Fun Hiking Gear for Your Family

Ahhh…The first kiss of spring.  Your winter coat and gloves retreat to their place in the closet.  Your step welcomes a revived bounce and your cheeks blush from the tender sun warming your face for the first time in months.

It may not be time yet to summon your bathing suit, but it IS time to assemble your family’s hiking gear.  Add these fun pieces to enliven your family’s first spring hike.

Hiking with child in carrier

Child Carrier – If your child is old enough to sit up on his own, and your back is strong enough, I recommend using a sturdy child carrier.  Perched high on your back, your baby or toddler will delight in sharing the sweeping views and caressing the trees’ leaves.  And, nothing puts a baby asleep faster than fresh air, a still forest and your rhythmic step.  For a guide to buying a child carrier, check out this article from REI, our go-to place for outdoor gear.

Kids binoculars – Since our kids started preschool, they never go on a hike without their cute binoculars.  Let your explorers pause often to feverously pursue the source of some rustling or bird they heard.

Kids Magnifying Glass – A magnifying glass is another fun tool for kids to explore bugs, leaves, animal tracks or anything else they discover.

Kids Butterfly Net – A small net can be used to catch bugs, butterflies, frogs or anything else your kids want to explore up close.  Teach your child the importance of handling living creatures gently and always return the new friends to their homes when you’re finished observing.

Hiking Shoes – Sturdy, water-resistant, comfortable hiking shoes, sandals or gym shoes are critical to keep those little legs moving.  I also recommend an extra pair of socks in your pack or car in case the little feet tromp through mud or water.

Searching for a bird

Fleece – Even if it’s warm out, everyone will need at least a lightweight fleece or jacket.  It could be cool at higher altitudes, in an exposed area or under the forest canopy.  Plus, your sweat will cool you on breaks until you start walking again.  Remember an extra layer for your child in the carrier; he isn’t working as hard as you are.

Backpacks –You’ll hold the heavier stuff like water, snacks, maps, a Leatherman or Swiss Army knife, a small first-aid kit with plenty of band-aids, a fleece for each person or other layers.  Empower your child to carry his own snack, magnifying glass and any leaves, pine cones or other fun small tokens he picks up.

Map and Compass – You should always hike with a trail map and know how to use a compass.  Introduce your child to navigation techniques, starting with basic north/south east/west concepts and map familiarity to more complex details with older children.

Identification card of local plants, animals, and/or birds – The park’s visitors center or a local book store may have a laminated identification card of all the local flora and fauna.  Help your child identify items during the hike and talk about others you may not have seen.

Whistle – Teach your child to blow a whistle, for emergencies only, carried around his neck or in his backpack in case he wanders off the trail and gets lost from the group.

Bandana – A versatile item for every hiker.  Great to wipe sweat from your brow, wet in a stream to cool your child, place on a log or the ground to sit on, wipe your child’s runny nose, clean up from a snack, or stop bleeding in an emergency.  And it’s light to carry in your kid’s pack or pocket.

What fun gear do you carry on your family hikes?  Please share in the comments below.