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Ready, Set, Summer! Great Gear for Family Adventures

Camping, car trips, beach play, park visits — no matter what kinds of adventures your family goes on this summer, we've got you geared up

Published on: April 27, 2015

It’s almost summertime — are you ready?

More specifically, are you geared up? Summertime livin’ may be easy, as the song goes, but the long days of summer can be tricky to manage with a baby, toddler or preschooler in tow. But don’t sit this one out: The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a warm, dry summer for Seattle, so make the most if it. Get out and explore, whether your taste runs to road tripping, car camping or a simple picnic at a local park. We polled local parents and curated our own favorite gear to help keep you going all summer long. And you can stock up: These makes great gifts for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day (hint, hint!).


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Camping: Keep calm in the woods

Petzl headlamps $19.99

Forget fumbling for a flashlight in a dark tent. Color-coordinated headlamps illuminate your sightline to make everyday tasks safer and more fun. Let’s face it, setting up, cooking dinner, even diaper changes are easier with both hands free, and middle-of-the-night potty runs are more pleasant when everyone can see where they’re stepping. Petzl headlamps are lightweight, affordable, adjustable and come in an array of bright colors. (Splurge and get enough to go around if you want to delight the kids. My headlamp adjusts to be small enough to fit my toddler, but it’s comfortable on me, too.)

Graco on-the-go play yard about $70

A simple, portable play yard provides a safe place for baby to chill and enjoy the scenery while you set up camp; if your tent is large enough, move it inside to give your toddler a serene spot for an afternoon nap or quiet time. It’ll be so quiet, you’ll hear the birds peep.

Mega checkers/tic-tac-toe reversible rug $15.99

When you’ve got a brood to entertain, look for camping games that pull double duty. This one serves up checkers for school-age kids; flip it over for a tic-tac-toe board suitable for the pre–K set, which also includes an upgrade to “mega” tic-tac-toe, once players master the original game. Made to spread out on grass, concrete or a picnic table, the rug is machine-washable; when play is over, simply roll or fold it out of the way. In search of a more physical pastime? Invest in a classic Ladder Toss set, and your campsite will be the most popular one at the park.


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Car trips: No-drama navigation

Tech-free car games $10–$25

Sandra Kimmet, a Carnation, Washington, mom of four tots, says she uses marble mazes and other “fidget” games to keep her offspring occupied on long drives. Try a magnatab game, bead-filled alphabet board, or brain-building marble maze, all from Kid O.

Mess-free art play $6–$15

As a mom of three, I find it’s a rare toy that engages all my kids — currently 8, 5 and almost 2 — for any stretch of time. But the Melissa & Doug Water Wow sets do exactly that. Unlike earlier “paint with water” toys, these offer instant gratification: Vivid colors appear instantly with a stroke of the small, refillable brush. Bendon’s Imagine Ink books get high marks with parents for a low price point and a wide selection of kid-approved characters, from My Little Pony to Disney’s Planes.

Cargo roof box $349 and up

Think you need a bigger car to power through your summer with a growing family? You might not: The right cargo rooftop box could expand your cargo space by as much as 17 cubic feet, enough to haul the family’s gear and make trips more comfortable and less crowded. You’ll shell out at least $300–$400 for a quality roof-top cargo box, but it’s certainly cheaper than a new set of wheels.


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Adventure: Trek forth, kids

Smartwool socks $8–$10

Pacific Northwest summer days are famously cool in the morning and at night; temperatures can be downright brisk when taking kids into the forest or the mountains. Smartwool socks keep tiny explorers from getting cold feet (a guaranteed hike-ender); paired with rubber boots or hiking boots, these socks keep toes toasty, dry and blissfully blister-free.

Trekking poles $80–$220

Wesley Molloy leads the Tacoma chapter of the national organization Hike it Baby, which means she’s frequently out on the trails with daughter Delaney, 2, and a dozen or so other little ones. “Trekking poles are great for helping to maintain your balance and footing while hiking with kids, especially when hiking while packing a kid on your back or front,” Molloy says. Bonus idea: Kids love to have their own “trekking poles”; bring a pocket knife on your adventure, help them find the perfect stick, then whittle a smooth handle. Extra fun: Have the kids paint or color their names on their poles.

Muddy Buddy rain suit $31.50

Don’t let raindrops ruin a perfectly good adventure. When you’re not sure if the good weather will hold, pack a Muddy Buddy rain suit by Tuffo. Available in toddler sizes from 12 months to 4T, these head-to-toe coveralls keep kids dry and happy; when the hike’s over, you can zip the suit off to keep the car and car seat mud-free. 


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Park + beach play: Go all day

Melissa & Doug sand play sets $5–$12

Hitting the beach? Why settle for a simple sand castle when you can have sand cupcakes, sand pizza or sand bricks? These sets are popular with my toddler and his pals, and they’re affordable, so if a piece gets left behind, it’s not the end of the world. If your beach day gets stalled by a storm, pull out the kinetic sand for some tabletop sensory sand play at home. (Fair warning — don’t be surprised if older kids and adults get hooked on sand sculpting with these sets, too.)

Camp Stowaway Low Chair $44.50

Each and every summer, as I haul my kids to parks, beaches and outdoor concerts, I envy the smart parents who think to bring along portable chairs — settling in on the ground just isn’t all that comfortable, particularly when toddlers insist on sitting in your lap. These take-along seats from REI are equally well-suited for making s’mores fireside or cheering on your little one at soccer camp.

Zippered picnic blanket $26.99

Taking on summer with little ones in tow means being prepared for whatever the day brings. Stash this bright zippered blanket tote from Target in the trunk, and you’ll always be ready for an impromptu picnic, park day or beach stop. Zipped up, it’s a highly portable square with a carrying strap; unzipped, it’s a family-size blanket with enough space for your brood, food and gear.

Sport-Brella umbrella shelter $59.99

When it comes to shading kiddos from the sun’s rays, regular picnic umbrellas fall woefully short. While the Sport-Brella looks like a traditional umbrella, it features side canopies that tether to the ground to serve as a sunshade, wind blocker and rain shelter in one. And it’s huge — 8 feet wide when open — so the entire family is covered, no matter what.


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