There may still be a chill in the air here in Northeast Ohio, but believe it or not, it’s time to start thinking about packing for summer camp. You don’t have to drag out the luggage just yet, but begin to prepare by taking a peek at the packing list that your camp provides to you, and think about things you may need to purchase or borrow prior to camp time.
And if you really want to prep your pack list, nothing beats an on-site visit to camp, says Joe Wolnik, summer program director at Camp Fitch in North Springfield, Pa.
“If you’re a first-time camping parent, you should look into doing some sort of tour with your camp, if the camp you’re going to does that,” he says. “I guarantee that during that tour, you will see something that you didn’t expect or anticipate as part of your child’s experience. Just seeing the facility itself will put you in the right headspace.”
Once it’s time to start getting items together, get your kids involved in the packing process to help them bear a bit of the responsibility as well as to get them ready for a fun-filled summer.
“For first time campers, packing can be a fun activity to build excitement,” says Joe Mendes, director/owner of Camp Roosevelt Firebird in Bowerston. “For a camper who is anxious, involving them in the packing process in a few ways can build enthusiasm and buy-in.”
Each program’s specific list varies slightly depending on the activities that will take place, but most have similar requirements. We talked with several area camps to compile a list of 10 things you should definitely bring, and five things that should stay at home.
Ask your camp’s director if they have spare items in case your child forgets to pack something. Most camps offer back-up clothes, shoes, towels, toiletries and other items that are available for children who don’t have a particular item.
“The important part is to remember to ask someone,” says Andy Hudak, executive director at Camp Whitewood in Windsor. “If it comes down to a pair of dry socks or a toothbrush or water bottle, we have things. Remember to ask because there’s almost nothing we couldn’t get a kid if they need it — everyone is there to help you with what you need.”
Camp Fitch has what they call their “Camper’s Closet,” which has a plethora of items in storage that campers can use if they forget, lose or damage something.
“We serve a lot of underprivileged families, and maybe the kid doesn’t even have the item to begin with, so it’s there for them,” Wolnik says. “If we come to find that they don’t have that item, then we say go ahead and bring it home with you and use it. We’ve had so many examples of kids who go home and don’t even have a blanket on their bed. So it’s a good program for the forgetful kid, but also for those who really need it.”
The Camper’s Closet program is strongly supported by the Camp Fitch alumni network through physical or financial donations. Other camps often have similar programs — check with your camp to see what is available to either borrow from or donate to.
The most important thing for a child — and their family — to have for camp is a positive attitude.
“We always encourage parents to send letters as well as our campers to write letters back home,” says Konner Lashley, program director at Hiram House in Chagrin Falls. “They’re still able to hear back, but try not to include things like, “Oh we miss you so much,” but rather having them be positive like, “I hope you’re having a great time!”
Mendes agrees: “Bringing enthusiasm, an open mind and parental encouragement that the camper will do great is the most important thing.”
1. Appropriate clothing
Check weather reports, and understand that even though it may be warm during the day, it can get chilly at night. The best way to prepare for fluctuating temperatures is to pack layers, and to bring enough changes of clothes for each day. Sweatshirts are great for sitting around the campfire or early morning hikes.
2. Proper shoes
Sturdy, comfortable shoes are a must for most outdoor activities. Make sure to pack an extra pair, in case your kid likes to go puddle-jumping or the group takes a mud trek.
A toothbrush and toothpaste, comb or brush, deodorant and shower items (soap, shampoo/conditioner, towel) will keep your kid fresh even on the dirtiest camp days. Their cabin-mates will thank them.
4. A water bottle
A reusable water bottle is perfect for long hot days with outdoor activities. It helps with hydration while cutting back on single-use plastics.
5. Sleep necessities
Some camps include sleeping in tents outside and will require a sleeping bag, while others have campers in cabins on mattresses. Check with your camp to see whether you should pack sheets or a sleeping bag, and don’t forget a pillow, pajamas and anything that your child uses at night, such as a retainer or favorite stuffed animal.
6. Swimsuits & towel
Chances are the summer camp you’re going to will have an opportunity for your kid to swim. Bring at least one, but preferably two, swimsuits.
7. Extra plastic bag for wet clothes and shoes
It’s summer camp, and things will almost certainly get wet and dirty. To avoid getting the clean stuff messed up by the muddy stuff, an extra plastic bag comes in handy.
8. Protection from the elements
Being outside means being exposed to the sun’s UV rays, rain, wind and, of course, bugs. Make sure your child is prepared with sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, a raincoat and mosquito/tick repellant.
9. Wind-down activities
As kids prepare for bed or have free-time, they often enjoy writing letters home or writing in a journal. Pack a few pens and writing materials, or very small games/activities for those times they have to wind down after a busy day.
Make sure to clearly label your child’s medications and include any instructions necessary so that the on-site nurse is able to easily administer them.
Just as there are items the kids will need, there are also items that should be left at home. Bearing in mind that camp is meant to be an interactive, safe experience, it’s important that parents make sure their children adhere to the packing guidelines that are provided. Here are five things that should not be included in your child’s camp bag:
1. Cell phones
The distraction that comes from texting and calling deters from the full camp experience, and phones can also be easily damaged. All camps have emergency lines that can be used if needed, and campers can write and receive letters or postcards to stay in communication with family.
2. Electronic games and smart devices
Similar to cell phones, electronic games and devices like iPads, smart watches and gaming consoles are not allowed at most camps. Your child will be busy with camp activities, forming new relationships and interacting with nature, and once again, expensive items like these can be damaged.
3. Sprayable sunscreen or bug spray
Aerosol sprays can be quite dangerous around campfires. Opt instead for lotions or pump sprays to stay safe from the rays and the bugs.
4. Anything valuable or special
Irreplaceable family heirloom? Leave at home. Expensive jewelry? Not a good idea. It’s very common for kids to lose or damage things when they’re in unfamiliar places and off doing fun things. It’s best to keep valuables at home.
5. Dangerous or prohibited items
Beside the obvious “no weapons,” there are some other items that may sneak their way into kids’ bags. Keep an eye out for lighters, sharp objects, vape pens, drugs or cigarettes. A good rule of thumb: if it’s not allowed at school, it’s not allowed at camp. Also leave any items with a strobing feature (such as some flashlights) at home, as these can be dangerous for campers with sensitivities.