the counselor with instructions on when to give them to your camper.  It will not arrive in time if it is sent through the regular post.  Your camp should have specific instructions on their preferred mail service and form of delivery for the kids.

That’s A Wrap!

Hopefully, this post on the essential packing list for camp is helpful, insightful, and enjoyable for you.  The kids comfort and safety at camp starts with the right preparation.  For our wonderful camp parents, the packing list for camp is one of the major hurdles.  

After that, it should all be smooth sailing and looking forward to hearing about all about the impacting experiences your camper will be raving about for week afterward.  What they won’t realize at the time though is that you gave them a much greater gift, one that will stay in their Hearts for a lifetime.  The gift of the life-changing benefits of Camp!

This post contains some excerpts from our KCE Camp Tidbit – The Packing List Broken Down.  Have a great time preparing your young camper for their unforgettable camp adventures!

“Someone just asked me what my favorite thing about camp is. I can only think of one thousand answers … maybe more.” 

– 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.

Want to Share Your Experience or Ask a Question About the Packing List for Camp?  Leave A Comment Below!

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