Packing Tips for Sleepaway Camp


I'm on year four of packing my kids for sleepaway camp and every year I learn something new that helps with making the process go a little more smoothly - for both the parents AND the kids. So, I thought I would share some of those tips with you and save you some of the trial and errors we've gone through.

1. Labels - lots of labels

It takes a LOT of labels to label everything for summer camp. I often under estimate how many we'll need or forget to order them until the last minute.

I love Mabel's Labels because they ship really quickly and they have a camp specific kit that makes it easier for me to know what I need. I go through a lot of their little labels on clothes (and stopped bothering to label their socks) and put multiple big labels on the really valuable things (like life jackets!).

I also just order our last name since a lot of the stuff passes from kid to kid and when I'm lucky, some of the things are already labeled when I go through it the next year!

While I am sometimes tempted to not label everything, the camp my kids go to do the entire cabin's laundry in one go, once a week, so having names on things is an easy way for everyone to get their own stuff back.

2. Send the old stuff

These kids are going to get DIRTY and stinky and wreck a lot of the clothing that gets sent to camp. Send the old crappy clothing and don't worry about trying to get them all kinds of new stuff.

Along this same note... be prepared that some things won't make it home - the brand new water shoes and lifejacket that disappeared are ultimately a small price to pay for the amazing experience of camp! :)

3. Plastic bins and plastic drawer systems

I've been using the bins for three years and only just discovered the drawer systems so haven't implemented it yet, but will definitely be doing this next year.

Plastic bins are a great way to store all the non-clothing stuff and get it to and from camp easily. I've found that some of the cabins have shelving and storage and some don't, so having an easy way to separate the clothing from the other things the kids will need is a handy and easy way to pack.

I recently discovered something other parents do and plan to try it next year: buy plastic drawer systems and essentially deliver your children to camp with a dresser and their clothing already organized! 

4. Make sure your kids know what's theirs

The first year my child tried to use shampoo as insect repellant for a week (WHAT?!) because he never took the time to read the bottle carefully and last year one of my kids thought he didn't have a toiletries bag because he didn't recognize the one on his shelf with all of his stuff (that was also full of his stuff) so BORROWED toiletries all week. 

Make sure your kids know what they have with them, even if you're only finalizing all the packing late the night before you leave, or all your time and effort may go to waste if they don't even realize all the amazing stuff you packed them is theirs!

5. Get your kids involved in the packing

My kids each get a copy of the packing list and they are responsible for getting me everything they're bringing in one spot, creating a shopping list for what they're missing and labelling the items. Packing kids up for camp is a big job and I get them as involved as possible. See note above for what happens when they aren't involved in every single step! ;)

I keep learning more every year but hopefully these tips will help make packing your kids up for sleepaway camp a bit easier!

Sleep-Away Camp

by Finola My two daughters spent a week away at Camp Davern recently - a Y camp for girls near Perth. My nine-year-old, N, is quiet and introverted, and yet she has an inner confidence that constantly surprises and impresses me. My seven-year-old B is outgoing and makes friends easily and embraces life, but she has an inner worrying side to her, which also often surprises me. I was really not sure which of the two of them would have an easier time being away from home for an extended period for the first time.

As I drove to pick them up on the last day, I prepared myself to catch the first glimpse of their faces when I arrived. I knew that at first glance I would know immediately if camp had been a success. My girls are a part of me and I can read them like I can read myself.

I parked the car and got out, and walked towards the area where the counsellors were leading the campers in a song. I saw both girls sitting in different parts of the half-circle, looking calm and relaxed. I watched and waited until B saw me first. She leaped up, a gigantic grin on her face, and she ran towards me and jumped into my arms and we exchanged a crushing hug.

“Did you have fun?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“Yes!” she replied

N looked over then and saw me too. She got up and walked to me a little more slowly and self-consciously. She gave me a big hug too, and I asked her the same question, already knowing the answer.

“Yes!” she replied.

They said their good-byes to their new friends and counsellors and then we gathered their mountains of things, and set off for home. In the car, they chatted to me non-stop about their week. They had loved the swimming, canoeing, arts and crafts, drama, the food, the friends, the counsellors. Was there anything that they didn’t like I asked them. No, not a thing.

They are already talking about going back next year, and this time for the 12-day camp. This suits me and husband Tony just fine, because I think we enjoyed sleep-away camp even more than they did.

Having a week with no kids in the house brought us back ten years ago when we were married but didn’t yet have children. We could do what we liked whenever we wanted to. It was all the better though, because we haven‘t had time alone like that for so long, that we truly appreciated every moment; we knew how precious this time to ourselves was. One day after work, Tony and I walked over to the tennis club and played tennis without having to bribe anyone with freezies. We then strolled home past our favourite neighbourhood Thai restaurant and picked up some take-out, which we then ate on the couch in front of the TV. Bliss

I did miss my girls, of course I did, but I thoroughly enjoyed my week off from being a parent. Thank goodness they loved camp because I am looking forward to shipping them off sending them again next summer.

I thought I would let the girls tell you in their own words about their camp experiences, typed by me:

Seven-year-old B’s post:

Last Saturday, I went to Camp Davern and that’s a sleep-away camp, and I went for seven days. Every morning as soon as you woke up, you could do the polar bear dip which is just a morning swim and then there is zoom zone and you play games. And then we eat breakfast, and then we brush our teeth and then we do some cabin activities.

Me: What are cabin activities?

B: Mommy, it’s when you do activities with your cabin. Wow Mommy. You should know what cabin activities are!”

Me: Ah, yes, of course. Sorry. Continue.

Wait, no, cabin activities are later. After breakfast we do cabin cleanup, then personal choice, and I chose 1) drama and 2) arts and crafts. After that we have lunch. We had soup, sandwiches, quiche, salad….stuff like that. After lunch is zap time, which is quiet time. During my zap times, I wrote a letter to my parents, I used my Junie B. Jones activity book, and I also sometimes just played with my special dog called Bowen and my special blanket called Pink Blanket.

I thought drama and arts and crafts was really fun. I made three new friends, wait two. Actually I did make three…

Me: So what was it like being away from home for a whole week:

B: I missed my parents a little bit, but then you get distracted because it’s so fun and you don’t really want to go home once they arrive.

Me: Awesome.

Nine-Year-Old N’s post:

I think camp was a great experience because it taught you a lot about the outdoors. We played a bunch of fun games like rain vs. sun which is where one team wants to get tiles into the other team’s bucket without getting tapped. If you get tapped the other person has 3 guesses to guess where the tile is on you. If none of your 3 guesses is correct, then the other person gets a 10 second getaway. On the last day of camp we played a gigantic game of Clue. On that day, it was game day. We got to play a bunch of other games too.

Me: What was it like being away from home for an entire week?

N: I think it was fun because you got to make a bunch of new friends and just be away from home.

Me: did you miss Me and Daddy?

N: A bit, but we were having too much fun to really realize it.

Me: Awesome.

Finola is married to Tony and together they have two girls who are 6 and 8. You can read her blog at