One of my first adventures overseas was when I worked on a summer camp back in 2008. I was a camp counselor in up-state New York! Looking back at the amount of luggage I took for the 3 month trip is embarrassing. I didn’t really have a clue what to take and I’m proud to say my packing has definitely improved! There are some things that I’m glad I took so hopefully my camp counselor packing list will give you an idea of what to pack for Camp America!
Updated: March 2021
Camp Counselor Packing List
First things first, every summer camp will be different and will have different rules. My camp supplied me with a staff manual which had some of the rules in. It stated things like you had to wear ‘one piece’ swimwear only. And the rule of thumb was that shorts for both campers and counselors had to be longer than your thumb (no pun intended) when your arms were by your side. As well as no vest tops/strapless tops etc. If your camp offers this, it’s a great resource on giving you an idea on what’s appropriate.
Don’t rely on mobile/cell phones
The idea of summer camp (at least when I was there) was to encourage people to switch off, disconnect and really be present and experience all the opportunities given. We’ve come to rely on phones so much for everything, from taking photos, to alarm clocks and telling the time, listening to music etc. There’s a chance that your camp may want you to have your phone hidden from the kids too.
To tell the truth, I couldn’t get a phone signal on camp with my English sim. A lot of the time camps are out in the middle of nowhere where reception is sparse. I wouldn’t even count on ‘that’s OK I’ll just get a local sim’ .I lived in the USA for 4 years, with an American number and still barely got a phone signal when out in the sticks.
My camp had wifi in the office. However it was a time before tablets and smart phones and only a couple of the staff travelled with laptops. We had a payphone with international calling cards and one computer!
Camp Counselor Essentials
Invest in a watch…ideally a ‘sport’/waterproof one
If you can’t use your phone to tell the time, how are you going to know if your lessons/activities are on schedule? I invested in a cheap waterproof watch that I used to keep time when I was out in the woods. I was a high ropes instructor so would often be sitting up in trees at the top of zip lines for hours each day, you wouldn’t want to drop a phone from that height. There was one evening event when I was thrown in the swimming pool…waterproof is the way to go!
I LOVE the Baby-G ‘G Shock’ watches, I’ve been wearing them for years now, they are a great watch for travelling. They also don’t need to be charged up and the batteries last forever. I love Fitbit watches too but they’ll need charging at least once a week. I would try to charge things during the day but the cleaners would unplug things if we weren’t in the cabin!
An alarm clock
As a camp counsellor, you’ll be in charge of waking up a cabin full of kids every morning. Again if you don’t have the use of your phone, you’re going to have to have some form of a travel alarm clock that you can set every night.
Something to keep notes
At my camp, the daily schedule was displayed in the dining room each morning. My schedule changed EVERY DAY. I’d be running different activities, sometimes I’d be ‘top lead’ (in charge of running the ropes activities), other times I’d just be an assistant. I carried a little pocket notepad around in my pocket and each morning I’d copy down my daily schedule so I knew where I had to be and at what times.
I’d get one full day off and 2 evenings off each week. These stayed the same, but I’d then get an hour or so off during the day on top of my main times off, these times were constantly changing.
What Clothes to Include on Your Summer Camp Packing List For Counselors
I wayyyy overpacked when it came to clothing. My camp provided me with SEVEN camp counselor staff t-shirts…5 normal t-shirts in different colours, 1 tank top and 1 long sleeve t-shirt. I had to wear these whenever I was on duty. Camp America gave me a t-shirt that we were suppose to wear at the airport so they could ‘find’ us and I also bought a camp hoodie from the camp store on-site.
For the couple of times I was off in a week (and then for after camp travels), I only really needed a few of options, not a whole wardrobe.
I mainly wore shorts, there were only a couple of days I actually wore jeans. Your ‘bottoms’ obviously can get dirty and muddy if you’re climbing up trees and doing outdoor activities. I packed a couple pairs of board/surf shorts for water activities that I wore over the top of my swimwear. I’m a huge fan of rash vests which are like a wetsuit t-shirt. I sometimes find this more comfortable to wear under life jackets, plus it saves on unwanted sunburn as it covers you up more.
So as mentioned, girls will most probably be required to wear a one piece swimming costume (no tankinis or bikinis), HOWEVER I took 1 bikini which I wore in the shower. For the most part, I tried to shower on my time off when the cabin was empty. We only had showers with curtains, no solid doors, and I didn’t want a kid walking in on me…no one needs to see that.
Speaking of showers, I also took a pair of flip flops to wear in the shower. With so many people using the same cubicles, I just felt more comfortable wearing flip flops…same goes even now in hostels/camp sites etc.
BUT walking around on camp, flip flops weren’t allowed, toes had to be enclosed and shoes had to have some form of back on them so they were secure. As ugly as they are, a lot of us had Crocs, they were lightweight, easy to clean…and I may have even climbed a rock wall in them one morning…
It’s also worth taking a couple of pairs of shoes/trainers. Things seemed to take forever to dry on camp. If a pair got wet in the rain, they’d be wet for days.
Leading on from rain, a pack-a-mac raincoat can be handy. I didn’t take a proper coat, for the most part t-shirts were fine. When it did get cold I had a couple of hoodies or I doubled up my long sleeve t-shirt under a short sleeve. I did use a raincoat a couple of times.
Camp laundry can be a bit of a black hole, you risk putting your clothes into the laundry and never seeing them again…or sometimes they came back dirtier than what they left. On my time off, we’d tend to spend our full day going somewhere ‘fun’, 1 evening off we’d spend on camp learning to wakeboard or waterski etc and the 2nd evening we’d go into the local town, have dinner and do washing at the laundrette. As sad as it sounds, we quite liked going and doing something normal like washing. They had vending machines for washing powder.
I had a netted laundry bag that I could hang on the corner of my bunk. It was handy to be able to throw my dirty clothes in but then on the evenings off it was an easy way to transport my washing into town and back. (I also used it to dress up as an egg on Dr Seuss Day…LOL)
Dressing Up Accessories
(Isn’t it great how everything leads on from everything?!) Camp does indeed often have various different dressing up days. Our camp sent out a list of some of the theme days before we arrived.
I packed some small items that I could use for a couple of these days. I had a Harry Potter uniform, elf ears and a hat, a small pack of face paint, things that represented my nationality (an England flag, an England football shirt) to name a few.
Add small dressing up accessories to your summer camp packing list!
Other Things to Add to Your Camp Counselor Packing List
I also packed a cheap MP3 player. I always listen to music and sometimes it was nice to spend my hour off just chilling out listening to music. We were allowed to play music in the cabins, some of the girls brought CD’s and CD players (remember those things?) but we had to monitor to make sure they were playing suitable songs…I often had to shout out SKIP THAT TRACK!! I kept mine totally private though, it was my escape. There weren’t really many power outlets in the cabins so the only time I could really charge it was on my time off when I was in the cabin alone.
I ended up taking a top bunk tucked away in the corner. I took a pack of blue tac so I could decorate the walls around my bed with pictures that the campers made me and photos of my family back home!
A cheap point and shoot camera and a case was handy. I could wear on my belt or carry around with me. I took it up on the climbing equipment with me and generally carried it around with me most days!
A head torch/torch/flashlight, anything along those lines will be handy! Whether it be a camping overnight trip, walking back from activities in the dark or trying to find things in the cabin at night without waking anyone else up! I took a wind up torch to camp so I didn’t have to worry about batteries. I now travel with a head torch (which I rarely wear on my head, I like tying it around my wrist).
Think about what medication you may need to take with you to camp. HOWEVER at my camp, no medication was allowed in the cabins, they had to stay with the nurse. I get bitten really bad and a lot of summer camps are based out in the country in woods etc. I was recently gifted a bite relief product called Zap-It!, which stops the release of histamine by a small ‘electric’ shock. This may be a great alternative if you are in need of itch relief but are unable to get to the camp nurse!
Things to Buy When You Get to The USA
The chances are, at some point before the kids arrive, the camp will take everyone on a Walmart/Target run (or somewhere similar), to pick up anything they might need. This is a good opportunity to buy any cheap extra clothes you might want, a cheap towel, toiletries you hadn’t packed (shampoo, suncream etc). I decided to buy a reusable water bottle. Being out in the woods all day this was something I got used to carrying around with me.
If you forget anything on your summer camp packing list, the chances are you WILL be able to find everything once you get to America. Walmart is great for cheap clothes, if they get destroyed by day to day camp life you could just throw them away at the end of the season.
Camps may provide different things to camp counsellors. My camp provided counsellors with 1 pillow and bed sheets. I had packed a sleeping bag for extra warmth and a sleeping bag liner. Having a liner made it easier to ‘wash’ my bedding more frequently. One evening I went on a hiking overnight trip so I was glad that I had a sleeping bag for that! I also bought an extra pillow on the Target run which I ‘donated’ to camp when I left.
*Top Tip* I would suggest organising your bag with packing cubes! Luggage varied, some counsellors took suitcases, some took backpacks, a couple of us used roller holdalls! Either way, packing cubes work amazingly well! Plastic bags are good for wet or dirty clothes.
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I have created a FREE printable camp counselor packing list that you can download to assist you in getting ready for your summer camp placement!
Any questions about summer camp or being a camp counsellor? Let me know!
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