Everything You Should Pack for an Ultimate Day at the Beach

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Credit: Alisa Stern; Amazon, MR. BUDDEE WIANGNGORN, Ground Picture/Shutterstock.com


Welcome to “Best Summer Ever,” your guide to making the most of the sunny season. Whether your idea of a perfect summer is embarking on epic adventures or blissfully doing as little as possible (preferably somewhere with good air conditioning), we’ve got you covered, because the best summer doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen.

It’s not the “best summer ever” for me unless I spend a lot of time on beaches. I crave the time-has-stopped feeling that comes with spending all day in a place where it’s impossible to be productive or do anything useful. A lifetime of mindfully laying around on sand near water has taught me that it’s easier to achieve that “beach zen” state if you plan ahead and bring the right gear—the difference between a great day at the beach and sandy headache can come down to what you pack. Below is everything you need for the best beach day ever, from towels and shades to underwater scooters.

Beach basics: towels, shade, and more

I’m from a beach town, so I used to roll up to the sand with just a ratty towel and book—even a pair of flip-flops was extra baggage. There’s something to be said for that minimalist beach-bum style, but these days I like things more comfortable. I’m usually bringing the family too, and that requires stuff, so there are a few must-haves I always bring.

Towels and beach mats

Instead of showing up with a bleached out, threadbare towel from 2004, consider a microfiber towel. They’re more absorbent than regular towels, they dry faster, they’re lighter, and they’re super cheap. Less than $10 for a a generous ‎۷۲ x 36 microfiber beach towel with your choice of bold beachy designs.

This picnic blanket with an attached strap is a higher-end option. It’s easy to carry, waterproof, and versatile.

If you’re staking out a lot of ground, nylon beach mats are a great option. I don’t love how they feel lying on them, but you can get a ۱۰′ by 9′ beach mat that packs up small and weighs little, then put your (generously sun-blocked) toddler in the middle of it and watch them crawl around.

Sun shades

I like shade, but I hate beach umbrellas. They’re a bear to set up, and a sudden gust of wind can cause them to take flight, turning them into dangerous projectiles. There are better options. I really like the design of the Shibumi Shade, an ultralight piece of fabric that floats on the breeze to give you shade. Another option, especially if there’s not going to be any wind, is something like this SOLI air canopy. You inflate it to set it up, and once it’s standing, it’s like having a personal cave.

Personal sun protection

Big straw hats like this one from Quiksilver have been a staple among Southern California surfers since the 1960s and absolutely can’t be improved upon. Generous sun protection and great look.

Sunglasses: I like these Knockaround Premium shades. They offer full UV400 protection, have impact resistant, polarized lenses, and they aren’t incredibly expensive. Plus, they come in a variety of eye-catching designs.

Sunscreen: I always use Banana Boat sunscreen because it’s what they tend to have at the drug store, but it turns out reviewers love it too.

Coolers

I want to tell you about my dream cooler. The KoolMAX is a ridiculous, maximalist dream of a cooler. It can chill your drinks like any cooler, but it also has a built in 350W Bluetooth-compatible sound system, a guitar amplifier, and it’s karaoke-ready. These features won’t come in handy very often, but there may come a time when you need to start an instant beach party, and you’ll be ready.

If you’re only packing a few things and you don’t need loudspeaker, over-the-shoulder carried coolers like this Polarbox 1 Ice Chest have a retro appeal.

What to bring to the beach for fun in the water

With the basics settled, let’s talk about fun things you can do at the beach, starting with the thing that differentiates a beach from a pile of dirt: the water. I generally like body surfing, but that may be because I don’t own an electric hydrofoil yet.

Electric hydrofoils and underwater scooters

If I had my dream summer, I would spend it flying over the ocean like Silver Surfer. Over the last few years, electric hydrofoils have taken over the waves off Southern California (at least on the beaches for people with disposable income), and whenever I see one, I think, “Yeah, that’s the most fun thing a person could do on water.”

I’m not sure what the most fun thing you can do in water is, but snorkeling comes close, especially snorkeling with an underwater scooter. These things are amazing. They’re about the size of a soda bottle, and can pull you along with over 14 pounds of thrust. You can even clip one on a paddle board and use it like a little outboard engine.

For less adrenaline-packed water fun, paddleboards, many say, are awesome. I don’t love them personally—too much work—but hey, that’s just me. They’ve come down in price so much lately that you can get a nice inflatable paddle board for less than $200.

Fun things don’t have to be expensive, though. The Surfer Dudes Wave Powered Mini-Surfer costs less than $20, but it’s hours of fun for kids, as long as you’re at a beach with any kind of waves. You can throw it into the surf at random and it will catch a wave, or you can get skillful with it and try to catch one just as it breaks, like real surfers.

What to bring to the beach for fun in the sand

I might say doing nothing on the sand is the personal goal, but you don’t want absolutely nothing to do. So pack these “almost nothing” things to do:

An e-reader

I used to always bring a book to the beach. Now I pack a Kindle Paperwhite. Kindles are better than books in every way. They’re can stay under the lake for an hour and still work (try that with a copy of War and Peace.). Unlike antique books, Kindles are Bluetooth-compatible for when you decide you’d rather listen to a podcast anyway. (The Kindle will be OK if you drop it in fresh water, but salt and sand is a different story, so get a screen protector.)

A camera

It’s not a day at the beach if you don’t have a record, right? So bring a camera. I used to think my phone was fine, but then I got a GoPro Hero 12. This small camera is rugged as hell, fully waterproof, mounts onto literally anything, and has almost no learning curve. It takes beautiful pictures and full 4K video, and pairs with editing software on your phone to instantly cut your footage into action-y videos like this one I made to test it out.

A deck of cards

Little is more beach-zen than breaking out the cards and playing spades on the beach. I like these waterproof playing cards from Hoyle. They’re waterproof and practically indestructible, so you can play Bridge while whitewater rafting.

A guitar

Bringing a guitar to the beach is like wearing sunglasses at night. Most people shouldn’t do it, but some people should always do it. “The beach will damage my delicate guitar!” you might be saying. Yeah, that’s why you need a carbon fiber guitar, like this Klos Deluxe acoustic/electric. They can plug right into your cooler, and they’re practically indestructible—a feature that will come in handy if you’re playing “Wonderwall” through a cooler.

A Bluetooth speaker

If you like a little music at the beach, but a cooler-based sound system is a bit much for your personal style, pick up one of these beach-ready SoundLink Flex speakers from Bose. They’re IP67 waterproof, so they can be fully immersed in water with no ill effects, and they’re designed to resist outdoor threats like dust, sand, and UV light.

An extra charger

You will be the hero of the beach if you can whip out a charger when someone’s phone dies. I like this Poseidon Nano Charger. It’s small, but packs eight hours of electric go-juice. Plus, it’s water-resistant, and it holds a charge for up to two years. 

Speaking of phones, they overheat at the beach—but not if you pack them in a thermal phone case. Not only do they reflect sunlight and heat in the summer, they protect your phone from extreme cold in the winter too. 

A personal air conditioner

I have heard rumors that there are people who don’t like the beach, who don’t see the fun of doing nothing all day in the hot sun. Those people need to hang a personal air conditioners around their necks. It will keep them cool until they can convince everyone else it’s time to leave.

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