"Rule of thumb: if you would cry if it got ruined or lost, don't bring it... For other things like swim suits and hats just remember to pack backups - one is bound to get lost, or mildewed, or... you get the idea."
Packing for Camp
It is that time of year that camp – church camp or otherwise – is just around the corner. Whether you are a parent, counselor, or camper, this can be an anxious time. You've probably looked at the packing list, and that's a great place to start. But it doesn't tell the whole story. That's where we come in. The Building Faith team, in yet another BTDT (been there, done that) moment, has the inside scoop on what to bring to camp. We have no special training, just experience... and lots of mistakes.
Authors' Camping Credentials
Charlotte Hand Greeson: Has sent two kids to camp for 7 years.
Matthew Kozlowski: Was a camper and counselor for 9 years.
10 Pointers for Packing for Summer Camp
1. Stay Cool
Camp cabins don't have air conditioning, and summer nights can be hot. Some packing lists include, "Fan, and extension cord." Our advice: instead of fighting over an outlet, buy a decent battery-powered fan. The ones with the clip can be clipped to the bed for direct air-flow. Extra batteries are, of course, a must.
Camps say "no open-toed shoes" or "no shoes without a back." They mean it. Foot and ankle injuries are a nightmare at camp, for everyone involved. Some activities, such as climbing, require closed-toed shoes, and you don't want your camper to be left out. That said, a pair of cheap flip-flops for walking to the bathroom or shower are KEY. Also, shoes that can get wet such as old sneakers or water-shoes are great for the waterfront. Finally, hiking boots - what's the deal here? Well, if your camper is likely to go on a serious overnight hike of 10 miles or more, boots might be a necessity. But anything short of that, you can usually save your $100 (for something they will wear once) and send a sturdy pair of sneakers instead.
A flashlight is on every camp packing list. Duh. But one thing to look for is a flashlight that will stand up nicely on a shelf. If it's too heavy or wobbly, it will fall off or roll away. Additionally, the headlamp is an option that is becoming increasingly more common at camp.
4. What to Pack All This Stuff In?
A rolling suitcase? How about a trunk? In a word: no. The invention of rolling duffles has been a huge help to campers and parents. They are inexpensive (consider the off brand), hold a ton, easy to jam into a trunk, can be carried or rolled, and collapse flat when empty. Also consider one or two clear plastic bin-totes for various odds and ends. These can fit nicely on a shelf or under a bed. Remember that your camper will be sharing space with a bunkmate, and that beds are generally 12-16 inches off the floor.
Rule of thumb: if you would cry if it got ruined or lost, don't bring it. But apart from that, how much? With t-shirts, pack more than you think. Campers often need to change shirts at least once a day, especially at a camp with water, so think 2 shirts per day. With shorts, you can pack fewer. Mesh shorts and soccer shorts are the absolute best, because they dry so fast. For other things like swim suits and hats, just remember to pack backups – one is bound to get lost, or mildewed, or... you get the idea.
6. Making the Bed
Packing lists usually say, "sheets or sleeping bag." Well, which is it? The answer is both. You need a fitted bottom sheet to cover the camp mattress. The sleeping bag then lies on top of that, and the camper can sleep in it unzipped, or zipped up on cooler nights. A sleeping bag is also very easy for a camper to "make" every morning. Pillow from home - yes. Extra pillow case - you bet.
Camps usually say to not pack food. What's the deal? Well, snacks are fun, but mice and squirrels in the cabin are not. Our advice: don't put any snacks in bags that will be under the bed. Instead, pack a well-sealed bag or box of food and give it to the cabin counselor on the first day. He or she can decide how to dole it out.
8. The Extra Stuff That Nobody Tells You About
This will depend on your particular camp, so ask. Some possibilities: Nice clothes for the end of session banquet or dance. A white t-shirt for tie-dying activities. Musical instrument. Ask other parents or counselors who have been to your camp before. Your camper will be glad you did.
9. Mail Call
Writing postcards and letters from camp is a time-honored tradition, but campers usually find it to be a chore. Make it easy for them by providing several pre-addressed envelopes (home, gramma, church, etc). Don't forget the stamps!
10. A GOOD Bible
For any Christian camp, campers should have a Bible. And it is important that it be a Bible that the camper can actually use. The gold-paged King James from aunt so and so - that's not going to help. Head to a book store and pick out a Bible for young adults or teens. NRSV, NIV, ESV are all good translations, and there are others. Or ask your church's youth and family director. Hopefully, this Bible will be something a camper can bring year after year.
That's all folks! Just remember to pack your sense of wonder at God's creation, your willingness to try new things, and the grace to get through a week without your smartphone.
Matthew and Charlotte manage Building Faith as members of the team at the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary.