Whether you’re a pro or it’s your first time hitting the trail, being prepared is important to a great hike—especially when you add kids to the mix. Here’s your hiking checklist, including all the essential items you need to plan a great hike with the family.
A sturdy lightweight backpack is an absolute must for any hiking trip with kids. Keep in mind you don’t have to splurge on a 2,000-cubic-inch camping pack for a day hike. Something lightweight but with plenty of storage space will do just fine.
If you are planning a hike with kids aged two and younger, you will definitely want to bring along a baby carrier. Even if he or she is already a walker, little legs get tired just as fast as your arms, so it’s helpful to have the option to harness them in. If you plan to hike often, invest in a backpack-style carrier. Never used one before? Just be sure to try a test run, taking it on and off and walking with it before you hit the trail. For an easy, level-terrain hike, I like using my regular, structured baby carrier—which can be worn on my back.
Those who have kids are more than likely used to packing snacks wherever they go. A hike is no different, except you want to pack as light as possible. Pick protein-filled, energy-boosting foods that don’t need to stay cold, like healthy energy bars, dried fruit, and trail mix.
Hydration is an important part of any hiking checklist, but it’s easy to underestimate your portions. Be sure to pack plenty of water for everyone in your family. If it’s a hot day, fill your bottles with ice to help keep the water cool for longer. If it’s a long drive to your hiking spot, you may want to pack a cooler with extra water to keep in the car for the ride home.
First Aid Kit
Cuts and scrapes happen often when young kids explore new terrain, so it’s vital to be prepared. And although you need not lug your entire medicine cabinet on your hike, you should still carry the basics. Pack a small zipper pouch with the essentials, such as bandages and a disinfectant.
Anytime you’ll be spending several hours in the great outdoors, you must protect your family’s skin—both from the sun and any hungry insects. Choose a natural bug repellent and sunscreen to protect your skin safely, without harmful amounts of DEET or similarly volatile ingredients.
Dressing the part is key to a successful hike. In addition to comfortable, supportive shoes, you should also outfit your family in comfortable clothes that breathe well and keep your body covered. Even if it’s hot, one of the best ways to protect yourself naturally from mosquitoes and ticks is to wear long pants and long sleeves. Top off those outfits with a brimmed hat if it’s a sunny day.
Even when you’ve hiked the trail before, carrying a map and compass with you can be useful in case you become disoriented from just one wrong turn. It also makes a great teaching tool for kids, allowing your little ones to learn about directions and how to use landmarks to guide them. It will also come in handy when you hear the inevitable, “Are we there yet?” Map in hand, you can point out exactly where you are along the hike.
Binoculars or Magnifying Glass
Hikes are a great way to encourage kids to explore their environment. One of the best hiking tips I’ve picked up to make the experience more fun for mine is to bring along exploration tools. Pack a magnifying glass or binoculars your little ones can use to search out birds, plants and other interesting sites along the way. Start them off with a game of “I spy…”
It can be scary just thinking about an emergency situation with your kids, which is why you should bring a few “in-case-ofs” if you are exploring a more remote area. Depending upon how long your hike is and the difficulty of the terrain itself, you may also include items like a flashlight, waterproof matches, a tarp, hand and body warmers, a whistle, and a pocket knife. It’s also a good idea to have a plan. Talk to your kids ahead of time about safety and what to do in the event of an incident.
The key to a fun and safe family hike is to be prepared without going overboard. Keep your pack as light as possible, but don’t skip the essentials for kids who are still getting their feet under them. What must-have items are on your hiking checklist? Share in the comments!
Image sources: Sher Warkentin
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.