Forgetting anything Packing well for camp is crucial

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Boxer shorts with glow-in-the-dark-skeletons did not make it onto Camp Arazim's official "what to bring to camp" list.

Still, without Jason Goodman's array of wacky underthings, camp wouldn't be the same. The longtime camper and counselor was once part of a "boxer crew" that wore the duds to breakfast. When he wasn't wearing them, he was putting them on his head to entertain his young troops.

"It was a bonding experience," says Goodman, now 24.

He and other Bay Area camp mavens suggest that campers pack not only for comfort and convenience, but also for bonding potential. Once that trunk is locked or duffel bag tied, you are what you have packed, they say. There's no going back to civilization for that extra towel or pair of jalapeño-pepper-motif boxers.

A perfectly packed camp bag should include not only the practical items suggested on every camp's "to bring" list (along with certain practical items that veteran campers could suggest), but also tools to help broach the sometimes scary transition from stranger to bunk-mate.

This summer Jenny Yelin, 13, will be heading off to Camp Swig for the fifth time. The San Francisco Day School student advises kids to "bring clothes you're willing to share and trade with everyone in your cabin, and makeup you're willing to share and trade."

Last year, plastic "jellies" shoes and baby T-shirts were the favored female garb at Swig, according to Yelin. This summer, she's predicting the new high-heeled version of the see-through shoe will be popular.

For first-timers prone to homesickness, Yelin suggests bringing "something that will make you feel at home, like a picture of your pet."

Her advice reflects that of Camp Swig's associate director, Eric Kleinman, who says, "Personal items make camp home."

For Kleinman, packing is part of the camp experience.

"I've been packing since I was 7. That means I've been packing for camp for 25 years. And I haven't gotten it right yet," he jokes.

This professional camper waxes nostalgic about his childhood in Brooklyn, when his mother would begin packing her sons' bags weeks before summer camp began.

"There would be two trunks on the Ping-Pong table in the basement. Soap, tissues — everything was organized. It was a science. There was everything you could think of. She should have written a book," says Kleinman.

Some of his mother's favorite tips? Bring an extra pair of shoelaces, a deck of cards, a soap dish, a toothbrush holder. Pack more than you think you need when it comes to stamps, postcards and towels.

As for the old question of "to trunk or not to trunk?" Kleinman doesn't equivocate. "I hate trunks. They're heavy and bulky and you always lose the key. Duffel bags are just as big."

Other practical suggestions from those in the know include packing a razor and shaving cream (for girls who want to shave their legs), Band-Aids and mouthwash. Some campers suggest bringing pale pastel clothes that are appropriate for Shabbat — when white is generally required at Jewish camps — because pastels don't show stains as readily as white.

Phyllis Mintzer, registrar for Camp Tawonga, frequently answers parents' last-minute packing questions. The answer she finds herself giving most often is "no."

No, campers should not pack food, which attracts pests and — in the case of sweets — can make kids hyper. No to boom-boxes and Walkmen, which are ready-made invitations to thieves; no to Nintendo.

"You need to be involved in what's going on at camp," says Mintzer, "not off by yourself pushing a button."

And getting involved in what's going on at camp means entertaining yourself the old-fashioned way — playing a game of go fish, swapping clothes with your bunkmates or just wearing a hat made of jalapeño boxers.