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Packing my daughter’s things for her first summer of sleepaway camp was a lot harder than I thought. It probably didn’t help that I’m a procrastinator by nature and waited till the 11th hour to pull together a two-page list of must-have items—many of which we didn’t own. Then there’s the whole labeling of everything down to socks and underwear and making sure you remember the intangibles—the things that matter but may not appear on a camp list. Here’s what I wish I had known before packing for three weeks of sleepaway camp:

START EARLY

It may feel like you have lots of time with camp months away but trust me when I tell you, buying what you need, labeling every single item and making sure it all fits neatly into your camp bags or trunk is no joke. If your child is a newbie, you’ll want to budget extra time since you’ll likely be buying a lot of camp necessities for the first time. With supply chain issues brought on by COVID, it’s a good idea to order things now (make sure you size up if need be for the summer months). Buy your labels ASAP and start labeling as early as you can. You won’t want to be doing this the week before camp starts and find out you don’t have enough labels for all their stuff.

DON’T PACK THINGS YOU CARE ABOUT

My daughter packed a special, sentimental Paris blanket that was handmade by a friend. She put it in the laundry along with a comforter and a set of sheets and nothing came back (this is why you need to pack two sets of sheets.) While this is not the norm, it happens and there are no guarantees. If it’s important, skip packing it. And if you have a blanket or comforter you love, tell your kids to pass on sending it to the laundry and instead stick with clothes, sheets and other must-wash clothing items.

STICK TO THE LIST

A camp’s list of what’s required may be long but there’s a reason each item is there. Last summer, I ran out of time to buy everything on the list. My daughter’s packing list had two types of boots—rain boots and riding boots. I skipped buying the riding boots only to have to ship them to camp so she could take her scheduled horseback riding lessons.

MAKE SURE YOUR KID WATCHES YOU PACK

Have your son or daughter watch what you pack so they know what they have with them. This will come in handy if sheets or other things go missing and they need to ID them. It also helps them make sure they remember to pack up all their stuff with their counselor when it’s time to go home.

PACK EXTRA BATHING SUITS

My daughter’s camp suggested we pack two to three bathing suits for three weeks away and considering the kids swam in the lake every day, two to three felt like not enough. They get worn out and a little gross so pack extras, especially because they don’t take up much space.

DON’T FORGET STATIONARY SUPPLIES

Writing letters is an important part of the sleepaway camp experience. If want your kid to write, you need to make it easy. Buy return address stickers and place them on the envelopes. If your child is younger, be sure to pack instructions on how to write and mail a letter. Pack a stationary holder and an accordion style file to keep all their stationary supplies in one place. If you want a letter that says more than just “camp is awesome,” pack a Mad Libs-style sheet with questions to answer and ask your child to mail it to you on a specific date, maybe a week into camp.

GET COZY STUFF FOR THEIR BED

A husband pillow is more than a nice to have. It makes it easier for your kid to sit up in bed during bunk time and makes their bed cozy. A custom blanket is a cute way to make their bed feel like home. Go to collage.com to make a blanket with pictures of family and friends or kicksbysammy.com for a blanket customized with their camp name. A pillowcase kids can autograph (don’t forget to pack a fabric marker) is also a fun camp keepsake.

A FEW MORE TIMES FROM A SEASONED SLEEPAWAY CAMP MOM

As a newbie, I asked my friend, a former sleepaway camper herself whose kids have been going to sleepaway camp for years, what else to pack. Here’s her advice:

Bring extra sting cream and bug repellent.

  • A Tide To-Go stick is a must to pretreat their clothes before they send them to the laundry.
  • A clear shoe box container is a great place to keep all the little things they pack that can easily get lost in one place, from pens to hair ties.
  • A Caboodle is a fun way to store their things, too.
  • Tape or sticky tack makes it easy for them to hang pictures on the wall by their bed.
  • If they love to read, send them with a head lamp or book light.
  • Every camp list suggests packing a robe for going to and from the shower but a towel with Velcro is a game-changer.
  • Pack an extra water bottle for the bunk and a Hydro Flask-type bottle that stays cold for the outdoors.
  • Skip reusable straws because they will probably never be cleaned.