Essential Hiking Gear for Kids

Important items your kids (and you!) will need for day hiking

With outdoor adventures becoming all the more popular for families since COVID-19 lockdowns, we’ve been investigating all the best gear you need for family day hikes.

Understandably, our desert hikes are in quite stark contrast to our friends and family who live much further north in the world! So with thanks to these many friends we’ve reached out to for all their suggestions, we’ve put together for you this bumper guide to the right hiking gear to bring on day trips and family hiking adventures, wherever you are in the world.

If you’re still thinking ‘my kids can’t even walk around the block without moaning’, don’t worry; your hiking trips will get easier, bigger and better as the years go on, if you love the outdoors, persevere!

You can see our complete collection of family packing lists here – or sign up to our newsletter if you’d like to get them all in a handy PDF download format

Packing List Sign Up - Hiking

We have called in some family hiking experts to help you with toddler hiking tips, as well as this beginner’s guide to baby hiking too if you are just starting out on your family hiking adventures.

Ready to go hiking with your kids? Whether it’s your first time hiking as a family or you’ve had a little experience and want to learn the hiking essentials for a longer hike, you’ve come to the right place.

For each category we’ll talk about not only the best hiking gear for your kids, but what to pack for you too – assuming you’re not setting them off alone on the trails just yet!

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Hiking Gear for Kids: Daypacks for Hiking

The start of a great day of hiking begins with a lightweight and comfortable day bag.  When our kids were small and our walks were not so long, we were able to get away with our travel diaper backpack.

However, we’ve enjoyed lightening the load now they are bigger and the “essentials” list for a day out has changed! The most important question to ask is, will they be carrying their own backpack?

If you can keep all your gear in one bag, that’s great, especially for keeping up enthusiasm in the younger ones. However, if kids want their own kit though, keep it super small and light. Kids may prefer a day pack with a built-in hydration pack.

Just ask your self, will they carry if for an entire day? There’s nothing worse than carrying two bags when you could have just carried one from the outset!

For mom, a good women’s daypack for hiking should be lightweight, comfortable, and big enough to hold your essential items including sun protection, water and snacks (more on these below!)

Even when keeping it fairly small, you will find a daypack with a supportive chest and waist straps work best (especially if you’re carrying gear for all the family!). When travelling solo, you may have gotten away with a day pack under 20L,  but with a family day pack, try and keep it under 30L -max!  

Best kids hiking daypacks

Best parents daypacks for hiking

Hiking Gear for Kids: Hiking boots or shoes

Our kids got away for years with their simple everyday trainers for trekking locally, but our last summer in the Pacific Northwest was a good reminder if you want to get serious and take longer hikes with kids, you will need to invest in a good pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots, depending on your terrain.

Kids hiking shoes (akin to very sturdy trainers) work well in arid and dry conditions, whilst trekking in cold and snowy climates will require a much more structured waterproof kids hiking boot.

Conversely, in hot climates, or near water, a sturdy kids hiking sandal may be a better choice.

Best kids hiking shoes

Hiking with a toddler? We have a detailed guide here to the best hiking shoes for smaller feet

Best ladies hiking shoes and hiking boots

Do bear in mind a good pair of boots will take a couple of goes to break in, try and wear them on your everyday outings before a tempt a long hike.

Hiking Gear for Kids: Hiking Socks

Along with your hiking shoes, don’t underestimate the importance of hiking socks! Remember, they are likely to be bulkier than your everyday socks, so you’re best testing your hiking shoes when you already have your hiking socks sorted. 

If you will be hiking in cold climates, warm and durable wool socks are essential.  Remember to always pack at least one extra pair; if accidents happen, you don’t want to be stuck all day in soggy socks!

Best Kids Hiking socks

Best ladies hiking socks

Hiking Gear for Kids: Hiking Pants

A separate pair of hiking pants? Yep, it only took one long trek in my ‘comfy jeans’ to work out that a well-fitted pair of hiking pants were in order in many situations.  There is no set style for kids hiking pants or ladies’ hiking pants; it’s really what you’re comfortable with and dressing for the conditions.

In a hot climate hiking shorts or a comfortable pair of cargos will suffice (just check for chaffing qualities!). In cooler climates, a comfy pair of warm leggings are great for ladies while in colder climates you will be seeking out a thicker waterproof material.

Best ladies hiking pants

The kids we’ve found, you simply need to decide between a comfortable pair of everyday shorts or waterproof pants in colder climates. If you think the kids are quite prone to the occasional scratch and bump, we recommend choosing a longer trouser length is a good option.

We also recommend keeping a nice warm pair of track pants in the car for afterwards.

Best kids hiking pants

Hiking Gear for Kids: Hiking Jacket

A good hiking jacket will not only keep you warm but dry, as well as fit comfortably back in your day pack without adding too much bulk.

Of course, it will be season-dependent how thick a jacket you need – most regular hikers will opt for a good all-weather jacket.

Remember, as with everything that comes with you once you leave the house – or car – will they wear it or carry it the entire day, or is it yet another item you end up carrying?

Best kids hiking jacket

Best ladies hiking jacket

Hiking Gear for Kids: Hiking Vest

Wearing layers is essential with hiking. From the frostiest of starts to your day through to reaching your peak in brilliant sunlight, layer upon layer! This is why we love a transitional vest that can be easily layered with your kids’ hiking gear.

Best kids hiking vest

Best ladies hiking vest

Hiking Gear for Kids: Hiking Water Bottle

Keeping energy levels up is essential for a family hike. This includes hydration – ie water and snacks (and with kids, snack, snacks, and more snacks. In fact, forget packing your camera, make more room for snacks!) for your little hikers.

You’ll want a water bottle that’s big enough to fit the amount of water you need for the duration of your hike whilst not adding too much weight to your day pack.

If your kids are not taking a hydration pack or backpack with a water bladder, we recommend a thermal insulated bottle to keep their water chilled; a little heavier to carry but worth if for the durability.

Best kids water bottle for hiking

Best parents water bottle for hiking

It’s worth bearing in mind if you’re cutting down on weight, it may be better for parents to carry one or two large bottles for everyone. For younger children especially, a water bottle will weight them down.

If you’re refilling from streams of fresh water sources as you go, then definitely go with the Lifestraw Go.

Hiking Gear for Kids: Sun Protection While hiking

On all but the bleakest of days out, hiking in a sun hat is essential when hiking with kids (we cover more on those wintery hikes below!). Something with a drawstring or at least a Velcro strap is handing for making sure this sticks on kids’ heads and leaves their hands free to explore.

Best kids sun hats for hiking

You can find our complete guide to baby & kids waterproof sunhats here

Best ladies sun hat for hiking

Keeping Warm While Hiking

One of the biggest things that can put us off hiking with our kids is the constant string of complaints! Right after I’m hungry – taken care of above – check! is I’m cold!

Hats and beanies are an excellent idea for keeping your extremities warm, and they can always be stripped off later and carried in your day pack if you start to get too hot.

Family Hiking with beanies for winter warmth

Best Kids Beanies for hiking

Best Ladies Beanies for hiking

Infant Carrier for Hiking

If you’re a family that loves your outdoor adventures and don’t want this to stop once kids come along, we strongly suggest you invest early on in a toddler hiking carrier. They come in all manner of shapes and sizes from simply using your everyday toddler carrier – superb for city travel and navigating through airports – all the way through to some pretty complex hiking kit for the pros!

We personally got away with using our Ergo 360 Baby Carrier as we were infrequent hikers with a baby, but as explained by our far more outdoorsy friend Shelley

“a hiking carrier gives you extra padding and support over a longer period of time. You will find the weight is spread more evenly and suspension better too, making it a more comfortable ride all around for you and your infant”

A good hiking carrier will also have plenty of pockets for all your essentials so you do not need to carry a day pack as well, or you can share the load between two adults.

Best toddler hiking carriers

You can find our complete guide to the best toddler carriers here

Safety Gear for Hiking

You can never be too prepared for outdoor adventures – especially with kids! As well as your own clothing essentials, you won’t want to miss these basic day pack items off your list:

Hiking Snacks For Kids

Arguably THE most important to keep them going, right? Make sure you pack some high energy, protein-rich snacks in your day pack, some ideas include:

  • Beef Jerky
  • Trail Mix
  • Mixed Nuts
  • Protein balls

You’ll find our complete guide to healthy hiking snacks + homemade snacks you can try here

These ones will depend on your circumstance and just how far you have to walk and carry everything! You may also want to consider throwing into a hiking day pack for kids:

Remember, hiking with kids doesn’t have to go on for miles. A small bushwalk trek for some fresh air is a great start. If you’re unsure how your small kids especially will take to hiking and longer outdoor adventures, then check out our guide to hiking with toddlers.

With thanks to friend Shelley for helping pull much of this list together – especially the cold weather suggestions – from her outdoor experience with kids.

Looking for more ideas just for mom? We’ve dropped plenty of hints in here not just for kids hiking gear but perfect items for you too; for more ideas pop over to our gifts for women who love outdoor adventure where we share all our outdoor favorite items!

Outdoor Adventures: Making a night of it?

Heading on longer outdoor adventures and camping overnight you may also like to read next:

Downloadable Hiking Packing List

Printable Checklist - Hiking 2

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mother and child hiking

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