No Manual For Industry Secrets

By Jessica Lippe

Camp work should come with a warning label. There are just some industry secrets that never seem to be covered in staff training. From solemn and serious to wild and wacky, here are 88 things that everyone who works at a camp needs to know. Share it with new recruits, and even use it as reminders for veteran staff members.

Getting The Job
1.       Camp is a wonderful gateway to a variety of jobs.

2.       Don’t take a camp job just for the money, especially since it’s fairly easy to find better-paying ones. But, since most of your expenses are covered, it’s a good job while saving up for college, travel, or another big purchase.

3.       Even if you have a specific position at camp, you may sometimes find yourself doing jobs that weren’t mentioned in the job description.

4.       When you work together, eat together, play together, and live together, a sense of community is bound to form.

5.       The work you do can have an eternal impact.

6.       Many camps have a natural form of staff recruitment—as  campers, young people see how fun it is to work at camp and wish they could do all the crazy things their goofy counselors do. Many decide to apply once they are of age.

7.       If you know someone who works at a camp, use it to your advantage. This person can give you tips on how to fill out the application or what to say in the interview. Ask if he or she can provide you with a reference. Some camps that have difficulty recruiting enough staff offer a refer-a-friend program to current or former workers. They’ll receive a gift card or bonus when you join the team, making this beneficial for both parties.

8.       Use traditional job-search methods, like Craigslist and job boards, to find a camp that’s hiring.

9.       If you’re considering working at a camp but cringe at the thought of being surrounded by a dozen kids at all hours of the day, don’t worry. There are many hats you can wear while working at camp, and counseling is an option.

10.    Working at camp can be advantageous for all ages and all walks of life.

11.    Camp can be a lifelong career!

12.    Plan ahead and apply early.

13.    Some camps are old-fashioned, while others are up-to-date on the latest technology. This means that figuring out how to apply is somewhat like a scavenger hunt. You may find an application online, or you may have to snail-mail your resume to the camp’s address.

14.    Camp requires sacrifice, and for some it takes more than others.

15.    You might be stuck with roommates you don’t know, which could turn into a positive or negative experience.

16.    Time is a major commitment. Camp takes up most, if not all, of summer, and it’s often more than a 40-hour work week.

17.    You’ll often miss out on sleep, alone time, and even bathroom time.

18.    Camp work is truly not for everyone.

19.    Camps aren’t limited to summer.

20.    Be prepared because missing even one key item may leave you miserable. You don’t want to face mosquitos without insect repellant, or the sun without sunscreen, or Bible camp without a Bible!

21.    Overpacking will lead to what’s known as “stuffocation”: too much stuff crammed into tight quarters.

22.    Roommates won’t appreciate your belongings overflowing into their space!

23.    Many camps will mail you a packet of onboarding information. Or, if the camp’s in tune with the 21st century, the information can be found online. This packet might go over the camp rules, manner of payment, and maybe even a map of the property. But the most important part of this packet is the packing list.

24.    Most big-box stores sell dresser-style drawers made entirely of plastic. These are about as lightweight as a suitcase, but so much more organized and better-looking.

25.    Regular bedding is much easier to clean than a sleeping bag.

26.    If you think you might get cold at night, flannel sheets are great.

27.    Find out what kind of decorations you’re allowed. (You may be limited, since nails, tacks, and adhesives can ruin walls.) Even a simple poster can brighten up a room, provided it’s in good taste.

28.    Camp bathrooms are used by many people, and often there isn’t much room to keep toiletries.

29.    Be sure to bring kitchen supplies, especially if you’re on a special diet.

30.    If you wear a uniform at camp, you’ll probably only need a couple of other shirts to wear while sleeping and on days off.

31.    Camp clothes should always be practical for the environment.

32.    Pack at least one nice outfit. You’ll end up in a situation where either you use it or wish you had brought it!


Child Wrangling
33.    Working at a kids’ camp is about the midpoint between being a babysitter and being a parent.

34.    If you’re a counselor, get a list of names of all the campers before camp starts, if possible.

35.    Prioritize in learning real names over camp names. That’s the name that will be needed in the event of an emergency, as well as the one a camper is most likely to respond to when called.

36.    Start by learning the troublemakers’ names first. They’re the ones you’ll have to call out the most!

37.    Those in charge of campers are really on the clock 24 hours a day. But, hopefully, you can take at least a few of those hours to sleep.

38.    Night and morning routines help establish a daily rhythm and set the right mood for the time of day.

39.    Homesickness is bound to happen. And, like a disease, it can quickly spread to more campers.

40.    Treat campers with special needs like the other campers, as much as their disability allows. They are more than their disability.

41.    On the first night at camp, make sure that every clothing tag, toiletry, and book has a first and last name on it.

42.    Keep your eyes open for former campers when you’re out and about.

All Fun And Games
43.    Games may not seem as important as other aspects of camp, but in reality games are an excellent skill-building opportunity, can open up conversations and teambuilding with campers, and are even a great marketing technique, as campers will tell their friends about the fun they had.

44.    If there is a game or another activity that you don’t like, that’s okay. However, campers should never be able to detect a hint of your animosity.

45.    Teamwork is an important part of camp.

46.    If the camp has low ropes, a challenge course, or another teambuilding activity, do the activity with your team as soon as you can.

47.    Almost every activity can be more fun when done in the dark with glow sticks.

48.    Night hikes are a fun, educational, and memorable experience for all ages.

49.    The typical recipe for s’mores includes marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate, but don’t feel limited to those ingredients. Get creative with substitutions and add-ons. The options are limitless.

50.    Make indoor s’mores using chocolate syrup and marshmallow crème—this is a good option if you don’t want kids messing with fire.

Work Perks
51.    Camp provides an “outdoor education” of sorts. It’s a great time to learn a few nature facts you might have missed in school.

52.    If a camper has a fear of heights, there will probably be several opportunities to challenge this fear.

53.    Camp is the best place to wait out an apocalypse.

54.    Due to remote locations or other circumstances, Internet connection and cell-phone service aren’t always the greatest, and some camps don’t offer any connectivity at all.

55.    Going unplugged is good. It helps to become more mindful of the surroundings and what you’re doing. You get to live in the present. You learn to enjoy the silence.

56.    Camp can energize you by making you feel more useful, but it can zap energy just as easily.

57.    Getting enough sleep is difficult, but do the best you can. Be strict about enforcing quiet times, as they are good both for you and the campers.

58.    You work an active job, so you probably won’t need to get up two hours early to go jogging.

Camp Crushes And Courtships
59.    If you work at a coed camp, a couple crushes are bound to arise among coworkers, maybe even involving you.

60.    Many camps have adopted the “No Purpling” rule because the pink people at camp and the blue people at camp should not be close enough for their colors to blend. (For the record, the “No Purpling” rule also implies no “Hot Pinking” or “Baby Blueing.”)

61.    Although you’re probably sleeping in separate buildings from the opposite gender, you do spend most of your waking hours with coworkers. Because of this, you may feel closely connected to coworkers, and at a faster pace than connections like these normally take.

62.    One problem with beginning a relationship outside a normal environment is that it can be difficult to transfer this new romance back into your post-camp life.

63.    If a coworker is a significant other, it shouldn’t be obvious to your other coworkers. Treat everyone equally, and don’t put anyone in the position of being a third wheel.

64.    If you don’t want to deal with guy-girl drama, or you want to avoid the temptation of coed camps, consider a camp that’s just for your gender.

65.    Camp provides a relationship benefit even for those who don’t end up in a relationship. There is the opportunity to observe the opposite gender act in ways at camp that you may not see in other environments.

Avoiding The Health Center
66.    If you see a safety hazard, either fix it or report it to someone who can.

67.    Remind campers to take their meds at appointed times.

68.    If you can handle it, offering to clean up vomit can be a big help. Yes, it’s gross. No, it probably isn’t in your job description.

69.    Make sure water is readily available.

70.    Wearing helmets on the rock wall and not diving into the shallow end applies to everyone, not just kids!

71.    Set a good example and take care of your own health when it comes to wearing sunscreen, drinking water, and staying on trails.

72.    Ideally, all camps should provide staff members with CPR and first-aid training, but if not, sign up for a course before the camp season.

73.    Traditionally, “camp food” meant cheap, tasteless bulk food. However, you’ll be glad to know that fewer and fewer camps are dishing up these mystery meals.

74.    If you have any concerns for your personal health, call ahead to see how the camp can accommodate you.

75.    It can be difficult to work at camp while simultaneously dealing with a health concern like diabetes, epilepsy, or asthma. But it’s certainly not impossible.

76.    Get to know your camp’s protocols. Follow the rules, even when no one’s looking.

Camp In Real Life
77.    Camps often hire on-call or part-time staff members to help in the kitchen or with activities during weekend retreats throughout the year.

78.    Many leadership and office staff work year-round, so you might land a full-time camp job if you want to work through every season.

79.    There are many differences between camp in summer and in the rest of the year. Camp is typically toned down, being a less-crazy place and more of a place to find rest and recharge. The atmosphere is definitely different.

80.    Working at camp is no vacation, but it can provide skills that help you enjoy travel more.

81.    You might be able to benefit from employee discounts on camp stays.

82.    Many camps offer staff reunions that allow seasonal alumni to return in the off-season to catch up on life.

83.    Even if your camp doesn’t offer staff reunions, it can still be beneficial to visit former camps.

84.    Camp provides many positive, happy memories. But these experiences can sometimes bring hurt and heartache as well.

85.    Even in tough times, a camp community will help each camper through the struggle.

86.    Camp can open doors not only at work, but also in extracurricular and volunteer activities.

87.    Time at camp will prepare you for a whole slew of opportunities, wherever you go.

88.    Summer ends, the campfire goes out, and campers leave. The turn of the seasons at camp demonstrates how fragile and fleeting life is. But you are working for something far greater than that.

Jessica Lippe writes from Southern Oregon. For more about travel and camp work, visit her website at