Quite often, as I try and encourage other parents and families to have some outdoor adventures, it seems that they feel a need to bring lots of 'stuff'. I often wonder if the strollers I see, loaded down with various piles of accumulated 'make it easier' items, are meant more for the stuff than the child. I personally think those monster strollers take up too much room and just get in the way, especially when being pushed around at a craft show or other place with limited maneuvering room. When my son was younger, I used a sling to carry him, which is essentially no more than a piece of fabric wrapped around the shoulder and child. Sometimes, a small bag was over my shoulder, as well, depending on whether I needed food, water, and a change of outfit. As he got older, the sling was replaced with a shoulder ride. Occasionally, when going for longer walks on paved surfaces, I would use a jogging stroller, but it was mostly empty except for my son - one hand for the stroller, and the other hand for dog leashes or collars. Often, since the dogs were off lead trained, I only needed to be able to grab a collar to ensure their tails were sufficiently out of the way when a vehicle would come by on our typically quiet street.
So now we need to think about how to minimize that load, and wonder "Do I really need all that stuff?" Ever since my son was born, as soon as he came home from his very short stay at the hospital, I was taking him out for walks. Especially when he was feeling a bit fussy, going outside was a sure way to quiet him down as he would watch the trees and scenery around him. During one recent water trip, another mother had a backpack full with various items and towels, while I went with the basic shake dry method, carrying one water bottle to share, no towels, and a small pouch to keep the keys and phone dry. She responded "Just like a Dad", which I will take as a compliment. Since this was not a long trip, not much was really needed, so I kept it very light and portable. As my son had also mentioned, this was a 'citified' adventure, as we were going to an amusement park near where we live.
Perhaps the best way to think about how to minimize the load and leave more room (and time) for fun, is to think about what size bag or pack you have available, and how much weight you can comfortably carry. I can be a pack horse when needed, but prefer not to weigh myself down any more than necessary. I want my son to have fun, so if I am going on a water adventure with swimming and digging, I might bring a small bucket with a shovel. However we have also improvised with clam or mussel shells, flat sticks, hands, or whatever else we could find. If it is warm (or hot this summer), we wear quick drying clothes and just drip dry, which actually feels nice and cool.
If you are going on a walking adventure, maybe a walking stick would work well, but only if you can carry it. I use a walking stick more for moving branches or dogs aside, or occasionally balance, than actually walking. A sun hat is a must for us, but those are worn on the head, so are easy to carry. How long will you be gone for? Water is always good to have, and a water bottle for everyone can easily fit in a backpack carried by the larger adventurers.
Will you be having lunch? Here is shot of us on a recent biking adventure, where we bike for a few miles to a river, have lunch and snacks at some picnic tables that are conveniently available, and then go swimming, digging, splashing, and whatever. Even though it may look like a lot, everything we needed, and a few extras like a camera, fit just fine in the bike bags. I put some peanut butter and jelly into a small jar, take enough bread to have an extra sandwich in case we get extra hungry, some fruit, water, cover for the table, napkin, even a small bottle of hand cleaner. The towel on the table can also be used to dry or clean up, if needed. In the winter, when fresh stuff is not available, dried fruit works very well and is lightweight. Having a picnic table is certainly not necessary, as we go on many hikes with nothing but a trail, or maybe not even that. But since it is there, it makes for a fun place to visit. Just remember to take all your packaging and stuff back with you when you leave. I put all the food in the green bag, so the bike bag stays cleaner, and put the trash in one of the bags that gets emptied.
Will it get cold out? Maybe reserve a little room in your pack for a spare long sleeve shirt or fleece pull-over to go under a wind proof jacket. Gloves are small and easily fit in pockets or in a pocket in the pack, and there are many hats that are very small as well. Here we are having a snack during an all day hike. The pack is larger than what I needed, but I knew he would not make the whole walk, so he sat on the top of the pack for some of the hike and it was still comfortable for me (although quite heavy!).
So what do you really need? Food, water, one napkin or wipe, maybe a small towel to put food on, I always have a small pocket knife or multi-tool, and whatever the weather or adventure dictates. So, what are you waiting for? No more excuses, you don't really need to take the whole room full of baby and child stuff, go out and have some fun!