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Updated for 2023!
Here in the US, it’s Memorial Day Weekend – a.k.a. kind of like the “official” kick-off to summer! That means lots of kids are finishing up school and are about to head to summer camps all over the United States!
Maybe you’re one of the fabulous people (like me!) who choose to work at one of these summer camps! If you’re super cool, you’ve chosen a residential camp somewhere! I’ve worked at summer camps of all kinds – West, East, day camp, performing arts, traditional, etc. and in every kind of position – teacher, cabin counselor, administrator, department head, program director, head counselor, unit leader, etc. If you can’t tell, I’ve been through a lot of summer camping and it’s become a fun part of my life story. As someone who didn’t “camp” traditionally as a kid, I’m pretty shocked that I love it so much in adulthood.
Related Posts: Read more of my summer camp posts! – Preparing for Camp with Name Bubbles
With that in mind, I’ve created this list of 10 Must-Have Items for Summer Camp Counselors based on my past experiences. Remember, each camp is different and may provide different items to staff members. Depending on where the camp you’re working at is located, you may need to pack a few different location-based items that I haven’t listed here. If you’re about to head to summer camp, make sure you check out your camp’s recommended packing list – they’re usually a great place to start! Especially when it comes to clothing!
Related Posts: Use Rakuten to get cash back on your pre-camp shopping! Get $10 for signing up! – Now Available on Amazon: My Very Own Summer Camp Story – What I Packed for Summer Camp in 2021
1) An Amazon Prime Membership
Hear me out on this one. Many camps aren’t all that close to stores and who wants to spend bunches of their precious time off in the nearest drugstore buying essentials? NO ONE. Download the app on your smartphone and keep a running list of things you need. With that two-day(ish) shipping, you can get basically anything you need (toiletries, extra socks, packs of hair ties, etc.) shipped right to you! And everyone loves mail at camp!
2) Galoshes – Rainboots – Wellies, Whatever You Call Them
Yes, a pair of these will make your life SO MUCH EASIER. There will no doubt be days where it monsoons for hours and hours and leave nothing but mud behind. Keep those feet dry if you can!
Speaking of galoshes, while you are at it, get a raincoat or poncho. If you get one that’s more of a windbreaker-style, you’ll get use out of it on just chilly days as well!
4) Some Kid-Friendly DVDs
You know you’ve got some in your personal collection. Plus, we all know there will be rainy days and nights where the only thing your cabin will want to do is snuggle up and watch a movie. It goes without saying that other counselors will love you if you let them borrow one of your DVDs.
5) Sleeping Bag
Just bring one. If packing one isn’t possible, use that above-mentioned Amazon Prime membership to ship one to camp so that you have it when you arrive. Early parts of summer can be chillllllllly, particularly in New England.
5a) Waterproof Blanket Someone will likely spill something on or near their beds over the summer, so I always suggest a waterproof blanket (or sleeping bag) on top of your bed!
6) Laundry Bag with Straps and Mesh Laundry Bags
No matter who does the laundry (you or the camp), it’s best to transport it in something that’s easy to carry. They get heavy, so make it easier on yourself. I would also get one that’s solid canvas, vinyl, etc. Avoid getting mesh-style bags for your main laundry bag.
Mesh Laundry Bags
These are great for helping keep your laundry organized! Put all of your socks in one bag, underwear in the other, etc. That way, it still gets washed, and you have less chance of random socks and underwear going missing in the laundry. Plus, you can label these on the off chance they end up in another staffer’s laundry bag. Anything can happen in the camp laundry room!
7) Extra Socks and Underwear
You never know when you may need either of these things. You never know when you may need to jump into a river or pool, and you may be fully clothed! Things often get dirty quickly while you’re at camp, so just pack extras!
8) Your Own Hot/Cold Cup
Days can be long at any summer camp! In the morning, you might need that extra cup of hot tea or coffee to come with you to your next activity. Then, just an hour or two later, you’re parched and need water. Or, you’re on the lake and need to take water out with you! It’s just more efficient to get a cup that works for both hot & cold drinks. You’ll be glad you have it! Put your name on it too – you’re bound to leave it sitting somewhere.
9) Clothing for Theme Days or Special Events
In some pre-camp materials you probably received from your camp (or from past personal experiences), there might be some specific events that you want to plan for. If your camp has dances, be prepared with a couple of “nicer” outfits. If there’s a Dinosaur Day, take something appropriate for being a dinosaur. Bring a couple shirts that might coincide with Color War if your camp has such an event. Also, July 4th – pack some red, white, and blue.
10) Bug Spray – Sunscreen – After Sun – Itch Cream
This is something you can usually pick up once you get to camp and some camps even supply this stuff for staff and campers, but you don’t want to be without any of these things!
Bug spray is a given! Whatever type you prefer, of course, but I’d make sure you get a brand that’s based in the US since we have our own breed of pests here. I’ve also had good luck with the bug wipes on exposed skin – just depends on your personal preference.
Itch Cream – get some! Chances are you’ll get bitten by a few mosquitoes or other bugs and you will itch at ALL hours of the day and night! You may not always be able to get to the nurse’s cabin for itch relief, so get a little something to keep in your cabin!
Sunscreen + Aloe Vera – because it’s sunny and at some point, you will get burned. I usually suggest a good facial moisturizer that has sunscreen as well!
BONUS FOR 2023: I’m packing an air conditioner this year since I’m relocating to a different cabin at camp, so why not?!
Anyhoo, these are some of my favorite things to pack for camp! I’m sure everyone has their own “must-haves!” I’d love to know what you’re taking to camp this year!
Related: Why Work at Summer Camp? – What I Packed for Summer Camp in 2022
Tell me about what some of your go-to items are! Or, post your summer camp questions and I’m happy to help!
Im a unit leader this year and want to put together little goodie bags for my counselors for their first day. What items do you think woul dbe good to include? So far I have tiedyed bandanas and burts bees chapsticks.June 7, 2018 at 8:45 am
I actually think I replied to you on Reddit..?
I’ll share my list here too!
Totally old school ideas, but fun:June 7, 2018 at 3:40 pm
– small notebook & pen
– disposable camera (since phones aren’t always allowed)
– Water bottle (cheap at a dollar store)
– little tubes of sunscreen or anti-itch cream
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Good sleeping bags are a must.February 22, 2019 at 3:26 pm
Lorena - printreality
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Not that I’m going camping any time soon (we live in England and still in lockdown) but my must-haves used to be a spray to deter mosquitoes and other bugs and also a bed that’s suitable for camping as it’s foldable but also super comfy and off the floor. I used to suffer from leg cramps if I tried to sleep and get up from the ground. So I can’t do without those two items. I use Amazon here for those items too.March 13, 2021 at 9:43 am
Luckily the camp I work with has beds in cabins, so I just make that one super fluffy and comfy.March 13, 2021 at 11:35 am