Whether you’ve come to the North Carolina coast to go yachting, saltwater fishing, or stand-up paddleboarding, you may be wondering what exactly should be on your coastal packing list for a trip to the Inner Banks. With a warm, temperate climate that stretches sailing season from spring through fall, this spot on the sea calls for lots of time under the sun and on the water.
The beach packing list below will help you prepare for an outdoorsy vacation on the coast of North Carolina.
Swimwear and activewear
Whether or not you plan on jumping in the water, a swimsuit makes the perfect base layer for a day on the coast. If you plan to participate in lots of water sports and activities, bring at least two bathing suits so that the first one can dry while you wear the second one.
A lightweight swimsuit cover up or sarong is handy for sailing trips. In summer, when the highs hit the 80s and 90s, a breezy cover up and your bathing suit may be all you need to wear out on the water.
Swim shorts or board shorts
Men should pack some swim shorts and women some quick dry board shorts for activities like canoeing and kayaking. A comfy and flexible pair could even double as activewear if you need to pack light in a carry-on. Shorts with zippered pockets are extra handy for keeping items like keys and valuables secure while you’re out on the waves.
Rash guards and swim shirts are ideal for water sports. Not only do they protect your skin from the sun, in the cooler spring and fall months they add some warmth as well. If you’re shopping for new beach wear, look for the UPF rating of swim tops. Similar to SPF for sunscreen, UPF measures how much sun protection a fabric provides from ultraviolet rays.
Activewear and sports attire
Planning to hit the tennis courts? Play a round of golf? Go for a walk or jog? Make sure you pack the appropriate sports attire and footwear you need for your favorite outdoor activities. The coast of North Carolina is pretty warm from late spring through early autumn, so think shorts, tank tops, and short-sleeved tops for exercising outdoors or playing tennis and golf.
If you’re visiting anytime between April and October, bring out the sundresses and rompers for sunny days in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The heat in the middle of summer calls for light and breezy fabrics, but the resort wear or preppy coastal chic look works throughout the year. While there’s no need to be dressy in town, you may want to look put together while strolling through the gallery and shops or going out to brunch.
T-shirts and tops
Short-sleeved or sleeveless tops and t-shirts are suitable to wear on the coast through all of summer and much of spring and fall, too. Summer highs can reach the 90s, so pack breezy and lightweight fabrics to stay cool outside. If you’re visiting for the holidays or spring break, long sleeved tops or light sweaters are ideal for the colder weather.
Shorts are appropriate for most outdoorsy activities on the North Carolina coast. Bring lightweight or quick-dry options for activities like boating or kayaking when you may get wet.
Pants and trousers
A pair of linen pants in light colors are perfect for cooler days or sunset sailing trips. The coastal breezes can make lows in the 60s and 70s feel quite a bit chillier, so a beachy-looking pair of pants will definitely come in handy for much of the year. If you visit in winter, daytime high temperatures can be anywhere from the 40s to 60s, so long pants are definitely necessary during this time.
Rain jacket or windbreaker
A water-resistant windbreaker or rain jacket is a useful item to pack for the coast. Not only will a rain jacket come in handy for pop-up summer showers, but it can also add some warmth from sea breezes while you’re out on the sailboat.
Wrap or jacket
While you won’t need to pack a jacket for summer trips, throwing a light wrap over your shoulders can keep you warm on windy evenings or when dining inside. By October, low temperatures typically drop to the 50s, so you may want to think about bringing a light jacket for fall and spring. Winter lows hit the 30s, so warm attire is definitely necessary for off-season visits.
Shoes and accessories
Sandals or flip flops
In the summer, open-toed shoes are perfect for a trip to the coast. Just keep in mind that you may want a more sturdy pair of shoes for boating or paddling.
Water shoes are great for beach vacation activities like canoeing and kayaking when your feet often get wet. If you plan to wear them on a boat, make sure they have a grippy rubber sole to prevent slipping.
Oriental is a boating haven, so bring a pair of boat shoes if you plan to hit the seas. Not only are they convenient for slipping on and off and safer for walking on moving and wet surfaces, they’re also more stylish for sailing trips than a pair of water shoes.
Your footwear collection on the coast should also include a pair of sneakers for any land-based sports and activities, like tennis, cycling, or exercising.
Spending time outdoors on the coast means a lot of sun exposure. Help shade your face and protect your skin by wearing a sun hat. A simple ball cap or bucket hat will get the job done, or you can up the style factor with a wide brimmed straw or beach hat.
Don’t forget to add sunglasses to your beach packing list! A polarized pair is best when you’re spending a lot of time on the coast to protect your eyes from the glare of the sun.
Boating and beach gear
You’ll need something to tote around your belongings when you’re out for the day on a sailing excursion or kayaking adventure. While a simple beach bag or backpack is fine for holding your things on a boat, a dry bag is even better when you’re out on the water. Specially designed to block out water and sometimes even float, dry bags are a must for paddle sports and also handy for boats.
What’s the first thing you should throw in your beach bag? Sunscreen, of course. You don’t want to forget to pack SPF sun protection for trips to the coast. Even if you aren’t laying on the sand all day, the sun reflects off of the water, so spending any time out on the river or sound means lots of exposure to the rays. Slather it on in the morning before heading out and bring plenty to reapply, as well.
SPF lip balm
Your lips can also suffer damage from the sun, so pack a lip balm with SPF to help protect them.
While the goal is always to avoid sunburn on a coastal getaway, pack some aloe vera just in case you get a bit too pink during the day. The soothing plant is packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that help rejuvenate the skin after too much sun exposure.
Beach towels are a must for any water activities on the coast. Throw one in your dry bag or beach bag before heading out boating or canoeing.
Reusable water bottle
Bring a refillable water bottle to stay hydrated on a beach trip without contributing to plastic waste. Insulated bottles and cups will keep water cold for longer on a hot day, or you can pack a cooler with ice for boat trips.
A beach packing list for the North Carolina coast should definitely include some bug spray, especially during the warm and humid summer months when pesky mosquitoes hang around the water.
Pack some hand sanitizer to kill germs on the go. When you’re out for a long day on the water, some hand sanitizing wipes are great for quick clean ups before a picnic lunch.
A laundry bag always comes in handy for managing wet clothes and towels on beach trips.
Cell phone, charger and headphones
It goes without saying, but don’t forget to put your phone and accessories on your packing checklist.
Waterproof phone case
Nothing ruins a fun day of kayaking or sailing like a damaged phone. Pack a waterproof case so that you can still snap photos while adventuring without worrying too much about splashes.
An action camera like a GoPro is the perfect device to bring on a beach trip for capturing all the fun. They are small and waterproof and perfect to take out on a SUP or canoe to take videos.
Don’t forget your favorite toiletries and essentials like toothpaste, a toothbrush, deodorant, face cleanser, moisturizer, lotion, a razor, makeup, and hair products.
First aid kit and prescriptions
A small first aid kit you can carry out on adventures is a great item to pack for the coast. Make sure you also remember to bring your prescriptions on vacation.
The most important item you need to travel with is, of course, your wallet. Do a quick check before leaving home to make sure your ID, credit cards, and insurance info are tucked safely inside.