Best Kids Hiking Gear: Personal Favorites and the 10 Essentials

Are you searching for the best and most important kids hiking gear? Don’t head out for another trek without these top ten and other hiking essentials for kids.

Whether you’re heading out for just a quick mile or hoping for a grander adventure, you’ll needed the right hiking gear for kids (and for yourself!)

While it can seem overwhelming at first, we hope to help you break down top safety gear, clothing, and of course, additional items that can make hiking easier and more fun for kids.

To start, having the right kids hiking gear is necessary want your safety covered in emergency situations. You may have heard of the term “ten essentials” – a term coined back in the 1930s by The Mountaineers to name the list of equipment necessary for outdoor emergencies. Packing them for every single hike is one of the most important habits nature enthusiasts can adopt.

With children especially, the ten essentials are paramount. Noone wants to take a wrong trail turn while chasing a toddler at the brink of sunset. Or get stuck in a flash flood without a way to navigate trails that are shutting down.

We learned this the hard way. During a trip to Asheville, we split up (mistake number one) and I turned around with my older son while my husband continued a half mile out with my baby in his pack.

In those ten minutes, flash floods covered the park. My husband had to find an alternate way back, without a GPS (mistake number two) or sufficient rain gear (mistake number three).

These were popular, family friendly hikes. And it goes to show that there’s no adventure small enough to skip out on the right hiking gear for kids or yourself.

While some kind locals helped my husband and baby get back, those ten essentials would have come in handy. We now never hike without appropriate adult and kids hiking gear and safety equipment.

In addition to being prepared in an emergency, you want your family to be comfortable and enjoy their time in nature. We’ll also be sharing more of our most recommended kids hiking gear, like clothes, backpacks, and items for fun.

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Our Favorite Kids Hiking Gear

The Ten Essentials (Adapted for Hiking Kids and Families)

While the ten essentials is a standardized list that’s been around for ages, we’re breaking down what this might look like for families. These hiking essentials for kids very much so apply to teens, adults, and anyone out of the trails. Our gear suggestions specifically, though, are aimed for families, especially those with little kids.

First Aid

First aid isn’t just one of the most important hiking essentials for kids – everyone spending time outside should carry first aid. We use a basic first aid kit and supplement with a natural insect repellent (that actually works!), and my son’s epi-pens/benadryl since he has food allergies. Parents of littles should carry infants or children’s dosages of medicine, and a syringe, as well.

Navigation

learning to read a map on the trail
Navigation isn’t just a top hiking essential, but a great way to learn about topography and directionality.

For a shorter hike, navigation can look like a map. Maps and compasses are great ways to involve your kids in the hike, while also teaching safety, topography, and directionality.

We also love the Knife

We each keep a small Gerber mini pocket knife within reach on our pack shoulder straps. Then, we often carry this folding sheath Gerber Bear Grylls knife or this Gerber Bear Grylls utility knife (my husband’s favorite) which comes with a built in fire starter. Which brings me to…

Fire

A waterproof magnesium fire starter is a lightweight common piece of survival gear. We rarely carry a separate starter for day hikes if we have the knife mentioned above.

We plan to camp more this summer and will be utilizing a fire starter, though, and camping stove.

Headlamps

It seems straight forward enough; a headlamp is an essential piece of gear to see where you’re hiking in the dark. The energizer headlamp is strong and can fit both adults and children.

Since you never know when an emergency situation strikes, always keep a headlamp in your pack, even if your intention is to enjoy a sunny day hike.

Sun Protection

Always pack sunglasses, a sun hat, and sunscreen to protect against sun damage. Make sure to pack these items during winter, too, as snow can reflect the sun’s rays. Our favorite kids’ sunscreen is the Badger mineral sunscreen or the Babyganics. For myself, I love the Thrive Market sunscreen.

For babies under 6 months – since they cannot use sunscreen, This essential piece of kids hiking gear looks like long sleeve merino wool base layers, which is naturally UPF. We also love this hat since it’s functional for water play, too.

hiking on a dirt trail with a toddler in a framed pack
Carrying the ten essentials at all times will help hikers be prepared in emergency situations.

Shelter

You’re already carrying so much gear, and probably your kid at some point on the trail! Breathe a sigh of relief knowing you don’t always need to carry a tent for emergency shelter! Emergency shelter can be as simple as an emergency blanket that will insulate you until help arrives.

Extra Food

If you’ve ever been anywhere with kids you know that snacks should be at the top of any list of hiking essentials for kids – whether it’s for survival or not. We always throw a couple of extra nutrient dense bars and trail mix in our pack.

Extra Water

We aim to keep our emergency hiking essentials for kids both fun and functional. Child size hydration packs provide extra water, don’t require frequent stops to constantly take a water bottle out of an adult’s pack, and gives kids freedom to carry some of their own gear and snacks!

We just ordered these inexpensive hydration packs with storage room for our 3 and 5 year old. If you’re looking to splurge a bit more, check out the CamelBak or Osprey.

Extra Clothes

walking through a lake in Asheville, NC
Having extra clothing not only helps you be prepared for emergencies, but it allows for spontaneous dips in the lake!

Since we live in Texas, and it’s not very wet, cold, or snowy, we usually hike with an extra pair of merino wool socks and a sometimes an extra layer in case it’s chilly. During the Texas “winter” this can look like a lightweight hiking jacket or pull-over. Of course if it’s colder by you, you’d want more insulation and warmth.

More of Our Family’s Favorite Hiking Gear for Kids

We’re covered emergency hiking gear for kids and families, so let’s dive into more of the functional and fun pieces that our family loves. Some of our favorite hiking essentials for kids aim to maintain comfort and ability. Others are purely for fun!

Hiking Clothes

If you want to save money on kids hiking gear, start with clothes! We typically hike in “active” or “performance” wear that we get inexpensively. If you need to start layering, start with a merino wool base layer, followed by a fleece mid-layer, then a weather dependent third layer.

Your total expenditure largely depends on the climate of where you’re hiking but it’s really simple to find inexpensive pieces from merino wool base layers to winter gear at local and online thrift stores, through Facebook marketplace, and even on sale at super center stores.

Shoes

We just ordered our littles the Merrell Kids hiking sneakers since they’re top rated. Merrell also makes kids’ waterproof hiking boots – but since we live in the dessert we opt for trail sneakers or sandals. Second hand stores are great for hiking shoes, as well.

We’ve also used our regular sneakers, as well, but they don’t have the same traction and they wear our quicker, so be mindful.

Osprey Poco Kid Carrier

hiking with kids osprey
We love the Osprey Poco Plus for a comfortable fit and storage. It’s one of our top recommended hiking essentials for kids who can’t yet walk long distances.

The Osprey Poco Plus is one of our most recommended pieces of hiking gear for kids. An appropriate framed hiking pack puts most of the weight in your legs, relieving pressure from your back, which is an absolute must if you’re carrying long distance of if your little one doesn’t feel so little anymore. Plus, there’s plenty of storage for additional gear.

More Fun Hiking Gear for Kids:

Remember you’ll likely end up carrying a lot of your kids hiking gear, so keep it light, or invest in a kids’ backpack. As mentioned above, we just ordered a hydration pack backpack for our kids so they could carry their own snacks, water, and fun pieces of gear.


Kids Hiking Gear FAQs:

Do we ever not take the ten essentials?

I’ll admit we don’t always hike with a fire starter or emergency shelter, though we should. You’ll find that a lot of the ten essentials – a knife, headlamp, gps, etc – are super lightweight and easy to throw in a pack.

How is hiking in a soft structured carrier?

Framed carrier traditionally start fitting a baby six months and older. For younger babies, a soft carrier is your only option. Since they are lightweight and pack small, they are also great for travel. We hiked through Garden of the Gods in CO with only a SSC. Truly, the answer to his question depends on you, your baby, and your adventure. Weigh out the comfort vs. convenience factors!

hiking Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs with a toddler in a soft structured carrier
While not a tradition piece of hiking gear for kids, a soft structured carrier can be great for traveling.

How to start hiking with kids?

Just start! Gear lists can make it seem overwhelming, but truly just start small. State parks are a great place to begin with well marked and trafficked trails.


What are Your Favorite Hiking Essentials for Kids?

Having the right hiking gear for kids (and for yourself) not only provides emergency equipment if needed, but it can make for a more comfortable and fun hike. While we advocate for saving money and simply getting outside, we also hope this post helped to illustrate when “proper” gear is worth the splurge.

What are some of your favorite pricy and more expensive pieces of kids hiking gear? Where do you get your gear? What hiking essentials for kids would you add to this list?

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