What to Bring Hiking with Kids
What to bring hiking with kids
Curious what to bring hiking with kids in tow? I’ve got you covered with my Hiking with Kids packing list of 10 crucial items below!
But first…my Ode to Colorado
I live in Colorado. Where outdoor activities reign supreme, and everywhere you look there’s someone fitter than you. I moved here from the midwest, where the only outdoor activities were lawn care related, and everywhere you look there’s someone fatter than you. Colorado is, hands down, the best state I’ve ever lived in. I’ve only lived in 4, but still. The weather is fantastic, and there’s so much to do!
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I enjoy watching my kids doing and learning things I didn’t as a child. In the last 5 years since we’ve moved here they’ve been kayaking, paddleboarding, snow skiing, camping, hiking, mountain biking…and they’re only 6 and 3 years old! It’s pretty awesome. Exploring our state and the great outdoors, and having Rocky Mountain National Park just down the road, is incredible for our whole family. The memories we’ve made are just incredible – and I know there are many more amazing experiences yet to come!
Being outside is refreshing, moving our bodies is satisfying, and being surrounded by active people is pleasant. I love that my kids are able to experience all that Colorado has to offer, year round, right in our own backyard (sorta).
The Cold, Hard Truth of ANYTHING with Kids
That all being said, all these fantastic activities and outings? Let me tell you – THEY’RE WORK. Between scheduling, prepping, packing, and road tripping it is WORK making it all happen.
I’ve gotten more and more prepared with each hike we’ve gotten under our belts over the years. What you pack for your hikes will depend on where you’re going, and how old your kids are. The packing list changes as the years go on and the kids get older (aka on solid foods, become potty trained, etc). Below is a pretty exhaustive list, and you can pick and choose certain items that may not be necessary for your childrens’ ages.
What to Bring Hiking with Kids Packing List
1. Child/Baby Carriers
Life. Savers. Our first hike in Colorado we had our allllllmost 2 year old son with us, and had to take turns carrying him. Because, ya know…2. Shortly after that hike I bought a Kelty backpack carrier off Facebook Marketplace. We have gotten a ridiculous amount of use out of it and it’s held up great, even getting it used to begin with. My son rode in it for 2 years, and my daughter has been in it for 3 now. The only thing I wish we’d had for it was the sun shade attachment. But we made do just fine.
When my daughter was too little for the backpack carrier, I carried her in my Lillebaby carrier on my chest and it worked out great. When my son was in his last year in the backpack carrier, my daughter was in the Lillebaby, and my husband and I did some awesome, longer, more difficult hikes. Once one starts walking the hikes get a bit shorter and easier for a while… Even the short, easy hikes are rarely stroller-accessible, so the carriers are key!
2. Sunscreen and hats
Maybe these are obvious, but they’re necessary. I can only imagine a kid with a wicked sunburn. My son managed to get one minor sunburn on his neck when he was 3, despite my having applied sunscreen (this one is tear free!), and he was a GD MONSTER. He’s a monster, in general, so it was just icing on the cake. I am diligent about sunscreen, neither of my children have had a burn to speak of since, and I intend to keep it that way. The stick sunscreen comes in handy for quick re-applies to necks and faces.
3. Bug spray
Being in Colorado, we got used to being able to leave our doors and windows open without fear of a bajillion mosquitos and flies coming into the house. Just another reason Colorado is awesome, but I digress. Bug spray never really crossed my mind as something to take on a hike in Colorado, however, the landscape and climate changes so much from one place and altitude to the next.
During a hike on a damp, shady, tree canopied trail we encountered a few mosquitos. My children are pretty sheltered from such things seeing as they’re growing up in Colorado, and my son absolutely lost his mind over a mosquito bite on his arm. He also got one on his face that made around his eye swell up, but apparently since he couldn’t see that one it wasn’t a big deal. I don’t know, people. Kids are…I don’t know, people.
From that hike forth, we’ve carried bug spray. And this looks like a good item to have in the hiking pack, just in case! After my son gets bug spray on he thinks he’s effing INVINCIBLE. He even starts walking ahead of us to “clear the path” and “scare the bugs away.”
Pro-Tip: If your kids have aversions to bugs, fill a small spray bottle with water and tell them it’s bug repellent. Let them spray the whole trail and path to their little heart’s content. Keeps ‘em moving and less fearful.
4. Snacks and water
Thank you, Captain Obvious, amiright? Are you even a parent if you don’t have emergency snacks stationed literally anywhere and everywhere your kid might actually require one?
Snacks are a must if you’re hiking with your kids. You’ll either want to stash some in the child carrier bag or, if your kids are too big for the carrier, you’ll need a backpack. If you can get away with something like this, go for it! It looks so breezy and carefree…I’m finally getting to the point in my mom life where this kind of bag might have a place, and I am here for it! It even has multiple compartments, and mesh water bottle holders on the sides – two things I consider requirements when shopping for backpacks.
My favorite snacks to pack for the kids are applesauce pouches, fig bars, and meat sticks. You don’t want anything that needs to be kept cold, or anything that can get too smooshy, melty, messy, or sticky. For myself, I’ll pack things like protein bars (Discount code SQUATTO saves 10%), apples, meat sticks, baby carrots, and mini CLIF bars.
I keep a cooler in the truck for cold food and snacks for when we’re driving to/from our hikes. Things like yogurt, cheese, and fruit, etc. If we’re planning on a picnic lunch during the hike, I’ll use this cooler backpack with ice packs to carry all the food, snacks, and drinks. Just don’t go too crazy with the ice packs because that ish can get heavy.
Considering you’ll be carrying everything, make sure you bring water bottles that don’t weigh a billion pounds. They don’t need to be insulated or fancy – lightweight is the goal here. Also, they don’t need to hold that much water. Chances are you’re not going to be hiking Mt. Everest with the children in tow. If you’re filling your 64 oz insulated metal jug, think again. Aim for leak-proof plastic bottles with no more than a 24 oz capacity. For the kids I’d even go with 14-18 oz. I like these bottles a lot because they’re leak-proof and only have 2 parts to clean.
This is an easy oversight that can be really annoying. Nothing like having an oozy GoGurt tube or sticky apple core in the middle of nowhere with no trash cans. Not to mention, if you’re hiking with a baby there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a dirty diaper or three. Make sure you throw a couple plastic shopping bags into your pack for your garbage. If any of your lunch/snack foods were packaged in resealable, reusable bags, those come in really handy for keeping food trash contained. Disposable Ziplocs are better for dirty diapers…obviously.
5. Spare clothes in Ziploc bags
I learned this little trick, which seems painfully obvious now, from the Oh Crap! Potty Training book. I mean, when you’re potty training, it’s a given that you’ll be carrying a spare set of clothes with you. However, to store the change of clothes in a Ziploc baggy? That wasn’t instinctive for me. Just throw the loose spare clothes in the bag, stroller, car, or whatever, right? No! Put the clean set into a Ziploc bag, so the bag can be used for soiled clothes when you take the fresh set out. Now the dirty clothes won’t get their wet, stinky nastiness all over your life.
Kids are messy and particular. Whether your kids are past potty accidents or not, they may still get smeared with mud or spill water all down their front. Pack a set of emergency clothes, just in case, even if they’re in the car instead of actually in your hiking pack.
6. Cold weather gear/rain ponchos
Depending on your hiking location, the weather can vary greatly from one landscape, time of day, and altitude to another. Be prepared! I always grab my kids’ jackets, stocking caps, and gloves. Yes, this can be quite inconvenient and take up some space. But, I’ve found it most beneficial. I’d rather carry their freaking snowsuits to the top of the Rockies and not need them, than have cold, uncomfortable kids crying, whining, and fussing in my face and, more importantly, NOT WALKING when I’m hiking.
I wish I had rain ponchos in our pack during our Mills Lake hike in Rocky Mountain National Park this last summer. Keep reading What To Bring Hiking with Kids to see why! They’re nearly weightless, thin sheets of plastic that pack down to take up no space. They’re on my list for next camping/hiking season!
7. Lip balm, eye drops, bandages, and hand sanitizer
This is a random collection of items, but they are all lightweight and vital.
Lip balm/Aquaphor & Eye Drops
Necessary. Unless, I don’t know, you don’t have little psychopaths who disgustingly and uncontrollably lick their lips CONSTANTLY then get pissy with you because their lips hurt. What’s that like? Bring the lip balm or, better yet, Aquaphor (knock-offs okay, too). Aquaphor ointment won’t sting when applied, whether it’s to chapped lips or dry, cracked knuckles. On hikes it can get sunny, cold, and/or windy, causing lil eyes and faces to dry out.
Eye drops and/or eye wash comes in handy if a speck of dirt happens to go flying into your kid’s eye, too. Or perhaps they rub their eyes after having sunscreen or antibacterial on their fingers. Because this is the kind of shit you deal with now that you’re a parent. Let’s just say all these things I’m mentioning are on my hiking packing list for good reason and from personal experience.
Any minor scrape, bite, or bump, bleeding or not, can be magically repaired by the application of a bandage. Because kids are weird. Pack a few just in case. Bonus points if they have some stupid cartoon or design on them. Trust me, the placebo effect is, well, effective.
You’re gonna be out in the wilderness, peeing in the woods, and touching dirt. You’ll kill bugs with your bare hands to protect your children (aka avoid a crying fit). Then you’re going to be touching food, snacking, and picnicking where there is no running water. Thanks to COVID, I think nearly everyone travels with hand sanitizer these days. Throw a bottle into your hiking pack for all your antibacterial needs. There will be a need.
8. Poop shovel and baby wipes
When nature calls, bury it. Personally, I’ve never had to do this, but we’ve definitely needed to help the kids squat over a hole to do their biz. Get yourself a backpacking trowel (I just call it a poop shovel).
Both my son and my daughter have been squatting over and peeing on logs since they were 2. The boys have peeing made easy, for obvious reasons, but for us girls it can be a messy affair if we aren’t careful. And sometimes even when we are. When my daughter goes, I completely remove her pants and undies so there’s no risk of them getting peed on. Live and learn. I haven’t used one of these before, but it might be worth looking into…
Even though my children were potty trained at 2, to this day I carry baby wipes in my purse, car, stroller, bike bag, and everywhere I go. They’re great for snack messes, dirty faces and hands, and of course, pee and poop. Don’t forget a resealable, disposable trash bag (see #4) for this grossness.
9. Smartphone & smartwatch
Chances are these things are just fused to your hand and wrist by now, but they still deserve a spot on the packing list. I’ll tell you why.
Before you embark on your hike, you’ll want to research the distance and intensity, especially if you’ve got kids at your heels. Use your phone to check the route, elevation change, difficulty level, and total distance. My best advice is to do this well ahead of time so you know what to expect, and whether the hike is even doable for your family before you get to the trailhead.
Not to mention, once you’re out at the trails there’s a BIG chance you won’t have any cell service. So screenshot any maps and valuable information before you go. Save your phone battery by switching to airplane mode during the hike. You can still take photos and go out of airplane mode should you need service or want to check for service at any point.
Now that you know the total distance for your hike, start recording the hike on your smartwatch (&/or MapMyRun app on your cell phone if you don’t have a smartwatch) when you get to the trailhead. This way you’ll know almost exactly how far you’ve gone and, more importantly, how far you have left to go.
Occasionally, a hike can take wayyyy longer than anticipated depending on the terrain and increases in elevation. You can be walking for what seems like forever and only go a tenth of a mile. With kids and little legs…you’ve gotta be aware of how much hiking is still ahead of you. Sometimes you need to jump ship and turn around due to time restraints (naps/mealtimes/etc). It happens!
Of all of the items on this list, this one takes up the most space in my baggage. It’s a virtue, but one that certainly does not come naturally to me. And I think a lot of parents feel the same way. Rage waiting is a thing. IYKYK. But try to take a deep breath and allow the kids to take breaks, because they do need them. Yes, sometimes they’re just being whiny little nuisances, trying to ruin your life – I mean, hike. But there’s not much you can do about it without stressing yourself out and putting yourself in a bad (or worse) mood.
Distraction Ideas to Keep Little Legs Moving
Sometimes small distractions and games can buy you a couple minutes of whine-free walk time. Thus, buying you a bit more patience.
- I Spy
- Find all the colors of the rainbow in the plants/foliage/trees
- The quiet game
- Don’t step on rocks/roots/etc or you’re out
- Words that rhyme/start with a certain word/letter
These are all activities we’ve done, and do, to buy some time and keep the kids’ minds on something else, and their feet in motion.
Feeling ready for your fun, family hike yet?! I sure hope so. What is a must-have on your hiking with kids packing list? Drop a comment below. I’m sure I’m forgetting something that will dawn on me on our next hike!
You’re reading What to Bring Hiking with Kids! Read on for one of our most memorable hikes!
It’s Always Worth It
Hiking with kids is completely worth it for the experiences, regardless of where the hikes happen to fall on the shit-show-o-meter. I say that with complete honesty. Case in point:
Our Infamous Mills Lake Hike Experience
Just this summer we were hiking in RMNP and got DRENCHED by a freaking mountain monsoon and PELTED with hailstones during our descent.
The kids were cold, crying, scared, and pissed. I was freezing. When we got to the bottom I literally couldn’t use my fingers to put my daughter’s mask on her for the shuttle bus ride back to our truck. My husband had to do it. We had to peel our frigid, soaked clothes off in the truck. And, not so coincidentally, I added rain ponchos to my packing list!
This all took place after the entirely uphill slog with a 6 year old who got spooked by a bee early on. It made him deathly afraid of every single insect that crossed our paths from that point on. If anything buzzed by him, or far away from him for that matter, he was paralyzed on the spot, screaming and crying in fear. Fun times getting up that mountain, let me tell ya! Luckily when we got to the lake and had lunch we remembered to administer bug spray and all was right with the world…that is, until the hail started. LOL.
Was it Really Worth it?
100%. I am – without a doubt – glad we did that hike. Hail or no hail, bugs or no bugs. It was beautiful. There was a waterfall. We walked across a skinny, railing-less log bridge over gushing water. The lake at the end was serene and surrounded by breathtaking peaks. We ate our lunch there, breathing in the mountain air and gorgeous sights.
My children saw everything we saw. Whether they appreciate it right now or not, they experienced it nonetheless. My son pushed himself when he didn’t think he could go on. He went back and forth across that log bridge multiple times, grinning all the while. My daughter, from the hiking backpack on my husband’s back, pointed out wildflowers and laughed at chipmunks. And we all laughed about the storm in hindsight. It was worth it.
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