Buying name labels for summer camp

Summer is here, and a parent’s thoughts turn to. . . camp. I’m looking at the long list of stuff they have to have labeled with their names for camp, and going slightly mad, even though I’ve bought tons of label packages in the past. So I figured I might as well document it – here’s a count of how many of which kind of labels you might need and a review of different label packages to hopefully help other moms and dads. It was a surprise to me the first year we sent someone to camp how many more labels were needed than for daycare/school!

Obviously one option is to buy a label maker. I thought about this as they are surprisingly cheap, and there are kinds that you can also use with easy peel labels, laminated labels, non-laminated labels to iron onto kids’ clothing, etc. (Here are two popular ones – a basic inexpensive hand-held one and a still cheap fancier one that can do the iron-on tape, etc.). You’d have to buy more tapes separately, but this could still be a great way to do it and is probably the most cost-effective in the end. But I just don’t have the time or inclination to do this, so I have always just ordered our labels.

I bought our labels from Mabel’s Labels, mostly because that’s where I’ve been buying the kids’ labels for years, ever since our first daycare provider recommended them. They work really well and meet my random needs (more on that later), and the prices are good. I’m sure there are many other label companies that are also great, but I’m going to use ours as an example.

What needs name labeling for summer camp:

  • Hard stuff: Water bottle (2x), sunblock (2x), lunch and snack containers (4x) ⇒ 8x+
  • Soft stuff: Sunhat, swimsuit (3x), towel (2x), cover-up (1x), clothing (up to infinity, depending on how much you label. . .), and for younger children, add a nap sheet/blanket and a lovey ⇒ 7x if no clothes or sleep stuff, 10x if no clothes, but realistically closer to 30x if you label 20 pieces of clothing (I don’t label everything in the outfit, and if it’s super-recognizable I don’t label it. But if it’s navy Hanna Andersson bike shorts that half the camp owns, then it gets a label.
  • Random stuff: Backpack, lunchbox, random bag for swim stuff, shoes (4x) ⇒ 7x+

Make sense? I put 2x to indicate that I need 2 labels for something, either because we have two (like alternating water bottles) or because I know we’ll need another one later on (like a second tube of sunblock). So I end up with a total of 8 hard items that need a label, 10-30 soft items, and 7 pieces of random stuff that needs a label.

Name labels for Summer campTypes of name labels for camp:

Basic sticky name labels and sizing: Good for hard stuff (if you have a baby who goes to daycare you probably use a ton of these). Could I theoretically write her name on a piece of masking tape and attach it to the water bottle? Absolutely. But it’d be a gummy mess within a few days, plus I want to be able to put the water bottles in the dishwasher without worrying about whether the label will last the summer. Here you’ll generally have a choice of sizes – for example, we have the Personalized Name Stickers (2 3/4″ x 5/8″) and its half-sized cousin, the Mini Custom Name Stickers (1 1/2″ x 5/16″). I like the smaller ones better, for the most part – 2 3/4″ is pretty long when you’re putting a label on a bottle of sunblock. Also, the name needs to be there to follow camp rules and so my kids or a teacher can ID it, but I don’t necessarily need people to be able to read their names from far away.

Clothing labels: Iron-on vs. Stick-On?! I am massively in Team Stick-On for this one – I hate the idea of ironing something permanent into my children’s clothes for many reasons. Mabel’s Labels’ calls their stick-on clothing ones Tag Mates™ {pause to give a little cheer for myself for finally figuring out how to insert the ™ symbol. ™™™ – now I’m a monster!} Anyway, we’ve been using the TagMates™ for about three years now and have been through the full life cycle and they actually work like they’re supposed to – you stick them on to the tag inside a garment (or hat, or towel, or whatever) and they stay on through as many washes and dryer cycles that you need them to, and then when you’re ready to remove the label you just get your fingernail under an edge and peel it off. It’s pretty awesome IMO, and not just because I get to use the ™ symbol.

Shoe labels: Custom shoe labels are all the rage, and we have them, but I’ve also used the clothing labels on the cloth tags inside sneakers and that’s worked fine. You could also probably use basic sticky labels on plastic-type water shoes. During the school year I just put a shoe label in one half of the shoe pair, but for camp I put them in both, since it seems like 1/3 of the girls in her group had the same pink Natives last year and they’re constantly in and out of them with water play and whatnot. So I do like these a lot for summer shoes.

Other labels: There are lots of specialized labels but again I think if you have the basic sticky name labels for hard stuff and the stick-on clothing labels for soft stuff, you’re pretty much good to go. We have some that are like dog tags with personalized colorful surfaces that we got as part of a package that we use on the kids’ backpacks, and they are nice but not an absolute must-have.

Other questions to consider:

  • What name do you put on the labels? Some people do full name, others only first or last, and still others do allergy labels or something else. We have a unique enough last name that I tend to go with our last name on the labels because then I can always use the labels on either child, but some parents like to have different labels for each child since then there’s no hassling about whose water bottle or towel something is. It also depends on how old your kids are and if they want to pick out there own labels, which leads to. . .
  • What do you want the labels to look like? Mabel’s Labels has 70-100+ choices of little icons depending on the label type (scroll down to “Select Style”), a bunch of different color schemes, and then you can choose things like the font and so on. That being said my kids always pick from the first two screens of choices, and I’ve never given them the option of changing the text or anything. But older kids might get a kick out of “designing” their own labels. That’s not a Mabel’s Labels specific thing (none of this is, those are just the ones we have) – pretty much every camp label place I’ve ever seen offers more little pictures than I would’ve thought possible, and half the girls will still show up with hearts and half the boys will still show up with rocket ships. Not trying to gender stereotype, just basing on what I’ve seen at daycares and camps!

  • How much do you care about permanent marks on things? You can always just get a Sharpie and write your child’s name on a lot of things if you don’t care about it being permanent. Same goes for the whole iron-on vs. stick-on clothing and fabric labels thing.

So what’d I buy?

Once again, I ordered the Starter Label Pack – 24 Mini Custom Name Stickers, 42 TagMates™ Stick On Clothing Labels, 8 Custom Shoe Stickers, and 2 Personalized Bag Tags (the dog-tag like ones). Even though we are not new customers so probably not the intended audience, this is the right amount of labels for us at the right price ($34.95, shipping included). They have a Day Camp Labels Pack which is cheaper ($19.95, also free ship) and includes most of the right amounts (16 Mini Custom Name Stickers, 21 TagMates™ Stick On Clothing Labels, 2 Custom Shoe Stickers, and 2 Personalized Bag Tags), but I wanted to have enough shoe labels for both water shoes in each pair across multiple pairs of shoes, and I like to have extra stick-on clothing labels. Still, this could totally work for a lot of folks if you wanted a bunch of labels for less than $20. There are also the Sleepaway Camp Labels Pack and the Big Kaboodle Labels Pack which have even more labels than the Starter Pack, so if you’re labeling camp stuff for multiple kids or just like to make sure everything is labeled, it may be worth the extra $5-$14 to you for one of those packs.


Happy camping!


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