I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people hiking with kids in flip-flops, or without basic provisions like a bottle of water. While you probably aren’t going to die or even get injured without “professional” gear, there are definitely some things you should always bring while hiking. This is especially true when you are hiking with kids since you are responsible for them.
This hiking gear for kids list is broken into three parts:
- Gear each member should have
- Gear only one person needs
- Optional gear
Do I Really Need All This Gear When Hiking with Kids? It’s Only Going to Be a Short Hike…
I am a minimalist and try to bring as little stuff as possible when outdoors. In general, more stuff = more stress. Since I’m the one carrying it all (my daughter and I hike alone), I also want to go minimal so my back doesn’t hurt like hell.
But hiking with kids is not the time to skip on crucial gear. Even if you think it will be an easy hike, bad things can happen.
- The weather might suddenly change for the worse.
- The hike might take much longer than anticipated.
- You could get lost and end up having to spend the night in the wilderness.
- You or your child may get injured, meaning you need to perform emergency first aid or wait to be rescued…
This actually happens a lot more than you’d think. Just ask Mountain Rescue. Day hikers actually have to get rescued the most (even more than overnight backpackers) because they often go out unprepared thinking it will “just be a quick trip.”
In addition to the whole responsibility thing (being an adult is so much fun, eh?), you will enjoy hiking with kids more if you have the right gear. The kids will whine less. They will hike faster. And you will be less likely to end up carrying them down the mountain. So pack all of this gear!
Hiking Gear Each Member of the Group Should Have
1. Good Hiking Boots
I’ll admit that I’ve gone hiking with my kid with her wearing just sneakers. There is also a huge trend towards “trail runners” instead of hiking boots now. However, boots are still best when it comes to preventing sprains. They also provide protection against snake bites. Since kids aren’t very careful about watching where they step, having hiking boots can spare them from getting drenched feet when they accidentally jump in a puddle.
2. Water Bottle/Water
Ideally, your kids each have a small backpack which contains their own water bottle. The reason? If they get separated from you, then they will still have water to drink. You can go 3 weeks without food but only 3 days without water!
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. Read this post about How to Calculate How Much Water to Bring on a Hike.
This water bladder by Platypus can take a beating, can be used hands-free, and your kids can’t knock it over and spill all your precious water!
3. Waterproof Jacket
But the forecast says it will be sunny, you say? The weather can change very quickly while hiking – especially in the mountains. Getting wet = cold. So make sure you have a waterproof jacket with you.
4. Appropriate Clothes, Worn in Layers
Layering allows you to adjust your body temperature easily as you hike.
5. Hat with a Brim
This is great for keeping the sun out of your eyes. It also keeps rain out of your eyes in bad weather.
6. A Whistle
You need this in case you get lost. A lot of backpacks have whistles built into the straps now.
7. Snacks. LOTS and LOTS of Snacks!
Even if you think you will only be gone on a short trip, bring loads of snacks. Kids get cranky quickly if they don’t have snacks. And, again, if you were to get lost, you’ll be happy for that sustenance.
Tip: Let your kids pick out their own hiking snacks. You should probably also give them their own snack bags too. Otherwise they will eat all the good stuff out of the trail mix bag, leaving you with nothing but the boring stuff.
If you get lost or the hike ends up taking a lot longer than anticipated (read Calculate How Long It Will Take to Complete a Hike), then you could get stuck outdoors in the night. You will each need a headlamp for hiking back home in the dark. Here are some headlamp recommendations.
Hiking Gear that Only One Member of the Group Must Have
In the ideal world, each person would have their own backpack with essential gear in it. That way, if you get separated, everyone still has important gear. Realistically though, I always end up carrying my daughter’s backpack. Since I don’t want to carry two backpacks while hiking, I only bring one on our day hikes.
However, kids do feel “cool” when they have their own little pack with gear. So, if you can convince them to keep the pack on through the hike (don’t give in like I do!!!!), then get them their own pack.
10. Water Filter
A water filter means you can safely drink water from backcountry lakes, streams, creeks, and even puddles (if it comes to it). This is great because then you don’t have to bring as much water with you on the hike. Considering that a liter of water weighs 2.2lbs, this is a huge benefit. I use the Sawyer Mini water filter.
11. Mini First Aid Kit
Bad things sometimes happen, no matter how careful you are. So be prepared by packing a first aid kit while hiking with kids. Here is a checklist of my mini first aid kit. If you don’t mind carrying extra things and like to be very prepared, here’s my full travel first aid kit checklist.
12. Toilet Paper and Shovel
This is how you go to the bathroom in the woods when there is no outhouse on the trail. Don’t be a jerk and leave your nasty TP on the trail!
13. Lighter and/or Waterproof Matches
The ability to make a fire is crucial for survival. Unless you are some bushcraft/survival expert and can make a fire without matches, be sure to bring these.
A knife is your ultimate survival tool. You can use it for things like cutting a bandage, making a shelter, digging, or foraging for food. If something happens and you are out in the wilderness for longer than anticipated, you’ll be happy that you have a knife. Here are some awesome knives which cost less than $70.
Rope is another one of those survival items you should take hiking. Admittedly, it most often gets used for things like tying my daughter’s stuffed animals onto a pack so it can still “see” while we hike. It is also good for things like broken bootlaces.
16. Sun Protection and Insect Repellent
Bring the whole damn bottle with you while hiking with kids. Even if you slathered up before setting off on the hike. You will all sweat and need to reapply. Or your kid will fall into a creek and you’ll need to reapply. 🙂
17. GPS and/or Map and Compass
I personally don’t rely on a GPS. If the batteries die, then you will be left without a way to navigate. For me, a map (in a waterproof plastic cover) is much more reliable. Of course, this is contingent on knowing how to read a map! On another note, it’s great to bring a paper map instead of just a GPS while hiking with kids because they have fun reading it and will learn a valuable skill.
18. Bags for Trash
You will end up with some trash. Don’t try to stuff your trash (like granola bar wrappers) into your pack. They might fall out and then you’ll be the asshole who littered on the trail. A few plastic bags for trash are absolutely necessary.
Optional Gear for Hiking with Kids
- Field guide
- Lightweight toy/s
- Walking stick/trekking poles
- Extra socks
- Pencil and notebook
- Notebook and pen
- Extra food
- Backpacking stove (read about the options here)
- Utensils for eating the food
- Wet wipes
- Quick-dry towel
- Emergency blanket
- Emergency communication device (don’t count on your cell phone working)
- Specimen collection cups (for all the nature stuff your kids will inevitably want to bring home — like the time we brought a dead mole home for our bone collection)
Some Notes about Kids Hiking Gear
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.
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.