How to pack for beach days with the kids

Remember going to the beach before you were a parent, when it was just you, your significant other, a surfboard and a towel? You’d walk out the front door, maybe roll out of your van, and simply stroll toward the water.

When you become a parent, this could be your quiver. Photo: Courtesy of Danielle Elder/Flickr

When did it come to you schlepping a baby pool? The point is, you don’t have to throw your back out in the trek from your house or your car to sand and sea. Here are some tips on how to pack for the beach — whether that’s the ocean, sound, river or lake spot — when you have little sand monsters.

Be realistic

Why do you see naked people at certain beaches ? Because it’s too far a haul for families with stuff. Photo: Courtesy of Kenneth Hagmeyer/Flickr
There’s a reason you don’t see many families at Black’s Beach in San Diego. Unless you’re raising a bunch of Navy SEALS, that hike is just too much.

Get a great backpack

The best surf and adventure backpacks happen to be the best backpacks for weekend beach schleps with your kids. Photo: Courtesy of Dakine
The key to success for a mom or dad this summer is getting a really good surf backpack. It might sound silly that the bag you’d hike to a remote point in British Columbia with is also the ideal bag for a summer Sunday in the middle of Umbrella City, but they both serve the same purpose: to contain your gear and keep it organized.

The Rip Curl F-Light, the Dakine Cyclone II, the Channel Islands Bare Necessity, the FCS Mission, the Reef Diamond Tail III, the O’Neill Psycho — they all work just as well for carrying organic fruit snacks and baby-sensitive sunblock as they do for dried chili mix and backcountry mosquito repellent.

Those exterior straps come in handy for umbrellas. And you’ll need those breathable panels a hell of a lot more getting the kids to the beach in St. Augustine, Florida, than for your strike mission to North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Get one with good support that has plenty of internal compartments for different items. You’re going to want water-bottle holders, a sunglass pocket and preferably a wet compartment with a drain.

Remember why you love the beach

“Hey, Mom, you brought my pintail, right? It’s overhead today.” Photo: Courtesy of Ojo De Astronauto/Flickr
You love surfing, paddling, bodysurfing or all of the above. You likely want your kids to fall into those pursuits. Let’s face it: Some of the most fun waves you will get this summer are on an 8-foot soft top with your little one perched on the nose.

If you’re going to bring your favorite 5’10” twinny as well, you’d better have some stamina.

Know your beach

Some beaches are easier than others. If you have a long hike on pavement or sand, be prepared. But once you get there, it’s pretty nice. Photo: Courtesy of Virginia State Parks/Flickr
Not all beach setups are the same. Sometimes there’s a public parking lot right next to the sand. Other times, it’s a hike. For long trips on pavement (think Ocean City, Maryland), consider a wagon. Some companies make all-terrain wagons for both.

For rocky beaches (think Caifornia’s Leo Carillo State Park), you’ll need chairs, even for little butts to sit in.

Pack the essentials

Maybe not as cool as your favorite pro, but when you have a grom, this is your kit. Photo: Courtesy of Kyle Gronostajski
Have one backpack dedicated for family adventures and let your beach essentials live in it until snowboard season. This should include:

– Surf wax (tropical wax melts less)
– Sunglasses
– Water
– Spare trunks and/or bikini (for you and junior)
– Power bank for phones
– Snacks
– Bug spray
– Headphones
– Camp utensils
– More snacks
– Children’s books/toys
– GoPro
– Sunblock
– Rash ointment (for tender bits and wet bathing attire)
– Even more snacks (kids outside will eat all day)

Save yourself from the beach toys

Chances are someone has a pail and shovel for your kid to play with. Photo: Courtesy of Howard Brier/Flickr
Have you ever walked the beach on a summer morning or evening, before the crowds or after? The first thing you notice is that the general public is a bunch of slobs. (For real, clean up after yourself.) The second thing you may notice is how many beach toys are left behind.

Why bring all those buckets and pails when the folks yesterday left perfectly good ones down there? For that matter, half the time you can probably find a “good enough” beach chair by the garbage. And 10 minutes of driving around a coastal town should produce a nice array of unwanted bellyboards.

More tips for outside the kids

How to keep hiking with little ones enjoyable for everyone

This travel group sets up adventures for grandparents and kids

How to keep kids stoked when the water's cold