6 Packing Essentials for the Beach


Looking back to my childhood trips to the beach, I have visions of my mom carrying tons of gear to and from the beach all summer long. I remember her wise words: “If you bring it, you must carry it.” There were boogie boards, toys, coolers, towels, chairs, umbrellas, and who knows what else. It was the 80s, so the only thing missing was probably sunscreen. Now that I am the parent hauling all that gear, I have found myself asking, what all do we really need to bring when packing for the beach?

beach gear

One might call me an over-packer, but I prefer to think of myself as well-prepared. Every time we pack up the van for a trip to the beach, I think I’m going to go the minimalist route. Then a few more bags get packed, and I realize I will never be a minimalist. Instead, I’ve found that investing in a few quality beach items not only makes our trip more enjoyable, it also makes our packing and unpacking easier.


The two largest toys we have to include on every beach trip are big dump trucks for each child. The kids know they have to push them on and off the beach. They are big and annoying to pack, but they get a ton of play time. The rest of the buckets and shovels go in a sandy toy bag when packing for the beach. One with a screen or netting is great as the sand comes right out and it folds up super small. We recently added a larger shovel or two as our sand building creations are getting bigger and more impressive as the kids get older.


Next in the van, goes a place to park our butts. We bring a camp chair and my backpack chair when packing for the beach. The backpack chair is great because it is wearable and has a large pocket. We also bring a water-resistant picnic blanket. It’s foldable, washable, and the sand dusts right off. This blanket also lives in the back of the van for impromptu picnics.

Sun/Wind/Rain Cover

After a very windy beach trip a few years ago we invested in a sport brella and beach tent. The beach tent gets a bit more use as it’s lighter to carry, larger, and it has a floor. It makes for a great escape from the wind as well as a retreat from the sun (and let’s face it, since we live in the PNW, it keeps us dry in the rain, too!).  The tent also doubles as a nap area for the babies and younger ones as needed.

Catch-All Beach Bag

Last year I did some research and came across an awesome beach/pool bag. It’s waterproof and sand shakes out the sides. The odds and ends of towels, extra clothes (very important), baby powder (equally important for getting sand off of sandy toes and fingers), sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, plastic bags for wet clothes, and baby wipes all go in here. This bag is not only used in packing for the beach, but generally stays stuffed throughout the summer with the essentials so we are ready to go anywhere at a moment’s notice


After a rather embarrassing and expensive first trip to the coast when I moved here ten years ago, I learned quickly beach attire is very different here than the New Jersey shore. Layers are where it’s at on the Oregon coast. Sweatshirts, hats, bathing suits, and rain jackets have all been worn on the same beach day, even in the summer, and sometimes all at the same time! Just over spring break, I found myself in a beach store purchasing another layer for myself as I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was.

Food and Water

Preventing the hangries and keeping hydrated on the beach are essential. When packing for the beach, everyone has a water bottle. Our favorite beach cooler has a shoulder strap to make it easy to carry, plus soft sides so it’s not too heavy. The kids are happy with almond butter sandwiches, string cheese, and fruit. Then we add some sandwiches for the adults and other easy-to-pack snacks. Our favorites are pretzels, peppers, popcorn, goldfish, carrots, grapes, and some kind of little treat. Check out this no-waste picnic guide for your next beach trip!

What are your essentials when packing for the beach?