Hiking is one of those activities that many parents keep putting off until their kids are older. STOP! It is possible to go hiking with kids of all ages, and keep your sanity. From babies, to toddlers, and older children, we have tips to help make your adventures on the trails fun for the entire family. Plus we have all the best hiking gear for kids.
My family started getting into hiking a few years ago when our twins were just shy of a year old. We were planning our first trip to the Redwoods and wanted to be able to do some of the more challenging trails. What started out as just trying to get ready for a vacation, turned into a passion for the trails. Now, over two years later, we are still hiking with our kids almost every weekend, weather permitting.
I am not going to lie, hiking with kids can be a bit daunting. But we have learned a lot along the way, from the best gear, to tips to help your kids hike without whining. I am going to spill all our best secrets for you so your family can hit the trails this year.
Best Hiking Gear For Kids
Before you hit the trails, you will want to get outfitted with some of the best kids’ hiking gear. Best does not need to mean the most expensive. It just means quality gear that will help make your hiking with kids experience easier for everyone.
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Best Hiking Gear for Kids (Babies and Toddlers)
When hiking with babies and toddlers, your gear will mostly mean a quality carrier. While I am happy to use a wrap or a ringsling at home to wear my babies, hiking requires something a little sturdier. Here are my 3 favorite carriers for hiking with babies and toddlers.
- Ergobaby Carrier – If you are looking for a soft structured carrier that you can easily carry with you, my pick is the Ergobaby Carrier. It has an affordable price range, a supportive seat for baby, and has multiple sitting positions for baby. The only downside to this carrier is that getting baby on your back (my preferred position for hiking) on your own will take a lot of practice. It isn’t hard with a helper, so that may not be an issue for some.
- A simple backpack carrier – A structured carrier is best for longer hikes. We use two different kinds. The first is a Kelty Junction 2.0, which is no longer made. The closest thing to it is the phil&teds Parade. It is very much like the Junction but has a few bonus features. I like that this pack has children lower on your back. The phil&teds pack also folds flat, which is a benefit over the Kelty Junction. Finally phil&teds Parade comes with a small backpack that can hook on to the pack, or your child can wear if they want to walk for a short time.
- Deuter Kim Comfort Air – This is by far my favorite pack for longer hikes with kids. This structured carrier is what most people think of when they think of hiking (or a similar one by Kelty). I love a few things about the Kid Comfort Air. First, the sides of the child seat are mesh, which helps keep baby cool. Second, this is a highly adjustable seat. There are so many places to adjust the straps and fit, that it can work for almost any parent and child within the weight limits. Finally, this carrier is plus size friendly. I think it could fit a woman up to maybe a size 24 (US) based off measuring my straps.
Best Hiking Gear For Kids
If your kids are a bit older, they could still use a few items when hiking. Depending on how much hiking you plan on doing, you may want to invest in quality hiking boots, a walking pole and more. If you are just starting out, those things can wait. But here are some items you will want before hitting the trails.
Hydration pack – A hydration pack is great for kids because they can simply wear their water supply. My oldest can only hold a water bottle for a few minutes before he starts trying to pawn it off on mom or dad. Having a hydration pack saves us from fighting with him about it, or carrying it ourselves.
A whistle – If you will be hiking in the woods, or anywhere that your child may wander off, make sure they have a whistle. A whistle is important for if they get lost or hurt.
A flashlight or head lamp – If you plan on going anywhere that may have caves or caverns, bring a flashlight or head lamp for your child.
Tips For Hiking With Kids Without Losing Your Sanity
There is definitely a learning curve to hiking with kids and making sure everyone stays happy. Thankfully, I am sharing everything we have learned about hiking with our crew so you can learn from our mistakes.
1. Start slow and flat
Don’t just head out to a challenging mountain, multi-mile trail and expect your kids to be troopers. Start small with local walking paths in parks. We started with our greenbelt. It was mostly flat and we could walk as long, or as little, as we wanted. We started with one mile and worked our way up from there. Our oldest was nearly six at the time, and our twins were in packs on our backs. We worked our way up to three miles on the flat trails before finding more difficult paths to work up to.
2. Watch your pace
As adults it is easy to just try and power through or have a good pace during a hike. It is important to remember that your kids are often taking two steps for our every one. A key to hiking with kids is being okay slowing down and going at their pace so they don’t tire out too quickly.
3. Stay hydrated
Be sure to keep your kids and yourself well hydrated. Parents often shy away from giving their kids water because they don’t want to have to stop for potty breaks. Don’t skip the water! Kids will be in better spirits, and their bodies will appreciate the extra water if they are hot and sweating.
4. Bring power snacks
When choosing snacks for hiking with kids, be sure that the food you chooses packs a power punch. Choose foods with lots of protein to help fuel kids. Trail mix that includes peanuts is a great option. If your children don’t like trail mix, try a granola bar that has protein in it.
5. Use family hikes to teach safety
Use your family hikes to teach your kids about hiking safety. It is a great time to remind them about what to do if they are hurt, how to identify plants like poison ivy.
6. Games will help curb whining
If your kids start to whine during hikes, playing games can help keep their minds off of the long hike. One of the easiest games to play while hiking is Eye Spy. Simply take turns being the one who spies and the kids will forget about whining.
7. Pick the right time of day to hike
We find our kids do best with early morning hikes. They have a lot of energy and walk a lot faster, which keeps mom and dad happy. The best part is, it usually wears them out pretty good and they are more than happy to take an afternoon nap.
8. Stop often to explore
As adults we can usually keep our focus on reaching the end destination. We know there is a cool waterfall, beautiful valley, or some other great destination ahead. Kids, not so much. They need some time to explore whatever catches their eyes as you are hiking.
9. Teach kids to pack and carry their own packs
If hiking is something you want to continue doing as your kids grow, start having your kids pack and carry their own packs from a young age. Start small with some basic items, then add to it as they grow and your hikes get longer. Eventually they will be able to carry a full pack for backpacking trips.
10. Teach while hiking with kids
Hiking with kids is a great time to teach. It helps get conversation going as well as helps kids learn about nature. Take a book to help teach about different plants, animals, safety skills and more. You may both learn something.
11. Encourage and Help
Our oldest tends to freak out… a lot. Be sure to encourage your kids to push through and do hikes they think are too hard, but also be ready as a parent to help them. Maybe it is climbing over a rock or going in a cave, whatever it is, let them know that you will be there to help them if they need it but you want them to try on their own.
12. Take Pictures while hiking with kids
Take pictures from your hikes with your kids. Especially when they conquer something they thought they couldn’t do. Maybe it was a particularly difficult hike or exploring a cave. Capture the moment and be sure to let them know how proud you are of them.
13. Don’t skimp on hiking gear for kids
As you start to hike more and more, be sure to invest on your kids’ hiking gear. Maybe that is the items above, or a good pair of hiking boots. Quality gear is important for helping your kids enjoy hiking and stay safe. It may seem tempting to buy cheaper items because, let’s face it…kids grow fast. But don’t sacrifice quality. To save money on quality products, be sure to watch prices on Amazon, or at your local outdoors stores. Hiking gear for kids (and even adults) tends to go on sale in early spring as well as in fall.
14. Let your kids lead
As your kids become more experienced and confident, start letting them lead the hikes. Let them help choose trails. When you are hiking with kids that are more experienced, let them lead the way on the trail as well.
15. Dress your kids in layers
When hiking with kids, dress them in layers. You may start out with them whining they are cold in the morning and then hot only an hour later. Once their bodies get moving, and the sun gets up higher, they tend to heat up. But if you start out with them cold, you will hear nothing but whining about how they “can’t move because they are frozen.” (Read that in the whiniest voice ever.) The best thing to do is dress in your kids in layers and just make sure to have a sweatshirt they can tie around their waste, or have extra room in a pack for the discarded clothing.
16. Bring extra clothes
If there is even the slightest chance that your child might get wet, muddy, have an accident, decide their shirt is too itchy, and on and on…bring an extra pair of clothes. Kids that sometimes are totally fine running around in wet clothes at home (after running through the sprinklers) may suddenly have a meltdown because they got their pant legs wet trying to cross a tiny stream. While I am not normally one to cater to changing my kids clothing for every little thing, sometimes the mess can be huge. Plus, if they are hiking in super wet pants, they could start to chafe so I definitely don’t want that. Just bring an extra pair of clothing for your kids to be safe.
17. Don’t forget the wipes
Every mom knows that wipes are awesome. Even if you are done with diapers, you probably still have baby wipes somewhere in your home. Make sure to take wipes with you in case your kids want a snack but their hands are particularly dirty.
18. Don’t forget a first aid kit
A first aid kit is a must. There are so many rocks, plants, and a million other things that kids can scrape a knee on, have a basic first aid kit, even for smaller hikes. The longer, more difficult the hike, the more intense the first aid kit should be.
19. Keep kids cool
It can get hot when you are hiking, especially if you are hiking in the desert. Bring items to help keep kids (and parents) cool. My favorite item is the Frogg Toggs cooling bands. I love that they are easy to take with us dry, and then we just get them wet to activate the cooling feature.
20. Don’t forget the bug spray and sunscreen
My oldest has some huge fear of mosquitoes. It started after we let him watch Jumanji (the original) and we just have not been able to make him realize they aren’t that bad. But of course, nobody loves a mosquito bite. So definitely be sure to have bug spray or some other detterent for your kiddos. We like to also get the bracelets and put them on our packs near the twins when we wear them.
In addition, make sure to remember the sunscreen. Nothing is worse than coming home from a hike with an awful burn. Well, maybe there are a few worse things (poison ivy?) but it still is not fun. Make sure if it is a long hike in the sun, you reapply sunscreen as needed.
These tips will have you hitting the trails and smiling while hiking with kids. Let me know if you have any other tips in the comments.