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10 Summer Camp Hacks For Your First Summer At Camp

In this blog you will find the most unusual yet useful hacks and tips for your summer in America.

This isn’t your standard top tips blog. It won’t include 'make sure you take 5 pairs of underwear' or 'take a bar of cadburys chocolate'.

These 10 summer camp hacks are things that only someone who has experienced camp can tell you.

Author: Josh
27 Mar 15:09

I'm Josh and with 4 amazing summers under my belt, I’m a summer camp pro.

I’ve whittled it down to my top 10 summer camp hacks for your first summer at camp, to give you some inside knowledge for your summer adventure.

Program Director
1. Be prepared for wet grass in the morning.

Let’s start with a quick science lesson and the definition of ‘dew’:

“tiny drops of water that form on cool surfaces at night, when atmospheric vapour condenses”.

Camps have a lot of grass. First thing in the morning, that grass will be very wet with dew. By the time you’ve got to breakfast, the wetness from the grass will have seeped through your shoes and all over your socks. In the words of Lieutenant Dan in the classic film Forrest Gump, ‘try and keep your feet dry… change your socks whenever we stop’. Though Lieutenant Dan says it can be the difference between life and death, at camp it's not quite this drastic. But keeping your feet dry is a massive win for any morning at camp.

Shoes recommended to fight against dew: Nike Air Max.

  • Benefits: Sturdy on the ground, solid on the side and will win the fight against dew in the mornings. Additional benefits include an extra inch of height - ideal for people who are short like myself.

  • Negative: They will get ruined at camp. All shoes go through a high level of wear and tear, so be prepared to throw them in the bin at the end of the summer.

Shoes not recommended: Crocs.

  • This has nothing to do with dew. I just personally despise crocs. Camps are split into two sides. Side one is croc lovers and side two is croc haters. Choose your side, and if you’re anything like me, crocs will not be on your packing list for the summer.

  • Disclaimer: If you are a crocs fan, beware that they may end up on a cabin roof or up flagpole.

Want to know more about summer camp fashion?

2. Bring nail clippers.

The nail clipper is a neglected item on most people's packing list. From a mathematical calculation, roughly 99.8% of people going to camp forget this item (these figures are purely based on my own assumptions, rather than real data, but you get the jist). Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like the idea of using a pair of nail clippers that 20 people have already used this week. At camp there is always one pair that gets shared between everyone and, though staff may become your “camp family”, I’m not on board with sharing nail clippers. I wouldn’t let any member of my family use them at home - so why would I at camp?

Now I might sound a bit dramatic, which may be because toes gross me out, but I definitely recommend bringing your own pair of nail clippers. And, as an additional tip, don’t tell anyone you have a pair! Because then it’ll be your clippers getting passed around the camp, toe to toe.

3. Opt for white bed sheets.

This may sound like a strange tip, but let me explain. Every summer I would get white sheets from Walmart for my cabin bed. Camps do provide you with bedding, however I liked to buy fresh sheets for a couple of dollars from Walmart each year to make my cabin feel more homey.

Each summer I would document my time at camp using the white sheets and a sharpie pen. Campers would sign the sheets with their name, or during downtime could use the sheet to doodle on. The best part is that when you wash your sheets, the drawings and names stay on the sheets because it was done in sharpie!

When you leave camp there are so many bits of memorabilia you can take with you. I opt for these doodled sheets as they're unique, easy to fold into your suitcase and, if you're really artsy, you can use them to make other items like patchwork quilts when you get home.

4. American chewing gum is a disaster.

We Brits and Irish make a big fuss about American chocolate and tea, making the argument that it’s not up to our high standards. Well, I'm here to be contradictory and say that none of this matters! During my 4 years at camp, I never once craved chocolate or tea. My camp in New Jersey gets pretty hot during the summer - who actually wants to drink hot tea and eat melted chocolate when it's sunny outside? Not me!

What I believe to be the biggest letdown in the American confectionery industry is their chewing gum. Pieces of chewing gum should be small rectangles, like our beloved Extras and AirWays. Their chewing gum is long and skinny shaped, and the flavour lasts for a measly 2 minutes at best. During hot summers, with a dry mouth, all I want is a nice minty piece of gum from the good old UK.

With all that said, my top tip is to go to your local wholesalers and stock up on chewing gum. Make space in your suitcase for those multipacks, and make sure you take enough gum for 9 weeks of camp.

5. Know the 'Watermelon Game'.

Most camps have their own unique traditions and during pre-camp. Pre-camp is the time when staff training happens before campers arrive. Most camps have their own unique traditions during pre-camp, and at my camp we'd play the watermelon game. It’s very simple, and you only need four things to play the watermelon game:

  1. A watermelon
  2. A swimming pool
  3. Oil
  4. Four cones

Firstly, cover the watermelon with the oil. Then, get all of the players into the pool and divide yourselves into two teams. With the cones, make two goals on each side of the pool, making sure that both sides are at the same depth. The game is quite simple. The watermelon starts in the center of the pool, and you and your team must get the watermelon into the other team's cones. The team with the most points at the end is the winner.

Only rule: DO NOT - I repeat DO NOT throw the watermelon. Watermelons are very hard.

Want to know more about camp games?

6. Thrift shopping will become your favourite hobby.

“Hey Macklemore… can we go thrift shopping?” Thrift stores sell second hand clothes and furniture, very similar to charity shops in the UK. However, like most things in America, they are bigger and better.

You can find some unbelievable things in Thrift shops. My wardrobe still consists of Ralph Lauren shirts, North Face jackets, and Philadelphia Eagles sport tops, most of which you would never guess were second hand - some still even had the labels on when I found them!

Although you can find some hidden gems in thrift shops, you can also find a lot of rubbish. Every year at camp, we would dedicate a day towards ‘rubbish t-shirt day” - a day where everyone had to wear a terrible t-shirt they found in a thrift store. My personal favorite was when one of the Scottish counselors wore a t-shirt with “Auntie Julie’s 60th Birthday Party” written across the front.

7. Give back on trips.

My camp's nearest city was Philadelphia (I’d highly recommend visiting if you get the chance), and we would organise a trip to the city at least once every summer. During my first summer, I was stunned by the level of homelessness there was in the city.

During my second summer, I thought there was definitely more we could do to help out, so I created the ‘Philadelphia Homeless Trip’. It was very simple - staff who wanted to donate money could, and most people got involved in local fundraising projects. With the money raised, we would go to Walmart or the Dollar Store and get supplies.The night before going to Philadelphia, our camp would all come together to prepare countless bags of food and toiletries. The next day we would pack our minibuses with our staff and head to the city, give out our items to the homeless people, and then then go about the usual sightseeing activities.

8. Call home when you can.

When it comes to calling home, you want to get the balance right. Some people opt to speak to family and friends during their free time, to keep them up to date with the fun they're having at camp. I won’t lie, this was something I neglected to do each and every year at camp. I loved spending my free time talking with my co-counselors and relaxing, and I didn’t call home as much as I should have done. My mum would never have told me that it bothered her, but when I got home, I could tell how much she missed me when I was away. Make sure you check in with your family as much as you can, and share the amazing experience you're having with them. This is a tip I wish I had followed myself, as my only regret is not sharing the experience more with my family.

9. Learn how to play 'Hangman Splash'.

Now, I’m pretty sure I invented this game, so will be taking full ownership of it. Hangman splash follows the basic rules of the childhood classic game ‘hangman’, but with a twist. The twist is that you add water.

The game takes shape at the side of the pool, and simply requires jumbo chalk and a chair. You choose a camp counselor to sit in the chair, and then you gather the campers to the side of the pool. The campers will think of a word for you to guess, and then you follow the usual hangman rules. However, with the jumbo chalk someone instead draws a box around the chair. If the four sides of the box get completed, the whole pool splashes you.

If you are successful in guessing the word, unfortunately for you in this situation, you are at camp and get splashed anyways!

10. Take a piece of camp home with you.

My last tip for you is to take a piece of camp home with you. If your experience is anything like mine, camp will be one of the most amazing and memorable experiences of your life. You're going to want something physical to take back to hold onto as a memory.

During my 3rd summer, I became one of the senior members of staff working at my camp. I wanted to ensure my staff took home something they could hold onto forever. So, armed with the maintenance staff on camp, we headed into the woods. We found a nice branch on a tree, and took it down. Back at camp, we chopped the branch into numerous pieces; one for each staff member. On each piece we wrote the staff members name, our camp name and the year. To finish the presents off, we drilled a hole through each piece and placed a keyring lock on them. A keyring keepsake, with the idea that they can always carry their own piece of camp around with them wherever they go.

Thanks for reading my top tips and hacks for summer camp. I know these aren’t your typical top tip lists which you might have read or listened to already knocking around online. These are the outside the box tips which you would never think of, and also, hopefully a source of inspiration.

Ready to try these for yourself?

Our special needs summer camp expert, Josh spent 4 summers out in New Jersey - you won't find a guy who loves camp more than him!

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