Packing for your surf-and-sand vacation is as stress-free as a day at the beach, thanks to this easy-reference guide to all of your beach bag essentials.
Heading to the beach but not sure what to pack? This basic packing list covers all of the must-haves, along with a few extras that’ll make your day on the sand an absolute breeze. Just tick off this ultimate beach packing list, and you’re sure to be the savviest traveler on the shore.
We’ll start with the obvious, but the most necessary: You’ll need to ensure that the bikini or swim trunks are either on your bod or in your bag. Keep in mind, too, that if you’re going somewhere with especially strong rays, you should consider layering up in the ocean: A T-shirt or other cover-up will add extra protection if your sunscreen washes off in the sea.
Even if it’s a cloudy day, you should always be sporting some SPF (a minimum SPF number of 30 is the standard recommendation). Sand can reflect up to 15 percent of UV rays, too, so beach time can be especially harmful to your skin. Be mindful of what brand you wear: If you’re planning to swim, you’ll want to make sure you’re not harming the marine life; lots of sunscreens contain oxybenzone, which is toxic to sea creatures and plants. One safe bet is Incognito’s three-in-one sunscreen ($30), a natural SPF, moisturizer, and insect repellent that’s safe for both you and the fish.
Whether you prefer a baseball cap or, better yet, a wide-brimmed sun hat, packing something to cover your head and neck is wise. Not only will a hat protect your skin from sunburn, but you’ll also be able to see better in that bright midday light, too.
There’s no feeling like the sand between your toes, but you’ll still want appropriate footwear for the beach. Flip-flops rank tops for their ease of slipping on and off, but also consider waterproof shoes if the ocean floor is rocky or full of coral. These Vibram water shoes ($90) allow for the flexibility of your natural arch but provide protection against sharp objects underfoot.
Invest in a good pair of polarized sunglasses, which will reduce glare from the sun and that beautiful, but blinding, white sand. Classic Vuarnet sunglasses are making a big comeback at the moment; or, check out some of these options for sustainably made shades so you can look good and feel good, too.
Drinking plenty of water on the beach is a must. Get yourself a good reusable water bottle to ensure a steady supply, like this Nkd canteen ($30) with its own filter, or this eco-friendly Welly Insulated Bamboo Bottle ($30).
Fruits or nuts will keep you going on long beach days, and if you fancy something more substantial, consider investing in an insulated cooler bag or cooler to bring along sandwiches (and more).
You’ll need at least one beach towel for comfy lounging on the sand and a second to dry off after taking a dip. Microfiber towels like this one from REI (from $10) are the most practical: They’re lightweight, quick-drying, and less likely to pick up quantities of sand, even when wet.
9. Wet wipes
No one wants to eat sandy chips, so bring a pack of wet wipes to clean your fingers before you put your hand in that bag!
10. Beach chairs
If you’re somewhere where lounge chair rentals are unavailable, consider carrying in a portable beach chair like the Cascade Mountain Tech folding chair ($38), which comes in an easy-to-carry bag. Or for something really different, check out this inflatable sofa ($28): It’s light, compact to carry, and easy to set up. There’s no blowing required; just open it up and whisk it through the air to inflate.
Even on a day that starts off sweltering, there’s no telling how the weather might change along the unpredictable coastline. Bring along a sweatshirt, in case temps take a dip.
If you’ve got kids in the group, or aren’t a sun-worshipper yourself, consider bringing along your own shade for an easy retreat when the rays get to be too much. A pop-up tent could be the answer, or tote along a simple umbrella to gather beneath in the heat of the day.
13. Reading material
A good book or magazine is the best companion possible for long, lazy days on a lounger. Load up an e-reader, like this Amazon Kindle ($120), and you’ll be ready to dive in on the literary adventure at hand. Tip: Try one of these 29 new book titles that are tailor-made for travelers.
Not everyone wants to just laze around on the beach. A Frisbee or lightweight bat and ball set is perfect for two players; volleyball is a solid bet for groups. For in-ocean fun, bring along a bodyboard or snorkel set.
15. Dry sacks
The unsung hero of this beach packing list, dry sacks are an underrated must-have. If you’ve ever been to the beach, you’ve surely thought twice about leaving your valuables on the sand while you swim. Bringing a dry sack means you can carry your phone, wallet, and keys into the ocean with you. Plus, they’re not just waterproof, but sandproof, too: We love this ultra-light dry sack from Osprey (from $13).
16. Waterproof speakers
If you’re heading to a party beach scene like Rio’s Copacabana or Miami’s South Beach—or simply want to feel like you are—you might bring along some tunes to go. A Bluetooth speaker that you can play music on from your phone will add that party vibe to any old beach day (it's great for podcasts, too), so invest in something waterproof like the Ultimate Ears Wonderboom ($99), which boasts 10 hours of battery life and even comes with a rubber ring that allows it to bob about in the ocean with you.
17. Power pack
Whether for your phone or that waterproof speaker, going anywhere off the grid without a power pack these days can be risky. Bring along one with multiple ports so you can charge more than one device at a time.
18. Tote bag
With all of this gear, you’re going to need a good bag. Choose a simple tote that fastens with a zipper at the top and has interior pockets for keeping small items and valuables tucked away. This option from Dezzio (from $69) is the ultimate beach bag—it has plenty of space inside for bulky items like towels, but also a cooler compartment for your water, a built-in bottle opener, and a pocket for flip-flops.