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My family loves hiking. We try to head out on a local hike every weekend. One of the perks of living in Idaho is there are a lot of trails nearby. Up until this year though, my husband and I have been wearing packs with our twins in them, so we have taken all of our gear. My oldest, who is about to turn eight, has been lucky and not had to carry anything, except a small hydration pack.
Now that the twins are old enough to start walking many of the trails, we decided it was time for our son to start wearing his own pack. Being the creative parents we are, we thought a pack on his back might slow him down enough for his little brothers to keep up, and stop him from whining that they are too slow. But our eight year old is pretty tiny, and most of our hikes are pretty short (again, three-year-old twins) so he doesn’t need a full on pack. Instead we came up with a DIY Hiking Pack for Kids that is great for those who are just starting to get into hiking.
Why You Should Have A Hiking Pack For Kids?
Before we really get into this, I just want to say, not all kids need a hiking pack. But there are some great reasons to have one for your child.
- Builds up their muscles/endurance to work towards a full pack. If your kids are in scouts, or you plan on doing more hiking and backpacking as they get older, starting them out with a small hiking pack for kids is a great way to work them up to a full on backpacking pack. The full packs, once loaded down can often weigh 50 pounds or more, so it is a good idea to get kids used to hiking with packs on.
- It helps them feel like they are a real hiker. My son takes hiking more seriously now that he has his own pack. Instead of feeling like he is just walking around and free to run the trails, he focuses on the destination and being a responsible hiker.
- Lessens the load of parents. It is so nice to have our son carry his own snacks, binoculars and other hiking items. We still have two other children we have to carry stuff for (and at times carry the children still) so any little bit we can pass on to our son helps.
Put Together A Kids Hiking Pack
So, even though we are regular hikers, we felt a bit stumped of what all to put in our son’s hiking pack. I mean, we had a lot of stuff that the family could all use, like our first aid kit, so what would we put in his? After a lot of thought and
reading up on the suggestions from the scouts (as he is starting cub scouts next week) we think we have made a list that has just the right amount of stuff.
If your child is not tall enough or ready for a full framed hiking pack, or if you plan on mostly smaller day hikes, a backpack is a great choice. Not just any backpack though. You will want one that is compatible with a hydration pack. Now, they sell straight hydration packs that come in a backpack, but those are often small and meant more for mountain biking. You will actually want a full on backpack with a hydration pack compartment, and somewhere to feed the “hose” through.
We also chose a backpack with some organizational features to help keep all our son’s gear organized. More on this later.
If the previous item didn’t give it away, you will want a hydration pack for your kiddos. I know it can be tempting to limit their access to water if you are trying to make good time, but don’t do it. Give them their own hydration pack and let them drink at will so they stay hydrated. Also, giving them their own water this way will teach them to ration water on longer hikes.
Flashlights & Headlamps
Even if you mostly plan on hiking during the day, it is a great idea to have flashlights and/or head lamps in your child’s hiking pack. Why? Because you never know when you might find a cool cave to explore. Plus, it is good to have these on hand as you teach your children about hiking and safety. A flashlight can be used to send SOS signals and more.
Be sure that your flashlight and headlamps are powered up. We usually like to pick up some Energizer® Ultimate Lithium™ batteries for ours as they have a shelf life of 20 years. So we keep extras in our pack, and then replace them as needed. They are lightweight so they don’t weigh down our packs, and they work in extreme temperatures (like -40°F to 140°F). And of course, they are the #1 lasting AA battery so once they are in, we know that we will have light for a good amount of time before we need to replace them.
We picked up our Energizer® Ultimate Lithium™ batteries at Albertsons when we stopped to pick up some hiking snacks.
Compass & Whistle
Speaking of safety items, make sure to get your kid a compass and whistle. We found a combo one that we gave our son. First, the compass keeps him pretty entertained, but also, we are teaching him how to use it for hiking and in case he gets lost. The whistle is great even when hiking as a family. This allows us to give him a little more freedom with how far ahead he roams (though we are still cautious) as we know he can use the whistle if he gets lost, and we can use ours if we need to let him know he is too far ahead, or that we can’t find him.
Poncho & Extra Socks
In case of rain or stepping in puddles or creeks, we make sure to have a poncho and extra socks in our son’s hiking pack. We keep our ponchos, once used, in a reusable sandwich bag since they are so hard to fold back into the little bag they come in.
Binoculars & A Sketch Pad
It is a good idea to have some fun activities for your kiddo during your hike. We like to put a pair of binoculars and a sketch pad and pencils in our kids’ hiking packs. That way if we see something in the distance they can get a closer look and the sketch pad is great for letting them sketch out different animals or plants that they later want to look up.
First Aid Kit
Even though my husband and I carry a larger first aid kit, we try to make sure our son has a small first aid kit in his pack so he can start to learn about how to use it if needed. His simply has bandages, alocohol swabs, and a few other items.
Of course to make sure our kids have energy they need some good snacks. We let our son be in charge of his own snacks. We make sure he has snacks that have a good source of protein. Trail mix is of course a favorite, but sometimes we take a protein bar, or other on the go options.
Organizing a Kid’s Hiking Pack
Remember how I said I like a back pack with a lot of organization pockets? Organizing all of this stuff is key. We tend to clip his flashlight to the outside of the pack. Then we put the lesser used items in a back pocket. Snacks, binoculars, and other items go towards the front or where they can be easily reached. Finally, his hydration pack goes in the pocket meant for it. It is never perfectly organized, but it is better than having it all thrown in randomly, where he has to dig for everything.
What else do you put in your kids’ hiking packs?