Wondering what to take when hiking with kids? Here’s our ultimate kids hiking gear packing list!
We loved hiking long before we ever had kids. Since we both spent young years in places with mountains as well as fantastic and accessible trails, it was important to us to make sure our kids felt comfortable and confident on trails, as well. Over the last almost-decade of hiking with kids, we’ve found some fantastic kids hiking gear that makes our outdoor experiences more enjoyable for everyone.
While we also love camping, our hikes at this phase of life with 5 small kids are pretty much always day hikes. The kids hiking gear in this post is all stuff that’s excellent for a long or short day hike, but doesn’t include items you would need for an overnight.
Read on for the list of all of our day hiking essentials with kids!
This post on the best kids hiking gear contains affiliate links, but all opinions are 100% my own. That means I earn a small commission if you purchase through my link, but doesn’t change your price.
We’ve tried a few different pack solutions while hiking with kids, but these kids hiking backpacks are by far our favorite. We got them a few months ago and they have been the BEST addition to our kids hiking gear.
The pack is just the right size for an elementary-aged child, and comes with a bladder and long spout. There’s a bit of extra room to carry snacks (or small sticks if you’re a certain child of ours). They’re lightweight, and it’s SO helpful to not have to constantly stop to take water bottles out. They’re seriously the best kids hiking backpacks!
Even though we have our 3 older kids (ages 9, 7, and 5) carry their own packs, we also like to have a larger pack for the rest of the family. Since at least one of the adults is usually wearing a baby, it’s nice to have the other carry the pack.
We love this pack SO MUCH. It’s great as a day hiking pack, but still roomy enough that we can fit food and snacks for the family. We comfortably pack water, as well as our DLSR camera and big lens (which feel pretty well protected in the middle compartment. There are tons of compartments, so it’s easy to organize everything, and I love the mesh inside that makes it easy to see everything. Plus, the whole thing unzips flat! It’s also perfect for a several day trip for an individual. It comes with a rain cover, but we find it’s pretty darn water resistant even without it. Such an amazing hiking day pack!
Best Kids Hiking Shoes
Hiking shoes for kids aren’t totally necessary, but they are helpful. I like that they provide some extra protection and stability. One of our kiddos wears sneakers every day and is rough on them, so it makes sense to have separate hiking boots. We love this pair for him that’s comfortable and waterproof. (And it’s fun that Daniel has the matching adult pair. ;))
Our two younger boys wear these shoes instead of sneakers on a day-to-day basis. I love that they can dress up and down a bit, but they’re not the best for hiking. So we also love having separate hiking boots for them – these are perfect for toddlers and younger children. They’re also super durable – even after many, many hikes, plus an international trip with snow, they look almost brand new.
If you prefer something that’s more of a cross between a sneaker, you can’t beat these kids hiking shoes or these. These are also fantastic shoes that are a cross between a hiking boot and sneaker, and are even waterproof! And these girls hiking shoes are also fantastic.
Best Kids Hiking Sandals
For water hikes, we love having hiking sandals. We used to just have our kids remove shoes or possibly wear Saltwaters, but those just didn’t provide enough traction to be safe. And if you’ve ever tried to take kids socks on and off wet feet, you know just how annoying that is. Kids hiking sandals make life so much easier and safer for everyone!
Our older kids LOVE these hiking sandals (girls and boys) – they provide fantastic traction, are really comfortable, and dry quickly. They’re perfect for hiking in water or not. Our two younger boys use these closed-toe kids hiking sandals. They provide a little more protection for little feet, but still dry quickly. Since the younger ones outgrow shoes so quickly, I love that these are inexpensive and functional!
These carabiners are so dang useful for so many reasons! They can clip an extra water bottle onto a pack, they can clip your keys to the top of a bag so they’re easy to find, or they can clip a trash bag in place. Trust me. You’ll find a million uses for them.
I always like to have an extra water bottle that keeps things cold. This one is my favorite.
This is one of those things that I tend to forget with my brown-skinned kiddos, but is still SO important. This is my very favorite sunscreen that I’ve started just leaving in our bag so I don’t forget it. It’s a mineral (zinc-based) sunscreen, so it protects the skin on top instead of soaking in.
While this provides much better protection, most zinc sunscreens are a giant pain to rub in. This one rubs in really easily and is just the creamiest texture. I love it so much.
Speaking of topical skin treatments, bug repellant is so important while hiking. While DEET is certainly effective, I don’t like to use it on a super regular basis with kids. This Picardin lotion is effective, cheap, and safe for the family. I’m also curious to try this spray – we love the hair products from this line, and it’s safe for the family. (If you’re in the market for lice-repelling hair care, we LOVE the shampoo, conditioner, and especially the detangler!)
Hard to come by these days, but hand sanitizer is still ultra important. Especially be sure to use some before eating.
I’m a giant fan of wool for the cold, but it’s equally effective for hot, sweaty activities. Wool is smells so much less and doesn’t feel damp and uncomfortable, thus minimizing blisters. I love these socks so much!!
There are plenty of options for this, but I really like this one for babies. It’s great for protecting both the face and neck. This is another fantastic hat that also protects the neck, but works for babies AND bigger kids. Consider some sunglasses while you’re at it.
Kids Hiking Gear: Clothing
While specific hiking clothing is totally NOT necessary (we’ve done plenty of hikes in leggings and t-shirt!), it can be nice to help kids stay dry and comfortable. These are great and convert from pants to shorts, or these are just shorts. These girls hiking shorts dry really quickly, or these are great if your child prefers a legging style. These active tees are also really useful for sun protection and staying comfortable and dry.
If you’re hiking in colder weather, base layers are a must. Wool base layers are the very best for moisture wicking, and they can be worn multiple times without needing to be washed. My kids also really like these base layers, which are effective and inexpensive. These are my personal favorite base layers (top and bottom).
You never know how the weather will turn when hiking with kids. I always think it’s great to add a lightweight jacket to your kids hiking gear just in case. I love these lightweight kids jackets because while they’re not waterproof, they ARE water resistant. They’re also pretty warm when layered, and can easily be washed. Our whole family has and loves them.
That said, if you know you’ll be in consistent rain or snow, you’ll want something not just water resistant, but waterproof. This jacket is a great option for that to layer over other warm clothing. You could also do a ski parka that’s both warm and waterproof.
A headlamp certainly isn’t necessary when hiking with kids, but they love them and they can be really helpful if it’s dark (especially if you’re camping). A worthy purchase!
While this is definitely for slightly older kiddos, your child will likely feel so excited and grown up with this. We gifted our 9 year old a pocketknife for his 8th birthday (he’d been asking for a while) and he loves it SO much. He uses it to whittle sticks, and is asking to learn the skill of cutting open a can. Just be sure you review knife safety and proper storage! This pocketknife isn’t the exact one we have, but our child’s is similar and does have multiple tools on it.
It feels utterly ridiculous to have strong feelings about something as mundane as bandages, but here we are. These bandages are the only ones I’ll buy because they stay on and keep dirt out of wounds. They’re also really helpful if someone gets a blister. Don’t forget some disinfecting ointment, along with a mini first aid kit.
You do NOT want to totally run out of phone battery while you’re out on a hike with kids. While you should, of course, disconnect and focus on your children, you want to be able to call someone in the event of an emergency, or look up directions if needed. I love this external charger so much – it’s lightweight and charges multiple devices. I also have and adore the smaller version – it’s perfect for just a couple charges to tide you over.
Truly, I shall carry baby wipes around until the day I die. So useful for emergency potty stops (be sure you pack along a spare plastic or resealable bag to pack out your trash, too!!), cleaning up messes, wiping cuts, cleaning hands, refreshing after a sweaty hike, and more. On that note, also be sure to carry some toilet paper with you.
Best Hiking Gear Baby Carrier
While we’ve tried several actual baby hiking backpacks, I have to say that I still vastly prefer my soft structured carrier when hiking with a baby. There are a few pros and cons to a baby hiking backpack vs. a soft structured carrier, though.
The biggest advantage of the baby hiking backpack is that you can store quite a bit more than just the baby. There’s room for snacks and water. They also typically will stand up on their own when placed down, which is helpful if you don’t want to put baby on the ground (it can also work as a high chair to contain baby). Baby doesn’t usually sit directly against your body, so they’re also cooler, and typically have a built in sunshade. Unfortunately, they also tend to be quite a bit heavier than a normal carrier, which is exacerbated by the extra stuff you can carry in it. The child also sits higher up, which means they have a better view, but can also mean you’re less balanced overall. Finally, the good ones tend to be reasonably pricey.
The biggest advantage of a soft structured carrier is that they tend to be extremely lightweight – hardly adding any more weight than the weight of the child. They sit close to your body, which means that while it can get hot, it also hardly affects your center of gravity. They’re easy to use, comfortable (way more so than a pack in my opinion!), and you likely already own one.
Should I Use A Baby Hiking Backpack or Soft Structured Carrier When Hiking With A Baby?
If you’ll often be hiking with a baby without another person to carry a pack, or have a larger child that wouldn’t be comfortable to wear on your front while you also wear a backpack, then I would recommend a baby hiking backpack. On the other hand, if you typically hike with another person who could carry the pack, or don’t mind wearing baby on the front as well as a backpack, then I recommend the comfort and ease of a soft structured carrier.
SNACKS + TREATS
Do I need to say more?
OTHER USEFUL KIDS HIKING GEAR
Here are a few other things that can be useful, but not essential, when it comes to kids hiking gear!
- Compressed towelettes
- Small trowel
- Camera (sure, your phone works fine. The photos with this will look so much better. I love this lens and this lens.)
- Fire starter with whistle
- Bear spray – absolutely necessary if you’re hiking in bear country, as far as I’m concerned!
I hope this kids hiking packing list was helpful! And I’d love if you’d share any of your favorite hiking gear with kids – let me know in the comments!
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NOT READY TO GO HIKING WITH KIDS QUITE YET? PIN THIS POST FOR LATER!