10 Things to Take on a Hike with Kids

Our kids love a good hike. But we are, sadly, usually very under-prepared.

We think, “Oh, it’s just 5 miles. No problem. We’ll grab a bottle of water.” What we forget is that 5 miles in the mountains is much, much different than 5 miles in Indiana.

Don’t make the same mistakes we’ve made! Through our sometimes lack-of-preparation, we’ve come up with a pretty good list of what you do (and do not) need on a day hike with kids in the mountains.

What to pack for a hike with kids in the mountains

  1. First, make sure you have a good backpack.

    Check out our old-school baby backpack! Our kids loved riding (and napping) in the thing!

    Now, we’re not talking a hiking backpack here. We’re not going to be carrying a lot on this trip. But you do need a solid backpack. Last time we went on a decent hike, I took one of those newer string backpacks — with ropes instead of straps. I don’t recommend this. It dug into my shoulders. Find a good solid backpack for your hike. Your son’s Spider-man pack will probably do fine, as long as it can be adjusted to fit you. One thing to think about — if you’re hiking with kids that are very young (under 3 years, maybe), think about taking a “frame child carrier.” (How’s that for a dumb name??) We just called ours a baby backpack. It’s basically a backpack that the baby or toddler sits in, and you carry the weight through your hips, much like a backpacking pack. We used ours for anything from mini golf to hikes to mowing the lawn. We loved it! Many of them come with extra storage for the other things you need on a hike. Here is a variety from Amazon, ranging in price from about $70 on up. (We found ours at a garage sale for $20. But it wasn’t nearly this fancy.)

  2. Way more waterthan you think you’ll need.

    Staying hydrated is really important. You'll be surprised how quickly you get thirsty!

    Again, we tend to under prepare with regards to water. But it’s shocking how quickly your body will want it when you’re hiking uphill. And how quickly a nice “cool” day may start to feel hot when you’re body’s working. Make sure to bring a minimum of 2 bottles of water per person for a hike longer than a mile or so. Even for a mile, take a bottle for the kids. A Camelbak works really well, if you have one.

    If you’re not a big fan of plain ole water, try adding flavors. One that people really like is MiO Liquid Water Enhancer by Kraft. It’s calorie and sugar free. You can add as little or as much as you want, and it comes in six flavors. No refrigeration needed.

  3. Not hiking boots. Don’t feel like you need to go buy fancy hiking boots for your kids to hike 3-5 miles. At the same time, don’t send them off in Crocs or flip-flops. Good sturdy tennis shoes will fit the bill nicely. But be prepared to ditch them for awhile if you want to wade in a stream for a bit.
  4. First aid stuff. You don’t need a ton, but it’s a good idea to stick in some Band-aids and first aid cream (I love Neo To Go, cause it’s easy!). Band-aids can serve double-duty as blister-helpers.
  5. Wet wipes. This will be an obvious necessity if you have a little one that’s not potty-trained along. But if not, stick in a travel pack. It’s good for cleaning off wounds, getting dirty hands ready for a snack or even blowing a nose.
  6. Granola bars. Or other snacks. Granola bars are our family’s go-to snack of choice. Easy to carry and quick to eat. Make sure you bring a small snack for each family member, if you’re not taking a picnic. You will work up an appetite. If you’re not a fan of granola, good friends of mine who just finished hiking the Appalachian Trail swear by Snickers bars. :) Other ideas for trail snacks: trail mix, fruit, or carrots.
  7. Insect repellant. The bugs can get crazy in the woods. And those little things can really set the little ones off sometimes. Bring a travel size, if you don’t want to lug a big can along.
  8. A good hiking stick.

    Picking a good hiking stick will make the time more fun for the kids.

    This is one thing you don’t need to find before you go. Let the kids pick out a perfect one while on the hike. We trade in for better ones throughout a hike.

  9. Sunscreen! Don’t forget it! You may start out in the shady woods, but you never know where you’ll end up. Be prepared!
  10. And the most important — bribes!!! Yes, the kids may get really tired and whiny at some point. Bring some well-chosen candy to boost energy and bribe the kids to keep moving their feet. Count 100 steps for a Jolly Rancher (good for keeping mouth wet). Or look for 10 birds before nibbling on a Starburst. You know what motivates your kids. Anything small that won’t melt works well.
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