Seen one bucket and spade; seen ‘em all. You could be forgiven for thinking that’s true, but you’d be wrong.

Our testers live by the seaside so they’re seasoned purchasers of beach toys, and they’re adamant that not all buckets and spades are created equal.

You’ll know this if you’ve ever nipped into one of those seafront shops on a whim to buy a bucket and spade. Cheap buckets crack, handles snap, and spades bend under pressure. And the seaside is no place for sadness.

To avoid all this, we recommend choosing a bucket and spade that’ll suit your little one’s stage of development, as well as the environment in which they’ll be using it. A baby exploring the beach for the first time isn’t going to put the average bucket and spade under too much pressure, but an older child determined to tunnel to Australia is going to need a set worthy of their efforts.

Finally, factor in how much space you have to store the bucket and spade when it’s not in use. These are seasonal toys and if your house is anything like ours, items like this often get stashed in the garage when summer’s over but end up never being seen again.

A set with lots of accessories might seem like great fun when you’re shopping for a bucket and spade, but if the extra bits and pieces are likely to get lost between uses, it’s probably not worth it.

With the help of some smaller recruits, we tested these bucket and spade sets both in the garden and on the beach; taking portability into account, as well as how appealing each set was to kids and how practical they were to play with.

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Scrunch bucket: £8.99, Bigjigs Toys

This innovatively designed bucket is made from non-toxic, food-grade silicone so you can fold it, roll it or scrunch it to fit it in your beach bag or suitcase with no fear of it breaking – ingenious! It’ll never lose its shape, either. This is the only bucket and spade we bothered taking on holiday because it fits in literally any bag, vastly reducing the amount of gear we needed to drag with us to the beach. The spade is particularly robust, too.

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Playmobil ice cream shop sand bucket: £19.99, Playmobil

This is a lovely twist on a classic bucket and spade design. You can fill the bucket with sand and then use the scoop to fill the ice cream cones and waffle moulds. It comes with a sieve, which provided lots of extra fun, and all the extra parts can be stored in the bucket so they won’t get lost. It also comes with an ice cream seller figure, which you can pop behind the ice cream counter, for a different sort of play – brilliant for continuing the fun when beach play gets rained off.

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Liewood dante beach set: £36.95, Scandiborn

This scandi-style bucket and spade set is made of silicone so you can squash it in your case without worrying about it cracking. You get the bucket with handle, a shovel and four cute animal-shaped beach moulds so there’s plenty to play with. It’s expensive, but given how much you get in the set and how long it’s likely to last due to being made from silicone, we think it’s actually good value for money. Of all the items we tested, this is by far the most stylish-looking so it’s ideal if you’re not a fan of garish stuff for kids.

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Liewood shane spade: £8, Beyond the Stork

We’ve included this because we love the fact that you can buy just the spade, without having to buy a bucket as well. It’s perfect for siblings – just buy a few extra spades and there’ll be far fewer squabbles. This is especially handy if you have a sandpit in the garden – pop some extra spades in and when friends come round to play, there’ll be plenty of digging action for everyone.

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Hape power paw: £3.99, Amazon

We’re not sure how we ever did without this – it’s absolutely indispensable for digging in sand, so if your beach antics usually involve burying someone up to their neck or digging a moat around your gigantic sandcastle, you really need this in your life. No self-respecting sandcastle builder should be without one.

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Melissa & Doug sunny patch seaside kidekicks sand cupcake play set: £8.79, Amazon

This sand playset isn’t technically a bucket and spade but it provided so many hours of fun on the beach that we just had to include it. You get four moulds and toppers and a couple of accessories and – best of all – the set comes with its own storage bag so you can keep it altogether without worrying about losing any of the pieces. Our five-year-old liked playing with this so much that she often asked to take it in the bath, too.

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Plan Toys sand play set: £24, Kidly

If you’re looking for a plastic-free alternative to the traditional bucket and spade, this is it. Made by eco-friendly brand Plan Toys, it’s impressively durable, even if you accidentally leave it outside in the rain while you go on holiday. The set comes with three digging toys and while it’s an expensive option, we think it’s a brilliant buy if you’d rather spend your money on environmentally-friendly, sustainable kit for your kids.

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Hape ice cream shop: £10.29, Amazon

This cute little sand set really captured our five-year-old tester’s imagination. You get three cones and three cups, an ice cream scoop, and a bucket to store it all in. Be prepared to pretend to eat a lot of ice cream made from sand, though. While kids don’t ever seem to tire of this game, you might find you do. Quite quickly.

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B Medium bucket set: £9.99, Smyths Toys

Another great value set, this comes with a bucket, spinning pinwheel, three sand moulds, a sifter, rake and shovel and even a monster truck. We love it because there’s so much opportunity for imaginative play yet it’s not going to break the bank. Everything a bucket and spade set should be.

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Skip Hop Zoo stack & pour buckets: £12, Kiddies Kingdom

Technically more of a bath toy than a bucket and spade, we’ve included this because we think the buckets are perfectly-sized for smaller fingers that find standard buckets too big to get to grips with on the beach. For little ones who aren’t quite ready for hardcore digging in the sand, this is a lovely introduction to playing with a bucket on the beach – or in the bath.

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The verdict: Bucket and spade sets

All of these sets are brilliant toys that provided our testers with hours of fun. But if we could keep just one, it’d be the Scrunch Bucket because it makes packing for a day on the beach so easy. The ice cream shop sand bucket was the item that kept our five-year-old tester engaged for the longest time, and the Hape power paw is worthy of a special mention as it takes serious sandcastle building to the next level.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.