The 10 Hiking Essentials with Kids

Hiking with your family can be an exciting adventure, but don’t make it extra exciting by forgetting essential items. When going anywhere with kids overpacking seems to happen for the “just in case” situation. But when you’re on the trail carrying all of the extra weight can be excruciating, especially when you throw the 30lb sleeping 2-year-old on top of it.  

To help you prioritize the must-haves from the nice-to-haves and maybe save your back in the process, below is a list of 10 essentials that are good to have and necessary for survival in an emergency.

  1. Navigation. Have a map. While your Quest Trails map is excellent for the adventure, you’ll want to have a topographic map and compass or GPS device with battery backup that you can rely on if you end up off the trail.
  2. Light. Sometimes your adventure will take you down a path past sundown. Pack a headlamp or other torch device with extra batteries. We also carry them for the kids. They’re always excited to use them, and it allows the adults to keep theirs to check the map or watch the trail without a bouncing light. 
  3. Sun protection. Trails can be surprising. One moment you’re navigating through the lush ferns and evergreen trees, and the next, you’re in the wide-open alpine with the sun glaring down. Keeping sunglasses for everyone, sunscreen, and using sun-protective clothing as part of your layering system is our go-to. A ball cap helps too.
  4. First aid. Grabbing a pre-made kit based on the size of your family is recommended. My husband and I each have one that stays in our packs, so we don’t have to worry about switching it out. As the kids start carrying their packs, we recommend getting small first aid kits.
  5. Knife. A Multi-Tool knife is our go-to. Our military experience means we have several of them around the house, but they also are incredibly versatile. It gives you several tools while saving space and weight. 
  6. Fire. I keep a waterproof container of strike-anywhere matches in with my first aid kit. I always have the first aid kit, so I always have the matches.
  7. Shelter. Initially, I used to think this was unnecessary until I realized how versatile keeping a poncho, or other lightweight waterproof material, and rope in my bag could be. It’s great for when the weather changes and you find yourself trying to eat lunch in a rainstorm or when you need something dry to sit on. Always inspect the poncho for holes and, if necessary, repair it before you go.
  8. Extra food. This can be tricky when carrying all the food for the family hike. We focus on bringing high-energy, long-lasting foods. These can be protein bars, protein cookies, trail mix, tuna packets, or other shelf-stable items. And though not “essential,” we always pack extra fun snacks like gummy candies and candy bars.
  9. Extra water. Water gets heavy but is so crucial to not only survive in an emergency but also to keep the kids going. The adults carry water bladders in addition to 1-2 water bottles, and depending on their age; the kids have at least one bottle.
  10. Extra clothes. If you’re a parent, you likely learned early on that kids require extra clothes. When hiking, these items should be geared toward layering items like a fleece, softshell jacket, raincoat, winter hat, and gloves, depending on the season and how far you’re hiking. Don’t forget your layers! I don’t know how often I focused on the kids having all of their things and forgot my jacket.

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