Summer is a time to relax, let loose and have fun. The last thing you want to worry about on a family outing is whether you packed everything you need to stay safe and entertained. We’ve gathered a list of must-haves for two popular summer getaways: a hike in the woods and a day on the shore.
Whether you’re getting wet and wild in the ocean or working up a sweat in your hiking boots, you need hydration and sun protection.
“My No. 1 recommendation would be sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen and staying adequately hydrated,” says Adrienne Collier, MD, chief of pediatrics at Kaiser Permanente for the District of Columbia and Suburban Maryland (DCSM).
“Those two rules will take you from the beach to the pool, on a hike—any place you’re going where you’re going to be outside for extended periods of time,” she says.
The pediatrics care team members at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) recommend using broad-spectrum sunscreen—SPF 15 or higher—that protects against UVA and UVB rays—even on cloudy days.
It’s essential to wear sun-protective clothing—especially for babies younger than 6 months old who should have a very limited use of sunscreen.
“As much skin as we can have covered and blocked by the sun is ideal because obviously sunscreen isn’t bulletproof,” says Dr. Elizabeth Donahoo, a managing pediatrician at The Maryland Pediatric Group.
If babies do not have shade and part of their skin is uncovered, using a small amount of baby zinc oxide sunscreen is better than them getting burned, she says.
For a hike, you might remember the bug spray, but an additional item to pack is hydrocortisone—which soothes itchy, swollen skin, Donahoo says.
“A lot of times kids are more prone to insect bites even using bug spray. When that does happen, a lot of times children have more of a histamine response to insect bites,” she explains.
Collier says when it comes to a day at the beach, remember that arm or chair flotation devices for babies are not the same as life jackets or preservers. “It’s extremely important for parents and guardians to watch their children around water,” she adds.
Many children drown or nearly drown in the summer, Collier says. Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death for children younger than age 4, and children of color are more at risk.
In any outdoor activity, be sure to be mindful of when the sun is at its highest. The best times to be outside for younger children who are more sensitive to heat is early morning or late afternoon.
Make the most of a trip to the beach or woods by packing the basics—and a few items for exploration and fun.
1. Sunscreen | Apply SPF 30 or greater every 60 to 90 minutes, or after swimming.
2. Water bottle | An insulated bottle will keep your water cold even as the sun beats down. Visit healthychildren.org to see fluid requirements according to age, Donahoo says.
3. Snacks | When the hunger pangs strike, be ready with a quick snack. Pack a beach cooler with popcorn, frozen grapes, yogurt pouches or carrots, as suggested by The Everyday Mom Life.
4. Sun-protective clothing | Keep children 6 months and younger in the shade, or ensure they have clothes that can shield them from the sun. A rash guard is appropriate for the water.
5. Floaties or life jacket | Swimmers who are new to the ocean will take some time to adjust. Water wings can build some confidence—but remember, they’re no substitute for a life jacket!
6. Water shoes | You never know what seashells or rocks might be hiding in the sand. Protect your child’s feet with water shoes to avoid scrapes and blisters.
7. Sandcastle kit | All this sand, and what to do with it? Let your kids craft a masterpiece while you relax with a book. This kit is a great idea for only children or fun with siblings!
8. Umbrella | A day at the beach can last a lot longer if there’s a place to escape the sun. Bring or rent an umbrella to give your family a break from the rays.
9. Jar for seashells | All types of unique shells wash up on the beach, and they’re free! Walking along the beach with your children to find the best ones can be a great bonding moment.
10. Frisbee or volleyball | Lots of beaches have volleyball nets. Bring a ball or a Frisbee to toss along the beach—be sure to watch out for others.
Hiking at a State Park
1. Sunscreen | Hiking under cover of the trees can shield you from some sun, but you’ll still need to apply and reapply sunscreen (as noted above). Zinc oxide can be used sparingly for infants.
2. Sun-protective clothing | Donahoo recommends UV shirts, hats and sunglasses. Collier says that outside of the water, a wide-brim hat and loosely fitting light-colored clothing is best.
3. Hydration pack | Look for age-specific hydration packs for your child’s backpack and keep them hydrated on the go. Infants do not need water; use formula instead.
4. Bug spray | All kinds of critters can be lurking in the woods, so protect against mosquitoes, ticks and other invaders with bug spray. Spray mostly on clothes to reduce chemicals on skin.
5. Snacks | Replenish your energy with trail mix, power bars and other healthy treats that will keep your family going.
6. Hydrocortisone | Keep this anti-itch cream handy when bug bites do occur. Children can be more prone to irritation, says Donahoo.
7. Footwear | Wear supportive athletic shoes, not sandals. If biking along a wooded path, Donahoo notes your shoes should be secured to your foot so that they won’t fall off or get caught in pedals or spokes.
8. Map or compass | Don’t rely on park signs alone. Build your child’s skills in navigation with the same tools the earliest explorers used. Having a paper map instead of a GPS encourages children to actively engage with the hike.
9. Whistle | If your children like to wander, have them wear a whistle as an extra safety measure. They can also use it to alert you to cool things along the path!
10. Wildlife sighting book | Teach your child how to forage for edible plants or spot local wildlife on the path with a book specific to your area or your state’s park systems.