What to Pack for an Outdoor Festival (with Kids)

It’s festival season here in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. We’ve got festivals of every stripe — berry festivals, Shakespeare festivals, folk festivals, medieval festivals, rose and rodeo festivals. Our family recently went to the Folklife Festival with our kids, and here’s a packing list I created. These items fit into one small backpack ( thankfully, we didn’t need any rain gear), which we slung over the stroller, along with the small cooler.

Festival essentials:

  • Cell phone
  • ID
  • Keys
  • Cash (more than you think you’ll need) and Credit/Debit card and pin
  • Tickets if necessary
  • Map or iPhone or Android event schedule/map
  • Camera w/extra battery or memory card

Festival packing for family health

  • Sunblock
  • Bug repellent
  • Sunglasses and sunhat
  • Chapstick
  • Water bottle (two big ones)
  • Tissues for well-used portapotties and for sad songs.
  • Mini-first aid kit w/bandaids, allergy med, 1-2 pain relievers, safety pins
  • Baby wipes
  • One or two plastic grocery bags or small Ziploc bags. Because.
  • Beach towel for grassy areas or a pashmina-style shawl – can be used for warmth, to sit on, last-minute cleanup, etc.
  • Ear plugs or ear coverage for kids
  • Thin thermal layer if it’s chilly
  • Poncho/raincoat if you expect rain

For the family blood sugar:

  • Shoulder/stroller-ready soft-sided cooler
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Granola bars, trail mix, kids’ health bars
  • Oranges or other easy-peel fruit
  • Chocolate

Festival packing for the kids:

  • Paper and pencils/pens/crayons (think about whether these will get so hot they’ll melt)
  • Bubbles, stickers, other lightweight and keep-busy items
  • A chapter book you can read to them during slow times.
  • Disposable camera
  • $5-10 spending money per child for cotton candy, small toys, etc.
  • A method for transporting them when they’re tired (and whiny). Do not discount this aspect, even if you think your child is too old for a stroller. When the choice is A) leave early with a whining, unhappy child or B) let them nap/color/blow bubbles in the stroller despite the disapproving eyes of parental passerby (holding whiny kids) …yes, you should choose B. I’m not saying I would stuff my teen into a stroller, but a 5 year old? Yes. If you think the area will be uneven (think grassy fairgrounds), you may want to bring a child carrier instead. Baby jogger-style strollers can easily become too unwieldy.

Write your phone number your child’s arm or on a piece of paper they keep in a pocket; make sure they understand what to do if they get lost.

Packing Checklist for NW and BC Vacations

Our weather is unpredictable but our climate is mild. We dress in layers, and prep for rain and sun. The Cascadia uniform: T-shirt, hoodie, rain-proof jacket, jeans, water-repellent shoes.

The Pacific Northwest dress code is casual and natural. We wear a lot of dark and vibrant colors. White, not so much. In the cities, women don’t typically wear much make up.

We wear jeans to fine restaurants and yoga pants pretty much everywhere else (I’ve shown up to pick up my kids from school in my pajamas, and no one even noticed — or maybe they were just too Seattle-nice to say anything to my face).

If you look in our car trunks, many of us pack an extra pair of hiking boots. Just in case

Typically, our kids wear comfortable cotton clothing that can get dirty and still clean up well. Think Hanna Andersson. But a little girl in a fancy dress (or a boy in a suit jacket) will get lots of compliments.

You can wear what you like, of course.

Clothing (for one week)

  • Five shirts; a mix of long-sleeve and short-sleeve, depending on season.
  • Three–five jeans/pants (winter) and/or shorts/skirts (summer).
  • Lightweight synthetic or wool sweater or a hoodie.
  • Five pairs of socks.
  • Two pairs of shoes (one will get muddy). We’re a people of sensible footwear, the land of Birkenstocks with socks. You can’t do worse.
  • Seven pairs of underwear, because accidents happen.
  • Swimsuit.
  • Sunglasses (Really! Seattleites buy more sunglasses than in any other U.S. city) and sunhat or baseball cap.
  • Warm hat or toque, gloves, and scarf (winter only).
  • Lightweight, waterproof coat and boots. We don’t usually use umbrellas — you can, but give plenty of personal room to other pedestrians.
  • Trail-running shoes for beach or wilderness hikes.


  • If traveling between the U.S. and Canada, bring your passport or enhanced driver’s license.
  • If the kids are traveling with only one parent, a signed document from the non-present parent, stating that it’s OK to take the children over the border. Include contact information for the non-present parent.
  • Health, auto, and travel insurance documents.
  • Airplane and train tickets or your confirmation numbers.
  • Your itinerary.
  • Confirmation for hotels and car rental.
  • Paper maps (available at gas stations) or Google Maps.
  • Membership cards: AAA or other roadside assistance plans
  • Membership card from your local zoo, children’s museum, or science museum, if you can benefit from reciprocity.

Toiletries and health items

  • Toothpaste, toothbrushes, dental floss.
  • Contact lenses or glasses.
  • A first-aid kit with Band-Aids, Tylenol, allergy medicine, gauze, anti-bacterial ointment, tweezers and nail clippers.
  • Prescription medicines.
  • Sunscreen, aloe vera for summer or ski vacations.
  • Stain-removing wipes.
  • Lip balm (it’s windy on the ferry decks — and your kids will want to go on the outside decks).
  • Hairbrush or comb.

For baby & toddler

  • Diapering supplies.
  • Travel changing pad.
  • Receiving blankets or other thin blankets (great for cleaning up messes).
  • Car seat.
  • Stroller. Jogger-style strollers work well on steep downtown Seattle streets and in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, but can be too big to navigate through crowded areas (Pike Place Market, downtown Victoria in summer). City-style umbrella strollers are best if you’re planning to visit during summer.
  • Backpack or baby carrier, particularly if you plan to bring a baby or toddler into Pike Place Market or Granville Market during summer.
  • Baby food, formula, and/or breastfeeding supplies.
  • Sippy cup.
  • Preferred baby food and a spoon, a bag to put them into.
  • Clean-up washcloths or wipes in a baggie.

For older kids

  • Book (plan to pick up a few more while in a NW town from one of our children’s bookstores).
  • Notebook, journal, or activity book with crayons, felt pens, or colored pencils.
  • Favorite toys from home; although you can pack a few basics and plan to visit a local toystore while here.
  • Nightlight and/or small flashlight.
  • Freezer-size bags for wet clothing.
  • Pool toys (inflatables, floaties).

Snacks for the car, plane, train, or ferry

  • Instant oatmeal packets.
  • Dry cereal.
  • Cheese sticks.
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
  • Trail mix.
  • Baby carrots or oranges.
  • Water or juice boxes.

What did I forget?