The Fine Art of Packing for Camp

Vermont Aloha Hive Summer Camp for GirlsHalfway through my daughter’s second summer at Hive, my grandparents and I made the trip to Fairlee to have a picnic with her.  Grandma and Grandpa were simply delighted with how great she looked, and I agreed but was totally distracted by one thing — her shorts.

Specifically, not-her-shorts.

The pair she was wearing looked nothing like the six pairs I had sent her with.

I finally got her aside and asked, “Dude, what happened to your shorts?”

“Oh,” she said.  “I lost them.”

“ALL of them?”  I asked.

“Yeah,” she said uncomfortably.  Of all the questions bubbling through my cranium, just one actually made it out of my mouth.

Whose are these??

“I have no idea,” she shrugged.  “They took up a collection for me.”


Vermont's Summer Camp for Girls - Aloha Hive ArcheryAs an alumna of three Hive summers, and now a Hive parent going into my daughter’s third summer, I am an expert packer.

I have procedures.  Plans.  A very clear order of operation. I generate detailed inventories (multiple copies) which I cross-check against the camp’s equipment list.  I buy extras of everything, I forget nothing.

First rule:  Cheap shirts, good shoes.  ‘cause here’s the thing about camp clothes  — they are worn hard.  They get sweat in, rained on, muddied, covered in watermelon and chocolate, left in damp piles, used to wipe faces, hands, and frogs. (I did not just throw that in, that really happened).  I refuse to spend money on something that will be ready for the rag-bag in three weeks.

Every year I have this little contest with myself:  where can I buy the most white t-shirts for the least money?  My record purchase came from a local craft store selling tie dye supplies — I got five Hanes shirts for ten bucks. Score!

Shoes are another matter.

Aloha Hive is Vermont's Traditional Summer Camp for GirlsRainy days are horrible if your boots pinch or leak.  Hikes are pure misery if you have a blister ten minutes in.  So a couple of weeks before camp starts we have her properly fitted for a good pair of hikers and a pair of Wellies  and then I make her wear them around so they’re broken in by camp time.  I pack plenty of really good socks.

The night before camp I lay it all out on the living room floor in ordered piles — labeled down to the last hair band and tooth paste tube.

Anything remotely liquid goes into a zippered baggie.

(I promise if you chuck in one tiny brand-new factory-sealed bug-spray bottle at the end, without bagging it, that will be the one thing that leaks.  Old camp rule.)  An added bonus to the zipper baggies: the kids find lots of uses for them at camp — like to keep letters dry or to isolate a really smelly pair of socks or to house — yes — a frog. (Don’t worry, they punched air holes.)

Aloha Hive is Vermont's Traditional Summer Camp for GirlsThen I load it all — underwear, shorts, shirts, pants, socks into the trunk.  Books, pens, paper, playing cards, toiletries into the trunk tray.

The sleeping bag gets stuffed into one end of the duffel, followed by her sheets, towels, and at least two more blankets than she needs.

I always tuck in a few surprises — a new card game, some fun markers, a book of outrageous trivia.

Then I sit on the trunk lid, being careful to pull the loop of the lock over the brass lip, before I flip the clasps with a loud “smack.”

And that’s it, I have done it again: distracted myself through the weeks of buildup to the moment we will say goodbye.  I’ve done everything I can think of to keep her safe and warm and dry all those miles away from me.

But I know that part of the exercise is the promise that I cannot pack for every eventuality.  She is out in the world, in a community that will care for her,  that will make sure she never goes cold or naked or wet, that will teach her she can solve problems on her own, without me,  that will share what it has with her, down to the last spare pair of shorts.

This will be Elizabeth’s third summer as a Hive mom, and was a Hiver herself in the 1980s.  Her first post for The Aloha Foundation blog answered the question, “Who Sends a Seven Year-Old to Camp?”