If you’ve found your way to this camp counsellor packing list, then congratulations! You’re about to have the summer of your life as a camp counsellor on an American summer camp. But right now, you’re probably not focusing on all the fun you’re going to have this summer at camp.
Nuh-huh. You’re probably most concerned with what to pack for Camp America and how the heck you’re going to fit three months of gear into one suitcase.
I’ve been there, my friend. I was a camp counsellor with Camp America in 2012. And packing for summer camp back then felt like a challenge to take as much as possible with the least thought possible. I packed so many “just in case” items and I had no one to advise me otherwise.
But I’ve learnt a lot about packing tactfully and light since then. I’ve designed this summer camp packing list so you can adapt it to your specifications. Every camp has different requirements, climates, activities and rules so they need to be taken into account. Let’s get cracking!
Ultimate Camp Counsellor Packing List: Things to Take to Camp
Step 1: Luggage/Backpacks/Handbags for Summer Camp
- Checked-in suitcase or backpack
- Carry-on backpack
- Tote bag
I’m beginning this Camp America packing list with the easy bit. Camp America give you a luggage allowance in the hold for your flights and my advice would be to use it! In my first year at summer camp, I opted for a big suitcase as my checked-in luggage and a regular backpack for my hand luggage. Then I used a nice, canvas tote bag for days off and either my tote bag or backpack for day-to-day camp life. It worked really well and I wouldn’t change it.
If you are planning on backpacking or joining a trek afterwards, maybe consider taking a backpack as your main luggage. But it would need to be a huge, proper hiking one. And since you’re spending most of your summer in one place and won’t have lug it around very often, I’d personally take a suitcase.
Side note: I worked as a camp counsellor on a summer camp in the USA through the Camp America programme. But I’m certain the tips in this camp counsellor packing list will translate to other companies like Camp Leaders and AmeriCamp.
Step 2: Camp Counsellor Clothes
- 1x Raincoat/Pac-a-mac
- 1x Denim jacket (optional)
- 2x Hoodies/thicker jackets
- 2x Cardigans/lighter jackets
- 12-14x T-shirts/Vests (including Camp America t-shirt and flag t-shirt)
- 2x Dresses/Nicer outfits
- 2x Jeans/long pants
- 2-4x Shorts
- 2x Leggings
- 2x sets of Pyjamas
- …Organise everything in packing cubes
When choosing what to pack for Camp America, the first thing you need to think about is laundry. Some camps might ask you to do your own laundry, but my camp washed our clothes for us and returned them one week later. I’d say most camps have a similar system to mine. So, that means you’ll need two weeks worth of clothes. Think about what you will wear in one week and literally just double it. But I also bought some cheap t-shirts and vests from the local supermarket and Target during my summer. And you’ll probably do the same so there is no need to overpack!
You need every day, ‘work’ clothes for the right climate and you need one nice outfit for days off/fancier events at camp. You also need appropriate pyjamas. I learnt too late that it was a tradition to head to breakfast in your jammie bottoms at my camp on Sundays but since mine were see-through white Aristocats PJs from Primark, I didn’t want to wear them out and about!
- Waterproof trainers/boots
- Closed-toe, everyday shoes (trainers or espadrilles)
- Sandals (optional)
- Closed-toe, smarter shoes (optional)
I usually have a ‘three pairs’ rule when it comes to packing for travel, but camp is an exception so this camp counsellor packing list reflects that. At our camp, we weren’t allowed open-toed shoes (understandable, since we were walking through fields all the time!) so that’s something to keep in mind.
Definitely take a pair of flipflops for the swimming pool, walking to the showers and for your days off. You also need a really good pair of everyday trainers that you can expect to be ruined by the end of camp. I also bought some cheap espadrilles from Target during the summer for everyday wear, too. The espadrilles could count as ‘smarter’ shoes should you need them for nicer occasions, and they’re closed-toe so you can wear them at camp. As I was a theatre director, I also needed black ballet shoes.
And thanks to the cold weather at night/thunderstorms, the fields were often wet in the morning so we were advised to bring wellies or walking boots. Anything waterproof will be sufficient – I brought waterproof walking trainers and wellies during my first summer but that was overkill. Comfy sandals are a great idea to wear on travels before and after camp as well as days off. So, that’s five pairs in total! I brought eight with me to camp eight years ago which just seems crazy now.
- 2x Bras
- 2x Sports bras (more if you’re teaching sport)
- 14x Socks
- 14x Underwear
- 1x Bikini
- 1x Swimsuit/swimshorts (more if you’re a lifeguard)
What underwear and swimwear you pack will depend on your camp and the activities you take part in. For example, if you’re a lifeguard, you probably need more swimwear than the average camp counsellor. You also need to consider that you’re on a children’s summer camp and your camp may disapprove of bikinis. I wore a swimsuit and shorts in the camp’s swimming pool. And if you’re teaching soccer and you have breasts, you may need more sports bras.
Remember what I said earlier about bringing enough clothes for two weeks? Yup, so that’s 14 socks and 14 pairs of underwear! Please, please bring cheap ones you don’t really care about. They will get destroyed and lost in the laundry and you will buy more throughout the summer. Especially socks!
Step 3: Camp Counsellor Toiletries, Makeup & Accessories
- Big toiletry bag
- Face moisturiser with SPF
- Face cleanser/wash
- Sun cream
- Insect repellent/bug spray
- Aloe Vera
- Coconut oil (optional)
- Shaving foam (optional)
- Razor (optional)
- Perfume (optional)
- Body soap
- Face wipes (optional)
- Pack of tissues
- Cotton buds
- Personal medication/retainers
- Nail scissors & file
- Tweezers (optional)
- Sanitary products
- Painkillers & Imodium (optional)
- Plasters/Bandaids (optional)
Gosh. Where to begin. You probably won’t need all of this, but use this camp counsellor packing list as a good starting point. Just pick and choose what is relevant to you. Be mindful that you may not be allowed to keep all your medications in your cabin over the summer and will have to hand them to the camp medical staff. We also weren’t allowed aerosols in our cabins, so no hairspray or spray deodorant. Your camp may be different, but that’s something else to keep in mind.
Some counsellors prefer to bring small travel-sized toiletries and (hopefully) buy full-size versions within their first week of camp, which is usually staff orientation. It was hit-and-miss whether this would happen for us because there was only so many cars available to take us! Take as many full-size toiletries as you can in your checked luggage, especially the important stuff. Though there will be opportunities to buy more on your days off, eventually.
- Black mascara
- Brow kit
- BB cream
- Tinted lip balm
These are my five staples and I always travel with the exact same items: no more, no less. Actually that’s a lie, sometimes I bring red lipstick.
Do yourself another favour and go makeup-free during camp days! Looking back, I cannot believe I wore makeup every day. Good grief. It was so unnecessary and going to camp should be an opportunity to strip back from your life and daily routine. Just take a few little bits to wear on your days off and before/after travels and you’ll feel extra glamorous after weeks going without.
- Jewellery (that you’re okay losing or breaking)
- Bobby clips
- Big hair slide (for wet hair)
- Water bottle
Everything is pretty self-explanatory here. The bottom line is to just wear your hair how you normally wear your hair, don’t try to do anything weird at camp. However, I would ditch the hairdryer and straighteners. You’d need a special voltage for the USA anyway and they take up so much precious room in your luggage.
The hat and water bottle are super important. Even if you’re not usually a hat wearer, get a fun American flag cap or a cheap baseball cap from Amazon. And you need to drink LOTS of water and carrying a cup around camp with you all day is impractical. Most of the other camp counsellors ended up buying a water bottle in the supermarket not long after we arrived and I felt so smug I already had one.
And remember, you might not be allowed to use your phone in camp! I know, it’s crazy, but you weren’t allowed at my camp so you need another way to tell the time. Just bring any old cheap watch, one you don’t mind breaking/losing.
Step 4: Extras to Pack for Summer Camp
- Other travel documents: boarding passes, anything that needs printing out, etc.
- Glasses & sunglasses
- Purse (at least $150USD in cash)
- Purse (GBP)
- Journal – including addresses of friends and family
- Pencil case – Pens, pencils, eraser, pencil sharpener, highlighters, etc.
- 1x Plastic wallet to hold ticket stubs and keepsakes
- Letter-writing stationary/postcards/US stamps
- Bluetack, photos and pictures to stick up in your bunk
- Small games – playing cards, etc.
- Travel towel (optional)
- Luggage locks
- Eye mask
- Laundry bag (large canvas tote bag)
- Mesh laundry bag
- Torch/head torch
- Sleeping bag (optional)
Most of this gear is self-explanatory. Camp can be a noisy environment so I do recommend bringing an eye mask and earplugs. Your camp is also very unlikely to have street lights so you will need a head torch or normal torch for getting back to your bunk after your night off. Again, you may not be allowed to use your phone!
The travel towel will be useful if you are travelling on a budget before and after camp. And you might need a compact sleeping bag if you’re venturing on a trek after camp.
- Phone & charger & headphones
- Portable battery/power bank & wire
- Laptop & charger
- Hard drive (to back up)
- Camera & accessories
- Multi-adapter (maybe two)
- Small radio alarm clock
Your camp may have computers you can use, but I 100% recommend bringing your laptop or tablet with you. At my camp, they were situated outside and there were only two computers for all of the kids to use also. Having a laptop was also incredibly vital for my work as a theatre director too for researching and printing scripts.
And I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… If you can’t have your phone in your bunk, you’ll need another way of waking up in the morning that isn’t your phone alarm.
Optional/Conditional Camp Counsellor Gear
- Musical instruments, sports equipment, own writings, sheet music, scripts and monologues, etc.
A Few Top Camp Counsellor Packing Tips:
- You will buy more clothes, toiletries and souvenirs when you’re there. So don’t overstuff your suitcase or else you won’t be able to bring anything back!
- Your camp will most likely send you a camp counsellor packing list and I would pay attention to that list as well as this one. This summer camp packing list was created from my own experiences and mistakes, but no one knows your personal requirements at your USA summer camp better than your camp bosses.
And that’s my ultimate camp counsellor packing list! Do you have any more questions about what to pack for Camp America or other things to take to camp? Let me know in the comments below!