DFW Camp Expo

What to Pack for Kids Summer Camp: Checklist of Essentials

If you’re not sure what to pack for your kids’ summer camp and need a checklist, I’ve got you covered. Most camps will send out their own detailed packing list; however, some can leave you wondering if your child is truly prepared for their camping adventure. 

As a seasoned summer camp mom, I’ve put together a few tips that I’ve learned over the years to use in addition to your own camp’s checklist of what – and what not – to pack for kids’ summer camp. 

What to pack for kids summer camp checklist:

Essential Clothing

Whether it’s your first time preparing your kids for summer camp, or they are seasoned summer camp pros, the marker of an expert camper is having a variety of clothing so they are prepared for all weather conditions. Extra socks and underwear are also a must!

Camp uniforms

If your camp requires uniforms, be sure to check if you need to pre-order them ahead of time. And be glad! Camp uniforms make packing easy and enable them to wear appropriate clothes for each day’s activities.

Swimwear

Make sure that swimwear always makes it into your ‘what to pack for kids summer camp checklist,’ no matter where they’re going, but especially in Texas!

When choosing swimwear for camp, consider durability and modesty—for both boys and girls. Many camps require rash guards for boys and one-piece suits instead of bikinis for girls. Pro tip: Studies show that blue and green suits are much harder to spot in water, so opt for colors like orange, red, or pink for the best visibility.

Activewear

T-shirts and shorts will make up the bulk of your child’s clothing at summer camp. Consider lightweight, 100% cotton t-shirts for the best breathability or athletic wear made of moisture-wicking fabrics. Lightweight athletic pants or leggings are perfect for when the sun sets.

Pro tip: Pack more than one outfit per day to allow for muddy hikes or stray rainstorms.

Sleepwear

Keep kids comfortable in pajama shorts or pants paired with cotton t-shirts. Be sure boys have something other than underwear to wear to bed; they’ll likely want to leave their dinosaur PJ set at home. Make sure they have slippers or other indoor shoes for walking around their cabin.

Rain Gear

Light, water-resistant outerwear will help your child stay dry in the case of an afternoon thunderstorm, and sweatshirts are good for cool mornings and evening activities like campfires or night hikes. Pro tip: Rain boots are a great shoe option, not just for rain but also for muddy playtime or creek stomping adventures.

Footwear

The most important items in your child’s summer camp duffle are good shoes! They should bring a few pairs, including tennis shoes, rain boots, water shoes, sandals/flip flops, and shower shoes. Be sure to break in new shoes or boots well before departure. You don’t want their first nature hike to be cut short because of painful blisters or sore feet.

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Personal Care Items

Campers need to have something to keep their toiletries organized so that they can easily carry them to and from the bathroom (which might be down the hall or even outside of a cabin). Small toiletry bags work well, but our family always opted for gallon ziplock bags!

Toiletries & Medication

Include travel-size versions of your child’s normal personal care items like soap/shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, hairbrush, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss. Check on your camp’s medication policy, as most require it to be checked in with and administered by the camp nurse, including over-the-counter pain meds.

Sunscreen

No summer camp checklist is complete without sunscreen! Broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a minimum of 30 SPF is the most effective type. However, the best sunscreen is the one your child will actually wear! Have them practice applying it well before they leave, as some camps prohibit counselors from helping.

Insect Repellent

Again, be sure your child knows when and how to apply bug spray. Pro tip: Insect-repellant wipes make it super easy for kids to apply effectively! 

First Aid Essentials

Camp nurses and counselors will have almost everything your child might need, but there’s no harm in sticking a few band-aids in with their toiletries. You can even purchase a small personal first-aid kit from most drugstores. Make sure to include different sizes of band-aids so they have options for small cuts or shoe blisters.

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Bedding and Laundry

When packing bedding, lay the sheet and towels on top of a flat sleeping bag, then roll them all up together, secure them with a bungee cord or heavy string, and stick them in a large lawn bag. Include an extra string and lawn bag in the bottom for their return home.

Pillows

Let your child bring their favorite pillow from home to help with a sense of security. Pro tip: Include earplugs and a sleep mask if your child isn’t used to sleeping amongst croaking frogs, chirping birds, or heavy breathers. 

Towels

Pack two fast-drying towels—one for bathing and one for swimming. Pro tip: Pick towels with distinguishable/unique patterns to help reduce the chance of mixups with other campers.

Sleeping Bag or Bed Sheets

Most camps recommend a twin fitted sheet to cover the mattress and a sleeping bag for sleeping. Be sure the sleeping bag isn’t too hot for the temperature at camp. There’s usually no need for a 30-degree-rated bag in the middle of a Texas July.

Laundry Bag

Help improve kids’ responsibility by including a separate bag for dirty clothes. Pro tip: Don’t be surprised if there’s only a T-shirt and a set of shorts in the dirty laundry bag when they get home, though!

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Gear and Accessories

Flashlight

A flashlight with multiple levels of brightness is the most helpful to campers. A lower level is great for preserving vision on a night hike, while brighter lumens help with finding their way back to the cabin in the dark. Pro tip: Replace the batteries before they leave. Batteries that worked at home may be old and end up dying out halfway through camp. 

Reusable Water Bottle

Although many camps will have water and cups available, your child is more likely to drink more water if they have an insulated water bottle nearby. Pro tip: Be sure their bottle isn’t too large or heavy to carry with them on hikes, etc., or they’re likely to leave it back in the cabin.

Backpack

Opt for a smaller backpack with pockets that are also easy to carry. Drawstring backpacks are convenient, but they often dig into kids’ shoulders when packed too full. Make sure to get a bag with padded shoulder straps for comfort.

Stationery

Most camps encourage sending letters to loved ones. Be sure to include notecards or paper, envelopes, stamps, and pens. Pre-address and stamp envelopes for younger kids or send older ones with a list of family members’ names and addresses. 

Camera

Camps vary on whether they will allow cameras (and most will prohibit cell phones, even “just for taking pictures”), so I always send my kids with an old-fashioned disposable camera. Make sure to ask if your camp takes pictures and posts them during the week through a private link. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do I pack my child for summer camp?

Keep in mind that it’s best to shop and pack together with your child when preparing your kids for summer camp. Get them involved with the decision-making about what toiletries to pack, which outfits to wear, what sunscreen they prefer, etc. This will help them know what to expect when they open their duffle bag (and what to throw back in it when they pack to return home)!

Which items are not allowed at kids’ summer camps?

Most camps prohibit cell phones or other personal electronics, as well as appliances that plugin, such as hair dryers or straighteners (sorry, tween girls).

Anything that could be considered a weapon is likely not allowed, including pocket knives.

Food is another no-no. Don’t try to be a super mom and hide treats in your child’s luggage as a surprise. Instead, ask if care packages can be sent directly to the camp.

Be sure to double-check all of your campers’ bags right before you say goodbye on the off-chance that they might have “accidentally” included some unnecessary or banned items.

What specific items should I pack for boys’ summer camps?

Boys are so much easier than girls when it comes to what to pack for kids going to summer camp. The biggest thing for boys is having enough socks and shoes (for when, not if, they get wet). Baseball caps are also great for sunny days and will come in handy when they don’t feel like brushing their hair.

What specific items should I pack for girls’ summer camps?

Girls should pack basic hair accessories like headbands and ponytail holders. 

If your daughter has already started menstruating or could possibly get her first period at camp, help her pack the supplies she’ll need. You can rest easy, though, knowing that camp counselors have experience with this and will have the necessary items on hand, as well.  

Looking for the top-rated summer camps in the DFW area? Check out our comprehensive directory of the best summer camps for DFW.

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