With more than a month of summer left — one that’s shaping up to be among the hottest on record — a cool dip in the water is an ideal way to spend a blistering August afternoon. Even if you aren’t fortunate enough to have your own in-ground pool, you can still create a splash in your own backyard — you just have to get creative.
With the right tools and a little imagination, anyone can turn an outdoor space into a makeshift water park. All you need is a few relatively inexpensive additions, such as an inflatable pool and high-quality goggles (bathing suits and good attitudes not included). Here are five items for your backyard recommended by Wirecutter, the New York Times’s product recommendation site, to help you and your family cool down in the comfort of your own yard.
Inflatable Backyard Pools
Affordable and easy to both set up and take down, plastic inflatable pools can almost replicate the pleasures of an aboveground pool, without the commitment. While these “kiddie pools” can range from small setups you toss after one season to something semipermanent requiring more maintenance, Wirecutter recommends going with a portable pool that holds up to 170 gallons or less. They’re typically cheaper, more manageable, and easier to store at the end of the summer, though because of the flimsy material, they may not last more than a season or two.
Most inflatable pools are made of polyvinyl chloride (commonly referred to as PVC or vinyl), which can be difficult to recycle. If you want to steer clear of vinyl, a hard plastic pool is a good alternative, though these smaller pools typically will fit just a few kids rather than the whole family. Because they’re more durable, rigid pools can last a few summers before being replaced, and they’re usually cheaper, with less setup required. But with limited color, design and capacity options, hard pools are less likely to offer the type of fun that many inflatable pools, such as those with attached slides or built-in seats, can provide.
Pool Noodles to Last More Than One Season
Even in a wading pool, it’s nice to be able to lean against a floating noodle or two, and you definitely don’t want cheap toys that break or disintegrate. After testing several models, Wirecutter recommends the Fix Find Wacky Noodles (about $14 for a set of five) for kids, and the larger Robelle Big Boss (about $42 for a set of six) for teens and adults.
Both are durable options that will last a few summers before falling apart. This is because they’re made of denser, higher-quality foam that sheds water, holds steady during vigorous noodle battles, and takes longer to show the effects of sun exposure. For added fun, the center hole is large enough to create an excellent water-cannon effect by filling it up and blowing into one end.
Far-Reaching Water Guns
An intense yet friendly water gun showdown adds some amiable competition (and even exercise) to your summer afternoon. The best water guns are capable of reaching faraway targets, and in Wirecutter’s tests, the Stream Machine TL-750 (about $20) launched water more than 55 feet. Its 22-inch length allows both older children and adults to hold it comfortably, making the Stream Machine Wirecutter’s favorite plunger-style water gun. Because it lacks a reservoir and drains quickly, it’s perfect for using in a pool that allows for quick refilling.
If you’re forgoing the kiddie pool this summer, try the Nerf Super Soaker Squall Surge (about $12; it’s mostly out of stock online, but you may be able to find one at your local retailer), with an air-pump-pressurized chamber that allows for continuous fire. Its 16-ounce internal reservoir means it doesn’t need to be filled as often as the Stream Machine — though its stream only reaches around 35 feet, and doesn’t pack quite as drenching a wallop as the Stream Machine.
A Double-Duty Oscillating Sprinkler
An oscillating sprinkler can do more than just keep your lawn watered; it can also be a makeshift obstacle course for rambunctious youngsters. Wirecutter’s favorite oscillating sprinkler is the Melnor XT4200M (about $35), which provides even coverage of about 4,000 square feet of lawn. With a sturdy and stable metal base, the Melnor sprinkler is also the easiest to adjust of all the sprinklers we tested, allowing you to fine-tune the water flow, left and right width, and arc length of the spray — perfect for reaching far-flung areas of the lawn and creating new patterns for play.
And to help protect kids’ feet, consider water shoes for their backyard adventures. Wirecutter likes the light yet sturdy Keen Stingrays (about $30).
Goggles for Adults and Kids
Regardless of how you’re splashing around in the yard, it’s worth protecting your eyes from chlorinated water with a reliable and well-fitting pair of goggles.
There are three types of goggles available on the market: in-eye-socket goggles used by professionals, mask-style goggles that provide a bigger field of vision, and fitness and recreation goggles for casual waders. Through hours of research and testing, we found that fitness and recreation goggles are the best choice for most people, so all of our picks fall under this category.
Wirecutter’s picks for both adults and kids are the Aqua Sphere Kayenne (about $30). These comfortable goggles provide a good seal, which is essential for minimizing fogging and vision distortion. The kids’ version, the Aqua Sphere Kayenne Jr, is nearly identical except for its size, but in Wirecutter’s tests, the adult pair of Kayennes fit older kids just fine, too. Indeed, the Aqua Sphere Kayenne’s slightly curved triangular lens can fit a broad range of face types — narrow or wide, small or large. They’re a solid swim accessory whether you’re at the pool, beach, or just running through sprinklers in the backyard.