Hiking Gear for Kids and Tips for a Day Hike

Wearing and packing the right hiking gear for kids is one of the most important first steps. When kids are thirsty, hungry and their feet hurt then the outing will not be fun for anyone!

Use our list of US hiking ideas to find places to hit the trail that are perfect for hiking with kids!

gear and tips for hiking with kids

Keep reading for tips for hiking with kids to help the kids stay fueled up, safe and having fun.

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Our family travel writer, Susie Chadwick, shares tips for hiking with kids!

Hiking with kids can be a challenge if you’re not well prepared. We 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 

REI Outdoor School recommends that kids wear well-fitting hiking shoes with closed toes when going on family hikes. It’s also important to know how to find a shoe with the right fit!

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!

Wearing hats for sun protection is important when hiking with kids.

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.

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 bottlemini 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. Baby carriers are my go-to hiking carriers for kids. They provide lots of options for carrying babies from newborns, up to 33 pounds. 

Pack a baby sling when hiking with kids.

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.

Child carriers for hiking are worth the investment!

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.

If you don’t have hydration packs for hiking with kids, make sure you have a reusable water bottle that seals automatically, or easily, to avoid leaks in your backpack from constant water breaks. 

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 snacks are also important to keep the kids fueled. Here are some of our favorites when hiking with kids:

Find Healthy Snack Ideas

healthy snacks

First Aid for a Family Hike 

We keep a fully stocked first aid kit in the car when we go hiking with kids. There are also smaller first aid kits for hiking you can take with you on the trail.

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.


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.

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.


Bird Watching on A Day Hike

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.

Pack a pair of travel binoculars and use a kids nature guide for the area you will be hiking for a fun bird-watching activity for the family hike. Kids can also look for insects, butterflies and other critters.

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 on a Day Hike 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. Check out these Nature Scavenger Hunt Ideas with Free Printables.

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. 

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.

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  1. Great ideas, tips and reminders!

    I agree that the “reward” within the hiking trip is a great way to keep interest. We have a lot of fun geocaching. 🙂

  2. This is a great guide to hiking with kids!! I will review this list for our next hiking trip with the kiddo! I think she would love to carry her own pack.

  3. Such a great list! Sometimes when I read these posts, I get jealous that I can’t find other people like us to hike with and who are passionate about it with kids! Looks like we would have a lot in common. Thank you so much for sharing on our Hiking Tips and our #outdooroutpost

  4. I feel like the skittles will also put more pep in their step BECAUSE of the sugar! You are brave hiking with small kids because I can barely carry myself up a mountain, let along two haha. More kids need to go outside and explore like yours! They are adorable.

  5. I don’t have kids yet but I’m glad there’s a comprehensive checklist of what I’ll need for a hike with them! We’ll definitely want to take ours to experience the outdoors and connect with nature as early as possible. Many of these will apply to general travel and vacation as well so I think it’s perfect for traveling families. Thanks for taking the time to put it together!

  6. I am impressed that you could do this. It takes a lot of preparation when you are about to go on a hike on your own but you have a family. You must be so organized. How long have you been hiking with your kids?
    I like all the products that you have listed. They are practical and would really last long.

    1. We’ve always hiked with our kids, since the first was born. If you’re just taking a short hike, you can easily grab your gear and head out the door. It doesn’t have to take a lot of preparation if you have everything you need to hike with kids.

  7. I’m a SoCal resident as well that hikes frequently to this is right up my alley. Great tips! Seems simple enough but I guarantee I’ll forget one or two my next hike haha. See you on the trail sometime:)

  8. Hello Jamie, great list!
    I need to suggest your list to a couple of friends, which have kids and they quit joining our friends’ group during our hiking because they are facing some organization problem because of the kids. They love hiking, and we are missing them much, kids included. I am sure they will appreciate your useful list.

  9. As a regular and keen hiker, I enjoyed reading this and have to say you have a great checklist of things for hiking here. While I don’t have kids of my own, I often look after my niece and nephew and some of these ideas would really come in handy.

  10. LOVE this! We don’t have kids yet, but I do want to take them on adventures and hikes with us. You all look so cute! I believe adventures like this are some of the best memories!

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