The Best Dad-tested Essentials for Summertime Adventures With Kids

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The reality of modern parenting is that even leisurely trips to the beach in the summer, or road trips to the lake, are an exercise in maximalization. There's just too much stuff we need to do even the simple things like… lie on the ground in the sun.

So when readying for a summer vacation, you need the right gear to get the most out of time spent outside. Take it from me, a gear-loving, obsessively neat, and city-living dad of two: the stuff below keeps my family happy, my car efficiently packed, and my back in no more pain than usual.

A Wagon

Navy and black wagon
Courtesy of Amazon

In order to haul your stuff from car to… well, anywhere, you need a wagon. Especially as we exited the stroller phase, this wagon became so essential. I opted for the version with a tray and cupholders because it's a nice feature to have beside you on the beach or at the park, but there are others with sand-ready wheels, or a canopy, or even a charger built in. However you trick it out, this wagon will keep you moving.

To buy:, $135

Beach Toys and Storage

Navy beach bag
Courtesy of Beachmate

I was tipped off last summer to the most incredible all-in-one sand toy system called The Beachmate and have been giving them as gifts since. Created by a mom to solve the problem of cheap and non-stacking sand toys, it fits four sand castle mold buckets, two solid shovels, a lunch cooler, and more inside its main tub of a body so you can pack it up and toss it over your shoulder. I love when things just fit.

To buy:, $129

A Yeti Cooler

Navy Yeti cooler
Courtesy of Yeti

There is truly nothing like a Yeti, from the tumblers to the hard coolers, for keeping your drinks cold on even the hottest of summer days. For those of us who have to carry everything to and from the car, the Hopper Backflip 24 is the perfect cooler. It's a backpack, keeps everything super cold and in place, and you can clip anything onto it with a carabiner, so your arms are free to hold more gear or one of the cold ones that easily fit inside.

To buy:, $300

A Tent

blue camping tent
Courtesy of Amazon

When my kids were babies, we always had a tent to keep them in when out in the sun for a day. As they got older, they still liked to nap, relax, or eat in it. And I admit, even I have curled up in there for a nice afternoon beach-side snooze. This tent is easy to set up, packs up quickly, fits in a small bag, and withstands wind like a champ.

To buy:, $90

An Inflatable Couch

Blue inflatable lounger
Courtesy of Amazon

This is the most ridiculous item in my roundup, but trust me, it's worth it: an Inflatable Couch. Beach chairs just kind of suck, and this is both a conversation piece and one of the few ways to really lie comfortably. Kids can pack into it, an adult can lay down in it, or you can drag it into the wading pool or low-tide water and just glide. Plus, if you're bold, the colors they offer make it both a conversation piece for beach walkers passing you and an easy mark for anyone trying to find you in a crowded park or shoreline.

To buy:, $39

Portable Speakers

Blue outdoor portable speaker
Courtesy of Amazon

I swear I have 25 different bluetooth speakers from the last decade, and none stood the test of time or the elements particularly well — until I got the Ultimate Ears Boom 3, which is legitimately water- and sand-proof, loud, long-lasting, and easy to use. Plus, it has a tether.

To buy:, $150

A Tote Bag

Canvas tote with navy detail
Courtesy of L.L. Bean

The most New England thing about me is my reverence and adoration for the LL Bean Boat & Tote. It's the perfect gear bag for the summer: it holds up and holds everything. You can take it to the beach or use it as an overnight bag. I especially love the zip-top ones, and if you're a monogrammer, you'll always know which bag belongs to you (or your kids).

To buy:, from $35

Sun-protective Clothing

Grey collared shirt and navy swim trunks
Courtesy of Retailers as Credited

I'm already covering my kids in sunblock, so any chance to avoid the extra bottle it takes to cover my body is appreciated. I tried out Poncho's Shirts and really dug them; they're marketed for fishing but perfect for the beach or anywhere else extra sunny. Sun shirts, especially ones with a UPF worth wearing, are often trash-bag loose or compression-layer tight, so finding a shirt that fits as advertised and looks like a cool button-down is a bonus. Pair it with a nice bathing suit (I swear by Retromarine's short but flattering trunks) and sun hat (Two Roads Hat Co makes my favorite straw hat, the Montauk), and you can elevate the dad look easily.

To buy: (left), $75; (right), $115

A Thermometer

Red meat thermometer
Courtesy of Thermoworks

A thermometer is one of the things I would keep in every version of my go-bag, no matter where I'm traveling. Condos, Airbnb's, hotels, and houses usually have the grilling utensils and charcoal, but never a reliable thermometer for cooking. ThermoWorks makes the best, and at $35, their pocket probe the ThermoPop is there to save you from salmonella and the dreaded "medium-well" when grilling away from home.

To buy:, $35

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