We absolutely love taking our kids on hikes. From a young age, we’ve always gone on day hikes with the kids. Obviously, hiking with kids is not without its challenges. Being avid hikers, we’re confident we’ve figured out almost everything there is to hiking with kids and it’s only right that we share it with you!
My husband and I both grew up with a love of hiking and enjoying the outdoors and 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.
If you’re looking for tips for hiking with kids and a list of hiking gear for kids including everything from items to help the kids stay fueled up, safe and having fun, you’ve come to the right place. This guide includes:
- Hiking gear for kids
- Planning for the hike with kids
- Hiking close to home with kids
- Make hiking interesting for kids
- Kids hiking activities
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HIKING GEAR LIST FOR KIDS
Hiking with kids can be a challenge if you’re not well prepared. I recommend making the day of the hike the main event. The day before you set off on your family hike, get the kids involved by letting them help pack their bags.
Hiking Shoes for Kids
When it comes to socks, you need to choose sturdy socks that are not made from cotton as they cause blisters and don’t dry quickly.
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 shoes for hiking. You can pack hiking sandals or water shoes to use if the kids’ hike includes a body of water where the children will wade or swim.
Sun Protection for Hiking with Kids
Before you even start your family hike, make sure to protect your little adventurers from the sun! We wear hats year-round on family hikes, regardless of length. I even keep my kids’ hats in the car so they are always available for a spur of the moment hike!
I recommend using a hat with a drawstring or at least a snap for babies. Hats with no closure, a tie, or even a Velcro closure won’t last long on your 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 put plenty of sunscreen on your kids’ faces, and exposed necks and arms before you set off hiking with the kids. Make sure you get the back of their necks if your kids are wearing caps and not sun hats.
Hiking Daypacks for Kids
Water is the going to be the heaviest thing you’ll take on a hike with kids… unless you have to carry a child!
Let the kids carry their own water on the hike with a small hydration backpack. This will also cut out frequent “I’m thirsty” stops and water breaks at inconvenient times along the hiking trail.
A child-sized backpack is a great way to get the kids excited about hiking.
Child-sized backpacks are more multi-purpose than a hydration backpack and your kids will be able to carry their own kid-sized water bottle, mini first aid kit, and healthy snacks in a small pack which will help to lighten your load as well as giving them a sense of responsibility.
If your kids are a little too young to carry a backpack for the entire hike, just take one small backpack and let them take turns carrying it until they’re a little older and strong enough to carry a fully loaded kids hiking backpack.
Hiking Carriers for Kids
Taking an infant on a hike will require a carrier comfortable for both baby and parent.
When hiking with toddlers, I use a carrier pouch sling because I can fold it up small and put it in a backpack when I’m hiking with the kids. However, it’s also no hassle to wear around my body if my child chooses to walk for a section of the hike.
Even very young children can walk for a couple of miles on a family hike, but for longer and more difficult hikes, a child carrier pack is a must.
Kelty and Osprey are great brands and there are lots of options for child carriers. I recommend trying these on in-store, with your child, or borrowing one from a friend to give it a test run. It has to be comfortable for both you and your child on hikes of varying distances and difficulties.
One of the major bonuses to investing in a framed carrier is that you can also use it as a seat for your child when resting along the hike. Features to look for in a child carrier include a five-point harness, sun shield, and at least a medium pouch to allow you to avoid needing an extra bag when hiking with kids.
Don’t Forget Water When Hiking with Kids
Without a doubt, the number one thing we bring when hiking with kids is water. Water is absolutely essential!
Pack as much water for the kids as you pack for yourself. Even though they’re smaller, they will drink it.
You can also add hydration tablets to the water to provide a balanced blend of electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals without the sugar to endure everyone is hydrated when hiking with kids.
Remember to Bring Snacks when Hiking with Kids
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 two hills over”, or “That rock a few switchbacks up”, and make sure you reward them with a Skittle or two when they reach that goal.
It’s like the proverbial carrot on a stick and it totally works for hiking with kids. My kids will book it to the next stopping point just to get a piece of candy!
Healthy, mess-free snacks are also important to keep the kids fueled. Here are some of our favorites when hiking with kids:
First Aid for a Family Hike
Items you’ll want immediately available on your family hike are for the inevitable, small 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.
PLANNING FOR THE HIKE WITH KIDS
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 going on a hike with kids is so important. Try to think like a child as you select the hiking trail and destination.
Hike Close to Home with Kids
If you hike with kids close to home, it means that 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 Hiking Interesting for Kids
In order to make hiking interesting for kids, you’ll need to find a trail with a reward at the end like a waterfall, swimming hole or amazing view. Even better if there’s treasure (geocache) along the way or a river to follow.
Explore the City
Strictly speaking, a hike with kids doesn’t have to be in the woods. You could take a hike in a city to see historical sites and teach them all about it as you go.
KIDS HIKING ACTIVITIES
Bird Watching on Family Hikes
One of the things we love to look for on our hikes with kids is interesting birds. My oldest daughter loves spotting and identifying new birds. We find birds hunting from the sky, hiding in the shrubs, defending nests in trees, digging from food along the beach, diving for food in marshes, and more.
Identifying Plants on Kids Hikes
Finding and identifying plants is another fun hobby to adopt for kids hikes. Plants with flowers are the most interesting for kids to try and find along the trail.
If you’re traveling, get 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 When Hiking with Kids
All my kids enjoy taking photos of their hiking adventures. 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 from your family hike.
We also use these photo scavenger hunt cards while hiking!
Scavenger Hunt on Kids Hikes
Create a Hiking Scavenger Hunt for all kinds of natural items like a Y-shaped stick, red leaf, animal tracks, and insects to find when hiking with kids. They’ll have so much fun using their magnifying glass to find the items and check them off as they hike the trail.
Drawing When Hiking with Kids
If your kids like to draw like mine, pack a small notebook and colored pencils to allow for quick sketching while taking a rest along the hiking trail. Who says you can’t be active and creative at the same time.
PACING THE HIKE
When hiking with kids, let them set the pace and be prepared to make frequent stops. Allow them to be distracted and explore whatever catches their attention to make this an enjoyable experience for them.
Remember, kids only have little legs. Don’t push making it to the end destination and don’t force your agenda.
The first kids hike you do 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 something and be ok with it.
SEE THE BIGGER PICTURE
When hiking with kids, remember to enjoy the moment more than anything else. Depending on the age of your kids, it may be years before you tackle a long family 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. At this point, as long as you’re getting the kids out exploring nature, you’re doing something right.
Hiking with kids will help your children appreciate the outdoors and eventually you will reach the planned destination. Soon enough, you’ll have avid child hikers that are keen to explore the next trail and enjoy more of the wonderful world we live in.
Hiking Gear, Tips & Resources
- Day Hiking Packing List
- Hiking Gear & Tips for Kids
- Hiking Guides, Gear & Snacks
- Winter Outdoor Clothing Guide
- US Hiking Trails in the Summer
- US Hiking Trails in the Fall