Ever since summer started, our family of four has been scouring the internet for the best lake gear out there. From electric water bikes to coolers and portable grills, we tried to cover every budget and interest level.
Just in time for you to soak up the last few weekends of summer, we tracked down some toys and essentials to make the most out of a day at the lake.
So whether you have the means to buy some fancy new toys and stimulate the economy or get out there with what you have already, we hope this inspires you to enjoy the end of summer safely and responsibly!
Table of Contents
Ultimate Lake Toys Top Pics
V7 Epic Surf Ski ($1,695)
A surf ski is the longest (and tippiest) watercraft in the kayaking family. For a long time, paddlers only used them in the ocean. However, as surf ski paddling got more popular in the performance and fitness world, they are now becoming more common on lakes and even mellow rivers.
As a professional adventure racer, I’ve been paddling surf skis for many years now. And while I love them for how fast they improve your paddling technique and how fast they are, I was always so scared of damaging mine due to the fragile build of most boats.
For years, nearly all surf skis were only made out of thin fiberglass, Kevlar, and carbon, which made them very light and delicate. One little hit from a hidden rock, and you were spending the rest of the day patching and sanding.
Enter Epic Kayaks’ new V7. Epic is one of the main movers and shakers in the surf ski industry and has finally produced a rotomolded boat that’s nearly indestructible yet still light enough (37 pounds) to handle on your own. The combination of a kick up rudder, durable rotomolded plastic material, and sleek yet stable design makes this a perfect boat for beginners and experts alike.
Beginners can gain confidence in a not so fragile boat while experts can go where their fiberglass race boat could never go! If you want a boat that will get you further faster and get you strong while getting yourself there, don’t delay. Check this boat out.
Carbon Hala Nass 126 ($1,499)
A standup paddleboard is a lake staple. Use it for a good workout, a relaxing paddle with the dog, or as a platform for a good yoga session. I’ve had the Hala Nass (pronounced “haulin’ ass”) for a little over a year now and have fallen deeply in love with its performance and versatility.
Even though it’s inflatable, you’d never know because of its stiff and lightweight carbon stinger construction. The shape and rigidness of the Hala make it extremely fast and responsive, making it a perfect board to zoom across lakes. Or take it down a notch, strap on a cooler, and cruise slowly around the lake. Whatever your desired speed, the Hala Nass is a good watercraft for speedy and chill folks alike.
Hydro Flask Soft Cooler Pack 15L ($175)
As a mother of two tiny and constantly hungry humans, there’s no going to the lake without an arsenal of a variety of snacks. And for us adults, it’s always nice to throw in a few “decompression” beverages. Before the Hydro Flask backpack cooler, I would either huff in our heavy cooler, which would be a huge hassle on its own, or I would just bring dry snacks. However, with the Soft Cooler Pack, I got major mom, wife, and friend points.
Not to mention it was a breeze carrying it in. And because it’s such a nice size and shape, it now lives in the back of our car, ready to go for any outdoor mission we may get ourselves into. We recently filled it up with drinks and sandwiches and left it in the car while we went on a 30-hour running and swimming mission in and around alpine lakes.
When we got back to the car the next day, all our food and beverages were cold and so refreshing! I found the 15L to be plenty for our little family of four for day excursions, but if you’re packing for more mouths or for a longer amount of time, the 22L may be your best bet.
POPup Dock ($799)
Have you ever wanted a private island? The POPup Dock may be just the thing to take on your next lake outing. This inflatable dock can carry up to 1,500 pounds, gets super rigid, and has attachment points for up to 10 SUPs or kayaks so you can create your own floating archipelago.
Alone, it comfortably fits two adults, and while a little tight, it can also fit either a third adult or two small humans. It comes with a pump and a carrying case, so it can easily be thrown into the back of the car. It does take a little time and sweat to pump up (5 minutes and 150 calories), but the rewards are huge.
Also, if you really hate pumping, you can always get a pump that plugs into your car to do the work! The POPup Dock has been amazing for our family trips and even solo trips when I’m craving a little spacious alone time.
ExOfficio BugsAway Clothing
Usually, where there’s standing water (like a lake) there are also, unfortunately, a lot of bugs — especially at dawn and dusk. ExOfficio’s BugsAway clothing line is the best clothing I’ve found that checks all the boxes for our outings. It’s lightweight, comfortable, looks great, and keeps the bugs away.
As a bonus, as it covers you up, you also get sun coverage as well. I, for one, really dislike everything about bug spray and always forget to reapply sunscreen, so keeping covered has been the easiest solution for me.
My favorite pieces in the line are the women’s Wanderlux Cianorte Long Sleeve Shirt paired with the Palma UPF 50 tights. And my husband doesn’t go anywhere without his Sandfly Pants and Halo Long Sleeve Shirt. In addition to keeping the bugs at bay for up to 70 washes, both are quick-drying, moisture-wicking, and have a UPF rating of 50.
Big Agnes Whetstone Shelter ($160)
Having a portable shade structure for long days at the lake is clutch. You don’t have to worry about searching for shade, and in a time where social distancing is the norm, you can go anywhere you want!
The Big Agnes Whetstone Shelter is the lightest, easiest, and most versatile shade tent I’ve found. It takes all of 2 minutes to set up, easily rotates around with the sun so you always have shade, and it has little stash pockets for little things like sunscreen, sunglasses, and snacks.
My favorite feature of it is that the footprint can either be used as a ground pad or can be strung up so that it becomes completely enclosed. All three of my boys (husband and two sons) have taken naps in there together. The large can easily fit two adults and two to three small kids.
For an easy, lightweight shelter that can hold up to regular family abuse, this is a great piece to have in your arsenal.
Manta 5 HydroFoiler XE-1 Ebike ($7,500)
For those with a high budget and who really want a new way to be out on the water and turn some heads while getting an amazing and fun workout in, check out the Manta 5’s Hydrofoiler XE- 1.
What is it, you ask? One recent tester described it as a cross between “a boat, an airplane, and an e-bike.” Basically, it’s an electric water bike that lets you quietly ride across a body of water. Instead of wheels that would sink in water, it’s equipped with three carbon hydrofoils that look and act like wings in the water.
The New Zealand-based company says that an average “fit person” can learn to ride it fairly quickly and can get it up to a max speed of 13 mph. And the fitter you are, the longer it will go on a single charge, as the assist adds to what you put in.
And when it does need to get plugged in, it only takes an hour to charge. At 65 pounds, it’s not the lightest piece of equipment to carry around. But for ease of transport, it does break down into three easily manageable parts.
One of our GearJunkie New Zealand-based contributors will be fully testing it soon, so we’ll report back. The first round of orders is sold out, but the company is taking its second round of orders now, which will be fulfilled in October. Not quite in time for Labor Day, but you’ll be the talk of the lake in 2021!
Kokopelli Moki II Inflatable Kayak ($999)
Kokopelli is known for its durable and fun inducing inflatable boats. And while most of its boats are better suited to moving water, in 2020 the brand came out with a line of boats called the Lake Series. In this line, my favorite is the Moki II.
This versatile and highly adaptable inflatable kayak is perfect for both adventurous and chill kayakers. The Moki comes with two removable spray decks, two alpine lake spray skirts, two removable seats, a barrel pump, and a carrying case for easy transport. When fully blown up (which takes around 4 minutes with the pump), the narrow, streamlined shape makes this boat surprisingly smooth and fast.
Whether you’re solo or have a plus-one, this boat can easily accommodate one or two paddlers without changing how it glides through the water. At 53 pounds, this isn’t the lightest thing to carry into a lake, but it’s the perfect thing to throw in the back of the car for a full day at your favorite lake.
ROKA Mallorca Sunglasses ($205)
You can’t head to the lake without a sweet pair of shades. And while there are a million sunglass companies to choose from, my most recent favorite pair of sunnies are the Mallorcas from ROKA. After weeks of testing, they have yet to slip off my face and are so light I often forget they’re on my face.
The rose-tinted lenses work great in sunny and overcast conditions and have both an anti-fog and anti-scratch properties. Their unique design fits many different faces and is not only fashionable and different but also very comfortable. While a little on the spendy side, these durable, ultralight, chill-inducing sunglasses are the perfect addition to your lake day arsenal.
Sea to Summit Tek Towels ($13-40)
The Tek Towel is the lake enthusiast’s best friend. The polyester-nylon microfiber strikes a great balance between an “at home” feel while maintaining super absorption and quick-drying properties.
But it’s the details we loved most. The towels have snap hang loops. And they come in sweet soft, zippered cases that make them a breeze to transport and keep your other stuff dry! They come in five different sizes and many different colors.
For our family of four, we each have a different one based on our sizes. The youngest gets the smallest and my husband gets the biggest!
Rumpl Stash Mat ($79)
Everyone loves the Stash Mat. To the kids, it means snack time (our 3-year-old has renamed it the “snack mat”) and to the adults, it means getting a break and having a nice place to sit.
And while chairs are nice, they’re just another thing to carry to your lake spot. For everything from lake days to car rides and backpacking, the Stash Mat is always with us. It packs up into itself, is lightweight, and can be staked down thanks to little tabs on each corner.
However, the most exciting feature is that it repels everything. Sand, water, dog hair, and crumbs don’t stand a chance on this thing. Couple that with its waterproof bottom, and it can be set over anything and instantly make it more comfortable.
Solar Garmin Instinct Watch ($400)
If you’re the type of person who loves to explore in and around lakes but wants to leave the phone in the car, check out the new Solar Garmin Instinct Watch. It charges off the sun! This watch is an amazing addition to the tech and activity tracker-obsessed athlete’s arsenal.
It has way too many features to list here, but in short, it can track your route, heart rate, temperature, cadence, and much, much more. It can do all of this and not once be plugged in for up to 54 days if you’re charging it in the sun (just wearing it on your wrist outside!).
Check out our full review of the Garmin Instinct for more details.
Fireside Outdoor Trailblazer Fire Pit ($100)
Maybe you’ve tried it, or maybe you’ve only dreamed of it. But having a small campfire on the beach during sunset is pure magic. Ordinarily, there’s no good, ecologically sensitive, or, frankly, legal way to do it. Enter Fireside Outdoor.
Earlier this year, the brand launched an ultra-portable, super-simple, pop-up fire pit: the Trailblazer. And as a bonus, it easily converts into a grill! Not only is the Trailblazer easy to use — it sets up in less than 2 minutes — its design prevents the fire from impacting the ground beneath it.
The Trailblazer weighs just over 3 pounds and, when packed, is roughly the size of a big thermos. Read our full review here.