Not sure what kids hiking gear to pack? In addition to all the gear you should always bring hiking, you probably need a few extra items to make the hike safer and more enjoyable (for both you and the kids). Here’s a list of hiking gear for kids, including optional fun items to bring along.
*Note that you will be carrying most of this. At the end of the post I talk about what hiking gear older kids should carry.
1. Daypack with Rain Cover
Older kids should have their own backpack with essential gear in it. There are three main reasons for kids to have their own hiking pack:
- Safety: If your kids get lost, they will have basic items to keep them safe until found.
- Sense of responsibility: Kids take pride and learn responsibility by carrying their own hiking gear.
- They’ll be more likely to use gear: When the hiking gear is in your kids’ packs, they are more likely to use it. Such as remembering to put on their jacket when it gets cold or take a sip of water.
Children need about 1-2 cups of water for each 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. 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.
4. Hiking Shoes or Boots
On easy terrain, your kids can hike in sneakers. But, on tougher terrain, your kids should wear boots. Boots provide better protection against sprains and 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.
It’s generally not a good idea for kids to hike in sandals (even hiking sandals). Their feet can end up covered in poison ivy, ant bites, or scratches. And it’s annoying to stop every 50 feet to remove pebbles from the sandals!
5. Good Socks
Invest in a few pairs of wool or synthetic hiking socks for your kids. Cotton socks get drenched with sweat quickly, leading to blisters. In cold weather, kids should wear two pairs of socks: a thin liner sock with a thicker wool sock on top.
6. Rain 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 rain jacket with you.
7. Appropriate Clothes
- Summer: Lightweight clothing, preferably with some UV protection if it is going to be very sunny
- Spring and fall: Quick-dry hiking pants plus a good base layer shirt and soft-shell jacket
- Winter: Yours kids will need a base layer, insulating layer, and a warm jacket plus hats, gloves, and scarfs.
8. 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. Your kids can skip this on summertime hikes in shady areas.
9. A Whistle
This is an essential piece of hiking gear for kids. If they get lost, they’ll be able to use it to call for help. A lot of backpacks have whistles built into the straps now.
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. Yes, this has happend to me! You will each need a headlamp for hiking back home in the dark. Plus, they are useful for peering into rock crevices or holes in trees to see what’s inside. 🙂
11. 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.
12. First Aid Kit
When hiking with kids, it’s almost inevitable that they will get some minor injuries. Like the time my daughter fell on a prickle bush. Or when she walked into stinging nettles. Make sure you have a first aid kit for treating these minor injuries as well as any more serious injuries. Here is a checklist of my mini first aid kit.
13. Bathroom Kit
Not only is it gross to leave human waste and toilet paper along the trail, it’s also bad for the environment. Be a good hiker and follow Leave No Trace by bringing along a bathroom kit. It should include:
- Little trowel: Bury poo and toilet paper at least 6 inches deep
- Wag Bag: If you can’t bury poo or TP, then you’ll need to pack it out in a bag.
- Toilet paper: Self explanatory
- Wet wipes: Always pack these out — they take up to 100 years to decompose!
- Hand sanitizer
14. Lighter and/or Waterproof Matches
This is one one of the most essential emergency items to bring hiking. If you end up spending an unplanned night in the woods, you’ll be glad you brought a lighter. Use your own judgment to decide whether your kids should carry their own lighter in their pack.
15. Knife or Multi-Tool
You can use this for things like cutting a bandage, making a shelter, digging, or foraging for food. More realistically, you’ll probably use it for fixing a broken toy or doing nature arts and crafts activities. 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.
17. 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. 🙂
18. Map and Compass
Go ahead and get your kids their own maps and compasses to look at. They will have fun while learning the valuable skill of navigation.
19. 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 jerk who littered on the trail. A few plastic bags for trash are absolutely necessary.
20. Child Carrier Backpack
If you are hiking with a baby or very little kids, you’ll probably end up carrying them for at least part of the hike. You’ll want to bring a child carrier backpack. Or, if the trail is accessible, a hiking stroller.
21. Trekking Poles
Kids love to use trekking poles while hiking. I personally won’t buy them for my kids (they’d probably end up losing them). But I do make sure to find a good stick for them to use when we get to the trail. If you are using a child carrier while hiking with little kids, then make sure you’ve got good poles: they will help redistribute the weight so you stay balanced and don’t strain your back.
22. Fun Stuff
- Field guide
- Lightweight toy/s
- Pencil and notebook
- Picnic blanket
- 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)
What Hiking Gear Should My Kids Carry?
If you are hiking with younger kids, then you probably will be carrying all of the gear. Once your kids get a bit older, they can start carrying some of their own hiking gear. They don’t need to carry everything on the list though!
Here is the gear older kids should carry hiking:
- Clothing (if they take it off, they should carry it)
- Rain jacket
- Map and compass (their own)
- Trash bag
- Fun stuff
What kids’ hiking gear do you take on the trail? Who carries it? Let us know in the comments.