I recently strapped my paddle board on to my back and hiked up to a beautiful, hidden lake in the mountains near my home. It was truly one of the most serene places I’ve been. I ate my lunch as I floated on the board and reflected on how much life has changed over the last few years. I marveled at the difference of being responsible for just one person (me) as opposed to what seems like a few short years ago when I had 4 young kids with me wherever I went.
I had a completely different experience the next time I went to a lake. There were 8 of us (4 were under the age of 10) and the lake was full of people, each on some kind of inflatable water toy – paddle boards, kayaks, canoes and a lot of floats. I was surrounded by the smell of sunscreen, the sound of laughter, and some awesome BBQ smells coming from the group next to us. Although so different, both of these were a few of my favorite days of the summer.
Do you want to know a secret? The key to making lake days memorable is to bring the fun! And food of course – doesn’t this go without saying? Of course, fun means different things to different people. To some it is spending the day reading a book from the New York Times Summer Reading list; to others it might be connecting with friends or family; and to others it would be watching (and maybe joining in) kids splashing and playing in the water. Would you believe that there is a lake float for everyone who wants a lake day?
After that day at the lake I started seeing floats everywhere. They call this the frequency illusion – it’s what happened to me when I bought a Subaru (I seriously could not remember ever seeing one before I drove it off the lot). But I started seeing Subarus everywhere – when did everyone buy a Subaru? Well, I started seeing floats everywhere – Target, Walmart, sporting goods stores, Amazon, and even in my neighbor’s garage. In fact, there are so many floats on the market that it can be a little overwhelming.
Things to Consider When Buying a Lake Float
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin your search for the perfect float:
Before you start looking for floats, determine how much money you are willing to spend. There are so many different floats that you will have a great selection no matter what your budget is.
How big is the lake? How many people will be in your group? Do you want something extra large so that the whole group can be side by side or would single floats be better? How much room do you have in your car to transport lake toys?
Be sure to look for high quality materials. This is especially important if you are headed to a lake that has rocks near the surface or a river. Look for high gauge PVC numbers. This stuff is strong enough to withstand rock scrapes and pokes from sticks. A higher gauge will also be durable enough to be inflated and deflated over and over …. Which is another question to consider – how much are you planning on using it?
Where are you going? Is it a calm lake? Does it have a sandy beach area? Keep this thought in mind and be sure to get a float that is constructed well enough to handle where you will be using it. Also, know the rules of that lake, river or ocean; some lakes allow all kinds of floats, some certain floats, and others don’t allow any floats at all.
Do you want to deal with inflating floats? How much time will you have at the lake? How much time does it take to inflate? A lot of floats will give you a time estimate. Is the lake close enough that you can leave floats inflated? Does it have double air chambers? If so, it means that the float has a high tensile strength and can be inflated to a higher psi (pressure per square inch) in a short amount of time.
Does the float have a Boston valve? The cool thing about this valve is air only flows in one direction – no lost air! It has 3 parts: a base, a middle cap and a top cap. When you unscrew the top cap it speeds up the inflating process. If you unscrew the middle cap it speeds up the deflation time because air can escape through this opening. But keep in mind that not all floats need to be inflated.
Is it a small float? If it is small enough you could use your own air. For all other floats, my best advice would be to get a high quality, electric pump. It will make the day so much easier. Can you park near the water? Some pumps connect right to your car and use the car’s battery.
Is the float large? Make sure you have an electric pump (with batteries) because you won’t want to carry it inflated all the way from your car. That said, there are some really good foot pumps that do a great job at inflating tubes and floats. Some lake floats even include a pump.
While we always hope that everything works and nothing gets broken, it’s best to be prepared. Accidents do happen, but a good repair kit can save the day. Some floats come with a kit, but you can also buy one for around $30. If you don’t want to invest in a kit, at least have some waterproof seal tape with you.
There are all kinds of accessories that come (or don’t come) with a float. Some have cup holders and some have cell phone holders. Sunshades might be an accessory you would like if you want or need to stay out of the sun. There are some that have a cooler which is super convenient, but you can also buy a separate floating cooler.
Types of Lake Floats
Now, let’s talk about the different kinds of floats on the market today. You have probably surmised that we are not talking about basic tire looking tubes – although, I still think those are fun to float down a river. Floats range from a simple donut looking tube (or maybe a dinosaur for the kids) to a full size cabana to a mat you can jump off to a floating obstacle course . . . and a lot in between.
These are exactly what their name implies: made for one person. Let your personality shine with this decision! There are many different kinds: unicorn, swan, donut, narwhal, mermaid, pizza slice, and so many more! Choose a lounger, a chair or a recliner; one with a pillow or one that is more like a mattress; with shade or without.
Okay, so there is a basic side by side tube but in so many colors and designs. There are recliners that face each other or recliners that are side by side; ones with pillows or without. Floats with a cooler, cup holders, or both. Ones that are more like a mattress to lie down on or ones that have a shallow pool to put your feet in. Don’t want to bother with inflating a float? Try a 2 person foam lounger – it looks super comfy. Looking for a double float that 2 kids can play on? Not a problem – try one that is like a teeter totter or one like a rocking horse!
These are sometimes called island floats and they are perfect if you are in a party mode. Maybe you have heard or saw the unicorn float that was so popular in 2019? You’ll for sure attract the attention of everyone at the lake! Or maybe a giant pizza is more your style? It has 8 slices that can float together or separately. Really hot day? Try one that has a pool for everyone to put their feet in to cool off. Are there some in your group that want to be in the shade? No problem: there are floats that are part shade/part sun.
Fun Center Float
By this I mean more of an active, fun island then a relaxing one. Depending on what size you are looking for, these can offer a lot: trampolines, slides, or a mini obstacle course. Not looking for something that big? You can get a trampoline float or just a slide. And you can choose from a huge trampoline or slide and a smaller one. These are sure to guarantee hours of fun!
The best thing about these is that there is no assembly required; you just unroll them and set them on the water. They are perfect to lounge on or to jump off from. And they come in different sizes – a really large one can hold up to 18 people! I have seen a number of these at the lake, but haven’t tried one yet. They look really fun and meet different interests: you can lie down on them to soak up the sun or jump off and climb back on.
Safety Reminders for the Lake
I wouldn’t want anyone to forget that the biggest thing to make a day at the lake successful is safety. I am reminded of what C.S. Lewis wrote in Out of the Silent Planet: “And I say also this. I do not think the forest would be so bright, nor the water so warm, nor love so sweet, if there were no danger in the lakes.” Here are a few things to keep in mind:
In the United States, drowning is the second leading cause of death for children between the ages of 1 and 4 (car accidents are the leading cause). But adults and older kids can drown too. In fact, between the years of 2010 and 2019 there were about 3,960 fatal drownings each of those years. That means about 11 people drowned every day.According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 400 of those deaths between 2016 and 2018 were children who were younger than 15.
But don’t feel too comfortable: adults, especially males, have a high rate of drowning too. Which is why it is a really good idea to designate at least 1 person, and depending on the size of your group maybe more, to be a lifeguard. But be sure to rotate the responsibility around so no one gets fatigued and loses focus.
It is really important to make sure kids wear a life jacket anytime they are on the water. And if you or anyone in your group are not a strong swimmer, it’s a good idea for you too. Be sure to check out your state’s requirements about life jackets on a lake. Most states require them for children under the age of 12.
While state laws differ, most don’t require an adult to wear a life jacket if they are staying in the swim zone. Lake water can be a little murky and depths can vary from one spot to another so it’s a good practice for young kids to keep life jackets on the entire time you are there. It is so easy to become relaxed when everyone is having fun and even more so if they are on floats. But it’s important to remember that these are toys and won’t prevent drowning.
No one likes a sunburn to remind them of a fun day in the sun . . . much better to remember the day with pictures of smiling faces. But most of us have been there: at the end of the day, we notice that our skin is a little pink and warm. As time goes on that pink turns red and that warmth turns to a burning sensation. With any luck our skin is back to normal within a few days.
With a few precautions you can spend a day outside without getting sunburned. Let’s start with sunscreen. You first need to know how long it takes your skin to change color without any sunscreen. For example, if your skin turns pink after 10 minutes in the sun and you put on sunscreen with 30 SPF it would take your skin 300 minutes to begin to burn (10 X 30). And that is 5 hours – but remember that number because we are going to talk about that again.
And so it makes sense that SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The CDC recommends a sunscreen with at least 30 SPF. Remember that 5 hours? Just because you applied sunscreen before you even got to the lake doesn’t mean you are finished. Keep that bottle with you because you need to reapply every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating.
I learned this lesson the hard way some years ago: I put sunscreen on before I left the house but by the time I got home I was so burnt I couldn’t even handle standing up without feeling like my legs were going to burst. Ouch! And don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your ears, lips, the back of your neck and hands, and the tops of your feet.
We also can’t forget about the eyes -it’s bright out there on the water! Be kind to your eyes and bring some UV-blocking sunglasses – just don’t bring your most expensive, favorite pair and remember to take them off before you dive in the water.
I don’t know about you but it’s easy for me to forget to drink when I am having fun . . . but to be honest, it’s hard for me to remember when I am by myself and bored. I struggle getting enough liquid during the best of days. But it is even more important to stay hydrated when you are in the sun. Make sure you pack a cooler of cold drinks – especially water – with lots of ice.
Don’t forget to pack foods rich in water: watermelon is 92% water, strawberries are 91%, cucumbers are 95% and tomatoes are 94% – just to name a few. And while you are packing lunch and snacks throw some in that will add electrolytes back into your body – you know, things like salty chips. When do you ever hear that it is good to eat chips? I try to take advantage of this whenever I can! Now if only they would say cookies are good for you too.
In my mind, it is hard to beat a summer day at a lake; water, friends and family, and food – what’s not to love? Throw in some floats and you have something everyone in your family will enjoy. There are many reasons to invest in some floats: fits most budgets, easy to store and transport, and they are so much fun!
So whether you are looking to spend some solo time soaking up the sun, playing in water with the kids, or just sitting back and relaxing with friends, a lake day will make memories that last a lifetime. So go find a lake, grab your camera, a few supplies (don’t forget the sunscreen!) and start making memories. Have fun and be safe!