Mom hiking with daughter taking medical kit out of backpack

Essential Gear for Hiking with Toddlers and Small Children

Heading out on the trail for the first time with small children can be intimidating, whether you are headed for a short hike near or far. We know. That’s why we hike together and count on each other to help bring things we may have forgotten. It’s important to be prepared for emergencies of all kinds.

Remember that being prepared when heading out with a baby is important, but having this stuff isn’t going to save you in an emergency situation! So start by first really prepping for your hike. Know where you are going and what the weather is doing in your area. A hike that once may have been an easy day outing for you can become a much longer journey with a cranky baby on your back.

Here are our recommendations for the top 10 things to think about to keep your load light, but also so you are properly equipped for getting out there with your little one.

  1. Light shelter – You can sit through a sudden wind storm or rain storm with a cheapo throw away plastic poncho or bump it up and invest in a small emergency blanket. This can be a very minimal investment and be used for many things without adding a lot of weight.
  2. A whistle – Not only can this be used to scare an animal or alert people to your whereabouts, but your little one will love blowing on it when they are bored or you can also use it to distract them if they are upset. Strap a whistle onto your pack.
  3. Water – Don’t skimp on water. This is a critical element to have. If you spend a lot of time hiking in an area with a lot of water (lakes, creeks or rivers) consider getting something that easily sterilizes water on the fly. There are all kinds of options from infrared pens to water bottles with filters, like products from RapidPure that remove viruses as well as bacteria and parasites.
  4. Compass – You don’t have to be a Boy Scout to use a compass. They are pretty simple and even the most basic one is very helpful on a trail where there are no views and you are deep in the trees. It’s easy to get lost if you start bushwhacking.
  5. Lightweight food – If you under-pack food you might end up with a cranky toddler so just think light, not limited. I love turkey jerky, fruit leather and dehydrated whole fruits because they offer quick energy boosts without a lot of weight or bulk. You can find small but filling trail bars from a variety of companies. Candy bars and trail mix with chocolate are yummy, but if you are in hot weather think about the melt and mess factor.
  6. Waterproof matches or Firestarter – Being able to start a fire can be crucial if anything goes wrong. Even if you end up back at your car with a dead battery and you have to sleep over, might as well have something to make a nice fire, right? Consider keeping some of these in an emergency first aid kit always in your car too!
  7. Small emergency first aid kit for trail – A few bandages, butterfly stitches, some antiseptic wipes and surgical tape should do it. You don’t necessarily need a huge kit for a day hike but kids bang themselves up easily. One stick puncture in your kiddo’s hand can be quickly bandaged up if you have a little kit. Check out the products made by Adventure Medical Kits for inspiration and easy pre-made kits to purchase.
  8. Duct tape – Ok, so no emergency kit? Bring duct tape. This can be a fix all of everything from a broken pole to a shoe sole that comes unglued to a cut on your arm to a backpack zipper that breaks. A hiker’s best friend!
  9. Sunscreen – It’s so easy to forget sunscreen and then get out there and think you won’t be out long. With a baby, you may not want to use sunscreen because they are too young (although there are some great brands that are fairly chemical free), so carry a muslin cloth that you can drape over baby. We did this in Mexico with our son when he was six months on a very hot hike and he slept the whole time and didn’t get burned.
  10. Headlamp – You never think you are going to be out past dark, but a baby or toddler who won’t cooperate can make your day longer than you anticipated. Carry a headlamp always so that getting back to your car is a fun adventure versus a scary mission.

Hiking with your little one is fun and a great way for you to see nature through your child’s eyes. Whether you get out there with a 6 week old, a 16-month-old or a 6-year-old, it’s never to late to start encouraging your little one to love nature. Your trail smarts will also rub off on them, so take the time to prep before you get out there and it will make the day more fun for everyone.