Kids’ Hiking Must-Haves: the short list

While what people carry on hikes is highly variable, it is important to ensure that kids are appropriately prepared for their grand adventures. The consequence of uncomfortable kids is often joyless experiences for all involved.

In this video, I share some of the top items to include in your kids’ hiking packs to ensure safety and comfort on your next family hike.

Kids’ Hiking Must-Haves

One of the most important things about going on a trip with your kids and visiting the national Parks is to make sure that they have everything they need with them, especially on hikes or wherever you are going to spend your day, you want to make sure that they have their own set of necessities that they are always carrying with them.

Hiking Backpack

Our kids wear their own hiking backpack wherever we go.

 For us, we’ve really enjoyed this one: the REI Flash backpack.

What we love about this pack are its wide shoulder straps. The first backpacks I purchased for my kids were bucket backpacks that had the strings as the shoulder straps. As it turned out, the strings rubbed on their shoulders, and that became uncomfortable for the kids.

The wide shoulder straps on the REI Flash backpack are also very breathable. They also have tie-ons where you can secure things onto the exterior of the backpack like a hate or even hiking poles!

This backpack very lightweight, collapsible, and packable. Since it’s nylon, it’s also wipeable and cleanable. In fact, when I am traveling with only carry-on luggage, I, too, will take the Flash backpack instead of my other, larger, more structured hiking backpack.

Water Bottles

The next thing to remember to bring for your kids is a water bottle. There are a variety of ways to go with this. Sometimes we use the collapsible water bottles, so that when our kids are done drinking the water, they can toss it back in the backpack without taking up much space.

My husband, on the other hand, prefers for the kids to carry water bladders such as THIS.

If your kids are sensitive to the slight scent or flavor of water that streams through the bladder, it may not be a good, primary option. However, as they start to take longer hikes with you, the bladder is really the most convenient and efficient way to store larger quantities of liquid.

Trail Snacks

The next item that’s necessary for a kid’s hiking pack is a snack. We don’t go anywhere without a snack. We prefer to have snacks that include protein such as certain Kind bars, meat sticks, or trail mixes. Dried fruits and fruit bars are always a hit, too.

We prioritize packing more snack options than we think our kids could possibly eat. Additionally, if you will be maxing out your children’s capacity or you just, flat out, need to employ bribery, candy bars are a great solution. My husband and son will often take Snicker bars on hikes about 8 miles or longer.

Weather Protection

Ensure that your little hikers are prepared for any type of weather. Start by checking the weather before your hike, of course. If you’re in Saguaro National Park during August, you probably don’t need a fleece; however, many of our parks have highly variable climate conditions no matter the time of year.

Consider how your child will stay warm, stay dry, and stay protected from the sun. Carrying a second layer, such as a fleece, a rain jacket, and a hat is a prudent set-up for success.

In fact, we always have rain gear with us even if we don’t expect it to rain. No matter the conditions, I also include a disposable rain poncho in each backpack. While we do carry rain coats and don’t use these ponchos often, they are lightweight and useful in meeting other needs.

If somebody gets wet, the backpack gets wet, water spills in the backpack, or you simply need to use it as some sort of ground cover or tarp, these inexpensive little ponchos can be of great service. You can purchase them at the Dollar Store or buy them in bulk online HERE. They are one of our backpack staples.

Tissue or Kleenex

I always hike with Kleenex, and so I like to make sure that each of my kids has some sort of Kleenex or tissue with them. From nose runs, to allergies, to bathrooming needs, tissue is always a hot commodity on our hikes !

Wet Wipes

It is also useful to carry wet wipes. Each person can keep a small, travel pack in their backpacks and use them as needed. Often children may want to use them before eating or after handling dirt or lake water. You never know when clean hands may become a major comfort issue, so these wipes are an asset to our hiking backpacks.

First Aid Kits

Some kids will want to carry a first aid kit. A first aid kit is so important for all hikers to have, and you may want to train your kids on the fundamental hiking necessities from the get-go.

You can cheaply create a first aid kit for each kid by using a snack-sized Ziplock and small, medicated pads and travel-sized care items.

If your children want to feel more “official,” you could invest in a pre-prepared First aid kit. Just remember that they may include medications or sharp items that you will need to discuss or hold for your children.

Important Items to Add to First Aid Kits for Kids

One thing that is more likely to happen while you’re out hiking is a sting. No matter the type of sting or bite, they are always fun disruptors! We always include these Sting-away pads in our hiking backpacks. They have been useful to the kids more times than we would like to recall!

Another comfort-disruptor on hiking trips is the dreaded blister. Since kids are growing so quickly and moving through different shoe styles and sizes, they are especially prone to hiking blisters. We advise that everyone have plenty of Moleskin on hand to cover hot spots before they burst. Kids are often amused by this little, fuzzy tape, so the experience of using it will be an adventure in itself!


Kids have so much energy and often need points of focus. While my children still don’t appreciate the majesty of many “scenic overlooks,” they do love binoculars! Carrying a set of these in each hiking pack can provide hours of entertainment. If you have a child needing more mental stimulation along your route, invite them to use their binoculars and find a new plant or animal. Or, if you’re hiking in “bear country,” you can propose a “challenge,” encouraging them to see a bear in the distant views.

Here is a pair of budget-friendly Binoculars. You may consider how often you will replace them, though. Kids do tend to break them with regularity!

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