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!

Adventures at sleep away camp

I have friends who spent their summers at sleep away camp as kids and I've always been kind of jealous. I went a few times, a week at a time, but the stories I heard from some of my friends who stayed a month (or more) were stories of amazing friendships, learning great skills and enjoying the outdoors in all its splendor.

I want that for my kids. I know there's no guarantee that they'll adore it, but I had high hopes based on how much they enjoy our time at the cottage every summer. This year, we took the plunge and our 8-year-old spent a week at sleep away camp.

He loved it.

He came home glowing and didn't stop talking for two hours, telling us all his stories. Here are a few of my favourite things about his experience.

He got to try new activities

My not-so-particularly physical kid spent every day swimming, kayaking, rock climbing and sailing.

His favourite activities were rock climbing (which he did almost every day) and sailing (which I'm told is SO FUN! and SO RELAXING! and we need a sailboat for the cottage NOW!). Archery, which he was quite excited about, wasn't really all he thought it would be.

They had campfires and they slept in a tent overnight in the woods. They build boats out of cardboard and got to test them out on the lake (apparently the only one that floated was the one that was too small for anyone to sit in.) He tried so many great things I can only imagine what he'll try when he's there for several weeks.

He was completely disconnected

I have no problems with technology for kids in moderation but I definitely think that being disconnected is important too. I was impressed that he had no hesitation leaving his iPod behind and I don't think he missed it at all while he was away. He read paper books and wrote us postcards during his down time.

He had to take care of himself

He had a lot of stuff he was responsible for managing

He had a lot of stuff he was responsible for managing

They may remind you to brush your teeth and put on sunscreen at camp, but even at 8 you're pretty responsible for yourself. He had to manage keeping track of his stuff and keeping it organized (which I think he only did moderately well).

I packed his bag because he had another activity the night before he left and I would definitely make him be more involved in future years, because there were a lot of things that got jumbled up. He had so much stuff in his huge bag that he never ended up using or wearing certain items, because he forgot he had them. I think it was a valuable lesson in being responsible for himself and not having someone to just go to when he couldn't find something.

Camp Otterdale

The camp we chose was based on a recommendation from someone I knew, but my son headed off without any friends or knowing anyone there. The camp was so great at making him feel welcome and all the counsellors made me feel confident that he would be in good hands when I left him there.

Located just outside Smith Falls, it's on a beautiful lake and the amazing variety of activities they have for the kids is quite incredible. All the camp counsellors have to have been campers to get jobs there, and the staff loyalty was clear - they could demonstrate how great a time kids have when they go to camp.

Next year my son wants to go for two weeks and my daughter (who will be seven) wants to go for a week. I'm still waiting to see if I think her twin will be ready at seven as well (here's a great post from Mabel's Labels about figuring out if your kids are ready for sleep away camp). They're already looking forward to it!

Have you considered sleep away camp for your kids? Have they been? Share what your experiences have been like in the comments!