My husband and I both grew up with a love of hiking and enjoying the outdoors. It’s something we’ve continued to do as we added to our family. Now with four kids, we still take the whole crew on local Orange County hikes at least once a month.
We created a hiking gear list of items to help the kids stay fueled up, safe and having fun!
If you have kids, you know that no matter how fun the activity is, or how adventurous they’re feeling, whining is nearly inevitable. Preparation before the hike is so important. Think like a child as you select the trail and destination.
Hike close to home – You can manage naps, feedings, and any melt-downs if you are within a short distance of home the first few times you hit the trail.
Make it interesting – Find a trail with a reward at the end of the like a waterfall, swimming hole or amazing view. Is there a treasure (geocache) along the way or a river to follow?
Explore the city – A hike doesn’t have to be in the woods. Take a hike in a city to see historical sites and teach them as you go.
Make the day of the hike the main event. The day before, get the kids involved and let them help pack their bags.
Before you even start your hike, make sure to protect from the sun! We wear hats year round on hikes of any length. I even keep my kids’ hats in the car so they are always available.
Use a hat with a drawstring, or at least a snap for baby. Hats with no closure, a tie, or even a Velcro closure won’t last long on baby’s head. We bought our Junior Ranger hat (with an awesome drawstring closure) after my 9 month old son lost his Velcro closure hat on a trail in Zion National Park.
You’ll also want to sunscreen faces, and exposed necks and arms – make sure you get the back of necks if your kids are wearing caps and not sun hats.
Shoes like Keen hiking sandals are fun and easy, but by the third time your preschooler sits down to get a pebble out of his shoe, you’ll be wishing he was wearing boots. Pack these types of sandals to use if the hike includes water where the children will wade or swim.
Water is the heaviest thing you’ll take on a hike (unless you have to carry a child!). Let the kids carry their own with a small hydration backpack. This will also cut out frequent “I’m thirsty” stops and water breaks at inconvenient times along the trail.
A child-sized backpack is a great way to get the kids excited about hiking. More multi-purpose than a hydration backpack, they can carry their own water bottle, mini first aid kid, and snacks in a small pack, and help lighten your load as well. If your kids are a little young to carry a backpack the entire hike, just take one and have them take turns until they are stronger.
Taking an infant on a hike will require a carrier comfortable for both baby and parent. The Ergo 360 carrier provides lots of options for carrying babies from newborn, up to 33 pounds. We’ve hiked with Baby Bjorn, Ergo, and a pouch sling. After the newborn stage, I prefer the Balboa pouch sling because I can fold it up small and put it in a backpack, or it’s no hassle to wear around my body, if my child chooses to walk.
Even very young children can walk a couple miles, but for longer and more difficult hikes, a child carrier is a must. Kelty is a great brand, but there are lots of options for carriers. I recommending trying these on in store, with a child, or borrowing from a friend to test run, because it has to be comfortable. The bonus to a frame carrier is that you can also use it as a seat for your child when resting. Features to look for include a 5 point harness, sun shield, and at least a medium pouch to allow you to avoid an extra bag.
The number one thing we bring when hiking with kids is water. Water is essential! Pack as much water for the kids as you pack for yourself. Even though they’re smaller, they will drink it. If you don’t have hydration packs, make sure you have a water bottle that seals automatically, or easily, to avoid leaks in your backpack from constant water breaks.
Add hydration tablets to the water to provide a balanced blend of electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals without the sugar.
After the water, the next essential thing to pack when hiking with kids is Skittles. Yes, candy. Fun sized candy, not chocolate, to keep them moving along to the next break. Set a goal for your next stop – that tree 2 hills over, or that rock a few switch backs up, and give them a Skittle or two when they reach it. It’s like the proverbial carrot on a stick and it totally works. My kids will book it to the next stopping point.
Healthy, mess-free snacks are important to keep the kids fueled. Here are some of our favorites:
We keep a fully stocked first aid kit in the car. Items you’ll want immediately available on your hike are fun band-aids for blisters, cuts and scrapes. Individually packaged Wet Ones anti-bacterial wipes aren’t first aid wipes, but they’re multi-purpose and will do the job until you finish your hike.
Bird Watching: One of the things we love to look for on our hikes are interesting birds. My oldest daughter loves spotting and identifying new birds. We find birds hunting from the sky, hiding along shrubs, defending nests in trees, digging from food along the beach, diving for food in marshes, and more. Pack a pair of travel binoculars and use the North America Bird Guide or get a bird guide for the area you will be hiking.
Identifying Plants: Finding and identifying plants is another fun hobby for kids, but plants with flowers are the most interesting. Find a plant-identification book for the area you’re visiting. National park gift shops or local information centers have these types of guide books.
Photography: Kids enjoy taking photos. Let them take pictures of interesting animal and plant life they find but can’t immediately identify. Then they can use the pictures to look them up once you get home.
Scavenger Hunt: Create a Hiking Scavenger Hunt for all kinds of nature items like a Y-shaped stick, red leaf, animal tracks and insects. The kids will have fun using their magnifying glass to find the items and check them off as they hike.
Let the kids set the pace and be prepared to make frequent stops. Allow them to be distracted and explore whatever catches their attention.
Remember kids have little legs. Don’t push making it to the end destination and don’t force your agenda. The hike may only last 10 or 20 minutes, but you might wander around and examine every rock on the trail for 2 hours. Be prepared to do nothing more than that and be ok with it.
Enjoy the moment. It may be years before you tackle a long hike to a grand destination. Any time spent on any trail, even if they are short and sidetracked by scavenger hunts, is a positive thing. These outings will help your children appreciate the outdoors and eventually you will reach the planned destination.
We utilize Pinterest to organize the information when researching hiking destinations. Photo Jeepers has a Hiking Trails & Tips board where we only pin things we have read and find worthwhile. Use our board to plan your hiking adventures. Pin this to your Hiking Board!
Resources for hiking and outdoor adventure we recommend and use: