Packing For Debate Camp: An Interview with VBI Staffers

One of the most frequently asked questions we get is, “What should I pack for camp?” We were asked this last year on our VBI AMA on Reddit (which you can find here) and we responded with a few different answers.

“As for packing, you can find our packing list here. My personal suitcase for camp contains 8 days of clothes, a computer, chargers, headphones, a bluetooth speaker, pens, paper, and spending money. One thing that is often overlooked is the benefit of having sandals or flipflops for when you’re just in your dorm. The good news is we provide linens and towels so you don’t have to worry about packing those! – Lawrence Zhou”

“As for packing I would always bring a deck of cards and a few small games (this year I will probably bring bananagrams, avalon, coloretto, anomia, biblios and maybe a larger game like settlers of catan if I can fit it in). I would also recommend bringing a non-debate related book or a kindle. -Marshall Thompson”

As camp approaches, it’s worth thinking a little bit more about packing for camp. The following is an edited interview with several VBI staffers and what they pack for camp. They will provide their insights on what and what not to pack to survive and thrive at camp. Hopefully you all will find something interesting in this article and take some inspiration from these seasoned camp veterans.

A link to the full, unedited interview can be found at the bottom of this article.

1. Tell us about yourself.

Alex Chin: My name is Alex, and I’m a rising sophomore at Harvard and assistant coach at the Boston Latin School (and sometimes I coach for my high school, Nueva). I’m not really sure what I’m majoring in (still have a semester to decide), but it’ll probably be something along the lines of math, physics, or computer science (possibly a secondary in philosophy). I’m originally from San Francisco, California, and this will be my second year at VBI.

Christian Quiroz: My name is Christian Fernando Quiroz, people usually just call me CQ. I’m going into my senior year at Rutgers University-Newark where I am a part of the debate team and the honors living learning community, and major in Philosophy and minor in Social Justice. My field of expertise is continental philosophy with a special interest in Schopenhauer, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche. I’ve been involved in debate for about 7 years and I’m excited to be returning to VBI for my 4th year teaching!

Nick Smith: My name is Nick, I studied Political Science & Philosophy at the University of Minnesota, and I am the head coach at Apple Valley High School. I’ve been involved in debate since 2005 and I am super pumped for my seventh summer of working at VBI!

Jami Tanner: I’m Jami! I’m currently studying at NYU, in the BA/MA track for Political Science. I’ve been involved with debate for ten years now (wow I’m old) and will be returning to VBI for my fourth year as the Director of PF!

Max Wu: Hi, my name is Max Wu! I’m going into my sophomore year at the University of Chicago, where I plan on majoring in Political Science with a focus on International Security studies. I’m originally from Fremont, California, a Bay Area suburb east of San Francisco. Between coaching and competing, I’ve been involved in the Public Forum debate community for 6 years, and am looking forward to working another summer at VBI.

Maya Xia: My name is Maya, and I’m an incoming freshman at Vanderbilt University majoring in Neuroscience. I competed as a Lincoln-Douglas debater for four years in high school, and I’m really excited to return to camp as a first-year LD instructor!

Pacy Yan: Hi, I’m Pacy. I’m from New York City, where I attended Stuyvesant High School. I’m a current senior and I debated on the Lincoln-Douglas team for four years. I will be studying at NYU this coming fall and I’m super excited to be teaching at VBI this year!

2. When do you start packing for camp usually?

Christian: I typically try to at least get some of the things I know I’ll need for camp together about a week before. So any clothes I might want to bring or shoes or sandals I put to the side so that I know those are the things I want to bring. I don’t actually start packing until the night before.

Max: Under the guise of youthful confidence, I started packing a day before I left for camp last year. This was a very poor decision. In my haste, I neglected to bring a number of important articles to camp, including a belt, toothpaste, and underpants. I also did not have enough time to check weather forecasts in Los Angeles, and packed too many pairs of pants. You can’t wear pants in LA during the summer. It’s illegal.

Maya: I usually pack for camp the day before (oops), but the packing is pretty easy since I bring much of the same things that I bring on vacation (i.e. clothes, toiletries, computer) plus flow paper and my laptop stand.

Pacy: I usually start about three to four days in advance, mostly because my mom bugs me about it and, even as I’ve grown up and she bugs me way less about it, I’ve just gotten into the habit of doing it. It makes the day before a lot less stressful!

3. What clothes or outfits do you consider essential for camp, and how many days of clothes do you usually bring?

Christian: Sandals sandals sandals. And a lot of socks. The fashion police are always trying to give me a ticket for wearing socks and sandals, but they’re comfy. I also like to bring sweat shorts because, again, they’re really comfy. I usually try to bring about a week and a half worth of clothing. Honestly that has just happened to be what I’ve packed before, I’ve never consciously picked out a certain number of outfits for camp.

I try to not pack too much for camp, leaving a little space in my bag, because I always like to shop while I’m away in other places and I always try to account for this. It’s not always clothes, though, I also like to shop for books that would need space in my luggage.

Pacy: I bring about seven to ten days worth of clothes/outfits. Beyond absolutely necessary things (socks, undergarments, pants, shirts), more specific and important things to consider is bringing a hoodie or something that is like a jacket. Although camp is during the summer, it can get quite chilly at night. Also, hoodies are super comfortable! For pants, bring something other than just shorts – like leggings or jeans or long pants. Also, dress comfortably! Camp can be tiring and busy sometimes so make sure you are comfortable in what you wear.

Nick: Without fail I somehow end up packing some clothing that is too hot to reasonably wear on most summer days. Philadelphia can be super humid, and Los Angeles is almost always quite warm. If you see me drenched in sweat and wearing flannel, then please feel free to have an internal chuckle at my expense. Having like one or two warmer pieces of clothing wouldn’t be the worst idea for times like a cool night in LA. I typically plan on doing laundry once a week, which means I pack ~8 days worth of clothing to play it safe. There will always be access to laundry facilities when you’re staying in the dorms. Other than that, I make sure to pack two pairs of comfortable shoes as there will be a good deal of walking on paved surfaces.

Jami: I typically bring enough outfits for 10 days, but end up rotating the same 4 outfits because I have that habit…

4. What are the essentials you can’t live without?

Alex: This is pretty obvious, but make sure to bring your laptop. My first time at debate camp, I didn’t realize I needed a laptop until the day before, and my laptop was broken so I had to make a bunch of runs to the Apple Store the day before—not a good idea. I would also bring paper, pens (if you’re looking for a debate pen, check out the coleto lumio on amazon), and a folder/binder too keep your stuff in.

Max: Skincare products, vegan protein powder, noise-cancelling headphones, college apparel, existential dread.

Christian: Clothes and toiletries are obvious, I try to bring the travel bags that you can keep your toiletries in so that I don’t have to keep track of my toothbrush, deodorant, etc. when I go to shower I just bring all my things with me so it’s not as hectic.

I also always bring my laptop and gaming mouse. I have a razor mouse that has shortcuts on the side to optimize gaming. I also bring my laptop so I can do work and play league of legends. This year I’ll probably be playing more fortnite on my laptop.

I also have a pretty decently sized library now, and as much as I’d love to bring all of my books with me, I select a few that I need for summer research/reading, enjoy to read just to read (such as novels), or if I promised to lend it to someone during camp. If you’re interested in a book I might have, let me know and I’ll bring it!

Pacy: Beyond hygeine essentials (toothbrush/paste, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, etc) and clothing, some other really important things for me to bring are my headphones, stuffed animals, potentially a light and soft blanket, hair ties, and slippers. Headphones are important since I like music, also they’re useful when you just want to relax and listen to music. I really love stuffed animals and I often carry them around with me. Blankets are awesome and fluffy! You can wrap it around yourself or someone else. Hair ties are very useful, especially if the weather is warm. Slippers are good for things like communal bathrooms or even the beach (if you’re attending LA1/2)! Also, things like basic medicine (allergy meds, cold medicine, etc) and things like lotion and skincare products are also important! Also, laundry detergent pods are useful.

5. What is something that people always forget to bring to camp?

Nick: A compact umbrella (Swarthmore). Basic hygiene products like DEODORANT, toothbrush, toothpaste, shower supplies, etc. Basic debate supplies like pens, paper, a timer, a flash drive, an organization system, etc. Enough clean clothes to make it through camp or a willingness to do laundry when necessary.

Jami: Hmmm… I’m not too sure what kids forget to bring, but I know one thing that they always are prepared with: snacks. Loving parents always send their kids off to camp with an absurd amount of snacks and, every summer, kids frantically are trying to figure out what to do with the 500 granola bars they haven’t finished as they’re getting ready to leave camp. (I’ve also seen a student who was sent with a 2 lb bag of apples!) I think it’s super sweet – definitely something my mom did for me when I went out of town for tournaments.

Alex: Remember that you’re going to be living in dorms, so you should bring all the basic toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, soap (a surprisingly high number of people don’t bring soap), et cetera. Also, if you wear contact lenses, don’t forget to bring those easier. I’ve definitely forgotten to bring those at tournaments in the past and it’s really tough.

I’d also bring a water bottle—it’ll just be more convenient that way.

Pacy: People will sometimes forget chargers for things like laptops (which everyone should bring! Don’t forget your laptop!), phones, etc. That would become super inconvenient and you would either have to buy another one or borrow someone else’s for a few weeks. Also, bring money since you will potentially order food or buy things at camp (especially if you forget essentials!). Also, don’t forget to bring enough socks or clothes in general – it would be weird if you wore the same shirt every other day. Also, if you can, bring a timer! Those are super useful for debate camp.

6. What are things you like to bring to camp to make life more fun?

Maya: I’m not a huge gamer, so there’s not a material possession that made camp more fun for me. I definitely recommend bringing your personality and an open mind because the people you meet at camp are pretty amazing. I met some of my closest debate friends at camp. Although we competed in different areas around the nation, I still kept in contact with them throughout the school year, and being able to hang out with a few them at tournaments made the competitive atmosphere a lot more enjoyable and less daunting since I had a group of friends there to support me.

Alex: I would recommend bringing some snacks—granola bars or popcorn or whatever your snack of preference is. There aren’t really TVs or anything to plug consoles into, so don’t bother bringing them. I’ve enjoyed playing cards and Frisbees (or a football or soccer ball, etc.) at camp.

Nick:  I’m VERY excited to be bringing my Nintendo Switch to camp this summer. I’m going to annihilate Lawrence in Mario Kart!! I’ll probably bring a low-key game or two that I can play in the small random periods of downtime I have at camp.

My Kindle always follows me to camp, which loaded with oodles of books that are on my reading list. I suspect that I might get more reading done if I simply brought a few paperbacks instead; decision fatigue is real. Most of these books are books that I want to read for fun and not books that might somehow be useful for debate so that I can unwind easier.

My general advice on this subject would be to bring the things that you can see yourself having fun using with other folks. Things like a deck of cards, some card games (shout-outs to Total Rickall, a Rick & Morty card game), coloring books, a hacky sack, snacks to share (keeping in mind common allergies), or whatever floats your boat. I always say that the people are the best part of being involved in and camp is a wonderful opportunity to meet and form lifelong friendships with some cool new folks.

Jami:  A deck of cards!!! Nothing fancy. There are so many card games for multiple players, and it’s really such a good way to spend time with people you’ve just met. If you want to get really fancy, get Avalon. The best game ever, especially when you’re playing with a bunch of debaters. I played with staff and students almost every night last summer, and I even bought my own game for myself at home.


We hope you found this interview helpful, insightful, or interesting. There are many things to consider when packing for camp, and this hopefully gave you some inspiration and ideas for when you pack for camp!

Download the full, unedited interview here: All Packing Interview Answers