The Best Hiking Gear for Kids Who Love Adventuring

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One of the things we have done as a family almost from day 1 was hike together. Through many years and hundreds of miles of adventuring on easy toddler hikes to epic backpacking trips, we have narrowed down the best hiking gear for kids to help make everyone’s outdoor adventures go smoother.

While much of our gear has changed through the years of toddlerhood to pre-teen years, I share below the staples that have lasted through the years and that are well worth the investment.

If you are looking for our favorites for camping and backpacking,we have that too!

Best Hiking Gear for Kids

As kids grow you might find your needs may change, but as we have cycled through these phases we share what our favorites have been through the years to help guide you on what to buy now, verus what you can wait to invest in as your children grow. 

Best Hiking Backpack for Kids

One of the best things you can do for your little ones is get them used to carrying a backpack on your adventures. Through much trial and error, we have honed in on the best hiking backpacks for kids. 

  • The Mini MULE Hydration backpack was one of my son’s favorite backpacks when he was 8 and under. The bag is small enough that he could wear it through many ages, but also offered enough space that he still loved it at age 8 when we traveled around the world for a year. This bag went to 32 countries around the world and on dozens and dozens of hiking trails all over the world. 
  • As your child gets older and/or able to carry more items on a hike, you might consider upgrading to the Tarn 12. This was a favorite of ours, but only for a short window as my son loved his 6L for a long time! If you have a 4-6 year old and are looking for something for a longer time, this is a good option to consider.
  • For kids age 8 and up, we really love the Tarn 18 backpack. My son has been using this bag since he was around 7 and he’s almost 14. It has been backpacking, it has been hiking on hundreds of miles of trails and it has been used as a carry-on for travel around the world. 

Favorite Hiking Shoes for Kids 

Hiking shoes for kids can be anything from trail runners to tough and rugged hiking boots. Since my son was probably 5 he has worn Merrell hiking boots. He has worn all the sizes and now even has moved into the same pair in adult sizes. These are mid weight, so not super bulky and heavy, offer great traction and ankle support. Many kids these days however are loving trail runners like Altra and TOPO as they can be worn all the time as regular shoes as well (although the trail traction will wear down quicker!).

Regardless of what type of hiking shoe you end up with, if you are putting in some serious miles, consider gaiters. One of my favorite discoveries while out backpacking was shoe gaiters! These super soft, light fabric pieces slip over your shoe and help keep rocks out while hiking. While those with higher ankle hiking boots may not need these, if your kid prefers trail runners or low top hiking shoes, they will find them so useful. I love mine from Dirty Girl Gaiters – the designs are so cool, they come with velcro in case your shoes don’t have velcro built in (the shoes mentioned above do!) and they really last the wear and tear of the trail.

And lastly, no matter what you wear on your feet, you should have some great wool socks to help keep moisture down and blisters at bay. Our preferred brands are Smartwool and DarnTough.

Favorite Water Hiking Shoes

Everyone’s go to here are Keen water shoes. While these are great, there was a long period of time that my son didn’t love closed toe shoes, so he wore these Teva’s exclusively as his summer shoe. They took him through the Narrows in Zion National Park and all along the dusty dirty trails in Southern California. 

These days, he wears his Keen’s when he needs to have closed toe shoes that are rugged enough for hiking as well. 

Best Hiking Clothing for Kids

hiking gear for kidsOne of the best materials to hike in is merino wool. If that isn’t in your budget, the next best option for hiking clothing is synthetic. I do not love synthetic materials because they are really bad for the environment. but cotton is worse for your body when hiking in winter conditions especially. If you get wet, cotton soaks it up and keeps the moisture next to your body which can be dangerous in cold temperatures, and just uncomfortable in warm weather. Merino wool and moisture wicking materials like performance fabrics pull the fluids away providing better protection. 

Our favorite brands for kids hiking clothes:

  • Colombia: My son loves these shorts and pants for hiking in summer and winter. They also have cool fishing shirts that have ventilation and lots of cool accessories.
  • Nui Organics: My son lived in their Merino Tencel blend which isn’t sold currently. But Iksplor (use this code for 20% off: NOBACKHOME20) is starting to carry this soon.
  • Smartwool: We love the smartwool active series for the teens. This ultralight weight merino wool/tencel blend is perfect for year round hiking.

Dress in Layers

The biggest thing to know about hiking is to always dress in layers and have options. Regardless of where you are, you just don’t know how the weather conditions will change. Having extra layers helps if you get wet, for cold days or you need to cover up from the sun. This is especially important for children who are prone to get wet and dirty quickly!

Hiking Jacket

The number one best purchase I have made for my son through the years continues to be his REI puffy jacket. This lightweight jacket has kept him warm in below freezing temperatures in Iceland with gale force winds (and 4 layers under!), on long distance backpacking trips and every day hikes here in Southern California. Some years he could get away with keeping the same jacket, but in recent years with his growth we have had to purchase a new one each year. This is always on my purchase list on the REI sales a few times a year. 

Hiking Rain Jacket

Since a lot of our hiking is also in the form of backpacking, we try to buy things that are multi-functional and light weight. My son has two rain jackets – one is not particularly a rain rain jacket but is perfect for those misty foggy mornings when he needs something light.

This one is the one he has worn since our first trip to Alaska many years ago. He’s upgraded sizes every 1-2 years and it’s been perfect. 

Hydration for Kids while Hiking

Many people are not sold on the benefit of a hydration bladder, but I have found that with one my son would always drink way more water than if he only had his water bottle with us on a hike. While many kids backpacks come with cheaply made bladders, I highly suggest upgrading to this one that is durable and in our 7 years has still not leaked once!

Other Outdoor Goodies for Kids

Hiking essentials for kidsWhen you are hiking with young kids, they often like to have little gadgets to keep them entertained along the way. These are some of my son’s favorite things he’s enjoyed through the years. 

  • Walkie Talkies (get ones with ear pieces to keep down the noise)
  • Compass
  • Think Outside Monthly Subscription box
  • Pocket Knife – This is a great beginner knife with no point and this one is one that my son still loves at almost 14

Sun Safety for Kids Out Hiking

Whether you are in a cold climate or hot climate it is best to have good UPF sun protection when out hiking. I tend to go with the thought of being covered up more, but whichever way you lean, stay safe from the sun! We love to wear merino wool ultra light sun shirts in the summer. If your kid will wear a hat, that is a great option as well to keep the sun off their face. 

Hiking with Kids FAQ

How do I hike with a baby?

Hiking with a baby presents its own challenges as it is always a question on how best to carry the baby while also carrying your own hiking belongings. Some people don’t mind carrying the baby in the front while wearing a smaller pack on their back. If this seems too much, you can also consider a specific baby backpack that allows you to back carry your child while also storing all the day trip items you might need.

Of course if you are hiking with someone else who can carry some of your gear that helps, but I always assume you need to carry it all on your own. It may be worth trying a few things to see what works best for you and your baby. 

How can I make hiking more fun for kids?

One of the best ways to make hiking more fun for kids is to not focus on the destination and make it about the journey instead. Take time to smell the roses (literally), acknowledge the little things that kids see and of course always have plenty of snacks! Recognize when your child is losing steam and tailor the hike to their energy levels. Read our post on tips on hiking with kids for more ideas on how to keep the littles moving!

How do we get started as beginners?

The number one tip on how to get started is to just go for it. Look for close trails to your home that are easy and short and go out there. An easy trail will be one that has minimal elevation gain, are in/out so that you can go only as far as you can go, etc. Look for interpretive trails which are usually more catered to children with information boards and interesting points of interest. 

How do you take a toddler hiking?

Our favorite thing about hiking with toddlers is noticing the things that they are interested in. When we first started hiking, my son would “ride” in his push car when he got tired and then hop out when he wanted to walk again. This would allow us to go further than if he walked the entire way on his own. We also often turned around well before our destination, letting our child dictate how far he could go giving him buy in on the hike. As he got older and we started doing more challenging hikes (still mostly a toddler), we would make “certificates” if he did the whole trail on his own, or to congratulate on the mileage, etc. Find creative ways to inspire them to want to do it on their own, rather than relying on food bribes or pushing them. 

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