Here I’m going to list all of the gear you need to have for a backcountry hike with your kids. Note that some gear each member of your group must have. Some gear only one person in the group needs to have, though it would be nice if each member had their own. Below the list, I get into more detail about some of the hiking gear, why you need it, and how to pick it.
Hiking Gear Each Member of the Group Should Have
- Good hiking boots
- Water bottle
- A waterproof jacket
- Hat with a brim
- A whistle
- Snacks and lunch
- Clothes, worn in layers
Hiking Gear that Only One Member of the Group Must Have
- Water filter (read my review of the Sawyer Mini here)
- Toilet paper and shovel
- Waterproof matches
- First aid kit (get a wilderness first aid checklist here)
- Sun protection
- Insect repellent
- Field guide
- Lightweight toy
- Walking stick
- Extra socks
- Pencil and notebook
Kids Hiking Boots
Of all of the kids hiking gear, this is the most annoying. It is annoying because 1) good hiking boots for kids are expensive and 2) your kids will grow out of them quickly, so you can’t even reuse them next year.
I’ll admit that I’ve gone hiking with my kid with her wearing just sneakers. If the terrain is easy, then this shouldn’t be a problem. But on one hike the terrain was really rough, and I wished I’d gotten her new hiking boots for it. I made sure she had a walking stick and held her hands during the rough parts. But I’m not doing that again.
To get the most out of hiking boots for kids, consider choosing a pair which can double as winter snow boots. Then you can save a bit of money. You could try buying used hiking boots for your kids, but this isn’t really a good idea since the fit might not be right and you usually can’t return used items. If the cost of kids hiking boots is really making you cringe, just remember that hiking is an otherwise free or cheap activity.
Water Bottle + Filter
There is a lot of discussion about how much water to bring hiking. As a general rule, always bring more water than you think you will need! Dehydration is a serious hazard, and you’ll need to drink a lot of water while hiking.
The problem is that water is also the heaviest thing you’ll pack for your hike. So, you don’t want to go too overboard. I’ve solved this problem by always bringing along my camping water filter (I use the Sawyer mini filter, which you can read about here). Most of our hikes are near water sources, so we can just refill whenever the bottle is getting low.
How much water to bring on your hike if you can’t refill along the way? The general rule is this:
- Adults: 2 cups of water for every 1 hour of hiking
- Children: 1-2 cups of water for every hour of hiking
I like to err on the side of caution and bring 2 cups/hour for my child. Plus, there is always the risk that your kids will knock over the water bottle and spill some 😮 . Drinking from a water bladder might be better for kids than a standard Nalgene-style water bottle for this reason.
Waterproof Jacket, Extra Socks, Hat with a Brim, and Sunscreen
The weather can change quickly in backcountry, so you better be prepared for rain. Getting wet means getting cold, and that can be very dangerous! Too much sun can also be dangerous, which is why you should bring sunscreen.
Depending on the length of your hike, you’ll probably want to bring a hat with a brim. The brim is especially useful for keeping rain and sun out of your eyes. The extra socks are good for keeping your kid’s feet dry after they splash into a stream.
It is absolutely essential that each member of your hiking group has a whistle, and that they know how to use it.
Bathroom Kit (Toilet Paper and Shovel)
I don’t recommend bringing baby wipes along while hiking with kids. They don’t degrade quickly like toilet paper does, so you really shouldn’t bury it like you would with toilet paper after going to the bathroom. You’d have to put the dirty baby wipes in with your trash bag and carry it out. The idea of carrying poo-covered baby wipes in my pack isn’t very appealing!
Paracord is a type of rope which is notable for being super strong and weather resistant. 550 paracord is considered the best. There are so many survival uses for 550 paracord that it’s pretty amazing – like being able to tow a car, repel down a mountain, or make a splint. I’ve never used paracord for any of these reasons (thankfully!), but I’ve still found lots of good reasons to carry it with me while hiking.
Broken bootlace? Paracord to the rescue!
Need to tie a trash bag to a tree? Paracord does the trick.
Your kid thinks it would be fun to tie a bunch of sticks together? Let them have their fun. 🙂
Toys for Your Kids When Hiking
Since my daughter and I go backpacking without a car and stay in the woods for about 5 nights at a time, we have to bring all of our gear with us. There is not a single ounce to spare for a bunch of toys. I do let her carry 2 very small stuffed animals. She loves these stuffed animals and considers them the most “adventurous” of all of her stuffed animals. It just shows that she remembers our backpacking trips and hikes each time she plays with them.
Your kids might beg you to bring a bunch of toys, but try to resist. There is absolutely no need for additional toys in nature! With a bit of imagination, your kids will have endless amounts of fun playing with sticks, rocks, creeks, and the wildlife around them.