Games, Challenges and Competitions Special Events

An Introduction to Dutch Auctions at Camp

If you’re looking for a good evening activity or special event, a Dutch Auction can be exciting and fun.

Now, before you leave a comment like, “You be crazy, fool. That’s not how to do a Dutch Auction!”, I fully understand that camps are all different and this activity, like many activities, can vary from camp to camp. Odds are, I don’t lead Baby Shark the same way you do, either. With that in mind, here is how I run a Dutch Auction. I encourage you to tell me how your Dutch Auction differs in the comments section.

The Basics

While the execution of it may seem like controlled chaos, the rules are quite simple.

The basic idea is that cabin groups bring a variety of items with them to the “auction”. At the “auction” an item is called out. The first group to raise the item in the air gets the points. Alternatively, you can give points to all the groups that have the item.

The first group to get to a certain amount of points, wins.

Now before you run off yelling, “Let’s do this thing!”, slow your roll. There are a few things we need to cover in more detail.

Gathering the Items


Give cabin groups a time limit to gather their items. When dinner is over simply tell everyone they have 15 minutes to go to their cabin, gather their stuff and be seated in the dining hall (or other event area). If you don’t do this, cabins will take a long time to gather as much as they can, and you’ll end up starting 30 minutes before bedtime. They need to hurry up. I got kitchen raids to plan. Any cabin group that is not seated in the allotted time, starts the auction in the hole, with a negative score.


Usually, cabin groups are told that anything they bring must either be in one bag (trash bag, pillow case, backpack, sleeping bag, etc.) or on the camper or counselor (and in their pockets). This usually means that everyone is chucking all their worldly possessions (including the pine cone they picked up and the tater tots they “borrowed” from dinner) in a pillow case. While that may keep it organized at the event, it’s a bit chaotic when the group returns to the cabin to sort everything out. Is that my nasty, germ ridden toothbrush or yours? I prefer to give each camper their own bag (grocery bag, lunch sack, etc.) and have them keep all their belongings to themselves. Then when they go to the auction, each camper has his or her own bag to sift through as items are called out, which is also more engaging than one or two campers going through a pillow case with everyone’s stuff. Hands off my Care Bear, Billy.


You don’t have to stick with just items. You can also call for the groups to send up their best dancer, joke teller, singer, belcher (yes, that’s a talent). One camper from each group comes up and performs their talent. The best one wins the points. The others get consolation points.

Awarding Points


You can give one point for every item that meets the requirements, and the first group to get to 25 points wins. Or, you can give 100 points for every item that meets the requirements, and the first group that gets to 2500 points, wins. Points do not cost the camp anything, so don’t be stingy. Give the campers more. One hundred points is much more exciting than one point. Don’t be a knucklehead, though. Giving 10 trillion points is a little excessive, and hard to keep track of. How many zeros was that?


When an item is called out, you can either have judges nearby to come over to the group and decide if the group has the correct item and award them points, or you can have the judges in one spot and have a camper representative from each group come up and show the judges their item (if they have one). There are, of course, pros and cons to both. While it might be quicker to keep everyone seated and have a judge for every couple of cabins, it’s more fun to have campers come up to a couple of judges, be awarded points and have them return to their group all excited (or frustrated at the judges).



Why this is called a Dutch Auction, I do not know. A Dutch Auction is actually an auction where the auctioneer starts with a high asking price. The price is slowly lowered until someone buys or it hits a reserve price. The camp version is not like that, not at all. Some questions just don’t have good answers.

What to Ask For

Need some ideas on what to ask for? Here is a list of items that I have come up with thanks to my experience, research, and input from other camp pros. Got more ideas? I’d love to hear them. Add them in the comments section.

  • Purple toothbrush
  • Sensodyne toothpaste
  • Stuffed Penguin
  • Sunglasses
  • Pinecone
  • 2012 nickel
  • Coin from a different country
  • Clothespin
  • Silver ring
  • Rainbow ribbon
  • Tie Dyed shirt
  • Green pen
  • Jack of Hearts playing card
  • Trophy
  • Crazy hat
  • Yellow scrunchy
  • Jingle Bell
  • Photo of a relative
  • Bone
  • Dog
  • Umbrella
  • Dust pan
  • American Flag
  • Diary
  • 9 volt battery
  • Lantern
  • Silver flashlight
  • Glitter
  • Spork
  • Analog clock
  • Flip phone
  • Floss
  • Tissues
  • Shower loofah
  • Marble
  • Bandana
  • Glue stick
  • Paper clip
  • Candy wrapper
  • Cassette tape
  • Headphones
  • Black sock
  • Something Harry Potter
  • Something Star Wars
  • Something that says Reebok
  • Something over 20 years old
  • Something smooth
  • Something prickly
  • Lightning bolt
  • Fish
  • Plant

Talents and More

  • Best Cartwheel
  • Best Burp
  • Famous person look-a-like
  • Best voice impressions
  • Splits
  • Dance-off
  • Most freckles
  • Best impression of an animal
  • Best joke
  • Spinning a basketball on a finger the longest
  • Frisbee throw closest to the orange cone
  • Best hair
  • Wiggle your ears
  • Arch both eyebrows one at a time
  • Act out a scene from The Incredibles


  • We call this a “Pillowcase Scavenger Hunt.” We actually give points for everyone who brings up the item and extra points for creativity (ex. purple hairbrush– and they bring up a hairbrush wrapped in a purple washcloth). Sounds very similar!

    • Yeah, I find it interesting that certain camp activities often go by different names depending on the camp, or that there are slight variations in the rules. I like the creativity aspect you allow in yours.

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