What to pack for day camp (and what to leave at home): a helpful list

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By Andrea Tomkins

It’s hard to believe that school is almost over and summer is upon us. Most parents are still dealing with end-of-year forms and field trips but this is honestly the best time to review what your kids need to bring to day camp and check supplies. How’s that backpack holding up? Where are the lids to those lunch containers? Are new runners needed? What about rain boots? Assess it all now and you will save yourself a panic attack later.

We checked in with a local expert and got the inside scoop about what to pack (and what not to pack!) for kids going to day camp. Note, the expert is my daughter Emma, who’s been a camp counselor for the past five years (and is now a camp director) at one of Ottawa’s top camps for kids.

Here’s what she recommends:

 

An easy-to-open (and hard to lose) lunch container

We love durable Goodbyn containers for lunches. One container with one big lid means that there’s only one lid to keep track of. As a bonus, it’s all easy to clean at the end of the day. Protip: practice opening and closing the lunch container beforehand, even in the store. This is especially important for the youngest kids who are new to day camp. And on that note… how about tucking a little note inside their lunch box? If you’re not sure what to write, a knock-knock joke they can share with friends is cute way to let them know you are thinking about them.  

In terms of how much food to pack is another issue. Emma recommends an “entrée” and a few snacks. Ideally, camp food should be healthy and filling to fuel their fun. “Kids do better if they have the right amount of food,” says Emma, but we all know that packing the right quantity of food can be a challenge. Emma recommends packing “a bit more” food than normal on the first day, then tweaking the amount in subsequent days. See what comes back and go from there. “No one wants to force kids to eat, and no one wants to see food waste,” she says.

Looking for some lunch box inspiration? Last year, terra20 hosted a workshop about school safe snacks and this recipe for nut-free cookie dough bites was very popular! That being said, we recommend trying out new foods before camp begins. The hard truth is that familiar foods are more likely to be eaten.

 

Water bottle

Emma asks parents to please pack a good-sized water bottle! As she points out: “Sippy cup or juice box style containers just aren’t big enough, especially on a hot day… And we are outside all day!” Sometimes, refilling bottles during the day can be a challenge, which is why bigger is better. At just over 500ml, the Fuel stainless steel water bottle is a good size. Thinksport bottles come in different sizes, are easy to hold, and keep cold water cold for 24 hours, even on the hottest summer days.

 

Sun protection

Hats are a must, and many camps already have them on their “must bring” checklists. Consider a hat with a floppy brim on the front and on the back to protect the neck. We also have some sunscreen recommendations for you. For the record, Emma’s preference is a spray sunscreen that’s easy to apply. (Keep in mind that camp counselors have to apply sunscreen to dozens of kids multiple times a day.)

 

Other items to pack for camp… and a few to leave at home

Don’t forget the swim goggles. “Some kids won’t even go in the pool without them,” says Emma. “Extra socks and a change of clothes are also nice to have!” The youngest campers worry the most about getting wet and dirty, and they are the most likely to get wet and dirty.  

Make sure campers wear good running shoes, not flip-flops or flimsy sandals. “We run around all day, and I don’t want the kids getting hurt,” says Emma. “It’s more fun for them, too.”

Bug sprays may not be absolutely necessary, but it totally depends on the camp. If campers are spending time in the woods, pack insect repellant. (terra20 has some safe options!) If the kids are staying indoors for most of the day with the occasional dip in the pool, leave it at home.

Pack everything in a properly-sized, comfortable backpack so kids don’t have to carry anything in their hands. One last piece of advice, and this comes from experience: LABEL EVERYTHING right down to the shoes and towels. It’s amazing how quickly things can go missing and how unsure some kids are when asked to identify their own belongings. terra20 carries durable Emily Press labels in store (coming soon to terra20.com!) that are ideal for kids’ clothing, containers, lunch bags, and more.

One last note, and this comes right from our resident camp counselor: Please leave all the toys and tech at home, even “smart” watches. These items are huge distractions and are likely to get dirty or lost. The key to being a happy camper, is fun. And they don’t need technology to have fun at camp.

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