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THE Backpack: A Practical Way to Pack for Outdoor Adventures with Kids

THE Backpack: A Practical Way to Pack for Outdoor Adventures with Kids

I take my mom backpack on all our outdoor adventures. I call it THE Backpack because it accompanies us everywhere we go. I’ve been known to shout “Do we have THE backpack?” or “Where’s THE backpack?” or “Did we forget THE backpack?” I panic if I open the trunk and it’s not in the car. It has all the things I normally forget like: Band-Aids, snacks, and hats. It take it to the park. I take it to the beach. When I go to the mall once a year (since I hate shopping) — it’s in the car — but I still have it with me ’cause you never know when you’re gonna need a baby wipe.

From 8 years of outdoor adventures with kids, I’ve figured out exactly what I need to bring with me. No more, no less.  Ditch the diaper bag and the stylish tote!  Get practical and put all those goodies on your back, so you can run around and join the fun.  I also made a PRINTABLE PDF CHECKLIST of the info below!

Picking THE Backpack:

I didn’t set out to pick the perfect backpack. But the one we use is designed for everything we need.

  • You must be able to wear it on your back so you have both hands free!
  • It’s BLACK (which strategically means Mr. PlayParks will carry it).
  • It has a padded back and padded straps.
  • It has 2 pockets for water bottles on the sides.
  • It has 3 compartments (BIG, MIDDLE, SMALL).

What’s in the BIG pocket?

The big pocket is not always full, since I leave a ton of room for snacks or even a full-on picnic for trips to theme parks.

  • Change of clothes, including undergarments. These don’t have to be fancy, just enough to get you to the car or home when you’ve let them get dirty and messy on your adventure. You know it’s okay for kids to get dirty and messy, right? (Especially if you have a change of clothes.)
  • Hats for everyone, adults included. I like the floppy, fisherman-type hats because they cover our ears. We don’t look so cool, but it’s better than a huge scar from skin cancer (I’ve got one of those already).
  • Snacks that can stay in the bag even if I leave it in the car. Pretzels are a good one. Granola bars. Anything that can’t melt. Again, you don’t need a lot. Just enough to tide them over until you can properly feed your youngster before they beg snacks from everyone at the park. (Almonds are a good one to tide mom over, if you’re not allergic.)
  • Babies: The diaper changing kit, bottles, or breastfeeding blanket can go here.

What’s in the MIDDLE  pocket?

  • Baby wipes AND antibacterial gel (I have both – the wipes for muddy, gooey messes – the gel for washing hands before we eat).
  • A pen and small notepad (never know when you’ll need it for entertaining the kids or jotting your phone number).
  • Band-Aid/First Aid kit (they have some cool ones with all sorts of extras for kids).
  • Spare change (for throwing in a fountain or feeding a parking meter)
  • Extra rubber band for my daughter’s hair.
  • Gatorade or Crystal Light single-serving powder packets. You can mix it in your water bottle for especially hot days or extra hard hikes.
  • BEST TIP: I also transfer my wallet and camera from my purse to this pocket, so I don’t have to carry my purse separately. My phone and keys go in here, too, when I go on theme park trips.

What’s in the SMALL pocket?

  • Sunglasses (for kids). I’m usually wearing mine.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Chapstick.
  • Gum for mom and good breath:)

It’s a small pocket, nothing else fits.

Water Bottle pockets on the side

This has probably saved us the most $$$ over the years. You can refill your water bottles at drinking fountains throughout the day. We’ve even been at some amusement parks where the soda vendors will refill our bottles with water AND ice! For free.

  • Our water bottle pockets hold two 16 oz. stainless steel water bottles. I think we got ours at Kohl’s for a pretty reasonable price. You can pack small cups inside the backpack if your kids can’t manage the big water bottle.

What else is there?

  • I used to put a thermometer in here for those “Does he have a fever?” moments. But now we’ve outgrown those.  I also used to put Tylenol in there. Just be careful, because this bag is pretty much accessible to the kids.
  • Picnics for lunchtime trips go in the big pocket. This is where I squeeze a small cooler with sandwiches and fruit.

Use the PRINTABLE PDF CHECKLIST of this checklist for easy packing. Later this week, I’ll tell you how I pack for easy beach trips.

More Ideas:


Sunday 24th of October 2010

When my kids and I go on a biking trip, I pack most of these. My kids bikes are too small for them to be able to carry anything... but I guess thats why mums there :D


Monday 28th of June 2010

I've been trying to figure out what kind of bag I should carry. I'm past the diaper bag, and I've moved onto a shoulder bag that I got from work awhile back, but it's just not cutting it. I know I know, just give into the backpack. Your post has nudged me to seriously consider it b/c it is the best option for hands-free fun. How much would you say your backpack weighs? Thanks

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