Complete Guide: What to Bring & How to Pack for College

Complete Guide: What to Bring & How to Pack for College

Written by Eagle Creek on

Eagle Creek was established in 1975 by Steve and Nona Barker, a couple who revered the planet and explored it accordingly. In the process, they invented an entirely new product category: adventure travel gear. Half a century later, no one offers more expertly conceived and crafted gear for experiencing the earth in every hemisphere. Thoughtful, sustainable, function-forward solutions inspired by the belief that travel can be a force for good.

Complete Guide: What to Bring & How to Pack for College


The big adventure of college is just around the corner. Pretty soon you’ll be meeting your roommate, eating Lucky Charms in the dining hall, and staying up late doing whatever you please. But first you have to pack up all of your stuff and get it to your new college. This is the laborious part. You’ve lived at home for a long time and have a lot of stuff to get into your dorm room. It’s time to get packed and organized.


Let’s face it, not everything in your childhood home is fair game for what you should actually bring to your new college dorm room. Let’s sort through what should actually make the cut in your new collegiate life, as well as how you can pack it to maximize time, space, and convenience.


What to Bring:

Clothing Organization

Organizing your clothes is, perhaps, one of the biggest hurdles when packing for college. Luckily, with the right tools you can not only fit everything you want to bring, but you can maintain a well-organized dorm once you arrive. Here’s how you can use a Pack-It System to organize your move. We’ll cover how to convert your system into dorm room organization at the end.

For clothes that aren’t hung—like t-shirts, pjs, socks, and underwear—just fold or stash them away neatly in packing cubes... and voila, just put them in your dresser when you get there, and you're all done! Think of your packing cubes relative to the size of your clothes: small cubes work well for toting and organizing your socks and underwear, and a set of medium cubes will handle all of your pjs and t-shirts.

For hanging clothes, you want them to arrive wrinkle-free, so packing folders are the easiest option to transport your clothes and have them arrive at your college dorm ready to re-hang and wear ASAP.

For bulky sweaters and seasonal clothes, go with compression sacs. You’re going to need your fluffy sweaters by winter, but as you’re moving to college it’s likely these will go into a drawer for another few months. Use several large compression sacs for your sweaters, and things like long-sleeved shirts and other winter gear will pack well into medium and small compression sacs.


Closet Organization

● Space-saving thin hangers – you’ll either have a super small closet, or you’ll have to share closet space

● Scarf hanger – if you have a lot of scarves, this will help you store them efficiently

● Belt hanger – same concept as the scarf hanger

● Mini sewing kit – you probably have a travel sized one you got at a hotel once, and it can save you if a button pops off your favorite coat



● Laundry bag/basket – find the right style depending on your needs, keep in mind that you’ll likely have to carry all your laundry to the communal washers, so it should be easy to haul

● Detergent – for an eco-friendly option that’s easy to store, try Method’s laundry detergent, it’s concentrated so it doesn’t take up much space

● Fabric softener – you can bring liquid, sheets, or spray, but we recommend Method’s spray, because it means less waste (aka all those dryer sheets that get tossed)

● Drying rack – you’ll need somewhere to hang clothes to dry

● Spray stain remover – even the smoothest people get stains, and this will save you!

● Tide to Go – attack stains immediately when you’re on the go and won’t be able to wash something for hours

● Bleach tablets – these nifty tablets will let you bleach your whites without the hassle of using liquid bleach, which can easily splash out and ruin anything and everything nearby

● Bleach pen – if you’re just trying to get a stain out of white fabric, but you can’t bleach the entire garment

● Roll of quarters – find out if your school has the updated card swipe laundry, but if not, you’ll want to come prepared with rolls of quarters



● Laptop and accessories - a backpack with a laptop sleeve for electronic protection.

● Electronics – smartphone, camera, voice recorder (for lectures), tablet, e-reader, etc.

● Chargers – for your phone, computer, iPod, iPad, Kindle, camera, etc. (consider labeling your chargers with washi tape for easy identification)

● Charger storage – you may want to find a case you can keep all of your chargers in so they're all in one place—the eTools Organizer is handy because it works well in your dorm room, and you can easily throw it in your school backpack to carry your cords and electronics to class.

● Power strips – dorms are usually tight on space, which means the power outlets are usually limited so you’ll want to make the most of them

● Extension cord – you might not be close to an outlet

● Ethernet cord – when tons of people are competing for the internet at once or if you don’t have wifi

● HDMI cord – if you have the right stuff you can hook up your computer to your TV

● Streaming devices – Chromecast, Roku, Amazon Firestick, etc.

● USB drive – you might need to save something at school then bring it home or vice versa, these come in handy for presentations too


For Your Bed

● For your mattress – bed bug-protecting mattress cover, foam topper

● Bedding – Duvet and duvet cover or comforter set*, blanket (especially if you get cold, you don’t know what temperature preferences your roommate will have, pillowcases, pillows

● Sleeping bag and/or air mattress – if you think you’ll have overnight guests or be going on outdoor adventures with your school

● Sheets – Twin XL sheet set (and an extra set if you’re lazy about washing them)

● Alarm clock – you might want to have a backup in case your phone doesn’t go off or dies

● Bed risers – maximize the space under your bed for storage

*Expert Tip: A Twin XL comforter is the same length as a double, because most dorm beds are up high, you can use a full comforter and it will hang out down and act similarly to a dust ruffle to hide stuff under your bed!


At Your Desk

● Storage – pencil cup, desk organizer, drawer organizers, etc.

● Lamp – you’ll need good light for studying

● Calendar, agenda, or digital planner – whatever technique you use, make sure you can stay organized with everything you need to do!

● Desk supplies – stapler, three hole punch, post-its, paper clips, pens and pencils, glue, whiteout, rubber bands, file folders, highlighters, thumb tacks, pencil sharpener, stamps, etc.

● Tape – bring Scotch tape, masking tape (labeling your stuff!), and duct tape (you never know what you might need to fix)

● Printer and supplies (ink refills and paper) – check with your roommates to coordinate so you don’t have more than one

● Organize your papers and notes – notebooks, binders, binder paper, binder dividers, index cards for studying

● Backpack or tote bag – you'll want a backpack or carrying case designed for carrying a laptop with a secure, padded compartment to protect it


For Your Bathroom

● Storage – toiletry kit for lugging all your nighty essentials back and forth, shower caddy, toothbrush holder, etc.

● Shower shoes – most likely a cheap pair of flip flops, these will save you from the horrors of common shower

● Towels – full sized towel, hand towel, face towel

● Towel wrap or robe – this is a biggie if you’re going to be walking down the halls after showering



● Get clean – shampoo, conditioner, soap, razor, shaving cream

● Wash your face – Face wash and moisturizer

● Protect your skin – sunscreen, bug spray (especially if you like to be outdoors!)

● Dental hygiene – toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash

● Prevent smelly – deodorant, air freshener

● Eye care – glasses, contact lenses, eyeglasses cleaner, contact lens solution



● Style your hair – hairbrush, blow dryer, flat iron, hair ties, bobby pins, hair gel/spray/mousse

● Makeup – makeup, make up remover

● Nails – nail clippers, nail file, nail polish, nail polish remover, cuticle cream

● Moisturize – lip balm/Chapstick, pumice stone, body lotion, hand cream

● Other items – q-tips, tweezers, Kleenex, cotton swabs


Medicine/First Aid

● Allergy medicine

● Aloe Vera

● First aid cream

● Band-Aids

● Cold and flu medicine

● Eye drops

● Prescription medicine

● Retainer

● Mouth guard

● Cough drops

● Thermometer

● Upset stomach aid

● Advil

● Tylenol

*Expert Tip: The best medical kits are ones you make yourself, use a packing sac to hold everything your gather together.


Food and Drink

● Coffee mug

● Reusable water bottle

● Can opener

● Coffee maker

● Chip clips

● Paper napkins

● Dorm food – consider healthy canned soups you can store under your bed, protein bars, and cereal or oatmeal for early mornings you don’t have time to get to the dining hall

● Dishes and silverware – 1 microwaveable bowl, 1 microwaveable plate, 1 fork, 1 knife, 1 spoon,

● Brita water pitcher



● Mini trash can

● Mini recycling bin

● Clorox wipes

● Paper towels

● Toilet bowl cleaner

● Windex



● Picture frames, posters, and other wall décor

● Floor lamp

● Extra light bulbs – you may not always have easy access to replacements

● Command strips and hooks – can’t put nails in the wall? No problem

● Over the door mirror – collaborate with your roomies!

● Dry erase board and markers – you’ll probably put this on your door and it will become your college voicemail



● TV – we encourage you to not bring one and focus on the college experience, but if you absolutely must, coordinate with your roommates

● DVD player – if you’re a big movie fan

● DVDS – put these in sleeves instead of their boxes to save space, and consider writing your name in Sharpie, because people will probably borrow them from you

● Books

● Deck of cards

● Other games – you might want to bring Catchphrase, Jenga, or the ever popular Cards Against Humanity

● Headphones – you’ll need these for listening to your own music if your roommate is studying and for working in noisy places like the coffee shop, or just listening to music at the library



● Copy of birth certificate

● Credit card

● Debit card

● Driver’s license

● Emergency contacts list

● List of nearby health centers/ hospitals

● Enrollment documents

● Financial aid documents

● Health insurance information

● Passport

● Student ID

● Address book


How to Store Things in Your Dorm Room

● Utilize under bed storage – you can get storage specifically designed to easily roll under your bed for stuff you don’t use often

● Compression sacs are great for compacting sweatshirts, thick comforters, pillows, and jackets when you don’t need them, and can serve as a good dirty clothes hamper (shop for compression sacs and organizers)

Weekend duffel– you’ll want to be ready for spontaneous ski trips, retreats, and that caving trip all your friends are going on

● Packable bag – when you’re not hauling all of your stuff, but you want to be able to carry the necessities for your hike, trip to a farmer’s market, etc., a stuffable bag will save you and won’t take up storage space (here's where you can browse Eagle Creek's collection of packable bags)

● Extra clothing storage – for winter sweaters and other items you’ll want to store away, try using compression packing cubes for easy organization (the best part is if you end up using the stuff inside, you can easily fold them down and store them flat!)

● Jewelry storage cases

Small sacs – instead of using Ziploc bags for everything, which just contribute to landfill waste, use a reusable packing sac (there are many versions of these, but if you're looking for a high-quality, durable packing sac that's spill-proof, you'll want to check out Eagle Creek's packing sacs)



● Fan

● Space heater

● Batteries

● Umbrella

● Door stop

● Safety pins

Beach towel

● Bike

● Bike lock


● Pepper spray (if legal in your area)

● Safety whistle

● Mini tool kit

● Yoga mat


Make Sure You Can Fit It All and Transport It!

● Consider using seriously big bags to haul your stuff—extra large duffels will hold a lot and can easily be stored once you get there. Looking for an extra large duffel? Check out the Cargo Hauler Rolling Duffel 120L and the Migrate Duffel 130L, both are super huge and convenient for small spaces: The Cargo Hauler pack down into its own stuff sac and the Migrate Duffels folds flat to slide under your dorm bed.

● Use packing organizers to keep your stuff organized within your bags and to keep your clothes from getting wrinkled during the move, because come on, ironing is lame.

● Have a system for organizing your stuff so you can keep your sanity—consider labeling, color-coding, etc.

● Keep your hanging clothing on hangers neatly folded in boxes—it makes unpacking WAY easier.

● Put your pillows in large compression sacs so they take up less space—some people will say you can use trash bags and then use a vacuum, but when I tried this I found the air quickly got back in, eliminating any benefit.

● Pack purses inside of luggage.

● Don’t worry about bringing a lot of sweatshirts because you’ll probably be getting school apparel to wear for sporting events.

● Label everything so you can quickly find what you need on move-in day.


If You’re Flying to College

● Make sure you carefully read the baggage policy for your airline so you know how much you can bring and what fees apply (if you fly Southwest you’ll still get two free checked bags!).

● Determine what you can buy once you get there so you’re not lugging so much stuff.

● Consider buying items ahead of time, either from and shipped to your school, or Bed Bath and Beyond, which allows you to buy what you need in your hometown and pick it up at the local store once you get to college.

● Make sure you pack the most important stuff in your personal item carry on (a couple outfits of clothing, toiletries, etc.). If you use packing organizers, you should be able to get a lot in even under-seat bags so you won’t have to worry as much about losing your bags.

● You can have each of your family members bring an extra large bag full of your stuff as their checked bag.

● Use a travel scale before heading to the airport to avoid any extra baggage fees for luggage that’s too heavy.

● If you’re going to ship things, get rate quotes online from different shipping companies or look into getting a Pod if you can be all packed a couple of weeks before your move date.

● Remember, if you’re going to be going home for winter break, you can bring home your summer clothes and take back winter clothes, meaning you don’t have to bring everything the first time around.


Related Links (from Eagle Creek blog):

Buying Guide: Duffels

What to Pack: The Ultimate Travel Packing List

8 Must-Have Items To Pack In Your Personal Item