Towering Pines Blog

Preparing for the road ahead

Hello all,

I’ve been getting some questions regarding camp preparations and procedures from concerned parents, so I though I’d take the opportunity to do some real talk about camp life.

First, lets talk packing. By now you’ve all seen the recommended packing list: it is a thorough and appropriate list of items your child may need this summer.  If you stick to this you should be fine, but let’s talk essentials here.

1) Clothing: The Northwoods is a beautiful and rich environment in the summer. It also sees some significant ranges in weather. In mid-June it can be in the 40’s and 50’s at night (though I don’t recall seeing a dawn frost in recent years!). By the time the sun rises things warm up substantially, but the early summer nights can be cold. A decent sweater or jacket will be fine, but don’t forget one! The same thing goes for warm blankets: bring a comforter. We do have spare blankets, but there is nothing quite like snuggling up under a cozy comforter when a cold night falls on Wisconsin.

That being said, once July gets underway you’ll be surprised how soon those warm clothes end up back in the cabinets! Late July and August do get hot. T-shirts are key, shorts are key.

It may be tempting to send a lot of nice clothes for your boy, but don’t worry too much about this. We do recommend that each boy have a nice outfit (maybe collared shirt and khaki pants) to wear to the end of year banquet. However, it can be challenging to get young boys to change their clothes at all, let alone manage daily outfits. Rugged, comfortable clothes are the way to go.

My personal wardrobe at camp primarily consists of white cotton tee-style undershirts paired with either canvas shorts or dense cotton slacks (depending on temperature) and my TP hat to keep the sun out of my eyes and ticks out of my hair when hiking. I have my TP polo and staff jacket for when the occasion arises, and warm track jackets that zip up to the throat. I bring a few nice shirts for going out (if I ever do), but it never fails that I find those shirts in the back of my drawer at the end of the summer and roll my eyes. I invariably go for what is most practical. I’m sure you will find me decidedly nondescript if you happen to catch a glance of me over the camp season!

The reasoning behind this is simple: camp is active and active often means dirty. I am never uncomfortable, and I never run out of clean cotton undershirts.

2) Shoes: are an important enough item to get their own heading. On this front, consider what your son will be doing daily. Horseback riding requires closed-toe shoes, the harder the better. Horses are heavy and their hooves are sharp. Most shoes with closed toes will be OK for this, but I will say that I’ve had a pair of cowboy boots for years that hooves just slip right off of.

Atheletic shoes are what your son will wear most often. Water shoes are a good bet if your boy is into nature. Old tennis shoes will work as water shoes (the zoo class will take expeditions to the swamp from time-to-time), they’ll dry out in the sun. We also want boys to wear shoes on the sailboats, so water shoes are good there as well.

Also, socks! Bring socks! Many clean socks! WITH YOUR SON’S NAME OR INITIALS WRITTEN ON THEM IN PERMANENT MARKER! He will forget them everywhere and there is nothing more frustrating for us directors than a pile of wet, dirty, nameless, ownerless socks waiting for us at assembly first thing in the morning. Nameless socks are unidentifiable and go straight to the dumpster.

3) Entertainment: It may be tempting to pack up every favorite toy, every videogame and an iPod for good measure. This is unnecessary, at best, and harmful at worst. When I was really little, I used to want to bring all my favorite toys. Sometimes I lost them and I almost never found time to play with them.

Handheld games, iPods and iPads, books etc. must remain in the cabin during the day and will only be used at rest hour and in the evenings. Your son will never be bored at camp, but it’s nice to have a good book at quiet hour. Send him with some relaxing games, comics or books and minimize electronics. Cabins have limited outlets.

Don’t send your boy with an iPhone. Campers are not allowed to have cellphones at camp. That’s it. They don’t need them. Phones sent for travel purposes will be held in the camp safe for the duration of the summer. This may sound draconian, so I’ll explain.

Communication with parents is always accommodated through the camp system. You will always be able to reach your son. Trust me, he doesn’t need youtube, he doesn’t need texting, and he doesn’t need Angry Birds this summer so I highly recommend cutting out the distraction. Furthermore, constant communication with parents is a great way to make homesickness a problem.

“But, Jonathan,” you say, “my son has all his music on his iPhone!” That may be, and I get that. I like to listen to some tunes when I go to sleep or in the off chance I find time to sit and relax. If music is his thing, you may consider getting a dedicated mp3 player for the summer. There are tons of generic devices that will hold gigabytes upon gigabytes of music for less that the price of a tank of gas. An iPhone is most likely to end up in the safe or at the bottom of the lake, and they are much more expensive to replace.

4) Food: This is starting to resemble a list of things not to bring, so I’ll just mention this briefly. We prefer not to keep food in the cabins for animal-related reasons. Any candy or snacks will typically be kept well-sealed and stored in the office, to be distributed under the supervision of counselors and staff. All campers get three square meals a day, plus an afternoon and evening snack, so don’t worry about them going hungry!

5) Laundry, labels, and amounts:  Some years ago we switched from a consolidated cabin laundry bag to individual laundry. I can still remember sorting laundry on Tuesday nights… (“Dellinger! Dellinger! Do you really need to go through two shirts a day?”). In those days, labels were not an optional item. They are now listed as optional on the packing list because each camper sends out and receives an individual laundry package. HOWEVER, your son will forget his clothes places and laundry will go to the wrong cabin from time to time. PLEASE label your son’s property! I assure you, he probably will not remember which pair of socks is his when they end up in a pile at the flagpole, and he may not recognize that nice new shirt you just bought him after wearing it once. Write his initials on the tag with permanent marker.

As mentioned, laundry goes out weekly, so you need to send AT LEAST enough clothes for one week. Send extra socks and underwear.

6) Hygiene and health: Toiletries. Send them. Make a kit for your boy using a little bucket or dock-kit. Some essentials are toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, body wash or bar soap (with a soap case), shampoo. These things will be used most frequently. I prefer natural bar soap over liquid soap (as a former public health microbiology student I feel obligated to tell you not to use antibacterial soap. It does not get you any cleaner and is bad for the environment!) but if you like bar soap you probably need a soap case for it. At any rate, there is always soap in the cabins for hand washing, so we’re talking shower supplies and face-washing here.

Each cabin has a first aid kit, I keep a fully stocked kit in my cabin, and we have a stocked infirmary. Any additional medications and medicines are kept in the infirmary.


I’ll leave it at that, for now. This post is getting long and there will no doubt be more questions! I’ll talk more about other specific aspects of camp life in the coming weeks, so feel free to post any concerns!