How To Pack For Summer Camp

My son came home a little over a week ago from two weeks of summer camp at Catalina Island Camps. It was his first time at extended stay overnight camp, and I wanted him to be prepared accordingly. Because I’m a bit obsessive-compulsive, and I like organization.

How To Pack For Summer Camp

1. Checking The Camp’s Website/Handbook for Their Packing List

Catalina Island Camps had a detailed packing list in their handbook. I followed it exactly and my son didn’t need anything else while at camp. Well, except an extra pair of flip flops because he broke his, and I got a phone call the night before parent’s day.

The Packing List from Catalina Island Camps

Clothing Toiletries
1 jacket for evening Toothbrush and toothpaste
2 sweatshirts Soap, shampoo
7 t-shirts Lotion
7 pair underwear Sunscreen (SPF 30+, waterproof)
3 swim suits Lip balm (with sunscreen)
1 rash guard or UV protection shirt Hairbrush
4 pair shorts
2 pair jeans or long pants Equipment
1 pair pajamas Canteen or leak-proof water bottle
1 hat with brim Daypack
Flashlight (with extra batteries)
Footwear Stationery supplies
7 pair socks
1 pair tennis/running shoes Optional Items
1 pair sandals/aqua socks for beach use Inexpensive camera
1 pair supportive shoes for hiking Underwater camera
Playing cards, simple board games
Bedding/Towels Wetsuit (spring or shorty; camp has a supply campers may use while at camp)
1 Sleeping bag
1 Pillow
2 towels (one for bathing, one for beach)
1 laundry bag


Packing For Summer Camp

2. Lay Out Everything To Be Packed

I pulled everything from the packing list two days before my son left for camp, and made piles on our family room floor. I then sat my son down and we went through everything, and I also explained why he needed specific items. If he was a little older than eight years old, I would have had him collect the items throughout the house.

As we packed everything in his duffle bag, I then asked him to point out where stuff was. I said things like, “where is your sunscreen, or where are your swim trunks?” He was able to locate everything in the bag.

eBags Packing Cubes to Organize a Suitcase

3. Keep Items Organized

Last summer before I went to New York, I bought these eBags packing cubes to organize my clothing. I had several events to attend was able to categorize my socks/underwear, dresses, and workout clothing. I also used them when we went camping in Yosemite.

I paired up my son’s things in a set of the packing cubes. I organized everything by shorts/t-shirts, swim gear, pajamas, socks/underwear, and other random things. I knew that my son would not keep everything in the packing cubes once he arrived at camp, but that he would be able to find things when he initially got there.

Label Everything That You Have Packed For Camp

4. Label Everything

I always use Mabel’s Labels to label all of my son’s clothing and school supplies. For the items that I didn’t use a Mabel’s Label on, I used a red or black Sharpie pen. EVERYTHING came home with my son. I love the bright and awesome labels from Mabel’s. They stay on forever and are also dishwasher safe.

I also made luggage tags for my son’s duffle bag, sleeping bag, and laundry bag with pictures from prior travels by adding text and then laminating them.

Pack Tons of Sunscreen For Camp

5. Pack Lots of Sunscreen

I know that sunscreen was mentioned on the packing list, but I wanted to put emphasis on this item. Sunscreen is very important. These kids are outside running around in the sun most of their days at camp.

I bought the mega pack of sunscreen from Costco. It had the spray-on sunscreen, liquid sunscreen to rub on, and also lip stuff. I pretty much covered all my bases. I put labels on all of the individual containers of sunscreen, and then put everything in a freezer bag. I can’t say enough about the 1-gallon freezer bags. I use freezer bags for organizing everything in my life.

Water Bottle for Camp

6. Make Sure You Have A Re-Usable Water Bottle

Another item on the packing list, but also very important. We had a package of water bottles (not naming the brand because umm the bottle broke, but you can see the brand in the picture) in our garage. So I grabbed one, and applied a label to it. When we visited our son a week into camp, he told us that his water bottle had broke. I noticed the flip top cap was no longer working. I suggest sending a water bottle with a screw off type lid because kids are hard on things.

Everything Packed and Ready For Camp

7. Make Sure Your Camper Can Carry His Own Belongings

My son only had two large items to bring with him to camp, his packed duffle bag and his sleeping bag.  My husband shoved his pillow into the duffle bag, and ended up fastening down the sleeping bag to the straps on the bag. I bought a duffle bag equipped with wheels so that my son could pull the bag, because it was heavy.

All grown up on off to Catalina Island for 2 weeks of summer camp @catalinaislandcamps

And then….after you spend all that time organizing and helping your son pack for summer go visit a week later on Parent’s Day. And you see his things somewhat in the same place, but not quite organized.

My son's duffle bag while at camp

And a week after Parent’s Day at camp, we picked the kid up in San Pedro, intact. He may have come home a bit more mature, with a mustache.

Home from Camp

But you are probably wondering if his duffle bag came back organized?

Duffle Bag Post-Camp

Everything wasn’t quite as neat as before, but everything made it home. Yippee! So of course, I have to add some tips on “How To Un-Pack Post Camp”

How To Un-Pack Post Camp. Unload duffle bag on garage floor. Section off items: 1. shoes 2. laundry 3. trash 4. stuff to put away 5. crafts 6. other. Get it done as soon as you get home. Because there are slightly wet clothes hiding in there. Everything s

How To Un-Pack Post Camp

  1. Do not take the camp gear into the house (in case of bugs, creatures, and other things that might invade your house)
  2. Section off the items (shoes, laundry, trash, stuff to put away, crafts, treasures, and other)
  3. Un-pack as soon as you get home, because items might be wet
  4. Start doing laundry
  5. Clean-up shoes
  6. Go through trinkets, crafts, etc.
  7. Put everything away for next year

I will be referring to my own blog post next year when we have to pack for camp again! Yes, we plan on sending our son back to Catalina Island Camps again next year.

Disclosure: I won two weeks at Catalina Island Camps for my son. Everything mentioned in my post (products, etc.) were purchased with my very own money, or found somewhere in my house. All opinions and photographs are mine. I’m writing this really long random disclosure because you were probably wondering if this was some sort of sponsored post while reading through it.

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Keeping a list seems very helpful when packing for camp. This should help ensure no essential items are left behind. Good post.


I have a similar process for my daughter who goes to a weeklong sleep-away YMCA camp. The camp gives us a pack list and a calendar of the "special dress" days (e.g., patriotic day, camp color day, etc.) So we lay out her clothes by outfit. We lay out her jeans (folded in half so the legs are stretched out) lay the shirt, unders, socks, hair ties, etc.) on top of the jeans and then roll it up into a tight bundle. We hold the bundle with a rubber band, tucking in a little note indicating which day it's for. When she gets to camp, she just has to find the bundle for the day, grab her swimsuit  and go. It worked out great and she didn't overpack.

I also recommend packing a couple trash bags - one for dirty clothes and one for wet stuff coming home. It made unpacking a breeze this year.