Every year, camp counselors would fight over who had unpacked the luggage that arrived from the Tipograph family in Englewood. That's because items were neatly organized into separate Ziploc bags. Clothing was rolled so that nothing was wrinkled. Breakable items were safely wrapped in towels and padded with pillows in the center of the luggage. On top of the pile was a neat list of everything that had been included.
"While my kids went to camp, I was known as the Packing Queen, because I am so detail oriented," says Jill Tipograph, founder and CEO of Everything Summer LLC, a company located in Englewood, and a summer planning expert.
With camping season upon us, it's time to organize what your children will take with them this summer. Individual camps should provide a recommended packing list, complete with any required equipment. Consider what items make sense for your child. Call the camp director to see if there is some new "hot" item that campers are bringing that would help your child to fit in at camp this year. But do not, as tempting as it might be, overpack.
Less is more
"Parents should remember that there's a limited amount of space in the cabins, and if they pack too much, the camp will send items back," says Tipograph, author of Your Everything Summer Guide and Planner (which dedicates a chapter to packing for camp).
Overpacking is not a problem in the Greenberg household in Franklin Lakes, where Adam, 18, now a camp counselor, and Ross, 15, have attended summer camp since they were 10 years old.
"I think the suggested camping list is great – I always use it – but I find that over the years, my sons want to take less and less to camp," says Sue Ellen Greenberg, The Camp Lady with Student Summers. She helps Bergen families choose the right camp for their children. "Parents shouldn't stress if their child is missing an item at camp. They can always bring it up on visiting day, and in the meantime, campers are happy to share with one another."
Lots of Labels
Both Greenberg and Tipograph strongly recommend labeling everything. And they mean everything. Every article of clothing, all toiletries such as toothpaste, soap dish and shampoo, and any sports equipment. Depending on the item, Greenberg uses either a stamper or an iron-on label to identify her sons' belongings. And because children don't like name tags or labels to be seen, she tells parents to place them in an inconspicuous spot.
"The stampers are wonderful – they weren't around when my older son started camp – but I use them all the time now," says Greenberg, who advises washing new clothes before stamping or attaching an iron-on label. "I label my sons' clothes – not because I am worried that someone else will take them – but for laundry purposes. At camp, all of the clothes get washed together, and since many of the kids wear the same type of clothes, it's easier to sort them if they are labeled."
Once the clothes are ready for packing, Tipograph recommends using a collapsible trunk that can be rolled up and stored away after camp. While many local discount stores sell luggage, she highly recommends parents purchase travel trunks at a camp outfitters store, because they typically come with a lifetime guarantee.
"My kids' trunks would make it through two or three seasons," she says, "and all of a sudden they would rip at the seams. The camp outfitter company would replace them with the newest models, no questions asked. My children have reused their trunks through the college years. They have served a lifetime."
When purchasing travel trunks, Tipograph advises sticking with neutral colors, such as black or green. In addition, she suggests personalizing the luggage with initials rather than names so it can be passed between siblings without concern for gender.
Before allowing campers to pack their cell phones or favorite handheld electronic devices, parents should call ahead and find out what's allowed at camp. While most camps are strict about the use of phones, Tipograph says there are a few that ask kids to bring them to camp. Those phones are kept in the office to be used at specified times.
"What camps don't want is for children to have access to the Internet," Greenberg says. "They don't want them playing computerized games. I think it's a wonderful thing that kids get this break. As much as my sons love their computers, they don't even blink an eye at not being able to bring them to camp. They are too busy doing other things."
Consider the following when helping your child pack for summer camp:
• Space is limited at camp, so don't overpack. If you are packing items not on the camp's list, make sure those items are allowed.
• Make an accurate list of all the items you pack. Keep one list at home and send a copy to camp.
• Don't send children to camp with new clothes. It's OK to allow your camper to take one or two special items of clothing. Remember that anything with glitter or beads, or anything requiring special care, will get ruined in the wash, as laundry is done in bulk.
• Pack an amount of clothing based on the frequency of laundry days.
• Include a small laundry bag with a zipper to keep socks together in the laundry. Be sure to label the sock bag along with the socks.
• Be sure to pack extra socks, underwear and towels. Bring extras of all those with you on visitors' day.
• Containerize all the small items in Ziploc bags or clear toiletry bags so they can be identified easily.
• Include small, collapsible mesh baskets, which can be used for bunk toys, stationery or extra shoes.
• Put stationery and stamps in plastic envelopes and include a separate envelope so campers can save letters from home. (Email bunk letters are often printed out.)
• In lieu of large trunks, duffel bags can be used for sleeping bags, blankets or pillows.
• When campers have to travel by bus or plane to get to camp, make sure their carry-on luggage is not too heavy to carry.
• Don't send children to camp with expensive jewelry. Things easily get lost or broken.
• Don't pack heels for girls. If rain boots are on the camp list, check to see if your son would prefer work boots.
• Include a fan that can easily hang or wrap around the post of a bunk bed.
• Include two types of flashlights: a lantern type that can be raised up and shared with other campers and a mini flashlight so your child can read without bothering other campers.
• Depending on the child, consider including a small box of memories. Maybe a dog's collar or a favorite blanket or a family photo to comfort the camper if he or she feels homesick.
• Some campers like to personalize their space in the cabin. They might want to pack favorite posters or photos, for example.
• Books and magazines should be on the packing list, but don't send too many.
• It's important to pack blankets of different weights so campers are prepared for a variety of temperatures.
Sources: Jill Tipograph, Everything Summer LLC in Englewood, everythingsummer.com; and Sue Ellen Greenberg, The Camp Lady at Student Summers, campsandtrips.com