Packing from the
Top Down

by Ellen Warren

Experienced overnight camp directors swap stories about the children who come to camp with no bathing suits, one towel, or high-heeled sandals. To help ensure a successful summer, here are camp directors’ tips and a checklist from the American Camp Association.

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

• Jacket
• Raincoat
• T-shirts /tank tops
• Shorts
• Long Pants
• Sweater
• Sweatshirt
• Sweatpants
• Swim Suit
• Pajamas
• Robe
• Underwear
• Dress Clothes

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

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

Bathroom Kit
• Brush and Comb
• Shampoo
• Soap and Soap Container
• Toothbrush and Holder
• Toothpaste
• Deodorant
• Anti-itch Ointment
• Insect Repellent
• Feminine Products
• Sunblock
• Shaving Gear
• Lip Balm

• Writing Paper, Envelopes, Stamps
• Books and Magazines
• Flashlight and Batteries
• Frisbee
• Water Bottle
• Permissable electronics, musical instruments, sports equipment, and special gear.

Source: American Camp Association,

Don’t forget sunblock, hats — and lots of socks! In an informal survey of camp directors, sunblock and socks lead the list of “must-pack” items for children of any age. Ari Segal, of Camp Lee Mar, says, “At camp, children are outdoors almost all day. Sunblock and hats keep kids comfortable and protect them from sunburn.”

Remember a raincoat. Judy Trigg, of YMCA Camp Mason in Hardwick, NJ says that a light jacket is a good idea, but a raincoat or poncho is essential. “A raincoat is one of the most necessary items at camp, and often the most forgotten,” says Trigg.
Bring enough towels and swimwear. Dale Whittaker, Program Director of Camp Tockwogh, a YMCA of Delaware camp on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay, recommends packing three to five bathing suits and ten towels. “Parents often don’t realize that their children may be swimming two or three times a day,” says Whittaker. “Besides waterfront activities, kids need towels for showers, so they run through them pretty quickly.”
Ask about dressing up. Many camps require at least one “official” camp shirt for bunk photos and field trips. Find out if your child needs any white shirts or “dressy” clothes for services, dances, banquets, or other special activities.
Ask about bedding. Your camp can tell you whether to pack a sleeping bag or sheets and blankets. (Camp cots, like college dorm beds. often require extra-long fitted sheets.) Judy Trigg tells parents to always pack a pillow. And along with the necessary toiletries, remember a shower caddy for carrying toiletries to the bathroom or shower bunk.
Protect against insect bits. Even though long sleeves and pants may help protect children from biting insects, particularly during campfires and evening activities, every camper should have his own supply of insect repellent and After-Bite®.
Pack stationery, pens, and pre-addressed, stamped envelopes to parents, siblings, and grandparents if you want your child to write to you, says Dale Whittaker of Camp Tockwogh. “Make it easy for your children to write home,” says Whittaker. “The letter won’t reach you if it’s addressed ‘To Mommy. New Jersey.’”
Cell phones are banned at many camps. Jay Petkov, owner/director of Camp Saginaw in Oxford, PA, says that teens in particular often forget they can live without their phones. If your camp has a “no cell phone” policy, make sure your child leaves the phone at home.
Ellen Warren writes for the American Camp Association Keystone Section, which serves camps and families in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Don’t Forget

Label everything. You can use sewn-in name tags, a laundry pen or a permanent-ink stamp made with your child’s name (and available from most camp supply stores). Iron-on labels may save time, but they often fall off in the hot water of the camp laundry.

Medications need extra care. Trigg also reminds parents to send prescription medicine to camp with detailed instructions for use. Instead of packing medicine in a trunk or duffel, express mail or hand deliver it to the camp nurse, or put it in the care of a senior bus supervisor for the trip to camp.

Card games are popular during rest hour. Bunk activities are good for rainy days. They can include small board games, books, yo-yo’s, hackey-sack balls and Rubik’s Cubes®. Remember, most camps don’t allow electronics.

Cameras and things for autographing — like a white t-shirt or pillowcase or a scrapbook and permanent markers — will help keep camp memories alive.