Overnight Camp Must-Haves + Tips from an Expert Camper

As a child, my two weeks at summer camp were the absolute highlight of every year. I spent 10 years attending as a camper, and once I was too old to be a camper, I became a staff member. And when my kids were finally old enough to attend, I got to relive that joy all over again through their eyes.

I’m a huge proponent of summer camp for kids who are ready for it. I think it encourages independence, builds self-confidence, helps children deepen friendships, and allows kids to take a week away from technology and busyness and simply be old-fashioned KIDS. Typically, camps have either a faith component or character development included in their programs, so I’m a big fan of that as well.

first time campers with trunks, overnight camp must-haves

I’m often asked what I recommend as far as what age is best for kids to go to overnight camp. I think it is a very personal decision for every parent, and I don’t think there’s a specific age that’s best for every child. My oldest was 10 his first year, and my daughter was seven. I think my oldest was certainly independent and mature enough to go earlier than 10, but he insisted that he wouldn’t go without his sister, so we waited a little later with him. 

How to Know If Your Child Is Ready for Sleepaway Camp

Some things to consider as far as your child’s camp readiness:

  • How independent are they with basic daily needs, such as hygiene, eating a meal, and getting dressed?
  • How does your child handle being part of a team? How severe is their separation anxiety?
  • How well does he or she sleep away from home?
  • Are they able to respect the authority of an adult that is not a parent? 

Once you’ve decided your child is mature enough and able to handle overnight camp, the next big hurdle is packing. Whatever camp you sign your child up for, whether it’s a youth camp from a local church or a camp with their own location such as Sky Ranch, Pine Cove, Grady Spruce, or Ozark, you will be provided with a packing list specific to the camp. 

girl on camp bunk bed, overnight camp must-haves

What to Pack for Summer Camp

If you aren’t sure your kid will attend sleepaway camp for multiple summers, I recommend either a large duffel or a plastic trunk for their first year. If they’ve already let you know that they want this to be an annual thing, or you’re certain that it’ll last more than one summer, the traditional footlocker is worth the investment. We also loved this organizer for the lid to keep all the smaller items and trinkets!

camp trunk, overnight camp must-haves

Some summer camp must-haves:

  • Clip-On Fan  
    I recommend a clip fan with a cord over batteries simply because those batteries won’t last long with the fans constantly running. Don’t forget to pack an extension cord!
  • Shower Caddy
    We love this one because it has handles, holes to drain the water out of the bottom, and is made of rubber so doesn’t mildew. We’ve used it two years strong and it has lots of life left!
  • Bug Spray & Sunscreen
    My kids prefer stick sunscreens for their face.
  • Laundry Bag
    We like these, and they’ve held up well for multiple summers. Pro Tip: Fill it with your child’s bedding, towels, and pillow for the trip to camp to minimize the number of items they have to collect and unpack upon arrival! Once it’s full of their VERY dirty and smelly clothes, there will be space in the trunk to put the pillow and bedding for the trip home.
  • Flashlight
  • Poncho or Rain Jacket
  • 2 Pairs of Sneakers (in case one gets muddy)
  • Shower Shoes
    We always grab some inexpensive flip flops and throw them out at the end of camp. Trust me, they aren’t worth saving. 
  • Books, Playing Cards, and pre-addressed-and-stamped Postcards for any down time offered.
  • 3 Swimsuits for one-week camps—more if your child goes longer!
  • I suggest doubling whatever they recommend for underwear and socks if you have smelly kids like I do!

boy in summer camp cabin

Were you a big camper as a child? Do your children go now? Tell us in the comments about your experiences and if there were any summer camp packing must-haves I missed on my list!  

Allison and her husband, Blake, grew up in Dallas and made the move to the 'burbs in 2010 when she began teaching middle school in Frisco. After attending Texas A&M for her undergrad, Allison came back to Dallas to pursue her Master’s in Education from SMU. She has a huge love of writing and taught everything from preschool to eighth grade before obtaining her certification as a Pediatric Sleep Consultant. Today, McKinney is home for her circus which includes three children (four if you count her husband) and a troublemaking lab. Allison and her husband are both passionate about orphan care and adoption, a calling that led them to their adopted son from China and to pursue their foster care licensing during the pandemic. Keep up with all her shenanigans on Instagram!

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