Does hiking with your kids seem like an impossible task? Our family began hiking as a natural progression of our homeschooling and traveling lifestyle. Nature study and being outdoors is an important part of our education both at home as well as when we travel. In fact we have planned entire vacations around hiking in national parks and exploring nature.
A family hike doesn’t have to be impossible or overwhelming. Just like traveling with kids takes creative planning, practice, and determination, teaching kids to love the outdoors through hiking is worth the effort. Here are some of our best tips as well as some tips from several other families who love hiking with their kids.
Kids hiking gear
Before we jump into the best tips for hiking with kids, let’s go over some basics. When I first began hiking with my kids, the first questions I had were what do I need to pack for a day hike with my kids and what do we need to wear to go hiking?
First, I need to clarify exactly what type of hiking with kids we are talking about. For the purposes of this post, I am specifically talking about day hiking with kids. Backpacking, or “through hiking”, is a completely different activity and requires a much more involved planning process that is beyond the scope of this article. For our purposes, we are going to discuss the basic hiking gear you need for your kids to go on a day hike.
The one thing day hiking does have in common with through hiking, however, is that less is still more! Just like in my travel planning, I am always learning and researching and after a bit trial and error, I have learned the best gear for hiking with kids is gear that is lightweight, minimal, and comfortable. Here are a few of my favorite kids hiking gear pieces.
Related: Best Wide Toe Box Shoes For Hiking
Kids hiking shoes
Toddlers and very young children don’t likely need a hiking boot. My daughter loves and does really well with her Salomon Kids XA Pro 3D J Trail running shoes.
We do not recommend, however, that you only have your child hike in Keens sandals, as they tend to pick up pebbles and rocks and can really slow down the hiking which makes for grumpy kids and parents alike. Save them for the water trekking!
Kids hiking boots
If your children are older and will be doing the same hiking and climbing you anticipate doing (in other words, you won’t be carrying them most of the way), you may want to consider purchasing a kids hiking boot.
My oldest son wears a mens size shoes so we purchased him the same hiking boot as his father wears, Salomon Men’s Quest 4D 3 GTX Hiking Boot.
For our younger boy, we went with the Vasque Breeze WP 2.0 Hiking Boot (Toddler/Little Kid/Big Kid)
Kids hiking backpacks
As far as hiking backpacks go, we definitely recommend you get a kids hydration pack! In fact, I was so passionate about the difference that a hydration pack made in my kids stamina, that I wrote an entire post on it. Read it here.
I’ll go ahead and give you the short version. When we purchased the Camelbak mini mule for my 3 and 5 year olds and the Camelbak Scout for my 10 year old, they went from barely hiking a mile without whining, to making it nearly 7 miles. Granted a few skittles were involved as well, but keeping the kids hydrated was much easier with a hydration pack and worth every penny we invested.
Related: Best Hydration Packs For Kids
Kids hiking clothes
The clothes you choose to wear on your day hike with kids will vary depending upon the temperatures and type of hike you are doing. As a general rule, however, we recommend lightweight breathable clothing. Here are our favorite brands for hiking.
Hiking shirts: Think UV protection and moisture wicking. Columbia makes some Performance Fishing Gear (PFG) shirts for kids that work well in the summer. If it’s colder, consider a base layer shirt made of merino wool, by Smartwool.
Trekking pants/shorts for kids: Again, depending upon the season and the type of hiking you are planning, you may wish to purchase a pair of convertible hiking pants for your kids. If it is winter hiking, we recommend you consider a merino wool base layer bottom underneath their hiking pants.
What to pack hiking with kids?
The 10 Essentials
Now that we have covered what to wear and some basic gear to make hiking easier with kids, let’s talk about what to pack. Right away when I began hiking and hanging around in hiking forums and Facebook groups, I was introduced to the term “The 10 Essentials”. This term refers to the 10 things that every hiker should always have in their day pack.
I’m not going to go into those in detail here, but you can learn more about them in our Gifts for Hikers post which goes into much greater detail based upon those 10 essentials. Instead, I’m going to let our other bloggers share their tips for hiking with kids because within those tips, you will find that the 10 essentials are actually mentioned.
However, for conciseness sake, here is a list of the 10 essentials.
- Navigational Tools
- Sun Protection
- Hiking Clothes
- First Aid Kits
- Waterproof Matches and Fire Starters
- Emergency Shelter
Learn more about the 10 Essentials for hiking here.
Food and Snacks For Hiking With Kids
Feed them and feed them often!
Kids have a lot of energy, but they also have a lower threshold for sustaining their blood glucose than adults do. Our youngest child has a tendency to get low blood sugar very quickly, and we have had a few too many scares. That is why Tip #1 for a successful hike with kids is to feed them plenty of snacks and feed them often.
Melissa from The Family Voyage says,
Because we have some kids with nut allergies and some with low blood sugar, I have to get creative with my snack choices. I’ve found that snack cheese & nut free crackers, nut safe protein bars, Gatorade, and lots of Skittles generally do the trick for our family.
“During one of our long, steep hikes in El Chaltén, Argentina our 6yo went through THREE peanut butter sandwiches during our 4km uphill! On a previous hike with only one sandwich, he complained constantly and told us his “fuel was empty”.”
Dawn from 5 Lost Together says BRING CANDY!
“In the last year we have really gotten into hiking with our 3 kids, ages 6-10. We have progressed to being able to do 12-16 km hikes with minimal complaints. We have three key tips for enjoying hiking with kids and coercing reluctant hikers to hit the trail. The first revolves around bribery. We almost always bring candy that we dish out along the trail as a reward. Make it to the top of a hill, hand out a gummy worm. Ascend a really steep section, gummy reward. These little rewards really do keep the kids motivated.”
Perhaps the hardest part of hiking with kids is getting them excited about the outdoors. In our tech savy day of video games and indoor playgrounds, it can be hard to get your kids excited about hiking. Even though we spend a considerable amount of time hiking with the kids when we travel, I still struggle to get them excited about nature studies when we are home.
Several of our family travel bloggers offered tips around the idea of keeping the kids minds engaged and finding ways to make it fun so that they stay excited and enjoy the outdoors.
New To Hiking? Check out these Hiking Tips for Beginners.
Schooling On The Trail: Keeping Their Minds Engaged
Melissa of The Family Voyage says that keeping her son’s mind active is crucial to keeping him excited about the hike.
“Our son also does better when we keep his mind active so that he isn’t just focused on walking. Since we’re worldschooling him during our family gap year, we’ve started doing “hiking math” as part of his kindergarten curriculum. If our hike is 3km each way and we’ve just passed the 2km marker on the way up, how many km do we have left? We go through all sorts of variations on that math problem, find the difference between yesterday’s distance and today’s distance and more. It’s a great way to keep him engaged while getting our school work done!
Similarly, Dawn of 5 Lost Together says that giving the kids some mental work is key to a successful family hike.
“The second tip is to talk while walking. This usually isn’t something we have to work hard at. They simply ask questions about something they see, which often leads to elaborate discussions about such topics as evolution or democracy. Our kids learn so much on our hikes because they love these discussions that organically come up. When they were younger, we would tell stories and even do basic arithmetic, to keep them distracted.
Dawn also offers this great tip for keeping the trail fun:
“Our last tip is to hike with friends. When our kids are hiking with their friends, they don’t ask “how much longer”; in fact they are usually bounding ahead of us. If you don’t have friends that hike, chances are your area has a hiking with kids group that you can join online and meet other hiking families.
Kids Hiking Backpack: Pack an Adventure Pack For Your Hiking Kids
Brittany from October Acres has a really fun idea for getting your little adventurer excited and engaged in hiking.
Pack an adventure backpack for your little ones on the hike.
“I’m pretty confident in saying that at ages 5 and 2 our little boys have been on more hikes than some people go on in their entire lives. Over the years we’ve discovered some ways to make hiking with kids a lot easier on ourselves. One of the main ways is to keep our kids interested and excited about hiking. To do this we simply pack them a little adventure backpack as we call it, which we fill with a trail map, binoculars, magnifying glass, small notebook and pencil, and a compass. Whether it’s getting up close to a bug with the magnifying glass or quickly sketching a photo of an interesting tree that they found, these simple tools help to keep the kids excited about our adventure. Kids have such curious minds and are constantly seeking out new opportunities to learn. Our oldest is always excited to pack up his adventure bag before a hike; he also carries his own drink and snack, which is an added bonus for us as parents. Any backpack will work nicely as an adventure pack, we tend to favor the Re-Kankens since they are made from recycled materials and are quite durable.”
I keep field guides in our packs to help identify the plants and animals we see along the trail. Laminated tri-fold field guides for the region are our favorite because they are durable and lightweight so the kids can carry them in their “adventure packs”
Tips for Hiking with Toddlers
Invest In The Proper Hiking Gear For Infants and Toddlers
Nancy from We Go With Kids understands the challenges of hiking with young children. She offers some great tips for making it a little easier for everyone and recommends investing in the proper gear.
“A successful hiking trip with young children can be an amazing experience, but it can also be an extremely frustrating experience especially if you find yourself inadequately equipped. My husband and I are avid hikers and we began hiking with our kids at a young age! In the beginning, we used soft carriers and snuggled our kids up close to mom, but as the little babies grew into temperamental toddlers, we found that investing in a true hiking pack was indispensable. Our Deuter Kid Comfort II ended up being one of the best investments we ever made for hiking with kids! My kids started riding in it when they were six months and could hold their heads up and loved riding in it up until they were three years of age and wanted to walk on their own. The best part about the carrier is that it is light weight, takes the strain off the adult back, and, is comfortable enough that kids can even sleep in the carrier and feel supported. I highly recommend investing in the proper gear when it comes to hiking and a carrier is one of those items that proved indispensable.”
Change Your Expectations When Hiking With Toddlers
Ariana from World of Travels With Kids offers some hard truths, but valuable tips for any family truly wanting to hike with kids.
“Our #1 tip is to change your expectations – it is different to hike with young kids!!! Regardless of each individual child, their fitness or personality, you will find you need to change your expectations of what a hike or day in the outdoors involves!
In our experience, hiking with babies and smaller toddlers (not good walkers) is a slower than as adults, but as long as you offer them adequate rest time out of a carrier, it is not a bad time to trek.
For us; the ages 2 – 4 are hardest as the children are demanding, irrational and can walk some distance but not too far. Having a carrier on hand as a backup works… but even then they can just get tired of the carrier (think screaming!) and in short it is not an ideal time to go “hiking” other than walks in gentle conditions.
For 4 plus, they go slow, smell the roses and play a lot, but you can attempt a longer distances. The other day we hiked a 4.5 km Class 5 (hard) hill with my 4.5 year old and he did it capably, but for at least 1 km on the way down we had to stop on every step (there were a lot) and chant together “Yelp, yelp STICK’ and then jump. It took us a long time to descend! I reminded myself every time that I did it that this is hiking with young kids – it is different, it is more like playing along the way than “hiking.” For Adults, hiking is getting from A to B. For kids, hiking is an adventure, out an exploring the world. From 6 upwards, a more focused, resilient child will be able to do longer distances with frequent rest and talk breaks. You will need to think other activities to keep them interested, like word games, songs or even natural history lessons.
However, for all ages, all stages – changing our own expectations, and letting them go at their slow, exploratory pace is our number 1 tip for Hiking with Young Kids.”
For more on Hiking with Toddlers check out her post: Hiking with Toddlers in the Andes
Tips For Family Hiking Trips
Keep The Hike Reasonable and Have A Goal In Mind
Our friends at Photo Jeepers encourage you to give the kids a goal to have in mind. Sounds like a good plan for adults too!
“My best tip for hiking with young kids is to have a destination. Pick a hike with a waterfall, lake, swimming hole, cave, or rewarding view at the end. Kids will be more motivated to work toward the goal at the end. We use treat breaks as mini goals along the way, stopping on bridges, under cool old shady trees, or on giant boulders for a quick break and a little treat (a couple Skittles for example).”
Don’t Underestimate Kids: Challenge Them To Persevere!
Amy from Passports and Pigtails really describes the WHY behind getting your family outside. She offers suggestions for motivating everyone towards their goals. We think you will agree and benefit from her excellent advice.
“For us, hiking is all about authentic connection, both as a family and to nature. With a passion for backcountry paths, we’ve suffered our share of bumps and bruises, moments of discomfort and uneasiness, as the elements and distance test our wills and our patience. But each of those moments are part of the journey, the work required to relish in rewards such as a deeper appreciation of nature, sweeping mountain views, hidden fishing ponds, cascading waterfalls and the complete silence that comes with a destination far from the everyday world. Hiking with kids requires educated preparation and safety precautions, but with a solid plan, a researched trail and a pack full of necessary emergency items such as bear spray, layers, first aid kit, food, water and a blanket, a long trek can be an extremely rewarding experience. So what is our secret to surviving a 6 hour, 8 km, 700 meter elevation gain hike? We never, ever give up. This may sound cliché, but it is being a strong support system for one another that gets us through those difficult climbs. We discuss concerns and how we can best tackle them safely, we rest often and we help each other physically when needed. All of this may sound simple, but the sheer will and ability of kids can be very surprising, and often underestimated. It is often the mindset that “we could never do that” which keeps families from attempting to get out and hike, to think bigger, to climb higher. In pushing our family to reach beyond the norm, even when there are tears or fears, even when we are completely exhausted, we are teaching ourselves, and our little people, that they can overcome any obstacle and any distance as long as they keep going, one step at a time.”
Perseverance is key as is giving them to tools they need. As I said earlier, this was the lesson mommy had to learn before the kids did. Once I figured out that I needed to feed them more, dress them better, and keep them hydrated better, the family hikes improved tremendously.
Tike Time To Prepare For Hiking With Kids
Familiarize yourself with trail
It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the trail as much as possible. AllTrails is an excellent site to learn about trails and get some idea of what to expect.
Take first aid kit, necessary medications, and plenty of water
It goes without saying, but staying hydrated is also crucial. Often times our family may take impromptu hikes on a day out and and about. Keeping a stash of snacks and a case of water in our car has been helpful for us.
Our kids have food allergies so we also ensure we have their Epi-Pens, safe snacks, and medications like Benadryl and Tylenol in our packs. A good first aid kit may be all your family needs. Again, these are things we like to keep either in our packs or in the car all the time.
Be Aware of Altitude Sickness
Our final tip comes from Mags at The Family Freestylers with great advice for hiking in higher altitudes with your family. If you want to hike the Alps with your young ones, go for it, but keep these tips things in mind.
“Hiking in the Alps is glorious. The high mountain scenery is truly stunning and if you head to Chamonix Mont Blanc in France, you can hike amongst glaciers. But if you’re hiking at altitude as a family there are a few other factors you need to consider. Altitude sickness is no fun and can easily ruin a family trip. Always have a day or two after arriving at altitude to allow everyone’s bodies to acclimate to the altitude before starting a hike.
Many of the high trails are accessed by cable car. If you’ve got a baby under 1 then ascending above 1500m in a cable car is not advised because of the fast pressure change. If you want to hike in the Alps with your baby, ascend slowly by walking from the bottom of the mountain to avoid taking any cable cars. Similarly young children between 1 and 3 years of age should be kept below 2000m if taking any lift system.
Sleeping at altitude above 2,500m is not recommended for children under 12 so if you’re planning a hiking holiday sleeping in any of the many mountain refuges, think again until the kids are a bit older and are able to cope better.
Kids at altitude breathe faster so will need a higher fluid intake than normal. It’s common sense but make sure each child has their own water bottle and encourage them to drink often.
One of our favourite hikes in Chamonix is from Les Bossons up to the snack bar (buvette) at the bottom of the Les Bossons Glacier. The hike takes an hour up to an altitude of 1425m (or in Summer there’s a chairlift all the way!) and gives stunning views of the glacier.” You can read about this hike here
As you can see, hiking with your kids is doable and worth the effort! It just takes some planning, patience, and LOADS OF SKITTLES! Haha! If you don’t remember anything else, remember this: Feed them!! Feed them lots!
If you enjoyed this post on tips for hiking with kids, be sure to check out this article by our friends at Back Road Ramblers for even more great tips on getting outside and hiking with your kids!
Get even more excited about hiking with kids by reading this article about Trekking with Kids in Nepal.
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