How to hike with kids: family hike hacks, even if your kids hate things like family camping or outdoor activities! Including tips for beginner backpacking trips and gear list. Here’s how do you make hiking fun for kids (and yourself) so it becomes a regular family activity—including hiking field trips with homeschoolers ideas!
How To Hike With Kids (Even If Your Kids Hate Outdoors!)
Hiking with kids is one of the best (and most fun!) ways to get the kids out and learning about nature, not to mention it’s great family exercise.
And, get this:
Child.org says, “the average American child is said to spend 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors, and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen.”
If that’s not enough to get you itching for a nature hike with the kiddos, I don’t know what is.
(Not to mention, Harvard Medical School says it’s a great stress reliever for your family, especially when you’ve been stuck at home!)
Benefits of Hiking with Kids
- Encourages exercise in a fun way
- Improves mood / reduces stress
- Teaches kids to respect nature
- Encourages exploration of natural surroundings
- Helps teach kids life lessons
- Forces families to unplug and reconnect
- Improves family bonds
- Helps build self-confidence
- Builds resilience and stamina
- Improves balance
- Helps kids stay healthy and fit
- Encourages a life-long relationship with nature and wilderness
Plus, homeschool hiking can be used as PE requirements or even as a nature unit study.
How do I get my child to like hiking?
To help kids develop an appreciation for hiking, you need to make it fun!
- Present them with a few options and let them pick where they want to hike.
- Get your kids in on picking places to hike with kids.
- Show them pictures of where you will hike (or the location on the map).
- Relax on the hike and let them creek stomp, run ahead, and check things out at their own pace!
- Allow them to pick and pack their own snacks for hiking.
- Let kids help with packing backpacks.
- Pack a surprise for them in your own backpack. (Think: special snack or bubbles!)
- Get them involved in picking out their own hiking gear.
- Give them a compass and/or map and let them navigate.
- Pack nature journals or sketchbooks and allow time for journaling.
- Give them binoculars or magnifying glasses to check things out! (We love this set with a compass wristband!)
- Get each kid a hiking journal where they can document the hike, the difficulty, and more.
- Take ample snack and rest breaks.
- Plan hiking games for youth.
- Use a nature scavenger hunt so they can be on the lookout for items.
How far can a child hike?
A good rule of thumb is about 1/2 mile for each year of the child’s age. How far a child can hike will vary for each child and will depend on:
- Trail difficulty
- Backpack weight
- Comfort of hiking shoes
So, how far can 3 year old hike will differ from one family to the next. Remember, the best hikes with little kids are short hikes, especially in the beginning!
How long does it take a child to walk a mile?
A child can usually walk one mile in around 20 minutes, if you’re walking rather briskly. However, allow your children to hike and explore! Don’t rush them along the way and allow them to connect with nature and learn about nature during hiking.
TIP for Places To Go Hiking with Kids: Search walking trails near me now and family-friendly hiking to find places to hike near you.
What do you learn from hiking?
Also, read a hiking with kids book or try some great field and nature books to get your kids engaged and excited about the trip! Getting a kid excited before you go is how to make a hike fun for children!
Now on to the hiking with kids tips and what to take on a hike with kids!
Essential Hiking Gear for Kids List
As with anything you do with kids, when you take your children hiking you’ll definitely want to be prepared.
But, what should you take hiking?
(Because finding that balance between what is enough to put in a backpack versus too much for a hiking backpack is a fine line.)
Hiking is about way more than getting the best hiking backpack for kids and packing some yummy snacks in it.
What to pack when hiking with kids?
Kids’ hiking gear will vary a little from what you pack just to hike on your own.
Hiking With Kids Checklist
What to take on a hike with kids:
- First-aid kit
- Extra snacks and treats
- Water and extra drinks
- Jacket (even if it’s warm weather)
- Change of clothing
- Extra pair of socks
- Solar powered phone battery/charger
- Emergency whistle
- Patience! This is a time to enjoy each other and let kids explore! Don’t try to rush them!
- Even more snacks and treats and drinks.
Think about traveling or road tripping with kids and all the extra things you need. That’s also the mindset that you should get into for hiking with your kids—except you’ll be carrying everything instead of packing it into a suitcase or car.
What to wear hiking?
What to wear hiking should be one of the first questions that you ask!
How should kids dress for hiking?
(HINT: Flip flops are a HARD PASS, in case you didn’t know.)
So much—comfort, warmth, protection, and even how much fun you have—will depend on the right shoes and the right clothing.
(Just imagine hiking for three hours with a kid who is cold and with blisters on their feet. Ugh.)
Let’s take a closer look at what kids should wear hiking and kids hiking gear (and it’s not an Avengers mask, sorry)…
Kids’ Hiking Boots
If you plan on doing serious hiking, you will want to invest in a really good pair of kids’ hiking boots or kids hiking shoes.
However, if you’re just getting into hiking or you are just getting out in the woods now and again because you absolutely cannot take one more episode of Peppa the Pig, you can get away with a good pair of kids’ trail shoes that they can wear at other times, too.
BUT . . .
Purchase the shoes well in advance of the hiking trip so that your child will have a chance to wear the shoes and break them in (or risk listening to “MOOOOOOM! I can’t walk! I have a blister on my foot!” 3,722 times in 30 minutes—and, as much fun as that sounds, just get the shoes early).
Once you have the shoes picked out, you’ll want to pick a good quality hiking sock.
Look, we know your kids want to wear those toe socks with animals that Aunt Jenny got them for Christmas, but honestly, those socks probably aren’t going to cut it.
Most serious hikers choose a wool hiking sock because it helps regulate the temperature in your feet and keeps them from getting sweaty.
You might not find it necessary to buy thick, wool socks for short trail hike with kids. But, you do need to get a quality sock that fits (if it’s too loose it might rub and blister your child’s feet).
Make sure that the socks show at least a little above the child’s shoe or else the trail shoe or hiking boot will rub on your child’s ankle or leg. (check parent reviews on children’s hiking socks here)
If you can, buy moisture wicking socks that help draw the sweat away from your child’s body.
Hiking Clothes for Kids
How should kids dress for hiking?
That Pretty Princess Dress is pretty . . . but it’s not for hiking.
(Sorry. I’m all about letting my daughter’s uniqueness shine through, too, but we want kids to be safe and comfortable while hiking.)
For hiking with kids, you’ll want to pick comfortable, season-appropriate clothing.
Also, always follow this rule when hiking (no matter the season): Dress in layers.
Dressing in layers will allow your kids to remove clothing (like a jacket, not pants, duh) as it heats up, but still be able to put things back on if it gets chilly.
These sun pants are perfect because they start out as pants and then as the day goes on and it gets warmer, your kid can convert them to shorts. (Bonus points for cool and cool factor.) (Nevermind.)
Also, dress your kids in bright colors, against the season, so they are easy to spot — unless you want to lose your kids. In that case, dress them in the same color as those fall leaves you’ll see on your hike.
I’m going to go out on a limb (+2 for nature pun) and guess that you don’t want to lose your kids.
So, if you’re hiking in the fall with a lot of brown, red, and yellow colors, try dressing the kids in bright blues or other colors that would stand out from the fall colors (or opposite colors of whatever season you’re hiking in). They’ll be easier to see and keep track of during the hike.
What to pack for hiking with kids?
Did we mention you’re going to need snacks?
OK, then you’re going to need something to carry all those snacks in . . .
Kids Hiking Backpack
Once you’re all set with your children’s hiking boots and they’ve had the meltdown about the pretty princess dress, you’ll need to start packing for your hiking trip.
First, you’ll need something to pack your stuff in . . .
Finding a child’s hiking backpack can be a little overwhelming, especially if you are new to hiking.
There are two types of hiking backpacks for regular nature hiking like you’re probably planning to do with your family (we’re assuming that you’re not looking at this post with hopes for planning a family Everest hike).
The two types of packs are:
- Hiking daypack backpack
- Camping backpack (overnight backpack)
A hiking daypack backpack is usually lighter and smaller and made for—you guessed it—day hiking trips.
Camping backpacks are made for overnight trips (or longer hiking trips). They are often larger, more durable, and have a space to clip on or hold your sleeping bag.
The type of bag you will need to do light hiking with your family will depend on: are you hiking on day trips or are you planning overnight hikes?
If you’re planning on doing a little of both (day hiking and overnight hiking), then go with a camping backpack.
But, what if you have a baby or a toddler?
Toddler Hiking Backpack | Best Baby Carriers for Hiking
YES! (But we wouldn’t let them navigate. . . )
To hike with a baby or toddler, you need to have the proper gear — especially a safe carrier backpack.
Look for a quality toddler hiking backpack instead of a regular backpack for yourself. These type of backpacks have a sitting or carrying area for the child and also room to pack the essentials.
You definitely want to find a baby carrier that is most comfortable for you and your child, as well as allows you to carry the supplies that you need. (You know, kinda like a pack mule.)
We love hiking carriers with removable backpacks like this one (remember all those different snacks you’re going to need?)
Best Hiking Backpack Brand for Kids
There are, of course, many brands of hiking backpack for kids. We’ve listed some of the most popular brands here in case you want to compare those.
Tips for Buying Hiking Backpacks for Kids
- Make sure the backpack is waterproof. You don’t want everything inside to get wet!
- Get a backpack with adjustable fit.
- Look for “comfort fit” and other comfort indicators like padded shoulder harnesses and belts. Nothing halts a fun hike faster than some shoulder straps rubbing little skin raw.
- Get backpacks with outer pockets for drinks for easy to access. Otherwise, you’ll have to stop hiking to open the backpacks every time someone needs a drink (which, let’s face it, is like every 7 minutes with a kid).
What Are Hydration Backpacks?
You may have also heard about something called hydration backpacks.
Hydration hiking backpacks have a “bladder” that can be filled with water, so you’ll have hydration readily available on your hike.
However, remember that more water=more weight to carry, so take that into consideration before settling on a hydration backpack for your little ones. Not to mention, many hydration backpacks allow room for water and not much else.
What else to pack for hiking with kids?
What else do you need for hiking?
If you’re hiking to camp overnight, every hiker in your family will need a sleeping bag.
And, remember: sleeping on the ground can get cold at night (no matter the season or where you’re hiking), so be sure to get to get the all-season, waterproof or water resistant bag.
Quality Water Bottle
Each of you will also need a good quality water bottle.
We recommend looking for an insulated, leak-proof water bottle with the ability to clip it onto the backpack. That way if your backpack doesn’t have the side water bottle pockets, you can just clip it onto the outside of the pack.
I don’t know about you, but we can’t even be away from home for 30 minutes without my kid wanting a snack.
There’s no way that you want to go hiking—no matter how short the hike—without packing snacks.
Here are some recommendations for kids’ hiking snacks (that will also give them energy!):
- Turkey or beef sticks/jerky (these individual packs are perfect!)
- Filled ZBars
- ZFruit Rope
- Organic fruit and veggie sticks (in individual packages) (we love these!)
- Cheese sticks (if you’re taking a small ice pack)
- Trail mix
- Vegan fig bars
- Granola bars
Don’t pack crackers or anything else that can get crushed or squished easily. (There’s nothing worse than sitting down to eat your snacks after a long hike only to find out they’re crushed into crumbs!)
Safety Tips For Hiking With Kids
Everyone on the hike needs a hat to keep the sun off of their face and head.
A baseball cap will do, but we like the kids’ hiking hats with the strings/straps.
That way if your kid doesn’t want to wear the hat for a period of time, they can just take it off their head and let it dangle on their back . . . which means there’s less of a chance of losing it (and one less thing you have to carry).
Skin + Eye Protection
When going hiking with kids you absolutely cannot forget bug spray and sunscreen.
We love these awesome clip-on bug repellents (multi-pack!). In addition to your normal bug spray, you can also clip these onto each of the kids’ backpacks for all day protection.
Also, don’t forget sunglasses for everyone!
They don’t need to be super expensive, but do need to be enough to provide UV protection for the eyes.
Everyone who is hiking needs to have a whistle clipped to their backpack.
A whistle can serve several purposes:
- Scare away animals
- Alert your child to where you are (and vice versa)
- Emergency situations.
Clip a little flashlight onto each backpack. Not only are they great for emergencies, but they are also fun to use for exploring!
My daughter loves these (inexpensive) headlamp flashlights.
It keeps her hands free and it’s fun to wear!
First Aid Kit
You definitely want to have a small first aid kit for hiking. I recommend having one for each backpack.
Today, you can get small, light, compact first aid kits that won’t add (hardly) any extra weight to your child’s backpack.
If you’ll be hiking in tough or rocky terrain, each of you will definitely want to get a hiking stick. It will help your stability while walking.
If you can, it’s fun to pick up a big stick from the woods for each of you while you’re hiking.
However, if you want to be sure that each of you have a hiking stick, pick up one of these adjustable/collapsable options before your trip. That way you can pack them away in your back pack if you don’t need them.
Fun Hiking Supplies To Pack for Kids
If you’ve gotten this far in the post and still want to hike with your kids, good for you!
We’ll go ahead and assume that you’re pretty committed and this next section isn’t a waste.
So, how do I get my child to enjoy hiking?
Remember earlier how we talked about making hiking fun for kids?
Once you have all your must-have hiking items, there are some cool things you can add to make learning outdoors even more fun.
Here are fun things to do while hiking:
Binoculars or Pocket Microscope
Binoculars are A TON of fun on a hike. They encourage your little one to scope out trees and other things that they can’t see close up.
You don’t necessarily need an expensive pair of binoculars (or even multiple pairs). You can grab one (lightweight!) inexpensive pair for everyone to share.
Our latest cool find is a pocket microscope (did you even know that there was such a thing???).
A pocket microscope is exactly what it sounds like—a microscope you can put in your pocket! (They basically fit into your hand.)
And, the best news? They are SUPER, SUPER cheap!
Now, you might be asking: Why the heck would I take a microscope on a hike???
Because, microscopes are an amazing way to learn, silly!
(SIGH. It’s like you haven’t been paying attention … at all.)
And, you will find LOTS of very cool things that your kids will enjoy exploring up close during your hike.
Trust me on this one!
Compass and Map
Map skills (as in, being able to read a map) are becoming a lost art form. It’s an important skill to have because, even though we have phones and GPS systems, sometimes those fail or cannot pick up signals (when deep in the woods especially).
So, hiking is a perfect time to practice and perfect map reading skills with your kids. We love this compass bracelet that the kids can wear and it also has a built-in flashlight!
Bring along a park or area map and compass and let your kids be the hiking leader!
It’s always fun to pack a small surprise that kids don’t know about.
We like suckers because they can help if your kids are thirsty and also they can be soothing if you get lost or are in an emergency situation.
Also, those tiny bottles of bubbles are fun for when you stop to take a break or eat your snacks. (And, they’re so small that they don’t add extra weight to their packs!)
Hiking Tips For Beginners
If you’re new to hiking, at this point we’ll just recommend that you stay inside and play video games instead.
NAH! Of course we’re kidding!
No really, get outside, yo!
Don’t be intimidated if you’re just starting to hike!
Just remember: not only do you want to have fun hiking with your kids, but you’ll also want to stay safe!
Follow these hiking tips and tricks for a safe AND fun day:
- Where can I hike with kids? Start simple! Search hiking with kids near me, best hiking with kids [your state], or kid friendly hiking trails near me to find recommended family hiking trails and then hike the shortest, most simple trails until you get used to hiking.
- Get a map from the park ranger, visitor area, or download and print one of the area from online and put it in your backpack. Even if you have a navigation or maps app on your phone, depending on where you’re hiking you may not be able to get a signal (making your maps app useless).
- Check with the park rangers or office to see if the kids can earn a ranger badge!
- Charge your phone AND take an extra charger! (We recommend a solar one like this that you can clip onto your backpack.) It can be easy to get turned around when hiking. The last thing you want to do when lost is have your phone die!
- Pack like you are staying an entire day (or even overnight), even if you only plan to be gone an hour or two. Almost every time someone gets lost hiking without the proper supplies they say something like, “I was only planning to be gone on a nature walk for an hour!”
- Consider blister-proofing your feet with specialized hiking lotion! (We took this to Disney and it really made a difference!)
- Think about packing cheap rain jackets for each child’s backpack. They will add an extra layer of protection if you get stuck in unexpected weather (and they add no extra weight to the bag).
- Always let someone know exactly where you’re going, when you’re going, and when you’ll be back.
- Leave clues on the trail as you hike. They can be rocks that make an arrow in the direction you’re going (the kids will have fun with this!) or a twig arrow. That way if you get turned around, you’ll recognize the area that you’ve been to when you see the clues you’ve left.
- Pack matches or a lighter in your bag, even if you don’t plan to make a fire. Again, things happen and you’ll need a way to keep yourself and your kids warm if you’re stuck overnight. (Those compass bracelets that we talked about earlier also have a fire starter included.)
- If you’re lost after hours of walking around, pick a safe spot (where you’ll be protected from the elements and wildlife) and stay put with the kids! If people are searching for you, they will find you easier if you stay put! Don’t forget to periodically use THREE SHORT WHISTLE BLASTS to indicate that you are in distress.
- Plan for emergencies and always pack a first aid kit, extra snacks, and medication, even if you only plan to be gone for a few hours.
That’s all we have for you! We hope it was helpful.
Now, go forth and hike.
And, don’t forget to have fun!