37 Lake Trip Essentials: The Ultimate Packing List
Packing for a lake trip can be a huge task. Yes, maybe you’ll only be gone a few days. But you want everything ready for an awesome vacation. You don’t want to be stuck without your swimsuit or sunscreen because it was buried in the back of your closet.
Make your trip easier by including these essentials on your packing list.
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The Importance of Good Packing for a Relaxing Lake Vacation
But first, remember that you’ll need to pack for a range of activities. Depending on the destination, you might need clothes and gear for swimming, fishing, hiking, or just relaxing on the beach.
Your car and suitcase have limited space, but you want to make sure everything’s covered.
The crazy thing is that packing can be so stressful – and a lake trip is all about relaxation! Well, smart packing will make your vacation both easier and more enjoyable.
So what should you pack for the perfect lake trip? Learn exactly how to prepare for any lake getaway with this handy guide.
A Few Things to Consider before Packing for your Lake Trip
When packing for a lake trip, there are a few things to keep in mind. For starters, you’ll want to pack clothes that will be right for the weather and the things you’ll be doing.
Yes, this sounds like a no-brainer. But it can be tempting to grab our most favorite outfits, rather than those that’ll work best. (Like those shorts that make your butt look AMAZING – but are totally wrong for trail riding.)
As far as activities go, sunbathing and swimming are probably the most popular things to do at the lake. Plan accordingly! Meaning, lots of towels and swimsuits. Also, will you be boating and pontooning? How long will you be on the water – just a quick spin, or an all-day outing? That makes a difference in how you pack.
Ice just might be the #1 essential for any boat trip. Bring ice. Lots and lots of ice.
How long is your lake vacation? Is it a day trip? A weekend? Maybe you’ll be there a week or two. Maybe all summer. (You lucky dog!) Make sure to pack according to what you’ll need for that length of time.
Also, who are you packing for? Adults, kids and pets all have different “essentials.”
And what’s available in the area you’ll be staying? Is there a place to shop for sunscreen and bug spray? How about diapers, groceries and your favorite beverages? Do you need to bring enough for the whole trip or just enough for a day or two?
Finally, where will you be staying? A fully furnished lake house rental is different than staying with friends – which is way different than camping or staying in a bare-bones, rustic lake cabin. Your friend might have lots of extra towels at her lake home (and she probably does!). But you’ll be mighty sorry if you don’t pack them for a rustic cabin vacation.
So with these things in mind, here’s a lake trip packing list to help pull everything together. The entire list probably won’t apply to you. But it may trigger a reminder about some “essential” thing you might have otherwise forgotten.
Let’s get started!
37 Essentials to Pack for a Lake Trip
- Bag for Wet Clothes and Towels – Wet towels and clothing can make a mess in the car, especially if you have to pack them away soaking wet. A plastic bag or two can help keep them from leaking onto other things. Keep wet, non-colorfast items separated from each other so they don’t transfer dye, and get them out of the bag as soon as you can. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a musty mess.
- Beach Blanket – A sturdy blanket will come in super handy in your outdoor activities. From protecting against a chilly wind when boating, to spreading over sand at the beach, to wrapping up cozy at a campfire, a good blanket is one hard working lake essential. It’s like that perfect hat or pair of blue jeans. Don’t be afraid to invest in this staple that will serve you for years to come.
- Beverages – This means not only alcohol and other adult drinks, but soda, fruit juice, milk and others that need to be chilled. Sports drinks can be a great way to rehydrate after swimming in fresh water, so consider bringing some.
- Bug Spray – And don’t forget the bug spray! For a lake trip – where insects are thick, fierce and hungry – bring lots of bug spray to keep from becoming their dinner. Products with DEET work best, but they’re pretty potent; only apply DEET repellents over clothing and never on bare skin. For areas away from the wind, we swear by the Thermacell units. They repel mosquitoes for an area of about 15 feet, without DEET or any nasty scent. Each refill cartridge lasts about 12 hours – plenty of time for lots of outdoor fun. Put a few Thermacells together at the perimeter, and your whole party can enjoy mosquito-free life inside the barrier.
- Boat Tote – A boat tote is a super-handy carryall for any lake trip and especially out on the water. Make sure the handles are sturdy! And if it’s waterproof? Huge plus. Ideally a boat tote will have some pockets for smaller items like keys and phones, in addition to a roomy compartment for things like snacks, shoes and towels. Beach bags come in all shapes, sizes and colors – from super affordable to there-goes-the-grocery-bill expensive. Find the one you’ll love, and enjoy it for years. Or buy several! You’ll use them all, I promise.
- Camp Chairs – A great camp chair is an absolute essential at the lake. Camp chairs are lightweight, foldable and portable. Use them on the dock, on the pontoon, at the grilling station or around the bonfire. Don’t forget this important item – and don’t cave in to temptation and just grab a lawn chair. Look for sturdy camp chairs with cup holders and nice, deep seats. I mean – you’re on vacation, right? Aaahhhhh!
- Can Koozies / Thermal Drink Cups – Keep your drinks cold and your hands warm. Lake days mean lots of sunshine, outdoor fun and ice-cold beverages, so these babies are on the essential, must-pack list. You’ll find these in all shapes and sizes, and they can be really fun. If you’re buying a new one, look for one that’ll fit in the cup holder on your pontoon or camp chair. Don’t leave home without yours!
- Cash/CC/Venmo – Don’t forget to budget before you go. It’s always helpful to have some cash on hand for gas, tolls, vending and incidentals. And believe it or not, some businesses still don’t take credit cards. (We learned that the hard way and ended up rummaging through the car, digging for cash for our dinner!) Pay in advance for anything you can and bring a credit card for emergencies.
- Clothes: It goes without saying, but bring clothes for every activity, plus for hot weather and cold weather. Boat? Bonfire? Hiking? Trail riding? Include a dry change of clothes for after swimming, and a jacket or hoodie is nice when the sun goes down. Yep, when you’re packing in 90 degrees, it seems silly to pack a hoodie. But trust me. Pack the hoodie.
- Cooler (Insulated) – A good, insulated cooler will keep food and drinks cold for days. This is one item where you get what you pay for. Bring your old cheap model, and you’ll be choking down warm beer while your buddy guzzles icy brews from his quality cooler. Tragedy! You’ll want a couple of coolers, actually – even 3 or more in different sizes. Use one for beverages only; you’ll be opening and closing it often, so the ice will melt fast. (Be ready to replenish.) Use another cooler for ready-made food and easy snacks you can grab quickly. Use a third cooler strictly for storing raw meat (in leak-proof containers!) and ingredients that need cooking. And a fourth cooler can simply be for clean ice for drinks and replenishment. Remember – pack LOTS of ice. And finally, if you’ll be fishing, make sure you have a spare cooler for your big catch!
- Cover-up – A cover-up is the cardigan of lake wear. It’s a perfect lightweight layer to wear from the beach to the boat. It’s also good for sun protection – plus a really fun fashion statement! Go with a solid color that will go with anything – or something bright and patterned if that’s your jam. These are so lightweight, they’re simple to pack, so bring two or three. You’ll appreciate having a spare one in case your first gets wet. And hey – you’ll look amazing (as usual). 🙂
- Drinking Water – You’ll need lots of water – more than you think – for drinking and washing up. Be sure to pack plenty for your lake trip. Depending on where you are, you might not be able to buy more, so be prepared for this possibility by packing more than you expect to use. And it may seem obvious, but bring lots of bottled water on the boat. The combination of sun, wind and water makes a crew mighty thirsty.
- First Aid Kit – A first aid kit should be with you at all times, but especially when you’re on a trip to lake country. Be sure to check it for expired items and restock as necessary. Include pain relievers, bandages, tweezers and sanitizers. Aloe is a superstar and should definitely be included in your first aid arsenal for bug bites, sunburn, minor cuts and rashes.
- Fishing License – Unless you’re on private property, having a fishing license is required by law. Check your state’s game and fish department website for information on where to buy one. Most outdoor stores and bait shops sell licenses, and often gas stations in lake areas will offer them. A resident (in-state) fishing license is much less expensive than a non-resident (out-of-state) license.
- Flashlight / Head Lamp – A good flashlight with extra batteries is always a smart idea. If you’re in an area that’s pitch black at night, it is literally the difference between getting lost and not. Without streetlights, outdoor lake country gets mighty dark! Consider bringing a head lamp, which is super convenient when building a campfire or grabbing last-minute essentials from the car.
- Food – Bring lots of food! Lake trips are all about relaxation and enjoyment. People will get hungry every couple hours or so – even if they just ate. Make sure you have enough for at least two good meals a day, plus hearty snacks and munchies. Vacationers are a snacky bunch, and tasty nibbles are always welcome. For quick boat food or trail snacks, make sure to pack plenty of dry foods such as nuts and pretzels. You can also pack trail mixes with a little bit of everything in them, making them good treats that everyone will enjoy. If you’ll be doing a lot of cooking, make sure you have those supplies as well.
- Games & Activities – Activities for your road trip? Sure. But activities for the lake house or campsite? Absolutely! There’s nothing better than sharing a fun activity with friends and family, especially ones for vacation memories. Pack some games (cards, board games), books (in case it rains) and something to pass the time like a deck of Uno cards and a cribbage board. A volleyball net goes up fast, and lawn darts or cornhole are fun to play for all ages.
- Hats or Visors – Protect yourself from the sun by packing a hat, especially if you’ll be spending time by the water. A hat will also protect your head against wind burn when you’re out on the boat. Hats come in all styles and colors for a fun, personalized look: ball caps, captain hats, sun visors, bucket hats, sun hats and more. You’ll look great, while keeping your hair out of your eyes and the sun off your face. And your vacation photos will look better when you’re not squinting into the camera.
- Hostess Gift – Bring a small gift for your host, whether it’s the owner of the house you’ve rented or a friend that you’re visiting. Doing something nice for them will make sure they know how much you appreciate their hospitality. Plus, a little treat is always welcome!
- IDs, Licenses, Insurances – Make sure you have your driver’s license, state ID, insurances (health and vehicle) and any other personal documents needed. And double check before you leave! You don’t want to get pulled over on the way there, only to find out you don’t have your license or that it’s expired.
- Ice – Ice just might be the #1 essential for any boat trip. Bring ice. Lots and lots of ice. Bring enough for a few days, and plan to purchase more. Pack each cooler with plenty of ice to keep the contents cold. And pack one extra cooler with clean ice for drinks. Ice melts quickly in hot weather, so bring more than you think you’ll need and pack it in a good, insulated cooler.
- Keys – Here’s a big one: KEYS! Do you need keys at your destination? Maybe boat keys? Keys for the 4-wheeler or other play toys? How about for the storage shed or the lake home itself? If you’re renting a lake house or cottage, bring the keys if you have them before you leave home. And speaking of home, make sure to bring your house keys. There’s nothing worse than coming home from vacation, only to find yourself locked out of the house.
- Life Vests – A life vest for every person on the boat is the law. Make sure kids are wearing their vests any time the boat is under way, and make sure yours is available. If you can’t swim, keep your vest on at all times. Nothing beats peace of mind when you’re out on the water.
- Music and Speaker – Music is non-negotiable for any lake trip. Whether you’re into rock, rap, country or reggae…bring some music for your party! Bring a waterproof, portable speaker so you always have music at beach, campfire or on the pontoon. You can download music to your phone or stream directly from apps like Spotify, Pandora or YouTube. If you’re looking for a good portable speaker, the ultra-popular JBL Flip 5 checks all the boxes. Connected to your smartphone or tablet, it cranks out up to 12 hours of tunes on a single charge and can even be connected to other units for a bigger sound. Rated 5 stars on Amazon, it has over 47,000 reviews!
- Paper Plates/Utensils – If you plan on using paper plates and utensils, make sure you bring plenty. There will be future trips and gatherings, so don’t be afraid to over-buy! (If at all possible, consider biodegradable plates and cutlery.) Also remember plenty of napkins, paper towels and cloths/dish soap for clean-up.
- Personal Toiletries – Shampoo/cream rinse, styling products, deodorant, toothpaste & toothbrush, dental floss, mouthwash, brush/comb, skin care, tampons, razor, shave cream, makeup, medications, sleep aids. Oh – and don’t forget lip balm! Sun, wind and water can chap lips in a big hurry. Keep some handy in your beach bag or cover-up pockets.
- Phone Charger – Don’t forget the charger for your cell phone and any rechargeable devices you bring. You can also buy solar-powered chargers for your boat so you have power when away from shore. They work pretty well in most conditions but do best if they’re in direct sunlight.
- Pillow – To help with ultimate R&R, bring your favorite bed pillow from home. Its familiar comfort will help you drift off and sleep like a baby. Likewise, a set of ear plugs will block out unfamiliar sounds that might otherwise keep you awake. A sleep mask is nice, too!
- Reservations – If your lake trip will be spent at a lodge or resort, confirm your reservations before leaving home. And then make sure the number is handy for when you arrive and check in. Also make sure to confirm any dinner reservations or activities you may have scheduled.
- Sandals/Water Shoes – Sandals are a great idea for anyone staying at the cabin or lake house. Slip-ons can save time in the mornings when getting ready, and sandals feel great after a day on the boat. They’re also nice to wear out around town. If you plan to be in the water, make sure to pack a pair of water shoes to keep your feet protected. Walking around in bare feet is always fun until that first sharp rock or stick jabs into your heel.
- Sunglasses – Like hats, sunglasses are essential to protect your eyes against the sun’s harmful rays. (Did you know that eyes can get sunburned? Crazy!) You’ll also want them to shield you from wind and dust when boating or swimming. And if you plan to fish all weekend, make sure you get a pair with a strap for keeping them around your neck when you snap photos of that huge fish.
- Sunscreen – If you’re going to the beach or spending time around water, bring sunscreen lotion for everyone in your party. And remember that just because it’s cloudy doesn’t mean you won’t get burned; clouds don’t offer any protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Don’t forget to reapply after you’ve been in the water – or getting sweaty from all the outdoor activity!
- Swimsuits – This should go without saying, but make sure each person going with you has a swimsuit packed and ready for your lake trip. If you can, go ahead and bring a backup. They don’t take much room in the suitcase, and then you’ll always have a suit to wear while the wet one is drying.
- Toilet Paper – Depending on your destination, there may be no bathrooms other than the woods. And if you’re somewhere that’s remote enough, the local critters may not like becoming your new potty. Toilet paper can be stashed in a waterproof bag (you should probably pack it out anyway), and don’t forget the hand sanitizer!
- Towels – You’ll need towels for drying off after both swimming and showering. Don’t skimp! Bring several towels with you so that everybody has a couple of their own. Bring extras in case one gets dirty, lost or ruined. Hey – it’s a lake adventure. Anything can happen!
- Trash Bags – Whether in the kitchen, on the pontoon, at the grill station or the campfire, you’ll be creating trash the entire vacation. Bring plenty of bags to separate garbage and recycling, and then dispose of them locally or take them home to dispose of there.
- Water Toys/Floaties – A cheap inflatable raft or “noodle” can be a great way to have fun in the water. They’re also great for relaxing on the lake, playing with others or just sitting back and floating.
It’s All about Fun, Easy and Relaxing
Packing for a lake trip can be overwhelming, but with some organization and planning, it can be easy. To make your packing go smoothly, consider these 37 essentials that will help make your lake vacation more enjoyable!
Not only are many of these items inexpensive, they also take up little space – so you have room for amazing souvenirs!
Remember: Pack light by bringing just what is necessary. But include the essentials so you can relax knowing all bases are covered.