Category Archives: camp prep

Camp Prep Tips #4 – Setting Your Camper up for Success

Check our our previous Camp Prep Tips:
Chances are you’ve seen a bit of ambivalence and fear from your son about going away for the summer, especially if  its his first overnight camp experience. Even more likely, you’ve probably experienced your share of anxiety. Sending your child away for the summer isn’t easy on lots of levels and we  don’t take our responsibility lightly. With that in mind, we wanted to address  preparing for camp from the emotional side of things, both for our campers and our parents.
First and foremost, we hope you realize that homesickness happens. If your child is nervous or anxious about going to camp for the summer, know that this is completely normal. This isn’t just a 1st year camper issue. Often times, returning campers who have spent previous summers at camp will experience anxieties, even if they had tremendous camp experienced and even if they never were nervous about going away before.
So how do you handle it? First, reassure them that being nervous and having some emotions about going away is completely normal. Let them know that there are lots of other kids going away for the first summer and they’re feeling the same thing too. Let them know that there are awesome counselors whose job it is to help them have a great time and are there to talk to if they are having any problems during the summer. For those returning campers who are nervous, let them talk to you about the great things that they did the previous summer, and if they were homesick, ask them how they got through it.
Beyond that, don’t dwell! Having a long drawn out conversation about it isn’t productive, nor is talking about it over and over again. Let them know that you’re confident that they are going to have a great summer and you have total faith that if they have any challenges, that they’re strong enough to get through it. 
When talking about the summer ahead, you may actually want to avoid using the word “Homesick”. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t discuss homesickness, but its better to focus on what they may actually feel. They may miss their parents and their family pet. Maybe they’re nervous that they may not make friends. They might be concerned about the unknown. Homesickness tends to be a catchall term for a variety of different emotions, so focus on the emotions, not the homesick term. We’ve even seen kids who will use the homesick word as an attention seeking tool and its clear that they aren’t homesick.

Perhaps the most important thing we can tell you… DON’T MAKE THE PROMISE! This is something that happens and is extremely detrimental to your child’s camp experience. What is the promise? It’s one simple line; “If you’re not having a good time,we’ll come and pick you up.” It may seem totally innocent and you may feel that this is all that your child needs to get on the bus. It may be something you say to placate your child when he’s stressing about going to camp. In reality, however, the promise will often be something that impedes a camper’s adjustment to camp. If they are nervous about going to camp, dealing with homesickness or are dealing with the adjustment and they think that mom and dad going to come pick them up, they have little incentive to overcome the challenges and enjoy themselves.
So what happens when you make the promise and your child calls you on it? It has happened where a homesick camper demands to call home because his mom said she was going to come and pick him up.  You’ll then be faced with two choices. One is going back on your promise and not picking him up. You’ve then undermined the trust between you and your child. Option two is actually coming and picking him up, thereby robbing him of a tremendously valuable experience. While no one wishes homesickness on their child, but once a camper overcomes homesickness, he gains added confidence and self reliance.
We hope that has provided some guidance on how to deal with your son’s emotions. The next question is how to deal with your own anxieties and nerves about sending your child away from the summer. Like with your kids, you being nervous is completely normal. If you ask most veteran camp parents they will tell you that sending their child away wasn’t easy. They may tell you that putting them on the bus and the ride home afterwards without them was emotional. What you should do is practice what you’re going to preach to your kids.
All that we really can ask you is to not burden your child with your emotions. It’s okay to be nervous but letting your child know isn’t helpful. It may seem like telling an anxious child that you are anxious too is a good, empathetic tool, but in reality, telling your child this will just compound his nerves about going away to camp. If a child knows that his mom or dad is more anxious because of him it adds to their stress level.
It may seem like telling your child over and over again how much you’re going to miss them or how sad the family pet is going to be without them is showing them how valuable they are. Ultimately, it will provide an additional emotional burden that will make the camp transition more challenging if they’re worried about how sad mom, dad or the dog is all because of them.
You are giving your child a significant gift this summer. Time away, on their own, developing relationships with peers and young adults will give them incredible tools for social success. The achievements that they make in new activities and the ways that they push themselves will help their self confidence and give them tremendous personal growth. Allow them to take full advantage of this opportunity.

Camp Prep Tips #3 – Minimize your Losses

Check our our previous Camp Prep Tips:
#1 – Some Basics 
#2 – Shop Like a Pro

Now that you know how to shop like a pro (ahem…make sure you’ve read Camp Prep Tips #2), our goal is to save you the frustration of unpacking those bags and not finding the waterbottle, cook kit and left hiking boot that you so masterfully picked out. The money you saved doesn’t last so long when you need to repurchase your son’s stuff for next summer. The bottom line is that even the most adult of campers lose stuff, but we can minimize those loses.

So how does stuff get lost at camp? Contrary to popular belief there is no North Star Gnome that comes and steals socks. Stuff gets lost at camp much like it gets lost at home. Walk into your son’s room and chances are you’ll find at least one or two pieces of clothing on the floor, not to mention a wet towel and a few other things under the bed. Unless your future camper has a 100% success rate at getting everything into his hamper at home, a few things won’t make it into the laundry bag at camp. At home, most kids have theirs own room while at camp, they shares a cabin with 8-12 other boys who are equally as adept at getting clothes off the floor and clothesline and into the laundry bag.

Does your son ever leave his coat at school? How about his baseball glove at practice or his backpack at a friends house? At camp, the athletic field is a shared locker for 175 kids and leaving tennis rackets and water bottles in the lodge after meals is much easier than dragging them all the way back to the cabin. Starting to get the picture?

Fear not, there is something that can be done. Here are some tips to get everything back at the end of the summer.

Have Them Help You Pack!
Yes, we know the process will be easier if you’re able to do it on your own. Having your child help in the packing process, however, has real value. It gives the a sense of ownership in the process of going to camp for the summer. It gives them a full realization of what it takes to get ready for the summer and gets them to start taking responsibility over their stuff. Most importantly, they know what they’re taking with them and hopefully will better keep track of that stuff.

Simply put, many campers don’t always recognize their own property. Throughout the summer we put out lost and found for everyone to see. We display unlabeled lost and found and no one claims it. We’ve brought labeled items to kids who insist that even though their name is labeled in that hoodie, it isn’t theirs. Having your son help you pack should lead to an increased sense of responsibility over their possessions, a great first step to not losing stuff.

Label Everything
Everything is the operative word. If a camper’s name is legibly marked on an item, unless its lost deep in the bog or packed in another camper’s bag, there is a great likelihood that it will make it home at the end of the summer.  When we do our final sorting of lost and found at the end of each session, we go through each item, pass stuff out with names on them and display everything else. Of the non-labeled items, most are not claimed. This pile includes expensive fleeces, baseball gloves, shoes (never complete pairs, of course) and far too many pairs of boxers (we’re not sure how those end up out of the cabins). We then post items on our “virtual lost and found” for parents to look through on social media, and most do not get claimed.

A few things to keep in mind with labeling.
– First off, label with your camper’s first and last name! “Ben R.” can be any one of five different campers and not everyone is going to know a camper’s nickname. Don’t use initials! Use the full name, or at a minimum the first initial and last name (we’ve got lots of Schulmans, Millers Marks’s and Marcus’s)!

– As far as how to label, sharpies and custom name stampers are great, but they’re not permanent on everything. We put waterbottles, cook kits and utensils through dish washers and after a few washes markers will wash off. Our recommendation is Mabel’s Labels or Stuck on You labels. In addition to the traditional iron-on clothes labels, they have peel and stick labels for clothes. They also have dishwasher safe lables which are great for waterbottles and anything else plastic or metal which are going to get wet. Labels are always legible and despite your best attempt to write names on tshirt tags, markers bleed. After a few times through the laundry, writing becomes fuzzy as well. Label those items in a discrete place inside the clothes so your camper isn’t embarrassed.

– Now as for labeling “everything”… we do mean that. Some things you may not have thought about labeling would include toiletries. You won’t believe how many shampoo bottles get left in the wash house. Throw a label on the inside of a baseball glove or the side of a tennis racket. You may not want those socks back at the end of the summer, but if you want your son to make it through four weeks without needing reinforcements, label the socks.

The Golden Rule
If you absolutely, positively have to have it back at the end of the summer, don’t pack it. This may be an expensive piece of sports equipment or it may be something more sentimental. We can do our best to minimize lost stuff, but items get dirty, worn out and lost.

And for those items that get lost, we promise that we’ll still post our virtual lost and found at the end of the session just in case!

Do you have questions to help you prepare for the summer? Want us to address something in an upcoming Camp Prep Tips? Email us at Chances are other families have the same questions and we want to help!

Camp Prep Tips #2 – Shop Like a Pro

Check our our previous Camp Prep Tips:
#1 – Some Basics
Now it’s time to turn our attention to filling the duffle bags! It’s possible that you’ve been shopping for camp gear since the holidays, taking advantage of sales after going over the camp equipment list like a hawk. On the other hand, you may be avoiding camp shopping like the plague, worried that you’ll buy the wrong thing anyway. Shopping for camp gear doesn’t take a Masters of Arts in Shopping but there are some things you should know. We’re hoping that what follows will provide lots of tips to help your shopping process easy and also help you not have to re-purchase in future years.
There’s no need to overspend!
We’re going to be honest with you. Things get dirty at camp. Your child is going to outgrow stuff before next summer. Your child is going to lose stuff. The third one we can work to avoid but the rule when packing is that if you absolutely, positively have to have the item back in one piece at the end of the summer, don’t pack it! This may apply to an expensive tennis racket or your son’s favorite t-shirt that he was given by his late great grandfather.
Most of the stuff that you pack for this summer will not fit by next summer. As high quality as a Mountain Hardware fleece may be and popular as a North Face hoodie is, there are other alternatives that are less expensive. We don’t have recommended stores or clothing brands, but REI, and Sports Authority all have gear that will be great for camp. Brands like REI’s in house line, Colombia and other well knowns are great quality and perfect for camp. Often you can head to your local independent camping store and find those high end brands at a solid discount. Stores are trying to clear out leftover winter gear or last year’s line. Shop around and take advantage of sales!
Most of what your son is going to wear at North Star is basic clothing. T shirts and shorts are  our dress code. For camping trips there is other necessary gear, all of which we talk about on our main equipment list as well as our Canadian equipment list (for current 9th graders). A few times each summer kids will wear something a bit nicer (i.e. a polo type shirt and nicer shorts). The majority of what you pack is going to be from your son’s everyday clothes. 
Where possible, use what you have instead of buying new! There are a few items that we don’t recommend skimping on, which we’ll address below.
Now for Some Specifics
So here is where we really hope to help. Over the years, we’ve been able to see which specific products withstand the summer better than others, which are more effective, and which really pass the camp test. Below we give you the North Star seal of approval on what specifically to buy and what to avoid.
Cook Kits
This one is easy… a lexan or other hard plastic plate, cup, and utensil set, all stored in a small mesh bag.
The above set was found at a chain sporting goods store for about $12. Here is a similar set for sale at This is a set that should last a few summers…so long as the utensils end up back in the bag.
What to avoid? Those silver metal cook kit sets that seemed to have 4 plates, 2 bowls, a small pot, and six other random pieces all held together by a nut and screw which inevitably gets lost the first time you open the set.
– Canteens/Water Bottles
We’re minimalists when it comes to this one… go for the standard waterbottle. We like the Nalgene type 32oz water bottle. It’s durable, easy to clean and doesn’t have parts that are easy to lose. Add a splash-guard and you’re ready to go. There are plenty of other brands, so don’t feel like you have to buy a Nalgene (however they are virtually indestructible) A Gatorade style water bottle is great for camp as well. If your son is going on the Canadian (just finished 9th grade & is attending first session), we recommend buying two waterbottles. 
What to avoid? Lots of people like this style of bottle with the spill proof bite valve

So whats the concern? 
Lots of little pieces that come apart to clean the bottle. By the end of the summer, we find several of these style bottles without straws or the bite pieces, rendering the water bottle useless. The bottles also aren’t as easy to clean as water bottles without all the pieces. Clean-up is also a concern for the Camelbak hydration backbacks. These are great for biking but not necessary for camp.

Laundry Bags
This one isn’t too complex, but we see two common errors. Not enough laundry bags and laundry bags that are too small. Campers need two laundry bags. When laundry is sent out, they need a second bag to start their next laundry load. If your son goes through lots of clothes, you may want to pack an extra laundry bag. As for laundry bag size, go for one that is at least 28″X38″.
Laundry bags look alike, and when laundry is returned to camp, there are over 170 bags of clean laundry. For kids to find their clean laundry it’s important that you can label the bag in some way. We recommend, at a minimum, a solid bag (nylon or other material) where you can clearly and easily write your son’s name. Mesh bags are hard to label and rip easily.
Rain Coats/Ponchos
There are lots of options here and lots of opportunities to overspend. Our main recommendation is to avoid the clunky ponchos. Especially on camping trips, ponchos are cumbersome and not at all wind resistant. What we really like is a rain coat shell with a zip out fleece liner. These are multipurpose. The fleece liner will cover your son’s need for a light coat. The shell with hood serves as a rain coat. Zipped together it’s great for cold days. Unfortunately by the time next winter rolls around, this is unlikely to fit, but if you’ve got a shell/liner from this past winter, you’re set.
Duffle Bags
Long gone are the days of packing your trunk or foot locker. They’re expensive and not at all durable. They’re bulky and have no give whereas duffles store easily when not in use and can take a beating. If you’re buying new baggage, buy duffles. There are lots of duffle options out there and some of them are really expensive. 
Some guidelines. First, you’ll likely need two duffles. As for size, something in the vicinity of 30″ X 15″ or bigger is a good starting point. Some kids bring lots of stuff, others not as much. One problem we do see is busted zippers on duffles. When people try to overpack a duffle and struggle to zip it shut, zippers will break. Make sure you get duffles with good zippers. The duffle should also pass your eye/feel test. If it looks or feels like the fabric will easily rip, go for something else.
Hiking Boots
If you ask ten people their recomendations for hiking boots, you’ll get ten different answers. At North Star only kids who just completed 8th and 9th grades truly need hiking boots. The 8th graders go on a hiking trip to the Porcupine Mountains and the 9th graders go on the 9-day paddling and portaging trip to Quetico Provinical Park in Ontario. Again, it’s unlikely that the boots you buy for the 8th grader will fit by their 9th grade summer, so don’t break the bank!
These trips often see some inclement weather and hiking on slick surfaces. Because of this, having a good gripping sole is very important. Lots of boots have Vibram soles, which are great. When choosing boots, we also tend to err on the side of good ankle support. Some people do need boots that provide more ankle support, so going with boots that rise above the ankle would be important if this is a concern. 
Waterproof boots are a bit of a misconception. To keep boots waterproof you have to spray them regularly with waterproof treatment. Waterproof boots don’t breathe as well. If you step in a high puddle, feet get wet. Breathable boots will drain easier and dry quicker. To keep feet dry and in good shape, good socks are important (see below).
  • Bonus Tip: Break in your boots! More likely than not, your son is going to have a fairly new pair of boots for his trip this summer. If the first time he wears them is on day one of his trip than he’s likely to get some blisters and have some discomfort. Boots need to be broken in, so we recommend that campers wear their hiking boots on and off for a few weeks before they come to camp.
Younger campers will need some type of shoes for rainy weather. This can be a hiking shoe or boot or a spare pair of shoes that can get wet. For younger campers, there is no need to spend a lot of money on hiking boots.
This is one area where we’d spend a few extra dollars. Here we’re speaking about our campers who just completed 8th and 9th grade. On the hiking trip and Canadian good socks are a must. Boots are going to get wet and feet take a lot of wear during the trip. Having hood socks is very important.
Synthetic or wool socks are what you want. They dry quickly and really protect feet! On cold days, even when these socks are wet they keep feet warm. Campers in these ages will need socks beyond cotton socks! Cotton clothing takes a long time to dry and is uncomfortable when wet. Good socks are something that will last and are great for winter use. 
We recommend buying 2-3 pair for these trips. You don’t need to go to high end camping stores to buy these socks but you also won’t want to go to Target or Walmart, either. At a minimum, head to a sporting goods store for these.
Sleeping Bags
This is another item that you don’t want to skimp on. There are lots of things to consider with sleeping bags, and our #1 recommendation is to stay away from sleeping bags with cotton/fleece lining. Starter sleeping bags used for sleep overs aren’t appropriate for camp. When they get wet they take days to dry out. If you have a sleeping bag with a nylon lining, you’re set. 
If you are going to buy a new sleeping bag, this is actually one item that is worth the investment. A good sleeping bag will last your son’s camp career and beyond. If you’re buying your 10-year old camper a new bag, plan ahead and buy a bag that they can grow into! Our recommendations when buying a new bag:
– A temperature rating of 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Our Canadian trip can have some cooler nights and if your son ever does camping outside of camp, this is a pretty standard temp rating
– Easily compressible. Sleeping bags should compress into a 12″ X 18″ stuff sack. This makes trip packing much easier. You can also purchase a compression sack which really help.
– Go for a mummy-style bag versus one that unzips totally flat
As for the sleeping bag fill, the two main options are synthetic and down. Some people really love down. Down sleeping bags are warmer and they weigh less. Synthetic, on the other, hand dries much quicker and compresses easier. For our purposes, we would recommend a synthetic filled bag but there are also great down-filled sleeping bags.
  • Bonus Tip: Unstuff your sleeping bag! Stuff sacks are meant to be used while on trip and when transporting a sleeping bag. While at home, however, a sleeping bag should be taken out of the stuff sack. If a sleeping bag remains in its stuff sack constantly it loses its loft and ability to keep the user warm. Store a sleeping bag over a hanger in a closet when it’s not in use!

 Now about losing things… we’ll follow up with another Preparing for Camp entry about the wonders of labeling. For now, good luck shopping and if you have any specific questions, email us at and we’ll be sure to help you shop like a pro!

Camp Prep Tips #1 – Some Basics

It’s a beautiful Sunday and with the month of May less than two weeks away, getting ready for the summer may be creeping into your mind. Whether you’re a first time camp parent of a seasoned veteran, we’re here to help. As we lead up to the summer we’re going to post a series of blog entries, with everything from tips to help you shop to advice to help your son get ready for the summer.
We’re going to lead off with a series of basic tips, some of which we’ll expand upon in successive blog entries. Between Andy, Vickie, Leb and Sue and myself, we have spent  a few years at camp and we’ve learned a few things about what works…and what doesn’t. 
Below are some tips and practical advice to help you prepare for the summer. Take a few minutes to read over these pointers. We believe that they’ll help you through the process of getting ready for the summer and will set your son up for success at camp!
Take things one step at a time
When you look at all the forms, packing, labeling and just the overall idea of sending your son to camp, it can get overwhelming. There is a lot to do ahead of the summer, but if you jump in and just take things one step at a time, you’ll see that pretty quickly you start knocking things off the list.
Shop smart
We’re surrounded by great camping stores that sell fantastic gear that could last your son many years. Unfortunately, by next summer the odds that your camper will be wearing the same size hiking boots or fleece jacket are pretty low. Camp can be tough on equipment and things can get lost. While high end stores are fun, there are places like REI and, along with many other traditional stores that are great for buying camp gear. One place not to skimp is on your son’s sleeping bag. A synthetic sleeping bag that DOES NOT have a cotton lining could last your son for many years.
  • Bonus tip: Avoid the metal cook kits with multiple plates and pans. Pieces tend to fall apart. A plastic plate, cup and utensil set is ideal. Campmor sells this set: You can also buy these items individually at camping or sporting goods stores. Add a mesh bag to store these in.
Homesick Happens
Every parent wants their son to have the perfect camp experience. A top worry is that their son will be homesick. The fact is that campers, regardless of their age, may get homesick. This isn’t a bad thing. What is important is to, first off, let your son that he may miss home, family and their pets. Its important to tell them what they may feel as opposed to just using the word “homesick”. Let them know that this is perfectly normal and if it does happen, there are lots of staff and other campers there to help them out. All they have to do is talk to them about it. Homesickness should be seen by parents as an opportunity. Once kids plow through it, they learn to be stronger and more self-reliant.
Don’t promise to “pick him up” if things aren’t perfect
Camp is fun, and it’s much more than that. Campers make friends, learn skills and grow. There are challenges that come at camp, but what’s great is that they are in a safe setting with plenty of support! Do not promise your son that you’ll pick him up if he’s homesick, unhappy or if things aren’t working out! You’ll be left with two choices if he calls you on this. One is to pick him up and take away a great learning opportunity. The other is to go back on your promise and risk damaging the trust that he has for you. Instead, let your son know that you’re confident that when these challenges arise, that he’ll do great.
  •  Bonus Tip: Don’t burden your son with your emotions. Your son will miss you and you’ll certainly miss him. Let him know that. Please don’t overshare your worries and anxieties. This will likely lead to increased anxieties of his own that could lead to increased homesickness and challenges for him at camp.
Duffles, not trunks
Foot lockers are bulky and tough to store. Duffles withstand travel much better and can pack away easily. If you’re buying new, go for duffle bags!

Print and pack labels for letters

In an electronic age, campers aren’t used to sending out letters. We’ve seen lots of interesting attempts by campers to address envelopes in rather creative handwriting. Ahead of the summer, make labels for the different people that you want your son writing and then give him a short lesson on how to make sure the letter gets from point A to point B.

Be honest on camp forms

Being up front and open on medical and personality forms will ensure that we can provide the best summer possible for your son. All campers come to camp with a clean slate, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t help them to make us aware of issues that he’s been dealing with. We guarantee that this information will be shared only with those that need to know it. If you haven’t yet watched the Bob Ditter video on the importance of camp forms, we highly recommend it!


Sharpies are your friend!
Label everything. You can either write it in or order labels from Mabel’s Labels or Stuck on You. And when you label things, remember your son likely isn’t the only “Andy R.” and there are multiple campers with the initials “R.S.”. Use your son’s first AND last name when labeling.
Camp rules have a reason 
Like families, camp has rules that campers and staff need to abide by. These are detailed in the main spring info pack. From food in camp to cell phones, there are reasons we’ve put these rules into place. If you would like to better understand the reasons for these rules, don’t hesitate to contact us. We ask you to help set your son up for success at camp by ensuring that he’s following camp policies.

Call us, email us, let us know how we can help.

We know that preparing for camp can be a cumbersome process. If you have any questions about anything, do not hesitate to call or email us at any time. Whether you need advice on camp gear or have a question about a camp form, we’re here to help.  We can be reached by phone at 715-462-3254 or via email at