If you’re going hiking with kids, this post will help. We’ll cover 24 specific tips for planning and packing for your hike with kids and toddlers. Plus some specific hiking gear recommendations.
Hiking With Kids and Toddlers
Packing for a hiking trip with kids is like packing for any hiking trip, except now you’re caring for more than just yourself.
To help, we’ve compiled some planning essentials and packing tips to ensure your little one falls in love with the great outdoors just as much as you have.
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Hiking with Kids: 7 Planning Tips
- Check the weather. Before you go, check and re-check the weather. You may be able to withstand the elements, but will your two-year-old? Since you want hiking to be a positive experience, skip out if the weather is too cold, rainy, or hot.
- Pack the goodies. All parents know kids can’t go for over an hour without food. Pack a lot of snacks, and ones that will be easy to eat while on the trails. Small, bite-sized energy packets are your best bet. If the hike becomes a bit longer than your child’s attention span, little nibbles can extend their capacity to make it to the end of the trail.
- Don’t forget to hydrate. You know that hydrating is important, but it’s even more important with a little one. Dehydration happens a lot quicker for children, so hydrate before you go. Also pack plenty of filtered water in an easy-to-drink tumbler for your child. Packing an electrolyte drink is also a great idea, especially in hot weather.
- Stay warm. Toddlers are more likely to get cold than adults, especially since adults will be moving more. Plan to bring warm clothes, a blanket, and hat and gloves, even in warmer weather.
- Plan for the worst. Every hiker hates to think about it, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. This is even more true when you have your most precious possession along on the trails. Pack as if the worst could happen—we’re talking shelter, extra food and water, emergency supplies and a good quality knife.
- Prepare for alternate transportation. Children get tired, so, if your little explorer is still young, plan to bring a child carrier, wagon, or even a stroller along. Each of these systems comes with its own needs and accessories, so try it out before the big day to make sure you have everything you need to make it work.
- Plan for fun. Rediscover the forest through the eyes of a child. There will be a lot of learning, so plan to slow down. Pack a bag or satchel to keep all the favorite finds: rocks, acorns, pine cones, and feathers. Print off an educational worksheet or even start your child’s first nature journal. It’s okay if you don’t reach your mapped destination. A love for the outdoors is your real destination.
More reading: Must have survival gear for hiking
Hiking with Kids: 10 Packing Tips
You may have everything you need for the perfect trip to the woods, but remember that the safety and health of your child is now your primary concern.
It’s possible you may need to stock up on certain supplies or try out new gear before your hiking trip with your toddler.
- Talk about trail rules. Just like crossing the street, your children need to learn the rules of the trail. Explain to them a safe distance they may go ahead of you. Show them what the trail signs mean, and how to stay on the path.
- Promote safety first. Basic safety skills are easy to teach and will keep your kids safe if you get separated. Teach your children how to use a whistle when lost (three short bursts) and equip them with their first outdoor whistles. And the Hug a Tree & Survive concept if they get lost. Here’s a great post on hiking safety for kids.
- Use sun protection. A blazing, hot sun can give you sunburn, but it can dehydrate and burn your child even faster. Pack a brimmed hat, visor, and bring sunscreen for your trip, even on the cloudy days. And almost as important is bug spray. Many products will serve both purposes: protect from the sun and biting insects.
- Tote a toddler backpack. Allow your toddler to pack his or her own backpack with some comfort items such as a stuffed animal or some other small toys. Let them put in some snacks and maybe a small canteen of water.
- Ensure it is not too heavy. It’s easy to get carried away with all the great things to bring. Just bring the necessary items – and a few things in case you get lost or injured. Also ensure that any pockets or pouches snap shut so their items don’t fall out. Those little legs will get tired fast, so consider bringing a wagon or stroller, or a baby carrier for small children. Most carriers can fit children up to age four comfortably. If you are trying a carrier for the first time, be sure to set it up and try it out with the child before your hike.
- Pack knives carefully. While you should still bring a knife, you’ll need to store it even more carefully – you might consider using a knife pouch for storage and safekeeping. Pack your knife in a place where it is safe from your little one.
- Wear bright colors. Although you may not want to think about it, it’s possible for your toddler to wander off on the trail. Pack your children in a highly visible color, such as orange, and lessen the likelihood they camouflage into the woods.
- Focus on foot gear. We all know what it’s like to hike miles in bad footwear, so make sure that doesn’t happen to your little ones. Pack them in durable, comfortable hiking shoes or boots. Puddles are even more enticing to little ones, so, if you may encounter them, pack extra socks. More reading: trail guide to dry and healthy feet.
- Do all the fun stuff. Include some small toys or even child hiking gear (a small magnifying glass, a bug catcher, a bug house) to bring the fun and learning back home after the hike.
- Pick the right path. Remember that little ones tucker out quickly, so plan for some stops along the way with exciting learning opportunities about nature. You could even look into geocaching in your area. Plan a hike that will be the appropriate distance with enough rest stops (including bathroom breaks) for your toddler.
Here are some of the best backpacks with built-in GoPro mounts.
Gear for Hiking With Kids: 7 Suggestions)
- Bug spray and first aid kit: Having some basic first aid supplies will make scrapes and blisters manageable – and will help reduce the chance of infection. Some compact kits are made just for hiking and camping, and weigh under 1lb. Here are a few options for natural bug repellents.
- Snacks: Carrot sticks and bananas make great snacks for short hikes. If you are going for the day, you might consider surprising the kids with a fancy dessert, like the Mountain House Raspberry Crumble. This freeze-dried desert just needs hot water to create a delicious dessert in under 10 min with no cleanup. You’ll be a hero and your kids will want to go hiking every weekend.
- Camera: Having a camera will keep your kids engaged and help them capture memories. There are lots of camera options. If you kids don’t already have a camera, you might consider the latest GoPro. It’s waterproof and quite shockproof. It’s hard to hurt this camera – I’ve tried and it keeps on working. This basic model even has an LCD touch screen. Here’s our guide to GoPro hiking photography.
- Plant and Bird Book: Another great way to get your kids engaged on the hike is to have them hunting for different bird and/or plant species. You might pick up a general bird book or maybe one specific to your region.
- Flashlight / Headlamp: This is important in case you are delayed on the trail and have to return to your car after the sunsets. The light doesn’t have to be anything special – just a basic headlamp (like the Foxelli 165 lumen) will do the trick.
- Trekking poles: These will make the hike much more interesting for your kids. And they can help prevent a slip and fall. These TrailBuddy Poles are adjustable and will work for both kids and adults. The telescope from 24.5″ to 54″ – so as long and the distance from your child’s elbow to the ground is 24.5″ or more, these poles should do the trick.
Final Thoughts on Hiking with Kids
Plan and pack well so your child’s hiking experience will be memorable and exciting. Children naturally love nature, so make it come alive for them by packing miniature hiking gear, learning activities, and making provision for lots of educational stops.
When you pack everything they will need to stay comfortable along the way, they’ll enjoy hiking in the great outdoors.
Have a tip to share for hiking with kids? Please join me in the comments.
- About the Author
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Bryan Haines is a co-founder and blogger on GudGear – and is working to make it the best resource for outdoor gear and guides.
He is a travel blogger at Storyteller Travel and blogs about photography at GudPixel. He is also co-founder of Storyteller Media, a company he started with his wife, Dena.