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The Ultimate Packing Guide for Outdoor Family Adventures

August 28, 2020 6 min read

middle-aged man loads stroller into car with the help of his wife

Audio Version

Take Your Camping or Hiking Trip to the Next Level with These Essentials

As we inch towards a new normal in a post-pandemic society, we're now able to do more of the things we know and love. What better way to enjoy each other's company and get out of the house than with a fun-filled family adventure? Whether you're planning a day hike or an overnight camping trip, pick a sunny weekend and go through this checklist to find out what to pack and how to prepare.

Tips on how to pack like a pro:

Do your research on the destination:

From the offset, it’s important to remember not to get ahead of yourself. Check whether your destination is open or closed due to COVID-19 before you make any decisions. If your destination is open, brush up on their COVID-19 policies before you hit the road.

For example, are certain attractions such as parks and splash pads closed due to COVID-19? Will you need PPE to access anything in the area, such as public washrooms or dining areas? Are there any other restrictions in place? These are all important factors that may affect what you and your family should pack and what you can expect from the trip.

two women enjoy the outdoors while on their hammock

Check the weather

Although the weatherman is not always perfectly accurate, it helps to have a general idea of what the weather will be like before you begin packing. This will inform your packing decisions moving forward – everything from what kind of clothes you’ll pack to the amount of rain gear (if any) you’ll need for your trip. Remember to check again shortly before you leave; weather can be unpredictable, and it’s useful to double-check that nothing has changed.

young child lies on pile of clothes from their closet

Start packing at least 3 days in advance

A big rookie mistake when it comes to packing for a camping or hiking trip is waiting until the last minute to start packing. The longer you wait, the more you’ll rush, and the more likely it will be that you forget something.

There’s nothing worse than getting to your campsite and realizing you’ve forgotten to pack toilet paper, and depending on where you’re going, there may not be a store nearby to get those things once you arrive. Take your time and make sure you have everything you need on hand – especially clothing, food, toiletries and, of course, your trusty hammock!

Don't overpack

It can be all too easy to fall into the “just in case” trap when packing for a family adventure – especially when you add small children to the mix. What if their clothes get dirty or torn, or their socks get wet? What if they lose their stuffed animal and need another one to sleep? What if six rolls of toilet paper aren’t enough? What if it gets too cold at night and they need a sweater, or a warmer pair of pyjamas?

As difficult as it can be, ditch the “what ifs” and pack only what you’re sure you will need. Otherwise, you’ll end up with an over-filled and heavy suitcase that you’ll have to drag around with you for the whole trip, only to realize that you didn’t need any of it after all.

Eliminate unpractical shoes

While we fully understand the temptation to look Instagram-ready at all times during your family camping trip, we recommend ditching the heels and strappy sandals for now. When it comes to camping, hiking and other outdoor activities, function should always trump fashion. This will prevent injuries and help keep you from overpacking! Instead try opting for the following, depending on the weather and what you’ll be doing during your trip:

  • Hiking boots
  • Water shoes
  • Running shoes
  • Sport sandals
  • Rubber boots
  • Insulated footwear

Don't forget your masks (pack multiple)

Most places in Ontario now require the use of masks or face coverings in public facilities and communal areas. This includes some campgrounds and hiking trails, especially for public washrooms and crowded attractions where it’s not possible to maintain adequate physical distancing.

This is why it’s important to pack masks for the whole family. Be sure to pack multiple, in case one gets lost, damaged or dirty. That way, no one will have to miss out on any of the fun! 

family of three enjoy the outdoors while going on a hike in the sunshine

Essentials for outdoor family fun:

Daypack

Whether you’re packing for a day trip, an overnight excursion or an extended stay, pack a small daypack to carry your first aid kit, sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, camera, snacks and other essentials you may need to keep on hand. This can be either a small backpack, a fanny pack or small pouch.

Make sure it fits well and has padded straps – an ill-fitting daypack can turn your fun family hike into a nightmare in the blink of an eye. If you will be out on the water in a boat, kayak or paddleboard, turn your daypack into a drybag by choosing something waterproof.

Sunscreen

Protect yourself and your family from harmful UV rays (not to mention an itchy, fun-sucking sunburn!) by making sure there’s an abundance of sunscreen on your packing checklist. Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which will block up to 97 per cent of the sun’s UVB rays.

Insect Repellent

Nothing ruins a fun family adventure quite like a nasty horsefly bite, or the buzzing of mosquitos in your ears. This is why it’s so important to be prepared. Pack a few cans of bug spray, some mosquito netting or even a few citronella candles to help deal with mosquitos, bugs and other pests during your trip. 

Water bottles

You probably already know how important it is to always have water available, especially during physical or outdoor activities. Packing reusable water bottles cuts down on litter, is great for the environment and can even help keep your water cold longer. You may want an insulated water bottle, or maybe something lighter like a collapsible water bottle or flask. For kids, opt for something spill-or-leak-proof.

Travel gadgets and entertainment

Don’t get too caught up in thinking about what you’ll need once you get to your destination – you’ll also need to think about how to avoid the dreaded “are we there yet?” questions on the car ride there. Pack some books, a portable game console, some music, movies, a tablet and some snacks to keep everyone occupied until you arrive.

many hammocks hangingin inbetween trees on a campsite

Hammock

A hammock is an essential part of any camping trip. They can be hung from trees or even from your car, and there are a host of campgrounds tailored specifically for hammock camping across Canada. Hammocks come in family sizes as well as individual sizes, so there is bound to be something that suits your family’s relaxation needs!

Tarp/hammock fly

While a hammock can be great for sleeping under the stars, rain and other inclement weather can really put a damper on that. This is why it’s a good idea to always be prepared by packing a tarp or specialized hammock fly, which can be put up quickly and easily if necessary.

Read more: 10 Essential Knots Everyone Should Know

Other essentials

Finish off your packing checklist with these additional outdoor essentials:

  • Food (don’t forget to meal plan!)
  • Tent and sleeping mats (if camping overnight)
  • Hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Waterproof jackets and pants
  • GoPro or other hands-free filming device

Don’t forget, safety first!

When it comes to safety, you can never be too careful. Although you may actually not end up needing these things at all, being overly prepared is always better than being under-prepared. You don’t want to end up down the creek (literally or figuratively!) without a paddle in case of an emergency. Some basic safety equipment you should always carry with you during travel includes the following:

  • Portable cellphone charger
  • No-spill gas can
  • Jumper cables
  • Roadside flares, glowsticks, or equivalent
  • Matches/lighter
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Blankets
  • Emergency first-aid kit (including all necessary medications)
  • Small tool kit
  • Spare tire and jack
  • Fire extinguisher

small dog sits in the backseat of a car while looking out the window

The Takeaway

Now that you’ve brushed up on everything you need to know to prep for your post-COVID outdoor family adventure, there’s nothing left to do but decide where to go and when. There is still plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful weather, and a hike or camping trip is a great way to shake off the monotony of quarantine.

Be safe, and enjoy!