Hiking Gear for Kids: What Do Kids Really Need?
Choosing the right hiking gear for kids has everything to do with their age, physical abilities and personal preferences.
Hiking with kids is a great way to spend quality time and give them valuable experiences in the great outdoors.
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But, without the right gear, you may end up with very unhappy hikers.
In this article, we’re covering the best hiking gear for kids by age. But first, let’s dive into some FAQs.
How Far Can Children Hike by Age?
Every child is different, so your mileage may vary (literally) depending on your own children’s preferences and needs.
Although they may be physically capable, you should account for boredom and tantrums that can quickly cut a hike short or force you to turn back.
The general consensus for how far kids can hike is around half a mile for every year of age.
For ages 0-3, you may be carrying them for the entire hike. Or at least for the majority of a hike with toddlers.
So for this age, it’s not about how far they can hike. It’s really about how far you can hike while carrying a small child.
Kids ages 4-7 can reasonably hike from 2 to 4 miles at a time. Plan to bring a backup plan like a carrier or portable wagon for toddlers and young ones.
Children ages 8 and up can handle more miles depending on their own personal preferences.
If your child carries their own backpack, the weight of it may decrease their stamina. If this is the case, plan for shorter hikes.
When Can Kids Carry Their Own Daypack?
Children 4 and up can carry their own daypacks, but the weight will vary by age and physical ability.
It’s not recommended for children under the age of 4 to carry anything. If they insist, a small backpack with light snacks is appropriate.
In general, kids ages 4 to 7 can carry 5 to 10% of their body weight in a well-fitting, kid-sized daypack.
For kids 8 and above, 15% of their body weight is acceptable, as long as they’re comfortable.
If your child carries a pack, be sure it’s a well-fitting child-sized backpack with adjustable straps.
Kids don’t need a big adult backpack. An appropriately sized pack can make all the difference on a day hike.
Pay attention to how it fits their back and shoulders. Make sure they’re happy with how it feels when filled up for a family hike.
Be sure you account for the weight of the empty backpack itself, too.
As far as what they should carry in their pack, include things like water, snacks and a lightweight extra layer, such as a fleece jacket or pullover.
What Makes a Good Hike for Children?
Hiking with children is an art. A good hike for kids is one that is engaging, fun and kid-led. Avoid setting a time or length on a family hike.
Instead, follow their “lead”. Look to kids to decide how far you go, when you stop and when it’s time to head back to the car.
The most important aspect of hiking with kids is making sure they’re enjoying themselves.
They will want (and need) to stop for breaks, eat snacks (lots and lots of snacks) and play while hiking on the trail.
Look for shorter hikes with interesting features when picking out hikes to do with your kids.
Hikes including waterfalls, rock scrambles and other natural features are a great choice. Shade and benches are also key elements.
To keep your kids engaged and having fun, think about planning hiking games like a nature-themed scavenger hunt or I Spy.
What Should Children Wear When Hiking?
For the most part, children should wear weather and trail-appropriate clothing and shoes when hiking.
“Trail appropriate” means water sandals for water crossings, non-slip soles, and shoes that fit and stay on well.
Lightweight long sleeves and long pants are great hiking clothes for kids in the summertime. They also protect against sunburn, ticks, scratches and falls.
If there will be water crossing or playing, consider a set of dry kids hiking clothes and/or shoes to change into to prevent chafing on the return hike.
We’ll break down hiking gear for kids and toddlers each in the following sections.
Checklist: Hiking Gear for Kids
Your child can either wear or carry a lot of their own gear, but there are must-have items you should pack and carry for them as well.
When preparing your own pack for your hike with kids, be sure to include sunscreen, a first aid kit, insect repellant, snacks and extra water.
Here the hiking essentials for kids ages 5 and up:
A water bottle is essential hiking gear for kids and this bottle is perfect to carry in their backpack.
This bottle comes in many fun colors and you can even order a 6 pack of water bottles for families with multiple kids.
These bottles seal nicely. They are also BPA free and virtually unbreakable when dropped on the hiking trail.
Your child should carry their own water bottle, but be sure you pack extra in your own pack in case they need a refill.
For the hiking youngster on the move, a kid-sized daypack is ideal.
This kids hiking backpack comes in five distinct colors and has enough space for all of the hiking necessities.
It features a main compartment, dual-side mesh pockets for water bottles and snacks, and a small front pocket.
It also has an internal name tag so this pack can even be used in the classroom.
Kids are hard on shoes, and even harder on them when hiking on rugged trails. You’ll want to look for hiking shoes or hiking boots.
Save their regular shoes for everyday use and get them a pair of hiking shoes that are just for the trails.
These hiking shoes have an easy slip-on design with a no-fuss elastic drawstring for tightening.
What’s even better is they come in 24 different colors and styles, so there’s something for every kid.
Kid-Sized Hiking Poles
Kid-sized hiking poles are perfect for the little hiker-in-training. They also help keep little ones balanced when hiking uneven terrain on the trails.
These poles have easy-grip handles and wrist straps for comfort and stability.
These kid-sized hiking poles are made from a super lightweight aluminum construction and are adjustable to grow with your kids.
They come in four brightly colored and fun designs and come with different tips for hiking in different terrains, too.
Walkie talkies are a super fun addition for any kid on the trail. They’re perfect for multiple kids to talk back and forth while on the trails.
These rugged multi-colored walkie talkies are great for hiking and camping, too. As a bonus, they have a built-in flashlight.
These make a great addition to your hiking gear for kids because of their sturdy, drop-resistant construction.
Note that these walkie talkies require AAA batteries, which are not included. The manufacturer recommends rechargeable AAA batteries.
A sun hat is an essential piece of hiking gear for kids when hiking on sunny trails.
A sun hat will not only keep the sun out of their eyes, it will also protect them from sunburn on their neck, face, and shoulders.
This wide brim sun hat has UPF 50+ sun protection and mesh panels so their little heads stay cool. It also comes in 12 different colors.
This sun hat adjusts to fit many sizes with an elastic drawstring and has a chinstrap so it doesn’t fly off in the wind.
An easy way to make a hike instantly more fun is to bring along a pair of colorful binoculars.
These kid-sized binoculars are drop resistant and come in six different colors and styles. Use them to play I Spy or look at far-off landmarks.
The eye pieces are adjustable and they come with a protective carrying case and a breakaway neck strap.
Checklist: Hiking Gear for Toddlers
Essential outdoor gear for toddlers is similar to what you’d need to bring for older kids, but you’ll want toddler-specific sizes.
This list of toddler hiking gear is great for kids 4 and under to wear or carry when out on the trails.
A big pack full of snacks and water isn’t ideal for toddlers, but they may still like to feel like they’re carrying something to be like mom, dad or their siblings.
We’re including a toddler backpack pick just in case they want to carry their own.
Toddler Hiking Shoes
These toddler hiking shoes are perfect for both the trail and the playground.
These shoes are both rugged and comfortable and have an easy hook and loop closure. No tying involved.
The soles of these hiking shoes for toddlers have a flexible grip with great traction to avoid slips and falls in wet or slick areas.
These shoes come in toddler, little kid and big kid sizes.
Hiking Water Sandals
Trails with water crossings and swimming features require hiking sandals, and these fit the bill for your little one.
These water shoes for toddlers come in 7 fun colors and designs and have toe protection with a non-slip sole for walking over mossy rocks.
These shoes are easy to slip on and take off and have an open design to allow water to easily flow in and out.
Closed-toe water sandals are also key to keep little ones from stubbing their toes on the trails.
If your little one insists on carrying their own backpack, this tiny toddler pack is perfect for them.
It comes in 12 fun designs that both boys and girls will love, from rockets to unicorns to dinosaurs and mermaids.
This toddler backpack also comes with a chest strap to keep the pack from falling off. The chest strap will make them feel like they’re wearing a real hiking pack.
This backpack is made specifically for toddlers. At just 12 inches tall, it’s smaller than an A4 sized notebook.
Sun protection for toddlers is essential. And the younger they are, the more susceptible their scalp is to burning.
Since you can’t exactly slather their hair in sunscreen, a sun hat is an essential piece of hiking gear for toddlers.
This adjustable toddler-sized sunhat has a wide brim to protect their head, face, neck and shoulders.
It has a UPF 50+ protection rating and comes in 10 fun colors. The hat has mesh panels on both sides for cool breezes and a chin strap.
Little ones get tired fast. And the younger they are, the quicker they’ll tire out.
When hiking with kids under 3 or 4 years of age, you should plan to be carrying them the majority of the time.
Make the job easier with a backpack carrier that evenly distributes their weight and comes with an additional section for packing your own hiking essentials.
It comes with a base so that it will stand upright when you set it down with your child in it, too. The seating area and food rests are height adjustable.
This backpack carrier is ventilated and has super-padded shoulder and hip straps for comfort while carrying the weight of your little one.
Wrap-Up: Hiking Gear for Kids
Hiking is a great way to spend time with your kids and teach them about nature, but it can be challenging if you don’t have the right outdoor gear.
Always be sure to bring more snacks than you think you’ll need, plenty of water, sunscreen, bug repellant and the right kind of shoes.
If your child carries their own supplies, be sure their backpack isn’t too heavy and fits them appropriately.
With the proper family hiking gear, you’ll worry less about minor details and be able to focus on making great hiking memories as a family.
Erin Gifford is the editor of Go Hike Virginia. She has completed more than 300 hikes in Virginia. She is also the author of three hiking guidebooks from Falcon Guides. Need help finding a hike? Check out the Trail Finder feature or send Erin a message.