How to Save Money While Packing for Camp

Our Parent Handbook is heading your way in a matter of days, and we know that it will get your head thinking about the summer. Packing for camp is a big undertaking, and for many parents, it can feel like you’re spending money left and right. Today, we are breaking down our packing list and looking at specific items, offering suggestions on ways you can pack more economically this camp season.

But first, a few pro tips:

Tip #1: Save items for future summer

Some of the items on our packing lists are things you just can’t avoid buying as you probably don’t have them in your house (like a laundry bag). If you need to spend money on items you don’t have, think ahead to what you’ll do with these items after camp. Make a pile of the items after the summer and store them for future camp seasons. For my campers, we have sheets, a comforter, flashlight, laundry bag, towels, a shower bucket, water bottle, and stationery in a pile that we only use for camp. While we had to buy some of these items up front, we now have them and don’t have to repurchase them each year.

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Tip #2: Labeling items

It’s easy to spend quite a bit of money on labels for clothes. We’ve used Oliver’s labels in the past and have really liked them. However, after realizing how time consuming it is to iron on a name sticker to the bottom of each individual sock (can I get an “amen” from any camp parents out there?!), we started using a Sharpie for most things. If I could label an item with a Sharpie, I did. These days, I even make choices about the colors of socks I buy for my children so that I can label them with a sharpie (no more black socks for us!). Go the Sharpie route to save money (and sanity).

Tip #3: Types of bags

Trunks just sound like camp; many families want to purchase one (they are fun!). But, just know that they really aren’t necessary. Don’t waste money on a trunk in those first years unless you want to. A duffel bag works just as well, and you’re bound to have some large duffels at home that your camper could use. If your daughter attends for a few years and just loves camp, consider purchasing a trunk for an upcoming Christmas or birthday gift in the years to come. (But, just know even at an older age, trunks really aren’t necessary!)

Now, let’s dive into our packing lists specifically:

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Everyday Clothing:

What you need:

  • Tshirts
  • Shorts
  • Socks, underwear, and sports bras
  • Nightgowns and pajamas

Ways to save money:
Think SIMPLE. These should be play clothes you already have. We do NOT recommend expensive workout brands, so don’t feel the need to go purchase anything new. My guess is that most parents will have a good amount of shirts and shorts that can be used for camp. If you need some extras, look for spring deals, or check out stores like Walmart or Target.

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Water activities:

What you need:

  • One-piece swimsuits
  • Beach towels

Ways to save money:
Most campers have a one-piece bathing suit or two, so that helps when packing. You can check out our blog about places you can look for new suits, if you need some ideas. Once again, no need to get fancy! Also, if you are confident that your daughter isn’t a water-girl, you may be fine sending fewer suits, which will make the shopping easier.

On our packing list, we also recommend quick-dry beach towels, which are a great option for the camp setting. Many campers also appreciate having a specific color of towel (where all their towels are the same color), so they can easily spot their towels in their cabin. However, in the end, any towels will do. Ask family or friends – many have old beach towels laying around that they don’t use anymore or that you could borrow. My children take an eclectic mix of beach towels we’ve accumulated over the years, and then I don’t worry about if they make it home.

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What you need:

  • Pillow and pillowcases
  • Twin sheets
  • Blanket/quilt

Ways to save money:
You can definitely find twin sheets for a good deal, and I’d recommend keeping them in a pile after the summer, so they are always ready to use as your “camp sheets.” For the blanket or quilt, see what you have around the house. There is no need to buy any fancy bedding! We provide a jersey style blanket for each bed, so if you throw a thicker fleece-type blanket or quilt on top of that, your camper should be fine. You can also find inexpensive blankets that work great at camp.

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What you need:

  • Tennis shoes
  • Water shoes
  • Church sandals (June, Main, and August only)

Ways to save money:
Hopefully your daughter already has tennis shoes, and if you haven’t been doing it already, start keeping the ratty pair she just grew out of each year to send to camp as her 2nd pair of shoes. Because camp is so much fun, the shoes you send probably won’t look as good when they return home; we love getting messy! Because of this, you can also try to stretch her current shoes that maybe nearing the end of their life so they make it through the summer; then you won’t worry about them getting camp-dirty.

For water shoes, many girls wear Chacos or Tevas-style shoes, but the name brands are not necessary. Check out deals at REI, and brands like Keens or even knock-off Tevas. And as for church sandals, something from home is great – even simple flip flop sandals!

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Outerwear and warm clothing:

What you need:

  • Raincoat
  • Light jackets/sweatshirts
  • Long-sleeve shirts
  • Pants/leggings

Ways to save money:
The gist on this one – don’t get anything new! Because you need just a handful of cold-weather items, you’re bound to own everything already. Just send something your daughter already wears!

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Tradition & Event items:

What you need:

  • White shorts and shirts
  • Simple dresses for Sunday (June, Main, and August only)
  • Dress-up costumes
  • 1 green and 1 gold outfit

Ways to save money:
When you’re looking for white shorts and shirts, go as simple as possible. For many years, I would buy a package of plain white shirts like these (they work for girls too!); if they got messy, I didn’t worry about it, as they weren’t very expensive. For shorts, you can find some simple shorts from so many places. Walmart and Target both carry white workout-style shorts and basic white chinos.

For the green and gold outfit, use things from home. If you don’t have something in one of those colors, get creative! Do you have fabric in gold? A green hat? A pair of yellow socks? An old costume in green? Anything in either green or gold is fine; no need to buy anything extra.

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Bath and toiletries:

What you need:

  • Bath towels and washcloths
  • Shower items in a plastic bucket

Ways to save money:
First off, we provide shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in every cabin, so you’re all set there. For a toiletry bucket, go simple. Just get the basic bucket that you can then use year after year. For bath towels, I’d recommend the same thing – go simple! You can use towels you already own or invest in simple towels that you can then designate as her “camp towels” to use each year. If you daughter never uses washcloths at home, no need to bring those.

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Everyday necessities:

What you need:

  • Water bottle
  • Sunscreen and bug repellent
  • Backpack or tote bag

Ways to save money:
You probably have a stash of all these things at home, so hopefully this one will be simple. Sunscreen would be the main thing to purchase, if you don’t have a full tube at home, as your camper will need it every day. I’m guessing your house has a water bottle drawer like ours, so you should have many options. My suggestion would be to send a bottle with a wider mouth, as girls love to fill their bottles with ice. If you need a new bottle, girls often use Nalegene brand (cheaper) or Hydroflasks (more expensive) bottles for wide mouth options.

For a backpack, we see many girls use their school backpacks or a large tote bag. Search those closets – my guess is you have what you need already!

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Cabin and Bunk:

What you need:

  • Laundry bag
  • Flashlight
  • Stationery
  • Bible
  • Fan
  • Rest Hour activities

Ways to save money:
The fan and the laundry bag are probably two items you need to purchase, as most people don’t have those sitting around at home. There are cheap options out there, or even ask a friend who may be sending her daughter to camp at a different time during the summer. And then, hopefully most families already have a flashlight.

For the stationery, consider printing your own to save some money. You can find printable options that you can then pair with envelopes to make a cheaper stationery set. Others like ordering notepads and pairing those with cheaper envelops to keep it simple.

We have a list of Rest Hour activities we recommend, but you don’t need to send much! Check around your house; my guess is there is probably an overlooked sticker book or Christmas present your camper hasn’t even used yet. Also, books are great! She can visit our camp library if she needs some extra reading material. For my campers, I usually purchase one of these clipboards and fill it with paper, a simple notebook, pens, and stickers – keep it simple and let your camper get creative!

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Optional items:

Ways to save money:
We have a big list of optional items that are truly that – optional. You don’t need to send any of these things. But, if you’re thinking about a few of them, here are some ideas:

  • Crazy Creek: This does not have to be name brand! Talk to parents who also send their children to camp at different times during the summer to see if you can borrow their chair. Or talk to parents of older children to see if they have outgrown their Crazy Creek. The original version also makes a great birthday or Easter gift this spring!
  • Rain boots: Parents have a lot of mixed opinions on whether rain boots are necessary. If you’re looking to save money, the water shoe you’re bringing should work just fine.
  • Activity items: For all the class-specific optional items (like a dance leotard or a tennis racket), I’d recommend a “bring them if you have them” type of thing. I wouldn’t go purchase these items if you don’t already own them.

Seasoned camp parents, what are your best camp hacks to save money when packing? Let us know!

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