If doing outdoorsy things is old hat for you, then you probably already have most of what you need semi-permanently stashed in a day pack and/or your vehicle. But if venturing out into the city parks isn’t something you’ve done much of in recent years, here’s a list of items to consider for your park kit.
I recommend keeping a lot of these in a container or pack in your vehicle so you don’t have to remember them each time. If you regularly take public transit, then you’re probably already prepared.
Boots or mud shoes
In Seattle it’s a given that if you venture off pavement at any time other than high summer you will experience squishy grass or mud at some point.
Even in warmer weather it can be breezy near large bodies of water, or chilly in the early and evening hours.
They aren’t high style, but they pack small, fit every body size and shape, are easy to take on and off no matter what you’re wearing, and keep you dry even in windy conditions. They also are good for wet benches. Don’t go cheap by getting plastic/vinyl. Get good quality coated nylon or some other similar material. REI or Amazon are good places to shop.
Bandanas come in handy for a multitude of things, including a drippy nose on cold, windy days. Try to find one that’s 100% cotton, not a poly blend. It takes a few washings before it’s nice and soft. REI is a good source.
Gloves and hat
Any kind of hat will do. But if you’re going to be out in sun, rain, or falling snow, I recommend something with a wide brim. It shades both your face and neck in sun, and keeps precipitation from going down inside your collar. In cold weather a plain old knit cap works wonders.
REI is a great place to go if you want to try on a lot of different styles. Get something that won’t lose its shape if you need to crush it up into a pocket or pack.
You should always have water with you, at least in the car. Get a refillable sports bottle. If you’ll be doing a lot of walking you can find one that has a thin shoulder strap for easy carrying. Places like REI and Big 5 Sporting Goods are suggested places to shop.
Polaroid sunglasses cuts down on glare, especially around water, without making things too dark, allowing you better enjoyment of the view. They also help avoid “squint headaches” on any bright day, including bright overcast days. Fred Meyers usually has a decent assortment of inexpensive sunglasses.
If you’re like me and prefer the shade, you might not need it. But if you’re going to be out in the sun for extended periods of time, slather some on. You can get some at any drugstore or grocery store.
Flies and mosquitoes aren’t problems every year or in every park. But it’s nice to have some just in case. (A mosquito bit me at a woodsy park in February because of a warm winter. You just never know!) Available at any outdoors, drug, or grocery store.
For wet/damp benches. This could be as simple as a folded up waste basket liner, or as fancy as a stadium cushion. The main thing is to use something easy to carry. High humidity or fog can keep things damp, even if it hasn’t rained in a couple days. Many newer park benches are metal, so a thin piece of foam can be good because it also provides a little insulation in colder weather.
Street map of the greater Seattle area
Yep, go old school. GPS devices and Google maps on a smart phone or tablet are all well and good, but nothing beats having a dependable map handy when you get lost or can’t remember where you need to turn. No need to worry about connectivity or whether your GPS unit went bonkers.
A physical map is especially useful for people with anxiety about driving in unfamiliar areas. It allows you to carefully plan your route to the park ahead of time using your own driving preferences. Some people prefer using main, well-known roads with traffic lights. I prefer finding smaller arterials that have few lights and less traffic. It’s a much less stressful way to get around the city, but takes some map study.
I highly recommend Greater Seattle Map Book. It’s a wire-wound book, so stays open to the page you need, and doesn’t fill the entire car when you only need to look at one section. It also has an index of park names in the back, making it super easy to find the page you need.
A cane or walking stick
Obviously not everyone needs one of these. But if you find that your mobility has been slowly decreasing because the birthdays keep coming or the knee you twisted is taking its sweet time to heal, a cane can do wonders helping ensure you get the most out of your park adventures. You can get an adjustable one at a drug store for about twenty-five bucks.
I keep one in the car now, so it’s always handy. Most days I don’t use it. But on days when my hip is acting up, or I’m going to walk farther than usual, it’s a real confidence booster. I had to get past a mental block over using one, but it’s been worth it.
Not a must have, but they can enhance your enjoyment of your outings, letting you watch birds, wildlife, and boats. I don’t recommend buying them online unless you already know exactly what you want. It’s best to shop at a physical store so you can try out different kinds in order to find some that fit your personal preferences and budget. REI and other sporting goods stores are good places to look.
Okay, so you haven’t taken a photo in years, why start now? Because our parks have some wonderful things to see and you might like to have pictures of them, or just a visual record of your outings.
I’ve noticed that when the weather has been bad, or I just haven’t been able to force myself to leave the house in a while, being able to look at photos I’ve taken improves my mood and makes me feel like I at least mentally went outside.
If you aren’t fussy about quality and have a camera on your phone, you’re set. Otherwise, you can get a decent digital pocket camera for under $100. The benefit of digital is you never have to make extra trips to the store to get film developed, and you can happily snap away at whatever strikes your fancy, then only keep the pictures that turned out well.
Another way to go is get a disposable film camera at the drug store. They’re inexpensive. You’ll need to be a bit more choosy about what photos to snap, because you don’t want to pay to develop a bunch of failed photography experiments, but it’s a cheap way to see if you enjoy photography.
Don’t spend a lot of money on a camera until: 1) You know you like taking pictures and want something that will create higher quality photos. 2) You have an idea of what advanced features you want and will actually use.
If you decide to buy a camera but don’t know what to get, I recommend making a trip to Kenmore Camera in Kenmore to get in-person help with finding the camera that’s right for you. They have easy parking in their own lot and a large store with lots of inventory and very knowledgable sales people. Talls Camera also has two or three Seattle area stores located in malls.
Shopping for a camera online if you aren’t sure what you need isn’t the best way to go. It might seem cheaper, but if you end up unhappy with the results it was wasted money. A physical store usually gets you the right camera on the first try. And if not, it has a good return policy and you don’t have the mailing expense.