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The Ultimate Summer Camp Packing List and Guide

We get it.

Three months is a long time to go away for, so we’ll forgive you for thinking you need to take everything you own.

We’ve all been there, that first summer, hoping you get let off at the airport without having to pay a heavy bag charge and then leaving half your stuff in your bunk closet, untouched.

You’re heading into a new situation and it’s hard to know what you’ll actually need, but don’t worry, we’ve got you.

Author: Camp Leaders
13 Apr 15:15

Wandering through the shop, we've all looked down at the empty mesh basket and realised we don't have a clue.

"What on earth do I pack? What will I need? I'm actually going to be working at a summer camp in America and all I've currently picked up is a terrible t-shirt, with terrible band slogan, that I don't need, don't like…"

But have no fear. It was our first year once and we conquered packing. So will you.

Before we dive into our top tips and the summer camp packing list, ask yourself...

The age old question; suitcase or backpack?

Rucksack or suitcase? Every single summer camp counselor has asked themselves this question at some point in their journey, and every single one has landed on a pretty strong argument for either one.

Are you planning on travelling after camp? Will you be travelling off the beaten track, on a pre-booked trek or doing a lot of camping? Rucksack may be the best option for you. Are you more of a city-break, hotel hopper? Suitcase it is.

The right answer is; there’s no right or wrong answer, just whatever works best for you.

Summer camp packing tips

Top tip #1 - Pack light for toiletries

Unless you desperately need a particular type of product for your skin or hair, try to pack light on the toiletries side. Take some miniatures to get you through the first few days but remember that Walmart exists and it’s a magical place.

Bigger is better in the USA so you might even be able to stock up enough on your first trip to last you the whole summer, and for pretty cheap too.

Top tip #2 - stock up on plain white tees

This may seem counterintuitive seeing as you’ll be outdoors a lot and surrounded by kids who are notoriously dirt-magnets, but you’ll come across multiple occasions where a plain white t shirt will come in handy.

Whether its tie dying, supporting your campers in team sports, or any of the special events that run throughout the summer, a t shirt you can quickly decorate will be like gold dust.

Top tip #3 - Figure out your footwear

Ask your camp before you go if you’ll need something specific like walking boots – some age divisions may go on a hike, but camp might offer spares that you can borrow and save on packing space.

On days when liquid sunshine makes an appearance, wellies will be your best friend, but again a lot of previous staff leave spares behind, or you can grab a cheap pair at Walmart. Flip flops are a must but remember that there are areas around camp that may come with a closed-toe shoe policy – perhaps not a phrase you’ve ever heard before, but you’ll get used to it!

Cheap trainers and stuff you don’t mind getting dirty or ruined are another must-have in your luggage.

Top tip #4 - Remember your home comforts

You might want to pack a flag or any bits that remind you of home. These will come in handy on International Day or for teaching your kids about your culture.

A stash of Dairy Milk and teabags will make you the most popular counselor on camp and will also help keep the culture shock at bay.

Top tip #5 - Bring your hoodie and joggers

The best piece of advice (or clothing) we could ever give someone is to take some warm, comfortable favourites.

Despite the lovely weather through the day, it’s going to get cold in the evenings when the sun disappears, so you’ll find the temperature drops a bit more than you'd think.

As the summer heats, up those joggers become your nightly go to, forget those nice outfits - it’s going to be bug repellant, cosy and comfortable - trackie bottoms are the most fashionable item on camp!

Top tip #6 - Get colourful

During camp you are going to need loose, comfortable clothing that you aren't afraid to get ruined.

A mixture of fun, sun, dirt. and mass washing machines really does mean that your everyday wear is going to look a little worse for wear!

Cheap and cheerful is the answer. Make sure you have your shorts packed and don’t forget your sneakers (get used to it now!). As these a combination of these will make your daily outfit.

Pack at least one item in US red, white and blue as you will definitely need it for July 4th!

Top tip #7 - Get in touch with returners

My last top tip is to speak with people who have been before.

They are the ones who will know exactly what you need and will be able to give advice to the bits and bobs that may not have crossed your mind.

Returners can be found on your camp’s Facebook group. If you are struggling to find them - speak to your camp director, who will be able to point you in the right direction.

Summer camp packing list

  • 2x Pair of trainers - You will be in “sneakers” every single day. Think comfortable shoes for activities both indoor and outdoor. You'll need to pack some that you don't mind getting a little ruined.

  • 1x pair of flip flops. Especially important for those working round a pool/waterfront, flip flops are quick and easy.

  • 1x Pair of casual shoes - We would suggest some nicer shoes to wear when out and about - again nothing fancy, just some cleaner trainers will do.

  • 3x Shorts or leggings - Sports shorts will definitely be needed for those hot Summer days. You will be living in those shorts - so make sure you like them.

  • 2x Pair of swimwear - No doubt, you will go in the water at some point. A lot, probably. So make sure to pack a swimming costume (one-piece) or board shorts. Some camps have rules regarding bikinis and speedos, so save those for your post-camp adventures.

  • 5x T-shirts - These tees will be ones you don't mind getting muddy. Your camp might have a uniform, so check in as you might not need to pack so many of your own. We also have the best of summer camp style on the Camp Leaders shop. It's the perfect to wear when boarding your flight to find the gang.

  • 1x Warm hoodie - See one of our top tips. For those chilly nights once the sun goes down.

  • 1x Pair of jeans - For wearing on your days off or any rainy days when you're exploring the States!

  • 7x Pair of underwear / socks - A week's worth should be enough, as you'll have access to washing facilities.

  • 2x Pair of pyjamas - Keep comfy after a long day of hard work.

  • Pack enough for your first week and then you can always pop over to Wal-Mart for bigger bottles.
  • Shampoo - 1x travel-sized bottle
  • Conditioner - 1x travel-sized bottle
  • Shower gel - 1x travel-sized bottle
  • Toothpaste - 1x travel-sized bottle
  • Face wash - It's a busy life at summer camp, so it's a god send for your skin.
  • Deodorant - Trust us, it's hot out there.
  • Sunscreen - It's important to wear sunscreen. You'll still tan, so be sensible, camp won't be happy if you have time off because you weren't adult enough to put sunscreen on.
  • Toothbrush - An essential!
  • Bug spray- It’s best to buy it out there. The bugs seem to be pretty immune to anything non-US, so unless you want to be bitten up, invest in some on your first camp shop.
  • Medication - If you require medication, please ensure you have the appropriate level of medication with you, and/or advise with your camp if you will need to replenish this stock of medication whilst in the U.S.A. Also have the correct documentation to bring it into the country.
Small essentials
  • 1x Mobile Phone - you will be able to use your own one on WIFI (as well as make your mates back home jealous).

  • 1x Phone Charger - Obvious, but it's the one thing people always forget.

  • 2x American Travel Adaptor - Get yourself a US adapter for your plugs, otherwise, due to their plugs being a different type, you won't be able to charge your electronics.

  • 1x pair of sunglasses - Oh it's sunny. But don't go crazy spending loads, you'll likely lose them and buy more when you're there.

  • 1x Travel pillow - It'll come in handy, not just on the flight but in the cabin too.

  • 1x Headphones - It's a long trip to make with no music.

  • 100x Snacks - It's a long trip to make with no food.

  • 3x Books/kindle - Stay entertained, even on your down time.

  • 1x Camera (selfie stick optional) - If you're more qualified than us and a phone camera doesn't quite do it, then you'll capture incredible moments during camp.

  • 1x home country flag - Often camps have 'International Day' or times to represent your home country.

  • We recommend having a small amount of your home currency prior to departure, which will help you upon arrival.

  • VISA Travel cards while travelling abroad. This is a great way to store your spending money and not be charged by the banks when withdrawing cash money.

  • Your Passport & J1 VISA

  • Your Certificate of Eligibility DS-2019 form & SEVIS receipt

  • A copy of your 90 day medical insurance policy

  • A copy of your confirmed flight itinerary

  • A copy of your camp contract

  • Any travel tickets for your departure and arrival

So there you have it. A huge summer camp packing list and loads of top tips. Don’t forget, you’ll have free time to get off camp and do laundry, and you’ll spend some days in camp staff shirts or uniform.

Just make sure you’ve got plenty of socks and underwear, and a few swimsuits, you’ll be surprised at how little you need compared to the mountain of ‘essentials’ you’ve started stockpiling!

If you're looking at the very best in summer camp style from those that have been there, done it, and have now designed the t-shirt, then check out the Camp Leaders Store today.

Camp Leaders
With over 20 years of travel experience, the Camp Leaders team has the answers to almost anything you can think of. We're here to help you sort your ultimate summer - feel free to ask us anything.

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