We’ve noticed you might be viewing our website from a different location. Visit your regional site for more relevant information and pricing.

6 Essential Summer Camp items All Staff Need to Take

Picture this; summer is fast approaching, and the excitement of your summer camp job is rising. You're dreaming of all the people you'll meet, the connections you'll make, and the memories just waiting to be created. Everything is ahead of you.

But before you get there, there's still the dreaded packing (at least it's something I dread). Before you start emptying your wardrobe and wondering what to take to summer camp, here's a list of essential summer camp items to help you have a great summer.

Author: Ami Gill
06 Sep 16:20
Comfy, functional clothes
A person sat on a mountain looking out.

If you take anything away from this article, it should be this mantra: summer camp work is messy work. Say it as you sleep tonight so that it can sink in.

You'll be running around all day working up a sweat (we've all read the news about summer temperatures in the US). You may even get messy with arts and crafts or down in the dirt as an activity specialist. No matter what, your clothes will be taking a beating, so don't splash out on designer wear for in-camp activities (unless you're a specialist and need durable weather for extreme activities).

The rule of thumb is a month's worth of these essential summer camp items:

  • t-shirts
  • shorts
  • a couple of long trousers (or pants, you'll have to get used to that American speech)
  • a hoodie/jumper (some places do get cold at night)
  • swimwear

Your camp will have washing machines there, so you don't have to bring three months' worth of clothes; what to take to summer camp is about working smarter, not harder.

Don't forget the odd bit of nice clothing for your days off as well, as nothing's better than getting dressed up nice after a week of working hard.

'First-week' toiletries
A backpack.

Toiletries are always the bulkiest items that seem to take up half your suitcase, and the ones you're worried will spill and ruin your clothes. So in the initial packing stage, toiletries are just to get you going in the first week.

Before camp kicks off, you'll often have the opportunity to do a "Walmart run" where you can go crazy.

When you do make that first sacred trip to Walmart, make sure you pick up:

  • Plenty of body wash & shampoo- remember your mantra: camp work is messy
  • Sunscreen - All jokes aside, this is essential
  • Bug spray - You'll be out in the woods most likely, and those little critters certainly like new people
  • A shower caddy or a holder

Though you will be in a camp bubble, you won't be completely cut off from the rest of the world. There will be time for multiple Walmart trips; in fact, you'll probably end up loving it (half my wardrobe is now Walmart, oops).

A 'day' backpack
A person wearing a backpack.

Whether you're going to camp as a counsellor or activity specialist, you'll be "in loco parentis", Latin for in place of a parent (we're pretty smart at Camp Leaders. Sometimes).

Parents in everyday life seem to have a Mary Poppins bag full of goodies, therefore, it's important you follow suit.

Having a day backpack with extra sunscreen, bug spray (for the little critters mentioned above), hand sanitiser, and a small first aid kit (without any medication, as this may need to be approved by your camp) are all handy tools to have.

But the most essential everyday camp item in your backpack is a water bottle. The metal ones are great for keeping water cold - perfect for those long summer days. It's drummed into the campers how important staying hydrated is ("hydrate to dominate"), so it's important for staff to lead the way, even if for their own health, too. Long days in the sun and sweating a lot means you'll need to keep yourself nicely topped up water-wise.

Even if you're staying in camp, having these essentials on hand is always great to minimise going back and forth to the health hut, giving you and your campers more time for fun.

Plus, they are great things to have when you're on your day off exploring local spots - camp counselling isn't just a job, it's a way of life.

Durable, 'ready to work' shoes
A pair of sandals.

Move over Miu Miu, Jimmy Choo, here comes the Teva's and Chacos (good quality sandals for those in the know, perfect for camp). Of course, other brands are available (no promo discount for us yet, unfortunately), but a decent quality sandal is essential at summer camp.

Anything that can give your feet good support while allowing them to breathe is perfect for running around with your campers. Of course, trainers (or sneakers) are just as good, just make sure they aren't your fancy AirJordans.

Sandals and sneakers aside, another must-have camp footwear are flip flops. While you won't be running around in them (that's how you'll roll an ankle), they are perfect for the trips from your cabin to the shower block and usually in the shower, too.

Your everyday sandals or trainers will need to be durable, but your shower flip-flops will likely be left behind after camp, so don't splurge on them.

Memorabilia from home
A person holding a trick.

Campers love international counsellors. Your accents. Your language. Your cultures and customs. So bringing memorabilia from home is another great way to share this with them and a great icebreaker.

Flags and photos of your hometown (think the stuff you'd find in a souvenir shop) are great to decorate your cabin. It'll bring a little taste of home to your own camp bubble.

Your campers will probably also bring photos of their friends and family, and it wouldn't be unusual for you too! (Of course, ensure they are appropriate, you and your friends looking wasted will not be a great conversation starter with parents).

Costumes or 'crazy clothes'
A whole summer camp in a photo.

Camps will have at least one dress-up day, a Hawaiian shirt Wednesday, tutu Tuesday, or maybe one day you'll feel like coming down to breakfast in a onesie.

That's the beauty of being a counsellor; looking fun on the outside, feeling fun on the inside.

Camp is the perfect place to show off any costumes you have (that can fit in your luggage) or just colourful, wacky clothes that you may never have worn.

Make sure you bring your red, white and blue for the most outrageously American day; July 4th!

Working at summer camp is the most amazing experience.

Knowing these essential summer camp items and what to take to summer camp means you can check off that pre-camp to-do list and save room to prepare for the messiest, craziest, and most fun summer ever!

Ami Gill
Ami is a journalist and writer. She loves being out in nature, listening and making podcasts and exploring new places. Visit her website at: https://amigill.squarespace.com/

Ready to pack for your own trip to America?