As the fall soccer season begins, we all find ourselves questioning how we can streamline our caravans to set-up at the various games, tournaments and practices. Like some kind of nomadic soccer tribe, we fill up our cars with what we hope will cover all the necessities with a minimum of expense and trouble. Invariably, we find ourselves in situations where we are totally unprepared for the weather, terrain and/or lack of amenities. How do we equip ourselves without overburdening our bank account and car? Remember that none of my suggestions are endorsed by US Youth Soccer, but these are items I have gleaned from personal experience or recommendations from people I trust.
I have long advocated what I call the "soccer box," which should contain the essentials to get through any soccer experience. This box can be formal with a store-bought storage container or informal with a box gathered from your local grocery. I go with the latter since I usually end up spoiling the box enough during the year to need constant replacements. In the box I include first aid items, such as various sized bandages, gauze, tape, small scissors, wraps for sprains, antiseptic cream, pain killers such as ibuprofen and/or acetaminophen, plastic gloves and alcohol wipes. You can buy already prepared kits, but these are overpriced and you probably have most of these items already in your house. Next, I make sure I have lots of plastic bags, including large bags (15 and 33 gallon sizes) to gather wet uniforms and cleats and to lay on the floor to keep from soiling floor mats. And zip bags in gallon and quart sizes for those small items we need to collect and keep. Throw in a roll of paper towels and a roll of toilet paper (lots of those portable toilets run out), wet wipes, hand sanitizer and a terry cloth towel. Then I include those extra items that suddenly and inexplicably go missing at the most crucial times: shin guards, shorts, socks, one dark and one light shirt and old cleats. These can all be last year’s cast-offs that will still fill in when someone loses or forgets something. Finally, I throw in inexpensive knit gloves and hats, disposable hand warmers and some old sweat pants. The gloves, hats and warmers are usually sold in bulk at stores like Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Costco, etc. I’ve been lucky to find these items at two for $0.99. Sweat pants you can pick up at your local Goodwill for very cheap.
Once you get to the field what you sit on can be important. You can go deluxe with chairs that have roofs, footrests, recline features and heated seats. I'm a big fan of the chairs with roofs, but these are bulky, heavy and costly (around $30-$45), so only you can decide if they are worth it. They do let me use my umbrella to cover my knees rather than my head and shoulders, so I feel cozy sitting in the chair during any storm. You can also buy a product called Lava Buns, which you heat up in the microwave staying warm for 6 hours. They would work for games nearby, but not when you don’t have a microwave handy for tournaments. Chairs without arms take up little space in the trunk and work as well as the "spread eagle" folding chairs most of us use. These can cost as little as $10, so make a smart economical choice that is light and easy to carry. If you want to go simple, consider camp stools that are really easy to transport. For bleachers, I’ve found the stadium seats that use straps rather than hinged metal for the opening apparatus are the best bet. The metal and plastic joints tend to break easily, while the straps hold up. You can get heated stadium seats that use a car charger, but again there are a lot of parts that can break or go bad.
Be sure you include an umbrella or two. My biggest pet peeve with umbrellas is that they drip down my back, but now there are umbrellas with a longer back side that guide the water to the ground rather than your chair back or coat. Called the Senzumbrella
, you have to order from Great Britain and they aren’t cheap, but count on the Brits to make a state-of-the-art umbrella. The Superbrella
chair provides hands-free coverage both against rain and sun. For a simple, cheap option there’s always the umbrella hat which Amazon offers in a pack of two
for just $6.99 that comes in a variety of colors. There’s a Brolly Umbrella
, which has a special hand grip eliminating cramping when holding our umbrella for long periods of time. For a state of the art umbrella, none is better than the new Blunt umbrella
. This is a pricey option, but has incredible wind resistance, won’t rip and tear, and maintains a taut shape. There’s also the Dualumbrella
, which combines two umbrellas into one to avoid that jostling of hitting and dripping on one another. The Nubrella
is a hands-free clear plastic umbrella that envelops you using shoulder straps, and keeps the drips away from your shoulders and back.
Taking drinks and food to the field can be difficult, but there are several very cool (excuse the pun) options for doing so. Many people have purchased rolling coolers and then found themselves unable to navigate the rough gravel, divots and terrain on many parking lots and soccer fields. The longer the handle, the easier a rolling cooler is to control. Coleman
has a tall cooler with a long handle for a reasonable price. It will hold 2-liter bottles standing up. It also has a soft-sided model
, which has an additional pocket for other food. Igloo has developed a "cube" cooler
with a long handle that will transport both large bottles and cans. My favorite cooler is the most versatile but will require a luggage roller to wheel out to the fields. Called the Flip-Box, it’s available at Sports Brella
. This is a collapsible cooler that also protects hot foods. Made of Neopolean-P, which is an industrial insulator, it works with or without ice. In the latter mode, it will keep drinks put in at 33 degrees cool for at least six hours with their temperature only rising to 40 degrees. It will also keep food warm. When empty, the cooler breaks down and at home it will come apart with the pieces fitting in your dishwasher for cleaning. There are two sizes 26 quarts (45 cans) and 41 quarts (60 cans) for $29.99 and $39.99, respectively. Finally, Picnic Time
has a soft-sided cooler called the Sidekick which has legs and collapses like a sports chair. It has two openings on the top: one opens up the entire cooler and one opens just large enough to pull a drink out, helping to keep the cool in.
As the weather gets colder, you’ll want to find ways to stay warm while sitting in your chair, sipping a drink, nibbling some snacks from your cooler and staying dry under your umbrella. There are plenty of options for blankets and cover-ups. I know they seem silly, but a Snuggie
can be a great option allowing your hands to be free and yet allows you to be covered completely. But if they just seem too "uncool," then consider some of the other sports blanket options. Bed, Bath, and Beyond has a variety of water resistant blankets and throws ranging from $20 to $45. My favorite is the Tuffo
because it comes with a carrying case with pockets. REI has a blanket with heat reflection
to radiate back 80% of your body warmth. It’s just $17, so it’s affordable warmth. A hooded blanket provides great protection from winds and light rain. Wal-Mart
has one for just $12. If you want, you can go heated. Thermafur
offers a blanket through either Amazon or One Stop Equine Shop
. This blanket uses the heating packets you would put in your gloves or shoes. There are several 12V car blankets that could warm you up after the game but won’t retain much heat for very long away from the electric source. Mambe offers what they call "the extreme blanket"
in two sizes. The blanket has a reflective side to hold heat in, fleece, and is waterproof. It even has pockets on the corners so you can hold it around you without exposing your hands to the elements. All this comfort doesn’t come cheaply, starting at $80.
Finding comfort while watching games doesn’t have to be difficult if you are prepared. Research what will work for your pocketbook and climate zone. These options are just a dozen of what’s out there. I’m sure your searches will bring you even more choices. Just be sure to keep everything in one place in a manner that would be easy to load into your car on a moment’s notice. A duffel bag, cardboard box or trunk bag can serve as great storage options. No matter what you choose to do, remember that the best products will be worthless if they are sitting in your garage when you are miles away at a game. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. You can also consider adding a crank powered radio with National Weather Service capabilities and a good phone charger for the car. Sticking a few games and playing cards in back seat pockets in case you have to take shelter in your automobile during an electrical storm can help eliminate boredom and sibling battles. Think outside the box (excuse my second pun) and you can have a great, safe, dry and warm soccer viewing experience.