Hiking with kids can be a challenge, but it’s so great to experience all the sights through your kid’s eyes. It makes those amazing views at the end of the trail that much more fun and beautiful when you’re enjoying it with your entire family. If you’re planning to hike with your kids (or with adults for that matter), the most important thing to remember is to be prepared for anything. On one of our family hikes in Arizona, “JoyJoy” slipped on a rock while crossing a stream and skinned her knee. Luckily Ross was prepared with a small first aid kit and got her patched up quickly. Other than the obvious things like water and snacks, our family has compiled a top 10 list, in no particular order, of some of our favorite and/or essential hiking gear items below.
Top 10 Hiking Gear Essentials for Families
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- Hiking Poles – this can be a stick found along the side of the trail or legitimate hiking poles. We have used both and they both work. However, if you want legitimate ones we like the collapsible telescoping kind that can fit in our carry-on suitcases, especially if we need to pack them when flying somewhere. Something like these. We have found that hiking poles tend to help motivate the kids to keep moving. They have also been invaluable to have when crossing slippery rocks on a stream crossing. We bought a pair whenever we found one on sale and shared them amongst all of us until we all had our own.
- Backpacks – a good backpack is essential for carrying water, snacks, the first aid kit and whatever else you may need. When the kids were younger, Ross and I carried everything for everyone. Now that they are getting older, they have their own backpacks so they can at least carry their water. We are partial to Timbuktu backpacks even though they are not necessarily “hiking backpacks.” I have this one and I absolutely LOVE it. Ross bought it for me as a gift and all the compartments are perfect for everything I need to carry. The top right pocket is lined for a phone and the bottom right pocket fits my tester (for my type 1 diabetes) perfectly. It also holds my laptop, which is really heavy to carry, but I have needed to carry it on some shorter hikes when we stop somewhere to hike before checking into wherever we’re staying. The kids now have these Osprey Daypacks which are great as well, they are nice and lightweight and have a spot for a water bladder. It is a bit big on “Hank” still, but it still works well. The water bottle holders don’t work very well, so the water bladder is the way to go.
- First Aid Kit – as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, we were fortunate to have had this with us on our hike. It may seem like something extra that you might not want to carry, but you never know when you’re going to need it. You will be thankful you have it with, if and when you do need it. Any small travel first aid kit will do. We have a small one similar to this.
- Bear Spray – you obviously won’t need this for every hike, but if you’re in an area with bears (like Glacier or the Smokies) this is an essential item. We have one that hooks to your belt.
- Sunblock – I have read a lot about safe sunblocks and how some can do you more harm than good. Our family uses and recommends Badger sunscreen. However, it can make you look like a ghost because of the zinc oxide, so we use the tinted one for our faces which helps a bit.
- Bug Repellant – again, I am pretty picky about the bug spray my family uses, as our skin absorbs so much of what we put on it. I have been mixing up my own bug spray the past couple years using this Veriditas essential oil recipe. I have also used the Badger bug spray in a pinch, but the sprayer tends to stick sometimes. I have never used this Badger sunscreen/bug spray combo, but I just found it and it intrigues me, we may be trying this in the near future. If you’ve tried the sunscreen/bug spray combo, let me know what you thought about it! Keep in mind that whenever you are using a natural bug repellant you need to apply it more often. When we fly we pack these in separate bags so they don’t leak all over our other liquids or clothes.
- Tissues or napkins and a ziplock bag – this one is something I didn’t think about initially, but it has come in handy on more than one occasion. You never know when “the need” may arise along the trail, if you catch my drift. There are often no pit toilets along the trails. If you happen to be lucky enough to find a pit toilet out on the trail, they often don’t have toilet paper, so this in my book is an essential item. Enough said.
- Hiking shoes – Hiking shoes are so individual based on your foot. Therefore, I can’t really recommend any specific ones. The kids wear KEEN sandals or hiking shoes on the trail and have liked those. Recently we tried these Saucony Kids’ water-resistent running shoes for our trip to WA (because they had outgrown their Keens) and they worked well. Currently, I have been loving these Salomon Trail Runners with ClimaShield so they are water-resistant, which came in handy on our recent trip to WA. I have long, narrow feet and it took me a few tries to find the ones I am currently loving. We always buy our hiking shoes at REI because we can wear them on a hiking trip and return them if they end up not being comfortable. Ross has KEEN hiking boots and trail runners and really likes them but he has a wider foot.
- Sun hats – any lightweight, packable hat that keeps the sun off of your face and neck will work.
- Hiking pants – this is not an essential, but I want to mention these because I love them so much. I am short (5 feet, 1.5 inches, yes that half an inch makes a difference, ha!) and I had a hard time finding hiking pants that fit. That is until I came across these prAna Halle pants in the short length. They fit perfectly (size down, they run a bit big), the pockets on the rear look nice (a requirement in my book) and they roll up into capris (extra bonus!). They are also lightweight, water repellant, and have sun protection. Ross likes the men’s prAna Zion hiking pants and shorts as well.
So there you have it, our top 10 hiking gear essentials for families. What does your family deem as “essential” on your hiking trips? Comment below, we’d love to know. Happy hiking everyone!