Top 10 Must-Have Equipment to Hike with Children

My entire family comes from the French and Swiss Alps. My parents were avid climbers, waking up at midnight to hike glaciers before the morning sun would melt the ice and form  crevices dangerous for climbers. When my sister and I were born, climbing glaciers wasn’t possible anymore, but they didn’t give up the hiking.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been hiking. Forty-fifty years ago, kids carrier did not exist and my dad would just put layers of clothes at the bottom of his old backpack with my sister or I on top of them, so that our head was actually out of the bag. We would spend the entire day on the trails.

hike with children - infant backpack in the 60s
Early 1960s: My sister was an infant hiking the Alps, tucked in my dad’s backpack.

Sometimes our parents would have to drag us to finish the hike but at the end of the day, we were so happy to rest in our sleeping bags after a good outdoor dinner cooked in a homemade firepit (my parents always camped in the “wild”, never in campgrounds).

hike with children - Child hiking
1976 : I was hiking the Alps in Summer (there was still snow in the background), with our dog Ulla

I remember asking my parents to finally spend our vacations by the ocean for once  but the first time I spent several days at the shore (I was nearly a teenager) I got bored after 2 days and asked to go on a hike!

When our sons, Antoine and Guillaume were as little as 4 and 2 years old, we would go on vacation in the Alps as well, hiking everyday for a week or two. One day we actually made it through a total of 10 km! I remember passing by other hikers who were very astonished to see these little boys hiking so well and obviously having pleasure doing so.

hike with children - Children hiking the alps
Summer 1995 : Antoine was 4 and Guillaume was 2, hiking the Alps. I was carrying Guillaume because he didn’t want to step in goat poop!

How did we do that? Hiking for a kid is all about the journey : You have to make it fun for them and there is no better hike than the one leading to a special spot such as a waterfall or a brook, a blueberry patch, a mountain lake, where you can have lunch and have fun for several hours before heading back. Hiking to a summit to see a beautiful panorama can be also rewarding for older kids, but not so much for toddlers.

hike with children - lunch break at La Chappelle d'Abondance
Summer 1995, La Chappelle d’Abondance : during a lunch break, it was so much fun to play in a mountain brook! While there, we saw cows with their big bells walking back to their barn to get milked.

During the hike itself, we went at their pace, taking the time to observe the flowers, trees, ants and spiders, playing games such as a scavenger hunt (let’s find a special rock, a piece of wood, where can you see something red, can you spot a ladybug…) : there is no better way to teach them the love of the outdoors and respect of nature. They were taking turn to “lead the pack”. We also took numerous breaks, for them as for us as Thierry was carrying a heavy backpack and I often had one of the kids on my shoulders (yes, they didn’t always want to walk and needed to be carried). During these breaks, we were also making sure we were still on the right path by checking our map, modifying our itinerary depending on how far we were, what time it was, and how tired were the children.

 hike with children - Bernex 1995
Summer 1995, Bernex : the kids checking the map with dad to make sure we were on track

Many people come to the White Mountains New Hampshire with young kids to visit StoryLand or Santa’s Village, not knowing that even for a kid as young as 2, hiking is also an option : we have many small hikes to waterfalls, blueberry patches and so in our area. A hike that would normally take you up to 1 hour (such as Arethusa Falls), can be up to 2 hours with a younger kid, but he will love playing in the water at the foot of this giant waterfall and will forget all the effort he had to do to reach it! It’s all worth it.

It is much easier for families nowadays to discover the outdoors and lots of backpacks, kid carriers… have much improved and are lighter (and much less expensive) that what we had forty or even twenty  years ago.

Whatever the decades the kids are born in, here are our 10  must have equipment when you go hiking with them:

First Aid supplies, including insect repellent. We’ve hiked the Smoky Mountains, the Adirondacks, the Poconos and of course the White Mountains, and insect repellent is an absolute must have from April to November. We do not have lots of snakes in our area, but it is always a good idea to carry a “venom vacuum” such as Aspivenin, or Sawyer Products B4 Extractor Pump Kit (sold at Amazon.com). Our kids were never attacked by vipers that were numerous in the Alps, but were bitten by wasps and horse flies… This venom vacuum allows to stop the pain and the swelling immediately, so the rest of the day is not wasted with a child who cries… A bruise cream is also a good addition to your first aid kit.

Sun protection : sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, lip balm

Packable rain gear, long sleeves clothes, and a change of clothes including underwear for the kids : be prepared for a quick change in weather in any mountain in the world you are going to hike. Packable rain gear is lightweight and doesn’t take much space in the backpack. It can also protect against the wind, and be very useful if you wish to have a picnic on a wet rock or wet grass. At the end of the day, it can be chillier than when you started in the morning and you will all be happy to put on something warmer with long sleeves. Kids can get wet exploring and then whine to get dry and you’ll be happy you brought dry clothes, underwear and socks! In the same spirit, always have a small towel in your backpack.

Magnifying jar : kids love to collect along the way a caterpillar or other bugs to observe or other interesting treasures. That will keep them going and wanting more.

Lots of healthy snacks, food and lots of water (no soda), such as cereals, cereal bars, nuts, peanut butter sandwiches, pretzels. Antoine was a very picky eater and would not eat any sandwiches, but agreed to eat some bread, and then a slice of ham, and could not be more happier when we would give him some sugar cubes (for energy). Keep your kids moving by motivating them such as “when we will be at the crossing of these paths, we will take a break and have some snacks”. I remember when I was a kid there was nothing that could make me move ahead more than promising to give me an Ovomaltine bar (made of malt and chocolate) during the next break.

Tissues and moist towelettes . They are useful for many things, from first aid to using them as napkins.

Plastic bags or ziploc bags to take back your trash, diapers… with you.

Toilet paper (possibly not the roll you found in your hotel room)

Map of the area, flashlight, batteries. Be prepared for anything! Your cell phone might not have service where you hike so make sure you know where you are going.

Multi tool knives and matches

And finally, these are useful supplies to leave in your car that you will be happy to find when you come back from your hike : a large trash bag (to throw away all the garbage you are coming back with), large towels (if you got wet during your hike, they will protect your car seats and they will allow you to be dry on your way back home), extra clothes for the kids, and diapers . It’s also a good idea to have a cooler where you pack extra fresh snacks and that can keep a fresh water supply. The best part though of coming back from a hike is to stop at an ice cream shop and reward the family!

For more information about day hikes with kids in the White Mountains New Hampshire , visit : http://www.nhmountainhiking.com/hike/lists/kids.html

hike with children - adirondacks with kids
August 1997 : the Adirondacks, Antoine 6 and Guillaume 4 having a blast in a mountain lake. That very same day we were caught up by a huge storm with torrential rain and were very happy to have our rain gear and large towels back in the car!