Hiking With Kids: The Essentials

I have been hiking with my kids for about 6 years and it is still one of my favorite activities to do as a family. If you need a few reasons to take your kids hiking, check out my post 7 Reasons To Take Your Kids Hiking. It hasn't been all sunshine and roses but I wouldn't have missed the views. One of my most memorable hikes was with my year old son.

On this particular hike, in true new-mom fashion, I forgot an extra diaper and of course my son messed the one he had on. The only solution I could come up with was to use my sports bra as a diaper and to get home asap. Lesson learned, planning is essential when hiking with kids.
Hiking With Kids: The Essentials

Unfortunately, I still forget things and the needs and preferences of my kids are always changing. As a result, my trips continue to change and each age seems to bring different joys and challenges (all are fun in their own way). But as I have been hiking with my kids over the years I have started to notice some common behaviors during certain ages. My kids personalities are very different but there have still been some commonalities. Here is what I have observed.

  1. I loved this age. Put the baby in the carrier, keep them fed and they were happy. Mine would even fall asleep on many of our hikes. I just made sure to take them out of the carrier every so often for a break. The only problem is if your kids don't like the carrier. Both of mine did. Takeaway: Bring plenty of food and they will be happy. Long hikes are ok as the kids will most likely nap in the carrier. 
    Hiking With Kids: The Essentials
    I loved hiking while she was sleeping. Let me focus more on my son. 
  2. Both of my kids asserted their independence from 1 to 2 years of age. They wanted to hike, explore and do everything I was doing. It was good they wanted to learn but it made hiking a very slow process. My kids still feel asleep in the carrier but not as often. MumBalance has a great post on Hiking With A ToddlerTakeaway: Hikes are going to be slow during this age. My kids always wanted to be out of the carrier.  
    Hiking With Kids: The Essentials
    I was impressed with how far my kids were willing to hike at this age. They just love being a "big kid". 
  3. At this age my kids both to refused to hike at times. I had to stop hiking for a couple months with my son until I figured out how to motivate him. I started calling our hikes flower and mud hunts and all of a sudden he enjoyed hiking again. My daughter is three right now and I still bring the framed backpack carrier so I don't have to listen to her whine about walking. She always has to walk some distance, generally farther than she wants, but then I carry her to help the trip go a little easier and faster. Candy and a camera really motivate her to hike. Candy did NOT work for my son at this age. Takeaway: Have a few tricks up your sleeve to keep the kids happy. Both of my kids have been very obstinate at this age. I always push them a little but mine tended to shut down if I did too much. 
    Hiking With Kids: The Essentials
    Thankfully just about everything is new to a 3 year old. Take advantage. 
  4. As my son got closer to 4, don't know about my daughter yet, it got much easier to hike. I still had to find destinations to get him excited and "toys" to keep him entertained but we have been on some really nice family hikes. Takeaway: Distractions and "toys" are a must. Here are a few of our favorites:
    1. "Toys" - binoculars, whistles (as long as they are blown softly they aren't too annoying), walking sticks, camera (old phones work perfectly), etc. 
      Hiking With Kids: The Essentials
      They take pictures of each other as much as they do of nature; whatever makes them "happy hikers".
    2. Themed Hike - I let the kids wear Superman capes a couple times and they loved it. Old Halloween costumes would work too. 
      Hiking With Kids: The Essentials
      Our first themed hike. Cheered us all up after a long week.
    3. Destinations - My son's favorites are water features and bridges. I find trails that have as many as possible. Sometimes climbing on rocks does the trick too. Just something to do other than walking the entire time. 
      Hiking With Kids: The Essentials
      Throwing rocks in the water never gets old to my kids.
    4. Snacks - In my experience candy is not a fix-all. I find that new or out-of-the-ordinary snacks or candy work best. Chips worked well once because we never let our kids get individual bags of chips. We did for this hike and they thought is was awesome. 
      Hiking With Kids: The Essentials
      Brought chips on this hike as a "special" snack. Took their minds off being tired.
    5. Distractions - I work with my kids to explore as we are hiking. My post on Exploring the Forest Using Your Five Senses has some fun ideas. Other things that work are just letting the kids run, races, giving kids an opportunity "lead", taking turns carrying the Camelbak (aff. link), or anything new or out of the ordinary. Wild Tales Of has some suggestions for activities for preschoolers on hikes.
      Hiking With Kids: The Essentials
      Spotting wildlife tracks can also be a great distraction.
  5. At this age my son still needed distractions and "toys" but I did start pushing him to hike farther. Takeaway: Keep up the good work. Kids can go farther but they still need some motivation. 
The biggest test of my patients on hikes, or any other time really, is whining. And kids are very good at it no matter the age. My kids whine to try and manipulate me into getting their way. I have found that if I prepare and ignore the whining when it is occurring it tends to stop. This does not work if my kids are hungry or tired. The Big Outside has some further suggestions for dealing with tired kids on a hike.


We don't have many kids cloths designed for hiking. My one suggestion is to wear close toed shoes. I prefer tennis shoes if we don't have hiking boots. To me, this is a battle worth fighting. Kids won't get blisters as quickly and they can do more because their feet are protected. Play Outside Guide has a great list of gear and suggestions on were to spend your money.

The one piece of gear we did invest in was a nice framed backpack carrier. We bought the Osprey Poco Plus Kid Carrier (aff. link). There have been multiple times we have brought this instead of a stroller on our road trips. My one recommendation is to try on multiple brands before your purchase. I tried two and the waist belt was much more comfortable on the Osprey pack for me.
Hiking With Kids: The Essentials


Play Outside Guide has a very useful post on planning a successful hike with kids; tons of good information there. I guest posted for Hike It Baby on how I prepare for hikes with multiple kids. It got a little more complicated when I added a second child to my hiking adventures.

I hike a lot with my kids during the week when my husband is at work. I have had to get use to dealing with all the tantrums, complaining and such while in the "wilderness" on my own. I offer a few suggestions for a fun and less-stressful day in my post Adventuring as a Single Parent.


I consider myself an avid hiker but most of them have been relatively short. Our hikes are usually 2-3 hours or less. So far we haven't spent an entire day hiking (I hope to sometime). Keep that in mind as you are preparing for your trips. Much of the information here would probably apply to longer hikes, but I don't have the experience to back that claim up.
Hiking With Kids: The Essentials


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