ON THE TRAIL
For extra small hikers, use a soft-shell carrier such as an Ergo or a Tula. Ergo in particular makes a performance carrier that is great for outdoor activities. For my son, I used both the original and the performance models of the Ergo from birth until one year old, and from then on I used (and continue to use) a toddler-size Tula. For hikers a little bit bigger, use a kid carrier. I bought a Deuter kid carrier just before my son’s second birthday, but I would encourage you to buy one much earlier if this type of carrier appeals to you. If you will be doing a lot of hiking, I recommend investing in a pack that has ample storage and is compatible with a hydration system. Carrier, backpack, and water bottle in one? Yes, please!
TIP: If your kid is like mine and likes to switch back and forth between riding and hiking, a soft-shell carrier may be your best bet. In my experience, it is easier to take my son in and out of my toddler Tula (especially when it’s just the two of us), and when it is not in use, it’s easy to shove into a backpack or wear around the waist.
Bring plenty of water with you on the trail. I prefer one water bottle or hydration bladder per person, but depending on the length of the hike, sometimes I only bring one per adult and share with my toddler. If I share on the trail, I always have water waiting for us at the car.
Our favorite hike-friendly snacks are fruit, nuts, jerky, and energy bars. No matter the length of our hike, I always pack along bananas or apple slices, almonds for me, and a Lärabar for Luke (his favorite). If our hike is short or I don’t feel like carrying as much on me, I pick one snack each and leave the rest in the car to enjoy after we are finished.
Dress comfortably and in layers. Wear sturdy shoes or hiking boots. Pack extra socks in case of wet shoes, a light jacket, and a hat for protection from the sun. I also like to keep a full change of clothes in the car, complete with dry shoes, for my puddle-loving son. If I know it will be wet or muddy, sometimes I will bring a change of shoes for myself and leave them in the car.
Bring a few diapers and a small package of wipes with you, if you have a little one in diapers. I prefer to leave most of my diaper bag setup in the car and usually only pack one or two extra diapers with me, just in case.
First Aid Kit
A basic first aid kit should be all you need on your hike, barring some sort of emergency. You can buy a travel kit, complete with an assortment of bandages and antibiotic ointment, from just about any grocery or drug store, or you can put together your own. Include travel-size bottles of sunscreen and bug repellant to round out your kit. If anyone in your family has specific medical needs, don’t forget to address those as well.
Just about any backpack will carry your water, snacks, extra clothes, diapers, and first aid kit. I prefer packs that are compatible with a hydration system and that have a couple of different zippered pockets to keep my stuff organized and easy to find. If your smaller hikers will wear a backpack, have them carry their own gear. We are CamelBak lovers in our family and each of us carries our own hydration pack. The CamelBak Mini MULE is the perfect size for my toddler and he gets a huge kick out of wearing it and drinking from the bite valve.
Camera and/or Cell Phone
Although the point of hiking is often to unplug from technology, I rarely leave home without my camera and cell phone. Photography is a huge part of my outdoor experiences. I also like to keep my cell phone with me in case of emergency, for access to my favorite hiking apps, and to control my camera remotely. If you aren’t really into photography, leave the extra weight at home.
I enjoy keeping track of our mileage and I do so with a Garmin GPS watch. If you are really into fitness, you can include a heart rate monitor. There are also quite a few fitness apps that will record your hike if you would rather just use your phone.
IN THE CAR
Ready-To-Go Hike Kit
If you don’t need them at home on a day to day basis, it is incredibly useful to leave your carrier, a full change of clothes for your toddler, a simple diaper kit, a travel-size first aid kit, and a towel in your car at all times. I keep a small box in my trunk to keep my stuff organized. If you have these things ready to go, all you have to remember to bring is your water, your snacks, your backpack, and your kid!
Over time you will figure out exactly what you need to bring and what you can leave behind. As with most things, the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t is through trial and error.
What is on your list of hiking essentials?
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