The One Thing I Pack on Every Family Outing

This blanket does everything and makes me look more prepared than I actually am.

Matador blanket.
Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker

I bought the Matador Pocket Blanket because its name was fun to say—the Matador!!—but also because by the time we get to the beach, the woods, or the playground, all I want to do is sit down. But my oldest demands we sit in the shade. My middle hates the sand. The baby is strongly averse to sitting on anything that might be wet. Even my husband despises getting dirt on his pants.

When you’ve got three wild kids ages 6, 4, and 1, you end up on lots of outdoor adventures. I try (and fail) to prepare perfectly. I pack sand toys for the beach, explorer gear for the woods, and Band-Aids for the playground. No matter where we go, though, amid the welter of wipes, snacks, umbrellas, and organizers that rotate in and out of my outdoor bag, there’s one object we always use: the Matador, a foldable, waterproof blanket that I bought as an afterthought but ended up being the best $30 I’ve spent in a long time.

A Matador blanket.

Matador Pocket Blanket 2.0

From Dec. 1 to Dec. 15, Slate readers can get 15% off the Pocket Blanket at Matador. Use discount code SLATEMATADOR during checkout.

At an impromptu beat-the-heat play date at a lake beach, I was searching my bag for something for the 4-year-old to sit on. I thought I was pulling out a shopping bag but instead pulled out—the Matador! I spread it out on a shady spot and filled the corner pockets with a bit of sand to keep it grounded—play date success.

A road trip playground pit stop yielded wet playground equipment. I ran back to the car in hopes I had stuffed some napkins somewhere. All I could find was the Matador, which had been tucked into a car door pocket, a last-minute addition to our packed car. Slides and monkey bars were soon wiped dry. I spread the blanket over a bench and changed the little one’s diaper.

Biking around Kinderdijk in the Netherlands, we were caught in an epic downpour. With limited options to shield the kids from the rain, we all huddled under the Matador, which had been packed to use as a tablecloth for our picnic. Twenty minutes later, we shook off the Matador, tucked it back into its attached bag, threw it in the bike pannier, and were on our way.

Matador foldable blanket.

In Portugal, a six-hour flight delay in a barren airport left us scrambling. The Matador became our refuge from the airport floor. The boys ate and played happily on the blanket. It was our home base, giving our kids a place to gather and keeping others out (universally, people step around blankets). When we finally made it to the Amsterdam airport, I threw the Matador over the stroller to shield our now-sleeping little one from the lights and ogling omas.

Our friends think our family motto is “always be prepared,” but in reality it’s “find a way.”

Life with three kids has forced us to be creative. For us, the Matador is the Swiss army knife of outdoor fun.

From Dec. 1 to Dec. 15, 2018, Slate readers can get 15 percent off the Pocket Blanket from Matador. Use discount code SLATEMATADOR while checking out.