A beautiful, breezy day at the beach is, for most of us, a rare summer treat. So making the most of that precious time by the sea is important. Packing the perfect bag is step one to ensuring your beach experience is gangbusters. You’ll want to keep belongings free from sand, stay organized, and, most importantly, remember to pack the sunscreen. Here are 10 tips for putting together the best beach bag ever, plus advice on what to pack and what to leave behind.
Pick the Right Bag
What are you looking for in the perfect pouch? Whether you need a water-resistant bag, a tote with tons of compartments, or something that will match your color-coordinated beach ensemble, there’s a carryall that’s right for you. For style-conscious sunbathers, we recommend Kate Spade’s cheeky tote bag, which has the look of a woven tote but contains a thick striped liner to safeguard your belongings from water and sand. For men, Go Verk’s Heavy Cotton Canvas Tote is a timeless choice. Or take your bag’s water resistance up a level with Scout’s Deano Tote Bag, which is roomy, super sturdy, and made from water-resistant material.
For peak organizing, pick a bag with a lot of pockets, such as a diaper bag, a backpack, or a gardening bag. Compartments are crucial for separating things that have become encrusted with damp sand (like flip-flops or wet towels) from clean items. Vera Bradley totes weren’t designed for the seashore, but they’re actually the ideal beach bags.
If your bag doesn’t have pockets, add them. A purse organizer like this one will keep you from having to dig around in your outsized tote for that elusive little pot of lip balm.
Pack the Right Stuff
Insect and sun protection, lip balm, towels, hats, food, beach tags: These are some of the indispensable items that should go in your bag. Make sure they get there by creating a packing list. Use our free beach packing list to draw up an outline of what you’ll need. Are you a visual learner? Make a graphic guide for future reference by snapping a smartphone photo of the contents of a well-packed bag after returning from the beach.
Get Smart with Your Beach Towels
Beach towels will most likely take up the bulk of your bag. Accordingly, folded or rolled towels should go at the bottom of your tote, with smaller items added on top. Save even more space by investing in a lightweight travel towel. We swear by the high-quality Shandali Gosweat Hot Yoga Towel, which, although designed for yoga, makes a perfect quick-drying and compact towel to use on the beach.
Throw a big folded-up zip-top bag or a plastic grocery bag into your beach tote, and stuff your wet, sand-shrouded towel in it when you’re ready to head home.
Protect Your Belongings from Surf and Sand
Zip-top bags, which come in multiple sizes, are perfect for protecting your stuff from saltwater splashes and stray sand. (They also come in handy when your sunscreen springs a leak.) But reusable plastic bags and containers are, naturally, a more eco-conscious choice. Invest in clear cases, such as this one from Vera Bradley or this clear organizer cube, and you’ll save money over time.
Here’s another earth-friendly solution: Save product packaging that you might otherwise throw away, like plastic sheet casings or lightweight plastic take-out containers, to use as beach-bag storage. Plastic soup containers work well for storing sandy seashells.
Protect Your Gadgets
Waterproof cases are available for virtually every kind of electronic device, from iPhones to Kindles to cameras. We recommend safeguarding any and every kind of electronic device that you’re bringing on the beach. It only takes a small amount of water or sand to completely destroy a gadget.
Some of the most difficult things to pack are larger items such as folding chairs, umbrellas, and beach tents; you may end up carrying these items separately. Or, you can leave them at home. Limit what you pack for your trip by renting or using free beach equipment where available. Get on the Internet or make a quick phone call to your vacation rental, resort, or beach town’s local municipal center. Ask if there are umbrellas or chairs available for use or rent directly on the beach.
Additionally, you may want to see if such rentals are available at stores near the shore to which you’re headed. Here’s an example: Boucher Brothers in Miami Beach, Florida, offers all kinds of beach-equipment rentals, from towels to tents to coolers, and they’ll even deliver them to your vacation home; this makes packing those unwieldy items so much easier. You’ll find beach-equipment stores that offer rents in virtually every American beach town.
Invest in the Right Kind of Cooler
We’d love to show up at the beach with a vintage picnic basket. But pragmatism trumps romance. A cooler—we prefer lightweight soft-sided ones like the family-size Coleman 42-Can Wheeled Soft Cooler—is a beach essential if you plan to bring your own perishables. Without one, sandwiches, fruit, and snacks won’t hold up for long under direct sunlight. Packing and serving food and drinks properly at the shore also calls for products like collapsible plates, Wet Ones, and packable wine glasses (the most sophisticated plastic cups around).
Cut down on waste and save money by going with reusable bottles. We adore the Vapur Anti-Bottle for its squishable, space-saving properties. But if you want to keep liquids cool, try the insulated Wide-Mouth Hydro Flask.
One of the most puzzling aspects of beach-going is figuring out how to keep your stuff safe while you’re in the water; there are, however, products you can pack that will help with this problem. Reef makes flip-flops with a built-in stash pocket, and these waterproof pouches protect valuables while you’re in the waves.
Then again, there’s always safety in numbers: Have one person in your party keep watch over your things while you swim.
More from SmarterTravel:
- The Essential Beach Packing List
- 10 Essential Clothing Items for Every Type of Summer Vacation
- Readers’ 10 Smartest Packing Tips
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.