Confession: I’m that mom who won’t let her kids eat crackers in the car, because I despise the
idea of crumbs accumulating under the car seats. And yet, I don’t mind mud. I’m not sure how
my brain has rationalized this, but it’s where I’m at. Since I can’t deny my kids the opportunity
for a spontaneous roll in the mud or puddle-splashing session, we keep our car ready for
adventure. You don’t need much space or to shell out the big bucks, so it’s totally worth it to
have a few important items on hand at all times.
My main setup is pretty simple: I keep a shallow plastic tote in my trunk to hold our gear. If I
don’t have some kind of box or large bag to contain everything then the stuff just gets spread
out everywhere and takes up valuable cargo space. So I have this tote, and in it goes a
seasonal assortment. In the summer that could mean sand toys and bug spray, but right now it’s
holding our rain suits and waterproof gloves. Technically the rain suits are sitting in that bucket,
actually—a free plastic pickle bucket I got from the deli at the grocery store just by asking nicely.
It’s so convenient to peel off the trail suits and drop them in the bucket, then carry the bucket
inside to wash the contents.
This way, I can leave the tote in my trunk, to keep holding the “adventure bag,” which contains
our nature journals, colored pencils, magnifying glass, and binoculars. Eventually I’ll add field
guides, a laminated scavenger hunt, and a little collection jar, plus maybe more specific tools as
my kids age into them. There’s a lot of inspiration for these types of nature exploration kits on
Pinterest, or you can stop in to Beaver Lake Nature Center and check out a “junior ranger
backpack” for your kids to try out on the trails there. I also throw our camping tarp back there
(shown on the side of the tote), either to sit on outside, or to protect the inside of the car if I have
a really huge wet mess to bring home. It also works well to cover the carpeted bottom of the
trunk so the kids can perch in there with their wet/muddy clothes still on, whether to have a
snack, or while they’re changing.
Speaking of, brownie points to you if you remember to keep a full outfit-change for each kid in
your car, in a seasonally-appropriate size. I never seem to remember to replace it once I bring it
inside to get washed, but this is a must, in rain or shine. I do, however, always manage to have
extra shoes. Sometimes you don’t expect a trail to be muddy and then it is, or your kids find the
only muck puddle in the whole field (by accident, of course, mmhmm...), but you still have
errands to run or a class to go to, etc. So I keep a pair of rainboots each, extra sneakers for my
mischief preschooler, and sandals for me. These I toss on the floor of the back seat, under the
shadow of the rear-facing carseat, where it’s a little awkward to put groceries anyway. I should
probably swap out the sandals for close-toed shoes now that it’s getting chillier, but the boots
can stay. They still fit. They’re not as toasty as our BOGS, but they’re dry, so, they’ll do in a
You could definitely elaborate here. If you have a more space (minivan moms, I’m looking at
you!), keep a ball to kick around, butterfly nets, extra jackets, sleds, etc. I would love a pickup
truck with a pop-up nature exploration station in the bed (do they make those? they should!), but
my little hatchback does just fine. A tote, a bucket, a tarp, and the bare-bones basics, and we’re
So, what junk is in your trunk?
- Emily Pollokoff