This family packing list for day packs has everything you might need for a day trip, a short hike, or when using your day pack as a carry-on for planes or trains. We’ll cover family-focused medical supplies, essential gear, comfort items, as well as what the kids should carry in their travel day packs.
For our Family Year Out we are packing two large backpacks (adults), and 4 small day packs or carry-ons, one for each member of the family. Here’s our family packing list for day packs for up to one year on the road. We are starting our Family Gap Year with a 60+ day cross-country road trip so we’ll be hiking with these backpacks through many National Parks.
Our day packs are with us on car trips and bus rides, they are our carry-ons on airplanes and our go-to for day trips and long outings. Since our girls are young (4 and 6) we will be carrying most of the gear for all of us.
Some of these items may move in and out of the day pack depending on our plan for the day. While on a plane we will have our iPads and headphones, we would obviously leave these in the hotel if going for a day hike. There are several items like the corkscrew, or the knife in the travel cutlery set, that you need to remove from your day pack before boarding an airplane.
Planning a family year out is a huge undertaking- for more tips on how to get started read How to Plan a Family Year Out.
At the bottom of this post Download a Free Packing Checklist for Day Packs!
Packing List: Adult Day Pack
Here is the packing list for the total items in our day packs. Since there are two of us, some of these items are split between us, or we may just pack one bag for a day trip with all the essentials.
Adult Backpacks- Women’s Travel Day Pack
I carry the Gregory Maya 30L– I’m only 5’3″, so this feels plenty big to me. I wanted something I could comfortably stuff under an airline seat, and not need to put in the overhead bin. I have it in Meridian Teal, and I love the color. I like having a bright inside (the yellowish-green accent color), it makes it easier to find things. It has a stretchy front stuff sack pocket with a top clip.
This pack has two water bottle pockets, a zipped sunglasses pocket, and a neat little sunglasses clip on the strap. It has a separate pocket for a water bladder, that I plan to use for my laptop. Inside the main compartment, there’s a small zip pocket at the top. It has an internal frame, a padded waist belt, and each side of the belt has a small zip pocket.
Adult Backpacks- Men’s Travel Day Pack
Waker carries the Osprey Farpoint 40L. He’s 6’2″, so he likes this size, even for a day pack. This pack has two stretchy water bottle holders on the back of the pack (not on the sides). These could also be general stuff sacks. It has a top and side padded handle- so if want to carry this pack with one hand horizontally, you can do that.
He has this in Volcanic Grey, which has a stoplight green interior- again, easy to see what’s inside. It has a sunglasses pocket, then the main compartment has a velcro laptop sleeve, and a large zippered pocket that goes to the base of the pack. It has a padded waist belt, but no additional pockets there. An interesting feature of this backpack is that you can tuck and stash the main shoulder straps and waist belt under a velcro flap. This allows you to check the bag and not worry about straps catching on airline belts.
Our family passport holder keeps our passports, vaccination documents, global entry cards, and extra passport photos all neatly contained. I also keep photocopies of the girl’s birth certificates in here. It also holds a pen in the middle for all those pesky customs and immigration forms. I keep this zipped folder pretty close to me when we are moving around!
Documents & Tickets
Make sure to pack whatever confirmation numbers, addresses, tickets, or local destination information you need for the next day or two. If you are headed out on a hike you may want to grab a paper map of the park to carry with you.
My Knockaround sunglasses are always close at hand! We even got super cute pairs for the kids. The sunglasses come in lots of fun color combinations, and they stay on my face- glasses that slip down when I bend my head are a huge pet peeve of mine.
Wallet and Coin Purse
When traveling I only keep one debit card and one credit card on me, the rest stay tucked away for emergencies. I carry a small change purse for all the hard currency.
Of course, my cell phone is close at hand- it’s my map, my camera, my connection to the outside world, and via the Tripit app, holds all my travel details!
Portable Cell Charger
This portable cell phone charger is small and means I never worry about my cell phone running out of battery power. No more being tethered to charging banks in airports watching the battery percentage slowly tick up one percentage point at a time.
I depend on my Macbook Air for blogging, backing up my cell phone photos, and researching and booking destinations. I keep it on me when checking luggage.
After too many long flights where my in-ear headphones made my ears ache, I got over-the-ear headphones, and I love them! They are not the smallest item to pack but are much more comfortable for long periods of time. Now when I’m binge-watching tv on a long-haul flight, I get better sound, noise-canceling, and better comfort. These are Bluetooth and pair easily with my laptop. We choose these because they are a great value- when we are traveling I hate the idea of carrying around a lot of expensive gear if we can possibly avoid it.
A standard deck of playing cards is great for long waits in airports and train stations.
Small Notebook & Pen
A small notepad is great for keeping score at cards, jotting down quick notes to myself, or other traveler’s recommendations.
This travel towel is a beach towel, a picnic blanket, and a wrap for chilly arms and legs all rolled into one. It’s super high quality and soft. It can be a shower towel in a pinch, but best for the beach, or cuddles while traveling.
Because AC always makes me cold, I always carry layers.
If we are headed out on a hike, a rain jacket for each of us goes in the pack just in case the weather decides to surprise us!
This flip travel hairbrush is small, lightweight, and works well for unexpected hair emergencies. Like my daughter accidentally dipping her hair in ketchup.
Hair Clips & Bands
There are three of us with long hair, and hair clips are always falling out. Extra accessories hopefully help to keep hair pulled back and out of food.
An eye mask helps me sleep in a car, or on a bus or train. I have this one, the girls have their own cute versions with character faces.
I always carry a pair of socks to help me get cozy on a plane. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Bombas.
This list may seem long, but most of these items are quite small, and with small kids, these come in quite handy! I keep most of these items in a small zip pouch that can easily be moved from one backpack to another, or into my purse. We carry a more complete first aid kit in our large backpacks.
Antibiotic ointment for small cuts and scrapes.
These may or may not be decorated with princesses at the moment.
Moleskin is fantastic for keeping blisters at bay! Put a square of this any place your foot is rubbing against your shoe to prevent blisters. Band-aids are great for scrapes, but they fall off of heels and get twisted up in socks. These come in large pieces, I precut them so they are ready to use on small feet.
We put Arnica lotion on all our bruises, it should help them heal faster and be less severe.
This little gadget is helpful for removing ticks. A common occurrence in New England.
After Bite Lotion
This liquid goes on bug bites and stops the itch and the sting! One bottle of this lasts forever.
These are for kids 2+, they are chewable tablets that are much easier to carry than liquid. For when your kid suddenly pops a fever, with these you don’t have to wait until you can get back to your room to treat it.
This powder comes in packets to add to 16 oz of water. They make them in many flavors, we have Strawberry Lemonade. Mix these up to rehydrate quickly after vomiting, diarrhea, or heat exhaustion.
The all-purpose mom tool- for noses, spills, and when toilet paper is not available.
The ubiquitous item of 2021! Before every snack, and every time we enter or leave someplace.
Chapstick is one of my essential desert island items- I hate having dry lips.
We are all fair-skinned, so we apply liberally and often! We are looking into getting some reef-safe lotion, which unfortunately is not common in the United States.
Snacks are an essential day pack item- they stave off the grumpies and are great motivators on hikes. “Let’s just get to the top of the hill and we’ll stop for a snack”. Snacks are also a life-saver when planes or trains run late and you’re off your normal food schedule.
When traveling internationally we grab snacks and breakfast items from the nearest grocery or market at each location. When traveling in the United States via car, we can stock up ahead of time. Don’t miss 40+ Easy Road Trip Snacks for Kids & Toddlers.
Travel Cutlery Set
I hate eating with flimsy plastic utensils, and it just feels wasteful. We carry our own travel cutlery sets, and never have to worry about having the right flatware for picnics or takeout. This set from Shell & Turtle is beautiful and quite extensive. Each set comes with a knife, fork, spoon, teaspoon, chopsticks, metal straw, and straw cleaning brush. Just remember to remove the knife if you are carrying this onto a plane! The set is a bit heavier than I would like, but they are made of stainless steel and should last. There are many colors to chose from, ranging from silver or black to rainbow.
We always keep a combination bottle opener and corkscrew handy (make sure to remove before carrying onto an airplane). Whether it’s a bottle of wine on a picnic or a pop-top bottle of sparkling water this tool is essential.
We opt for inexpensive water bottles without any fancy filters. If we aren’t sure about the quality of the water, we use the Steripen. I have a simple Contigo water bottle, the girls both have Camelbaks.
We use the Steripen Ultra to purify any water we have questions about. This device is small and very portable. To use it, you pull off the cover, turn the lamp on, and stir it in the water for 90 seconds. A little counter lets you know when it’s finished. We opted for the Ultra version because it is rechargeable via a USB port. We didn’t want to worry about replacing batteries or have the added weight of traditional batteries in the classic. The ultra is 4.8 oz, they also have an ultralight version which is 2.6 oz.
Bathing wipes are really a camping supply, but they come in handy after a sweaty hike, or if someone ends up covered in mud or something sticky.
I love having a pair of binoculars! I’ve used mine on an African safari, and to spot birds in the Guatemalan jungle. They come in handy for tons of bucket list adventures! I have these from Bushnell- they are 10 x 25, meaning the magnification is 10x, the diameter of the lens is 25mm. They are compact, lightweight (just over 10oz), easy to carry, and waterproof. The next step up is a 42 mm lens, but the weight on those jumps up to 25 oz.
A generally useful tool. For finding lost hair clips in the car at night, or even routing through backpacks looking for a change of clothes while trying to keep the kids asleep.
Headlamps are great for longer walks at night and when you want to keep your hands free. They can also be used for reading in bed at night without keeping everyone else up.
Packing List: Kid’s Day Pack
Since our girls weigh approx. 40 and 50 pounds, they should not be carrying more than 4 or 5 pounds each (max of 10% of their body weight). They will be carrying their own day packs on travel days when we are moving between locations. For day trips and long hikes, they will not need to carry anything. We see these packs as a way for them to learn to take responsibility for some of their belongings and to prepare them for when they are old enough for an “everyone carries their own stuff” model of travel.
Need more tips for traveling with kids? Read 21 Family Travel Tips for 2021: Best Tips for Travel with Kids or if you’re heading out on a road trip, check out A Road Trip with Kids and Toddlers: 20+ Tips to Survive and Thrive.
Kids Travel Backpacks
We spent a lot of time researching which backpacks to get the girls (ages almost 4 and 6). We wanted something practical with two water bottle pockets, and a stuff sack on the outside. They also needed to have supportive straps, to hold as much as possible, but still fit their small frames. Ideally, they would have some room to grow and also not be too expensive.
E (4) has the REI Tarn 18. She has been carrying a 12L pack to school and it’s been frustrating how little it holds. This 18-liter pack is a tad big on her, but she will grow into it quickly. it has a front stuff sack pocket with a clip, two water bottle pockets, and a padded waist belt with a zip pocket on each side. It has a top sunglass pocket, a small zip pocket inside, and a hydro sleeve she can use for her iPad. This is a great pack, I wish they made a 20 liter as well!
S (6 1/2) has the Deuter Speed Lite 20. It has a stuff sack on the front, though you can’t unclip it from the top, you have to reach in on each side. It has two water bottle pockets and a top sunglasses pocket. The inside has a hydro sleeve she can use for her iPad, but no other pockets. There is a waist belt but it is not padded. We chose this pack because the dimensions worked best for her body while still giving her plenty of room inside. Many of the 20L packs we looked at were much too long for her.
We got the kids their own pairs of Knockarounds. E chose pink glitter frames with a gold-tinted lens, S chose a pink frame with aqua lenses. I know their eyes are protected by UV400 lenses, but they are inexpensive enough that I don’t have to worry too much about how rough the kids are with their gear.
Each girl has a baseball hat to wear when we need to keep the hot sun off of them. These are going to get a lot of use when we are trekking around Arizona and New Mexico in August.
S has shown signs of motion sickness at times, so we got each girl a pair of Sea Bands. These are soft cloth bands that have a little plastic button that hits a pressure point on the underside of the wrist to help with nausea. They run small, so buy the adult size for anyone over 2. They come in a plastic carrying case, so they are easy to pack in day packs. These bands are one of our Road Trip Essentials.
Because we all need an extra layer sometimes. As we move into fall we’ll add a pair of knit gloves.
iPad or Tablet
iPads are for schoolwork first and foremost, though we do allow some fun downtime on educational apps like PBS Kids, and the occasional movie or show.
Headphones are critical for each kid to be able to do schoolwork online separately, and without disturbing the adults!
S has Lil Gadgets headphones- they are wireless with a mic and sharing port. E has a wired pair of JLab Jbuddies headphones, hers do not have a unique sharing port, but she can plug into S’s headphones when they want to look at something together.
We’ve updated our top picks for kids headphones for 2021!
Along with programs on the iPad, each girl has an age-appropriate school workbook to work on letters or creative writing skills.
Each girl has a blank journal with room for writing and pictures- to document our trips and work on their handwriting skills.
Pencils, Colored Pencils & Sharpener
Writing instruments to go with their journals and school workbooks.
Writing postcards to family and friends is one of the ways we are practicing handwriting skills, but also keeping in touch with those we will miss. Don’t forget to buy the correct stamps when you buy the postcards.
Writing postcards is one of our recommended road trip activities for kids- check out 60+ Fun Road Trip Activities for Kids: How to Keep Kids Entertained on a Long Car Trip.
Both girls love having their own binoculars! They are great on hikes, but also for looking out of windows on busses or trains. They love to play camping and explorer with these.
Extra Set of Clothes
Carrying an extra set of clothes in each pack means that we are prepared for any spills or accidents. Also, if our luggage is delayed or lost, each child would have at least one spare outfit.
Each child carries their own pajamas so they are always available. They may opt to wear them on planes or long bus rides. If we get to a destination late in the evening they have everything they need to get themselves ready for bed quickly.
Stuffie and Nightime Comfort Item
Each child is responsible for their stuffed animal and night-time comfort items. This means they have them readily available on trains and planes and need to look after them in hotel rooms as well.
There You Have it!
Our packing list for day packs for kids and for adults for long-term travel. Did we miss something? Tell us your ideas in the comments!