Updated: Sep 25
Sometimes it's hard to know what you need (and what you don't!) for various hikes. We share our point of view AS BEGINNERS to shed some light on what has been most helpful for us and our kids for hiking.
If you’re just hiking at a local metro park close to home, we suggest being prepared for weather and staying hydrated (less tantrums that way!). For those of you looking to venture out (or up!) a bit more; take a look at what we've learned below!
FIRST THINGS FIRST Before you consider "gear," consider these:
Know your terrain. The "type" of hike you are doing makes all the difference. When we "practice hiked" in Michigan, it was completely different than the Fjords in Norway or the Rockies we've done in Colorado. Before you start out, do some research. Talk to a local park service, scour the internet; work to find out what type of trails and terrain you'll be encountering. Are there hills? Fields? Manicured trails? Rugged trails with markers? Are trails marked at all? What is the starting elevation? What are the elevation variances? What is the distance (and average time!) to the summit AND back? Is it child safe/friendly? Etc.
We don't always know the answers to all the questions, but a general idea can really help! A fun example of a time we had NO IDEA was this hike in Norway - (haha, yikes!).
Know your weather Quick (and sometimes drastic) changes in weather and temperature have been something we've encountered in the mountains and we recommend being prepared. Elevation changes also make a big impact on weather. The weather at the summit may be completely different than the base if you’re in the mountains. This is key for knowing what kind of clothing and gear you need, even as a beginner. What time of year is it (and depending on which hemisphere you're in, what SEASON is it in the area you'll be hiking)? What is common in that climate and specific region? Remember coastal areas often have different climate than inland regions. Does it rain a lot? Snow? High winds? Extreme heat?
Once you know terrain and climate/weather you can determine what gear you will (or won't!) need. For this post, we'll share must-haves for hiking with kids on moderate hikes.
Items we recommend for hiking:
Appropriate clothing/layers Per the note above about weather, we have almost always needed layers. Our favorites include: > A good base layer > Fleece (high quality is important here!) > Windproof/waterproof shell (again, high quality makes a difference) > In cooler weather we add an additional long sleeve. > Often waterproof/windproof pants have proved to be helpful for all of us, but if it's a simple afternoon hike, comfortable trousers or athletic leggings are great. > Hiking socks! We thought these would be silly and unnecessary; and they are if you're doing simple trails. However, they make a HUGE difference in how your feet feel, breathe, and navigate if you're out climbing for hours! So, we wear them now :)
Waterproof Boots The season and terrain make a big difference with these, but water resistant and waterproof labeling are TOTALLY different! If you think you'll encounter glacial runoff, rain, melting snow or mud, you definitely want waterproof shoes. This can make or break your hike. In Norway, waterproof was an absolute must. If you are doing summer hikes in dry, elevated areas, breathable, supportive boots may be more helpful to you! Also keep in mind how much ankle support you'll need. Specialists at outdoor stores can usually help you assess your needs here.
Emergency Kit We always feel better having this on-hand. A well rounded hiking emergency kit for cuts, scrapes, or worse is great. We like ours because it's full of survival gadgets if needed, but there are tons you can choose from.
Compass/Map/Navigation Beacon If you are skilled in navigation and maps/compass are enough - cool. We are not (although we actually really enjoy maps!). Again there are a lot of options, but bottom line, having something you can call for help in an emergency or send out a rescue signal in life-threatening situations. Prices and capabilities vary. Do your research. Bottom line tip - you CANNOT always trust your phone service providers up in the mountains, in the USA or overseas, so have a back-up plan of some kind. Apps like Gaia GPS are great internationally. We like it as a backup since local trails weren't always well marked - we did A LOT of wandering in Norway :) The Garmin in-reach mini also seems to be popular although we haven't tried this yet. Side note: be cautious of relying on sounds to navigate. Waterfalls, streams, etc. can be deceiving in the mountains, plus sounds can carry or be distorted in unique ways depending on topography and even wind.
FINALLY, SUSTENANCE! You can't prepare to go on long hikes without planning to stay hydrated and fueled, especially with kids. Here are some of our favorite wins:
Water & Reusable Water Bottles Just bring enough water to continue hydrating as you climb! You might need more water than you think. Either plan to refill as you go (if the water is pure and you have a LifeStraw or filter) or bring big enough water containers to pre-fill and last the duration of your hike. With travel, we found some that pack down into little squares so we could take them through airport security (or just pack in a compact way) and then expand and fill up - they have been great! Link for water bottles HERE. EXTRA TIP: We also think electrolytes deserve an honorable mention here. Not only do you lose a lot of water, but even as you replenish your water, you also flush out electrolytes (salt, magnesium, etc.). For us, this subtle addition can make a huge difference in helping avoid weakness, fainting, aches, and overall "yucky" feelings during (or just following) a hike. There are a few options for adding electrolytes to your water (like drops, powders, etc.) - our only suggestion is just watch the sugar. You don't need to add that, you just need the good stuff. Our favorite is Arbonne's TruSport Hydration which you can find HERE.
Snacks! Possibly Meals. You use a lot of energy hiking and climbing. We believe in fueling well! We take along a number of snacks and it's ALWAYS a win. > Meat sticks -clean, grass fed, high quality and always a great source of protein for hiking. Plus they are compact and pack easily in our hiking backpacks. > Apples - whole apples or slices depending on the trip > Snack bars - low sugar, high quality, easy for on-the-go > Pb & J - with kids, what's better than a packed peanut butter (or almond butter) and jelly sandwich on the trail? We adults like them too! No coolers needed. > Nuts and/or Trail Mix - this is a family favorite. We love pistachios, almonds, cashews, and more, but a healthy (low sugar) mix is a great way to fuel you for the trip ahead or trip back.
THE MULTIPLE DAY ADVENTURE
Our qualifier - this is our personal experience for day trips. Hiking has been a really fun family activity and the views have always been worth the effort! BUT, if you are doing a backpacking trip that includes overnight stays and multiple days and trails, that's an entirely different post for another day. In those situations you'd need to prepare your sleeping equipment (and locations!), eating/cooking supplies, and support gear in much more tactical ways - which is great!
So what are your favorite ways to prep for hikes? Do you like to just "go for it?" or do you like to do a bit of research? What is the hardest part of prep for you?
Have a blast friends - enjoy those beautiful trails!
Joie de Vivre,
Steven & Lindsey