Summer outdoor essentials for babies and toddlers

My husband runs a whitewater rafting business and he’s been running rivers his whole life. So, our summers involve a LOT of time outside – rafting, camping, swimming, and playing.

In fact, we never really got a honeymoon – we needed to be on the water as river guides five days after our wedding. The outdoors are a huge piece of our story together and we knew it would always remain that way, even when we started having kids.

We now have a little boy, Rowan – he’s two and a half (oh man, is he two and a half!), and we have another kid (gender TBD) on the way, due in December. With the amount of river miles Rowan has already traveled in his short little lifespan, I’m pretty convinced that he’ll guide guests down Class IV rapids by the time he’s six.

I see you chuckling like I’m joking.

Because of our lifestyle and occupation, spending time outdoors isn’t just something we like to do in our spare time – it’s something that’s required of us, and because of that, it’s required us to induct our kid into this lifestyle, too.

I get asked about taking little kids in the outdoors all the time. What should I expect? What should I pack for the day? How do I do it safely? All of these are legitimate questions.

I’m no expert by any stretch of the imagination, but we’ve taken Rowan hiking, rafting, camping and swimming outside enough times to have a good idea on how to answer the basics.

The thing I love telling parents the most? It’s not as hard as you think. There are obviously going to be some equipment differences depending on your activity, but these are the absolute must-haves for any day trip outside. In other words, don’t leave the house without your backpack filled with these items!

Here are some of the essentials to taking your baby or toddler into the outdoors for big adventures:

1. Water

I know, it seems obvious, right? But it’s the one thing I can’t stress enough – especially in this record-breaking summer heat. It is SO important to stay hydrated. Invest in a few good water bottles, including one for each of your kids. We use double-walled aluminum bottles – they’re durable, insulated and lightweight.

2. Food

Again, a no-brainer. Make sure you have plenty of high-energy foods and snacks for your day. If your kid is on formula (like mine was), make sure you pack enough, and then enough for at least three extra feedings. Parents, it’s easy to remember snacks and meals for your kids, but make sure you’re feeding yourself, too.

3. Sunscreen / hat

We are actually really bad about this. My husband doesn’t burn and Rowan is lucky and inherited his dad’s skin. I have to work hard to remember sunscreen for the guys. Even if you or your kids don’t have a tendency to burn, sunscreen is really important in protecting their skin from those harmful rays. Throw in a couple of baseball caps too – nothing worse than a burned scalp. Ouch!

Photo by vastateparksstaff

4. First aid & safety equipment

We have a pretty extensive first aid kit that we’ve been adding to and updating over the course of the last few years. We keep it in a water-tight dry bag and grab it anytime we go do anything outdoors. It’s something worthwhile to invest in – it’s awesome if you never have to use it, but absolutely priceless if you find yourself in a situation where it’s needed. Also, remember to grab all of the necessary safety equipment for your day. For instance: if you’re going on the river, make sure you have the appropriate life jacket for each person that fits them properly.

5. Your kid’s must-haves

When we go anywhere (and I do mean anywhere), we make sure to throw in just a handful of Matchbox cars for Rowan. They diffuse difficult situations easily, keep him occupied when we’re setting up camp, and give him a little sense of familiarity. Does your baby still take a pacifier? Grab a few. Still in diapers? Grab those, too. Does your little one sleep with a favorite stuffed animal or blanket? Make sure that goes into the bag. Whatever will soothe your child or distract them when needed, it’s always a good thing to bring.

6. A good day pack

Now that you have your list and everything set aside, you need something to throw it all in! Waterproof is a must-have for us, but at the very least, make sure you try on the pack in the store to make sure it’s a good fit for your shoulders and back.

That’s it! Not too bad, huh? Water, food, sunscreen, first aid, and a couple specific must-haves, and you’re ready for a day outside in the summer with your little one.

What are your summer must-haves for outings with your kiddos?


Nish Weiseth is a dreamer, schemer, believer, trouble-maker, rabble-rouser, and the founder of A Deeper Story, a community of misfit believers and storytellers. Nish and her husband, Erik, are outdoor enthusiasts living in the Rogue River valley of southern Oregon in the summers, and the mountains of Salt Lake City, Utah, in the winters. They have two children, Rowan and Scout.

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  1. We’ve been spending a lot of time at our neighborhood pool lately, and our list is pretty much the same as yours. But I’d add camera to my list. 😉

    • A CAMERA! Yes, of course! I take my trusty iPhone with me everywhere, so it’s good on the go. But I’m with you – love taking pictures!

  2. The drinks, for sure!! My kids drink tons when we’re out and about and THEY WILL let us know it and feel it if we haven’t remembered the water bottles. It’s a must for us going anywhere.
    #5 is one I’m not always diligent about, especially as the babes get out of the baby stages. We get sick of toys strewn all over the car and no one ends up wanting to redeposit said toys back into their rightful spots (in the home). But I try to throw a few in my purse/bag for longer outings just in case.
    Yes to the sunscreen. I’m adamant about my kids having it on when they’re away from me, and yet not always as tight on the rule at home. Need to work on that more. Enjoyed your post!

    • I’m with you on #5. We keep it simple… just a few cars that I can throw in my purse. Everything else stays home, otherwise the car gets overrun!

  3. We’re in Australia, so a baseball hat doesn’t really cut it down here. We wear a bucket hat as a minimum! Also, sleeves on our shirts, even when swimming. Little shoulders go red very quickly, regardless of how suncreened they may be.

    I have a backpack carrier for our youngest (almost 2) because even though she likes to walk, little legs get tired quickly and I like to carry her easily and very securely, with good weight distribution, which leaves my hands free and lets me keep my balance on rough ground. It has a little area under her seat for gear, too.

    • Australia! Color me jealous. 🙂

      We used a backpack carrier for a long time when we hiked, but then it became more of a battle than it was worth… Ro got heavy & way too antsy. But we loved it when he was little!

  4. I’ve wondered about taking kids white water rafting. We have some places in Oregon that do trips but I wasn’t sure how littles would do. Our son is 3. I know you take your own son, but do other people take their children rafting? It seems like it would be a really fun trip for a family and we have Maupin close by.

  5. Thanks for the tips. I just today did a post titled “Do you honestly enjoy outdoors with your kids?” My 19-month old and I recently spent a lot of time outdoors. It was just at the neighborhood park, but it was stressful trying to keep her safe. Patience and humor top my list of essentials for outings with the kids.

  6. As both my daughter and I have red hair and very pale skin, sunscreen and hats are the big ones for us.

  7. Great list! Bug spray, if you are in the woods. I always keep an old towel in the car…it gets used for everything imaginable. 🙂

  8. Can you recommend a good life jacket for an infant? We need one for our 3 month old on the boat this summer.

    • Yes! Absolutely. The one we used for Rowan was made by a company called NRS. It’s the brand that all of our guides use, and we supply NRS jackets to all of our customers.

      Keep in mind that infant jackets are quite bulky & uncomfortable. With less surface area, they have to pack a lot of flotation into a very small space. The jackets get much better & slimmer at the 35lb. mark.

  9. Nish, Rowan looks ready to take over being captain!
    We’re outdoors all the time too – biking hiking skiing and farming – and your suggestions match ours. However, I’ll add one refinement that made things so much easier with little ones. I started using a camelback water bottle instead of a regular one. This way my hands were free to spot my kids as they clambered and I never had to keep track of the water bottle which is easy to misplace. When someone wanted a sip, I just detached the sip cord and let them have at it.
    Another must-have we’ve used since before they could walk – bug suits – pants and jackets. It’s a great way to avoid using potentially toxic bug spray and very effective. You can get them very small at Log House Designs (Chatham, NH). Hint: Get them a little bigger so they keep a barrier away from your children’s skin.

  10. The most important essential is the safety equipment and first aid.

    @Nish, you are right…most infant jackets are pretty uncomfortable for kids. My 2 year old daughter cried non stop after i put on the jacket for her as the area around the neck was stiffing her. Any good recommendation for that?

  11. Great list!
    And definitely, our redheads especially are COVERED in LAYERS of sunscreen!
    When we’re in the potty training stage with somebody…I often just throw in the small, plastic potty chair so we don’t have to spend a lot of time leaving the campground, river, park, pool etc. for several “false alarms”.
    We also always bring some kind of container for collecting rocks or bugs or leaves etc. And I think a few ziplock bags are also helpful…they always get used for something wet as we pack up for the ride home.
    We have a printable camping list on our site, but we’re also not minimalists…so it might overwhelm some 🙂
    I love that you spend so much time outdoors with your family and that the kiddos are part of it all!

  12. What about something to repel bugs? I grew up in Canada and that was a make or break issue when we were little. We probably used terribly toxic stuff. When we got a little bigger, my mom planted citronella plants all over the place and we could rub the leave on the our skin (or the dogs, for that matter) but I’m not sure that’s such a practical take-along item.

  13. I hadn’t even considered the first aid kit, but now that I think about it, this is great to have even on any outing or trip where your regular resources may not be as familiar. Great reminder as we go on a few road trips this year.

  14. Great post! I also love that your son’s name is Rowan considering what your husband does for a living 🙂

  15. It is necessary to bring our kids or toddlers in a summer vacation most especially near on the beach since kids or toddlers love to play water. For sure they can relax and unwind during the summer vacation doing some interesting summer activities. In fact, I brought my kids on the beach that is near on my town. It seems my kids are enjoying the water and the rides.

  16. A trash bag! We usually go to carry in/carry out parks, but even if there are public trash cans they always seem to be too far away. I also love the write-on tattoos by Safety Tat when I take my not-quite-2-year-old to crowded places. I write my cell number on it in case we get separated.

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