We’ve all left for a fun day at the beach only to realize you’ve forgotten something important. This article will discuss a packing plan which will help you to never forget another essential item when you pack for the beach, and how to pack it in the most efficient way. First I will discuss the four steps to a perfect beach packing list followed by some guiding principles to make that packing list support the best day you’ve ever spent at the beach.

To pack for the beach, you must pack in four distinct groups: the beach bag, food, beach implements, and clothing. Deliberately packing using this technique will keep you from making last minute trips to the beach store and missing out on hours of fun family time because of long lines and losing parking spots. When possible, ensure all these items can be carried on your person, because parking is often several hundred meters from your favorite beach spot, and dragging wheels over sand doesn’t work. Finally, write or print out this list before you start packing. This will help you ensure you packed everything that you think you packed.

When packing your beach bag, first ensure it’s a bag! The best kinds of bags are ones that you don’t need your hands to carry: i.e. over your shoulder. This bag will contain all of the small essentials that will support your body. Pack your sunblock, tanning lotion, lip balm and a small first aid kit. I know we all want to buy those huge 16 ounce containers of sunblock, but who really uses all 16 ounces in one trip? Even with a family of four? Next include the towels you will use to lounge on. You’ll also need a towel to wipe off sand and water for your trip home, but I’ll discuss that in the last step. Pack some wet wipes and a couple of trash bags. Trash bags are a very flexible item at the beach because you can use them for their intended purpose or to put wet clothing in. They can also be used to waterproof cameras or books if it starts to rain.

The second item you should pack is a cooler. Again, the kinds of coolers that are best are the ones that you can carry over your shoulder. I use a shoulder-carried Coleman cooler that works great for going to the beach, and I use it anytime I’m camping or doing outdoor activities. 

It works so great, and I always feel pity for the poor fool who you see dragging a wheeled cooler through the sane. In your cooler, ensure that you have more water than you think you’ll need throughout the day. And it doesn’t hurt to tuck some extra water bottles into your beach bag or your car for the ride home. Finally snack and lunch! Remember that all snacks will produce some kind of trash, so have a plan to throw it away. And if you can, put your lunch into Ziploc or other plastic bags. Sandwiches are always my favorite. They are highly customizable and you won’t have to worry about forgetting forks or spoons!

The third group of items to consider bringing to the beach are implements. Any canopy or umbrella, chairs and toys for the kids. I personally think that the umbrella is the most important item for any beach visit because there is usually no other way to make shade on a beach. Again, this canopy should have a case or at least a piece of rope that you can tie into a shoulder carrying strap. Beach chairs have many shapes and sizes but again, shouldn’t be too cumbersome. If you only have lawn chairs, there is nothing wrong with planting them in the sand! If you plan on being active or only needing a chair for a few minutes during your visit, I’ve seen many stools that are small and light. Not great for lounging in, but awesome if you’re only going to sit for a few minutes at a time.

Finally consider what clothing you’ll need for the beach. Before packing what you’re going to wear on the beach, think about what you’ll need to drive home. Closed toed shoes, and warm clothing should be packed because you never know if someone will get cold or if your car fails to start and you need to walk. I also keep an extra towel or two in the car in the event my other ones get wet prematurely. Now for the fun part: planning what you’ll wear to the beach! Swim wear, outerwear, hat, sunglasses, and sandals or flip flops!

When you break your beach packing into these four parts, you’ll never leave anything out. In fact, I keep my beach bag and clothing bag next to my umbrella and chairs in my garage. Always ready to go. Just add food and water.

Packing lists are invaluable tools, so follows is a packing list you can copy or print out. Remember to add the items necessary to personalize this list!

  • Beach bag
    • Sun block
    • First aid kit
    • Lip balm
    • Towels (lounging)
    • Towels (drying)
    • Wet wipes
    • Trash bags
  • Cooler
    • Water
    • Other beverages
    • Snacks
    • Lunch
  • Implements
    • Umbrella
    • Chairs
    • Beach toys
  • Extra clothing bag (leave in car)
    • Sweater
    • Closed toed shoes
    • Socks
    • Change of clothes