The call of the great outdoors, the laughter of excited campers, and the promise of lifelong memories are all part of the incredible experience of being a camp counselor. While there’s nothing quite like this unique and rewarding summer job, it does take some careful planning to make sure you have the best possible time at camp. That planning all starts with knowing which things to bring to camp as a counselor!
In this guide, we'll equip you with the knowledge and insights to ensure your camp adventure is an unforgettable experience for both you and your campers. We’ll cover:
- The roles of a camp counselor
- Packing essentials for every camp counselor
- What to bring to camp for comfort
- Summer camp counselor essentials for traveling after camp
- Packing tips for camp counselors
- How to start your camp counselor journey with AmeriCamp
At AmeriCamp, we’ve spent decades helping prospective camp counselors overseas navigate the J-1 visa process and secure incredible jobs as summer camp counselors in the US. With a vast camp network to choose from and a 99% placement success rate, you can trust AmeriCamp to hook you up with the summer camp experience of a lifetime. If you’re keen to learn more, start your application here!
Over the years, we’ve also learned a lot about how to set our counselors up for success. In this article, you'll discover the essential items, clever hacks, and expert advice from our years of experience, helping you embrace the joys and challenges of camp life with confidence and enthusiasm.
So, fasten your hiking boots, pick up your clipboard, and get ready to embark on a journey that will set you up for the adventure of a lifetime!
What Are the Roles of a Camp Counselor?
First of all, let’s quickly discuss what being a camp counselor actually involves. Camp counselors are the mentors, the leaders, and the role models who guide campers through a diverse range of activities and adventures. Learning how to be a good camp counselor requires you to wear many hats and juggle multiple responsibilities. Let’s explore the main roles that define a camp counselor's job.
One of the most significant responsibilities of a camp counselor is the supervision of campers. Counselors are responsible for the safety of campers in all activities, whether it be swimming, hiking, sports, or even everyday tasks or free time at camp. Counselors should be trained in basic first aid and CPR, and they must enforce camp safety rules.
Beyond physical safety, the camp counselor resume also extends to providing emotional support. They help campers navigate challenges, homesickness, and conflicts with peers, and act as a reassuring presence, offering guidance and comfort. Camps are often diverse, with campers from various backgrounds. One of the most important skills of a camp counselor is to ensure that every camper feels welcome and respected.
Campers attend summer camp for the thrill of participating in various activities, from sports to arts and crafts. Camp counselors play a crucial role in planning, organizing, and leading these activities, making them engaging and educational. Counselors design and adapt activities to cater to different age groups, ensuring that they are both fun and educational. These may include nature hikes, canoeing, archery, or even astronomy lessons. Some camps provide dedicated camp counselor training for these specific activities.
Counselors also act as instructors in various areas, sharing their expertise or passion. This could be teaching campers how to safely start a campfire, leading an art class, or coaching a soccer game. A counselor leading a group of campers in a hiking activity not only plans the route and provides navigation guidance but also uses the opportunity to teach about local flora and fauna, instilling a love for nature and helping campers make the most of every moment at camp.
Other Camp Counselor Responsibilities
Beyond supervision and activity management, camp counselors take on various other roles to ensure the smooth functioning of the camp and the overall well-being of campers. Campers are typically divided into smaller groups or cabins. Counselors oversee these groups, ensuring that they get along and resolve any issues that arise.
Being a camp counselor is also about setting a good example. Counselors model respect, responsibility, and positive interactions, setting the standard for campers to follow. They may also be required to maintain records of incidents, camper progress, and noteworthy events during camp.
Packing Essentials for Every Camp Counselor
From the fundamental necessities that guarantee your comfort and well-being to the specialized gear tailored to your camp's unique activities, this checklist will be your faithful companion in the days leading up to your adventure. Let’s start with the essentials that every camp counselor needs at a USA summer camp, including:
- Clothing and footwear
- ID and travel documents
- Reusable water bottle
Whether you're planning to spend your summer by the lakeside, in the mountains, or at an educational retreat, this guide will help you pack your bags with precision and purpose!
Clothing and Footwear
As a camp counselor, your attire should be functional, comfortable, and suitable for various weather conditions and activities. Be prepared for hot days, chilly nights, and unexpected rain. Pack t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, shorts, pants, and lightweight jackets. Don't forget a waterproof jacket in case of rain. Also, the summer sun can be brutal. Even on hot days, consider wearing long-sleeved clothing to protect your skin from the sun during the peak summer heat. For your head, a sun hat and a warm beanie are both essential.
For your feet invest in durable, comfortable, and waterproof hiking boots or closed-toe shoes suitable for various terrains. You can either bring separate hiking boots and sneakers, or find a pair of those that can act as a hybrid for camp hikes and other activities. It’s also a good idea to bring some sandals or flip-flops for use around the water, showers, and in your cabin. Crocs are considered a summer camp essential by many counselors, and they’re also nice and comfy for the flight itself. Plus, you can even find AmeriCamp Croc jibbitz at camp fairs and orientations. These are a fun way to add some glitz and personalize your Cross, so keep your eyes peeled!
Finally, if you’re going to be playing sports, more athletic/workout clothing is a good idea. If your summer camp job is situated on a lake or other body of water, remember to pack your swimsuit and a towel!
Some of the best summer camps in the US give you the opportunity to stock up on toiletries and other essentials before your camp gets underway, but other camps require you to have everything you need when you first arrive. Regardless, here’s an idea of what to pack as a camp counselor to stay clean and refreshed throughout your stay:
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Body wash or soap
- Razor and shaving cream
- Hairbrush or comb
- Feminine hygiene products (if applicable)
- Hand sanitizer
- Prescription medications and any necessary medical supplies
Remember to double-check travel rules and regulations, especially when it comes to flying with liquids. Where possible, pack “travel-sized” toiletries to save space and adhere to airline regulations.
ID and Travel Documents
Having proper identification and travel documents is crucial for a smooth transition into camp life. While AmeriCamp will organize your J-1 visa allowing you to work at a US summer camp, it’s your responsibility to double-check you have all the necessary paperwork and documentation with you as you’re preparing to travel. Don’t forget to bring your:
- Driver's license or other photo ID
- Camp employment contract and acceptance letter
- Health insurance information
- Emergency contact list
- A copy of any certifications or qualifications related to your role
- Other documentation provided by AmeriCamp
If you’re planning on traveling after working as a camp counselor in America, make sure you have documentation outlining your itinerary, and a copy of your return airfare to show you don’t intend to stay long-term in the US.
Reusable Water Bottle
Staying hydrated is vital in the camp environment, and a reusable water bottle will be your trusted companion throughout the day. Look for a large capacity to minimize refills, and one that can be clipped to your backpack for convenience. A 32-ounce, BPA-free, insulated water bottle with a carabiner clip is an excellent choice for keeping water cold and easily accessible during outdoor activities.
Do I Need to Pack Bedding as a Camp Counselor?
The need to pack bedding largely depends on the camp's facilities and policies. Many camps provide bedding and linens, while some require counselors to bring their own. Make sure you check with your camp before packing your bags. If you prefer added comfort or are staying in cabins with hard bunks, a sleeping pad can be a valuable addition.
By ensuring that you've packed these essentials, you'll be well-prepared to tackle your responsibilities as a camp counselor while also enjoying your camp experience to the fullest. Now, let’s take a look at some of the items that aren’t always essential, but can enhance your comfort during your summer camp experience.
Camp Counselor Packing: What to Bring for Comfort
Once you’ve got the essentials packed, you can start to think about items that will make your summer camp experience more comfortable, including:
- Insect repellent
- First-aid supplies
- Deck of cards or small games
- Comfort items from home
While your camp may provide some of these items, packing your own allows you to stick to familiar brands and products you know and trust, which can be a nice, comforting reminder of home when you’re abroad.
Whether you’re coaching soccer at summer camp or spending time on the lake, protecting your skin from harmful UV rays is a must. Your camp may provide sunscreen, but if you have sensitive skin or prefer to use a specific brand, it’s a good idea to pack your own. Choose a water-resistant, high-SPF sunscreen that provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays. At the same time, don’t forget to protect your lips from sunburn and chapping with a lip balm with SPF. If you do get sunburnt, soothing aloe vera gel can make a big difference. Consider packing some in your toiletries bag, just in case!
Insect repellent is another comfort essential, especially if your camp is situated near a lake, in a forest, or in an area with a lot of mosquitoes, ticks, or other pests. A DEET-based insect repellent is one of the best ways to prevent insect bites and keep you safe around the campfire at night. Look for a DEET concentration of 20-30%, as this is effective against a wide range of insects. Insect-repellent wipes or lotions can be more convenient and easy to apply than sprays, and natural alternatives like citronella can be effective if you’re not a fan of DEET.
While the best US summer camps will likely be well-stocked when it comes to first aid supplies, it’s still a good idea to have a few of your own. Make sure you include:
- Adhesive bandages
- Antiseptic wipes
- Over-the-counter pain relievers
If you have any specific health conditions, ensure you have an ample supply of necessary medications, as well as any personal items like allergy medication, EpiPens, or inhalers that you require.
Imagine needing to guide campers back to their cabins at night, check on something outside after dark, or assist during a power outage. Proper light is essential in a camp setting, especially for nighttime tasks, navigating dark trails, and ensuring safety. A headlamp is versatile, leaving your hands free, while a flashlight or torch can also be useful. Make sure you have extra batteries to avoid running out of light during a critical time!
Deck of Cards or Small Games
While at camp, there will be moments of downtime. Perhaps a rainy day causes outdoor activities to be canceled, or you’re simply looking for something different to do in the evenings. Having small games or a deck of cards can provide entertainment and build camaraderie with other counselors. Consider bringing cards, portable or travel-sized games, and a book or e-reader to keep yourself entertained.
Comfort Items from Home
Finally, don't underestimate the value of comfort items from home. After a long day of activities and engaging with campers, coming back to your cabin and settling in with your favorite pillow or a cozy blanket can provide a sense of solace and relaxation. Bring a few pictures or small sentimental items to create a homey touch in your cabin, or have a few of your favorite snacks on hand for a small but significant comfort.
Summer Camp Counselor Essentials for Travel After Camp
When you become a camp counselor with AmeriCamp, you have the opportunity to travel within the United States for up to 30 days after your camp wraps up. This unique experience lets you explore the cities, national parks, or other highlights that this incredible country has to offer. However, it also means you need to put some more thought into your packing! In this section, we'll explore crucial items to consider as you prepare for your travel after your time at camp, including:
- A power adapter
- A bag for day use
- A travel journal or notebook
Whether you're exploring new cultures, landscapes, or simply finding time to unwind, these items will be essential on your journey.
To ensure you can stay connected, charged, and organized while you explore, a power adapter is a must. A universal adapter with multiple plug types can be invaluable, especially if you're traveling to different countries with varying electrical outlets. A portable charger is also a convenient way to ensure your devices stay powered up when you’re on the go.
Bag for Day Use
For your post-camp adventures, a versatile and durable bag for day use can be a practical addition to your summer camp counselor packing list. Whether you're exploring a new city, hiking a scenic trail, or simply navigating an airport, a well-chosen day bag can make your travels more convenient. Opt for a lightweight, compact, and comfortable daypack with enough space to carry your essentials, including water, snacks, a jacket, and personal items.
Journal to Record Your Experience
Your time as a camp counselor is bound to be filled with incredible moments, unforgettable friendships, and personal growth. Keeping a travel journal allows you to document your journey, record unique encounters, and reflect on your personal growth during your time as a camp counselor and your subsequent travels. There are also many mental health benefits of journaling! Pack a journal or notebook that's small and lightweight enough to carry with you, allowing you to jot down thoughts, memories, and sketches on the go.
Camp Counselor Packing Tips
Having a list of the things to bring to camp as a counselor is one thing, but knowing how to pack is equally important. Let’s take a look at some camp counselor packing tips, including:
- Plan before you pack
- Prepare for all conditions
- Contact the camp for packing advice
- Save some space for souvenirs!
- Double-check customs regulations
Following these tips can help make your preparations for summer camp as smooth as possible, allowing you to focus on the fun stuff!
Plan Before You Pack
Before you start packing your bags, it's crucial to have a well-thought-out plan so you don’t forget anything essential. Create a detailed camp counselor packing list that includes categories like clothing, toiletries, camp-specific items, personal comfort, and travel necessities.
Think about the climate and weather conditions at your camp. If you're heading to a camp in the mountains, your checklist should include warm clothing and rain gear, while a camp in a hot, dry desert might require extra sunscreen and hydration supplies. Also, review any guidelines or packing lists provided by the camp, as some US summer camps may have specific rules or restrictions.
Prepare for All Conditions
Camps often involve a variety of outdoor activities and unpredictable weather. Being prepared for different conditions is essential for your comfort and the safety of campers. Bring clothing that can be layered to adapt to changing weather. Include items like a waterproof jacket, moisture-wicking base layers, and a warm hat.
Contact the Camp for Packing Advice
If you have any doubts or need further guidance on what to pack, don't hesitate to reach out to the camp administration. They can provide insights specific to the camp's requirements and might even be able to provide you with a specific packing list for summer camp counselors at their camp. Confirm whether the camp provides bedding, and ask about specialized items you may need based on specific activities the camp offers.
Save Some Space for Souvenirs!
While it's essential to pack efficiently, leave a bit of extra space in your camp counselor backpack for souvenirs or items you might pick up during your time as a camp counselor. You may come across unique finds or want to bring home some mementos. Consider travel-friendly souvenirs like postcards or small crafts to reduce the space they take up.
Double-Check Customs Regulations
For all international travel, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with customs regulations for both your home country and the United States. Check customs guidelines to understand restrictions on items like food, agricultural products, and souvenirs. If you're bringing specific items for camp activities, ensure they are properly labeled for easy identification at customs.
Start Your Camp Counselor Journey Today With AmeriCamp!
Now that you have the ultimate camp counselor packing list, you can start planning the journey of a lifetime with AmeriCamp. Our team takes care of your J-1 visa application, allowing you to work and travel in the United States. With our vast network of camp partners, we can help you find the best camp in America based on your interests and values, setting you up for an incredible summer of fun and adventure.
If you’re ready to get started, apply here!