**UPDATED June 2023**

We have tested a lot of hiking gear for kids over the last decade. We started hiking with our kids when they were babies riding in a pack on our backs. Now we have 3 teens who over the years have helped us determine what hiking gear kids really need and the best products out there to withstand years of use. This guide will help you determine the best hiking gear for kids so can buy only the gear you actually need and trust that it will stand up to the outdoor elements and the wear & tear kids throw at it.

Essential Hiking Gear for Kids

The truth is, kids don’t need a ton of hiking gear, but there are specific items that can certainly make hiking safer & more enjoyable. I recommend starting with some hiking gear essentials and adding additional gear as needed. Have your kid try things on and test them out to make sure the gear fits well and is comfortable! There were times I bought gear for them because I liked it – only to have my kids try it out and not like it. If they won’t wear it or use it then it’s useless.

Occasionally, you’ll see my kids hiking in sweats, leggings, and plenty of cotton while wearing Vans and other inappropriate shoes. Is this the best? Definitely not. Do I pick my battles? I sure do. Most of the time I’d rather spend my energy getting them out on the trails than worrying about what they’re wearing.

This list of the best hiking gear for kids will help you identify must-have hiking gear for your kids versus nice-to-have gear for your kids.

** I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. This means I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Wapama Falls. Yosemite National Park. California.
Hiking boots for kids are essential! Keeping him stable as he crosses slippery rocks while hiking to Wapama Falls in Yosemite.

Best Hiking Shoes For Kids

Hiking shoes or hiking boots for kids should be the first piece of kids hiking gear you buy. Many kids wear athletic shoes in their daily lives that will work perfectly fine on flat, paved, or well-groomed trails. But once you’re on a trail that’s uneven, slippery, steep, muddy or unstable those athletic shoes may not offer enough support or traction.

The best hiking shoes for kids I’ve found are from Merrell. Merrell’s shoes are sturdy, well-made, and last until I’m finished passing them down from kid to kid.

Our kids prefer these low-top Merrell Moab youth waterproof hiking shoes because they look like regular shoes and the low cut doesn’t rub uncomfortably on their ankles.

Best Hiking Boots for Kids

If ankle support is important, Merrell also makes a waterproof Moab Mid Hiking Boot which our kids have also worn.

Hiking Water Shoes For Kids

Hiking water shoes for kids - essential gear for hiking with kids
Hiking water shoes for kids – perfect for our kayak & hiking adventure in Kauai!

Our kids love these Keen Hiking Water Shoes.

Hiking water shoes or hiking sandals for kids are a great option in warmer weather or when a hike is combined with another adventure like kayaking, rafting, or tubing.

  • Provide traction & support like a regular hiking shoe
  • Allow feet to breathe in hot weather and stay light & mobile in the water
  • Quick Drying!
  • Easily transition from land to water so no need to carry multiple pairs of shoes (or go barefoot!)
  • Stay secured to feet & won’t slip off in the water
  • Adjustable hook & loop strap makes them easy to get on & off
  • Machine Washable

UBFEN Water Shoes

A fully enclosed water shoe is a good option for kids who have sensitive feet.

  • Prevent small rocks & sand from getting stuck between the bottom of kids’ feet & the insole of the shoe
  • My youngest claims these are more comfortable (less rubbing on the top of his feet)
  • Quick drying, light, breathable, flexible, non-slip

Hiking socks

Investing in a good pair of hiking socks is essential. We always buy these Smartwool hiking socks.

  • Lightly cushioned to make hiking more comfortable
  • Moisture-wicking to keep feet dry and prevent blisters
  • Tall enough to wear comfortably with hiking shoes or boots
  • The top is fitted to prevent rocks & dirt from slipping down inside

Hiking Backpack For Kids

Admiring Vernal Falls from the Mist Trail. Yosemite National Park, California
Hiking packs for kids are essential to keep them hydrated.

Hydration packs are the easiest way for kids to carry all their things, including water. Each of us carries our own hydration pack so we know everyone has enough water and can drink hands-free while hiking. I recommend at least a 1.5 liter bladder for kids and 2+ liters for adults. The size of the pack will likely depend on the child’s age.

  • Allows for hands-free drinking while hiking
  • The packs are lightweight and distribute the water weight evenly
  • Include pockets to stick snacks and other treasures
  • We also wear these hiking packs while biking, skiing & kayaking

Camelbak Kids Hydration Pack 50oz Reservoir

  • Weighs only 7.5 ounces (empty)
  • Reflective strips for low-light visibility
  • Built-in whistle
  • Zip pocket large enough to carry a rain shell or light layer

CamelBak Kids Hydration Backpack 50oz Reservoir

  • Backpack with larger pouch to hold additional food, layers, binoculars etc.
  • Reflective strips for low-light visibility
  • Built-in whistle

We have always purchased CamelBaks and have found this brand to be extremely durable. We have never had a problem with them ripping or tearing and the zippers have always remained functional. The only thing we have ever had to replace is the bite valve because our kids chew on them or they just rip over time. We have also replaced the bladder for our adult versions after years of use when the water began to have a stale taste. We have a cleaning kit like this one that we use after every few uses, but over time it gets tired. This bladder replacement fits the 1.5L CamelBak and includes a new bite valve or bite valves can be purchased separately here. I usually have extras on-hand because when these rip they are useless.

Hiking Clothes For Kids

Kids tend to dress in comfortable clothes that are easy to move in – so they can often just wear whatever they have on hand when hiking. However, we have bought some basic non-cotton kids hiking clothes over the years.

When I’m in need of specialty outdoor clothing, I typically head straight to REI. We are members which means we enjoy a dividend at the end of the year based on our purchases, but mostly I think they do an amazing job of vetting products and selling only quality items.

Hiking Pants For Kids

Kids hiking pants are one of the first articles of clothing I’ll buy. We look for durable lightweight options in neutral colors so they generally pair well with any color jacket and can be passed down from my oldest to my youngest. My daughter is now 15 and opts for women’s styles, but when she was younger I found there was no significant difference between boys hiking pants and girls hiking pants – aside from the color options.

REI Kids Sahara Convertible Pants

  • Made from light, durable, quick-drying nylon/spandex fabric
  • Fabric offers UPF 50 sun protection
  • Water Repellant finish – great for hikes in the early morning dew or any hike with mist or water
  • Lots of pockets to hold treasures
  • Bottom half of pant leg zips off into shorts without having to take off hiking boots

Patagonia Kids Hiking Pants

  • Pant legs roll up to mid-calf with tab and button
  • Adjustable waistband
  • Water Repellant finish
  • Material is recycled polyester/organic cotton blend

Hiking Shirts for Kids

Shirts made from moisture wicking, quick-drying, breathable fabric are going to be much more comfortable hiking options for kids than cotton. Cotton t-shirts on shorter hikes in mild weather are probably fine, but they can be uncomfortable on longer hikes, especially as kids get older and start to sweat.

Short Sleeve Dri-Fit Shirts

  • Great starter pack!
  • Lightweight
  • Quick Drying
  • Machine Washable
  • Lots of colors to choose from

Long Sleeve Base Layer

  • Made from Merino wool which resists odors which means it can be worn more than once without washing which is key especially when traveling
  • Breathable, quick drying and wicks away moisture
  • Flatlock seams to prevent chafing

Sun Protection: Long Sleeve Shirt with SPF 50+

Kids won’t even realize they’ve got an extra layer of sun protection with this hoodie!

  • SPF50+
  • Thin & breathable material to help keep kids cool even in the sun
  • Quick-drying
  • Hood to keep sun off neck & ears
  • Thumb holes to keep sleeves in place

Hiking Outerwear for Kids

Our California winters are mild so we generally do not need a lot of winter hiking gear for cold weather. However, in the Bay Area, the weather can change drastically from the coast to inland or even hour-to-hour as the fog rolls in or burns off. We always bring a variety of jackets, fleeces, vests, and rain jackets (even in the summer!) because we never know what to expect until we get to the trailhead.

Hiking Wapama Falls in Yosemite wearing a Patagonia Nanopuff jacket, hiking boots, convertible hiking pants & a Camelbak full of water

Fleece

California kids (or anyone in a mild climate) might be able to get away with a fleece as their “winter jacket”. My kids will wear a fleece or sweatshirt 85% of the time. I prefer a full-zip fleece as I find them easier to get on/off.

Patagonia Hooded Fleece

  • 100% Recycled Polyester Fleece
  • Warm & quick drying
  • Full length zipper
  • Hood, sleeves & hem with spandex for a secure fit
  • Lots of fun colors

Columbia Zipper Fleece

  • 100% Ultra-soft polyester
  • Full zipper closure
  • Collared neck to help keep warmth in
  • 2 zipper side pockets – to hold treasures and keep them from falling out

PRO TIP: Many ski jackets have a removable fleece layer – you can simply remove this and use it instead of buying a new one (especially if you won’t use it often).

Jacket

Roasting s'mores at one of the many firepits around the property at Rushcreek Lodge. Yosemite National Park. California
Roasting s’mores at Rushcreek Lodge post-hike. But still sporting his beanie & Nanopuff Jacket!

My favorite winter jacket for kids (and adults!):

Patagonia Nanopuff jacket

  • Provides warmth without the bulk
  • Windproof, water-resistant & warm!
  • Wear it as an outer layer or an insulating mid-layer when the temperature is extra cold
  • Compressible – folds down easily to fit in a backpack or other small space
  • Comes in a rainbow of colors & a variety of sizes from toddler to adult

Rain jacket or Poncho

Looking down from the top of the waterfall on Waterfall Loop Trail in Mendocino. Russian Gulch State Park. California
Kids’ rain gear for hiking – waterproof hiking boots, water-resistant hiking pants, a warm fleece, an umbrella, and the REI Rainwall Jacket

REI Rainwall Kids Rain Jacket

  • Windproof to 60+ mph
  • Waterproof: seams are sealed to complete the protection
  • Reflective trim on back helps keep them visible in low light
  • Lined collar for added warmth
  • Rolls up compactly for easy storage & minimal space
  • Room to move – not constricting

Waterproof Adult Poncho

  • Folds up small to fit in a pocket or backpack – great to have on hand in case of unexpected rain
  • Lightweight waterproof poncho
  • Large enough to fit over a backpack
  • 40 inches long so fit adults as well as most school-aged kids
  • Comes in a pack of 5+

Waterproof Poncho for Kids

The ponchos in this 5-pack for kids are .

  • 30 inches long and will fit smaller kids
  • Comes in a pack of 5+

Hats

Baseball Hat

Bucket Hat

  • Floppy hat easily fits into backpacks
  • Adjustable drawstring closure – keeps hat from blowing off & away
  • 360-degree rim provides better sun coverage than a baseball hat

Beanie

A good hat can make hiking in the cold or wind a lot more bearable. Beanies keep heads & ears warm at the same time and can easily fit under the hood of a jacket.

Simple Classic Carhardt

  • 100% Acrylic
  • Soft, stretchy & holds its shape
  • Machine washable
  • Comes in a ton of fun colors!

NorthFace Fun patterns & pom-poms

  • 100% Acrylic
  • Machine Washable
  • Fun patterns & pom-poms

More Essential Hiking Gear for Kids

Brimmed hat & sunglasses - essential hiking gear for summer! Standing on a hill above the vast Kenyan bush
Brimmed hat & sunglasses – essential hiking gear for summer!

Water Bottle

If we’re just going for a quick hike, often the kids will just prefer to carry a water bottle. Our favorite water bottle brand is Hydroflask. We’ve accumulated them in a variety of sizes over the years. My kids love the fun colors and I love how durable they are. Ours have weathered multiple falls on hard surfaces, they keep our water cold, they don’t leak, and the color doesn’t peel or chip off even after years of washing (we hand wash ours).

Sunglasses

Goodr sunglasses

  • Polarized
  • UV Protection
  • Durable
  • Well-fitting & don’t slip
  • Lightweight
  • **Reasonably priced** It’s hard to spend a lot on sunglasses when my kids are extremely skilled at losing them!

Sunscreen

We wear sunscreen every day of the year. My mom, dad, brother & sister have all had skin cancer – for me, I feel it’s a matter of when not if I’ll get it too. I haven’t always been great about applying sunscreen, but for the last 15 years I diligently apply it every single day – even when it rains or I don’t plan to leave the house. I’ve tried dozens of brands over the years and Neutrogena sunscreens consistently keep me from burning.

Neutrogena Age Shield Face SPF 110

  • We’re not at the beach everyday, but we are all active and this sunscreen stands up to sweating during sports and hiking.
  • Water resistant for 80 minutes
  • Broad Spectrum UVA/UVB protection
  • Lightweight, oil-free, PABA-free, oxybenzone-free
  • Also comes in a spray which we use to reapply after using the lotion first

Neutrogena sunscreen stick

  • My kids hate putting sunscreen lotion on their faces, but using a stick doesn’t bother them.
  • For face & body
  • Ultra-sheer and dry to the touch
  • Contains zinc-oxide
  • Broad Spectrum UVA/UVB protection
  • Super easy to keep in a backpack for reapplication (won’t melt, get hot, etc)

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit – Not really for the kids, but they are the ones who usually require it! We have this one that is extremely lightweight & compact and easily fits in a Camelbak.

Map

  • Download & print a map from home
  • PIckup a map at the park’s visitor center
  • Use an online app like Alltrails. I think it’s best to pay for the AllTrails Pro version so you can download maps onto your phone in case of a spotty connection.

Portable Charger

We carry an Ankler portable charger just in case. If you use the AllTrails app or another map app that uses GPS, I find it uses a lot of my phone’s battery. I want to make sure I don’t run out of charge in case of an emergency. Also, a good reason to have a paper map as a backup just in case.

Compass

If you spend any time outdoors, you should have a compass and know how to use it!

  • Handheld, portable, and lightweight
  • Included magnifying glass and ruler for scale to help read maps
  • Magnetic needle and directional arrow, orienting lines compass, and lanyard

Pocket Knife

A pocket knife may not be appropriate for all kids. I think this is a great tool for kids to learn how to use with parental supervision. All hikers should carry one – you never know when it could come in handy.

Victorinox Hiker Pocket Knife

Fun and Educational Stuff for Hiking

Camera

Digital Kid’s Camera

You can just give them your phone OR get them their own digital camera so they can see their pictures instantly!

Binoculars

Kids are so observant! Give them a pair of binoculars and let them look all around to see what they can find. Our kids love searching the trees for birds and scanning the sky and water.

Splurge – Carson RD Series Binoculars

We splurged on these when we went to Costa Rica and have since used them on trips to Panama & Kenya where animal sightings were a big part of the trip.

Kid Binoculars – Great starter pair

  • Real binoculars magnify images up to 8X
  • Soft & durable – textured rubber on the outside to help with gripping as well as protect the binoculars from bumps & drops
  • Adjustable neck strap so kids can wear them when not in use and protect against falls & misplacing

Sketch Pad & Pencils

  • If they aren’t ready for their own camera yet – or just prefer to draw – let them sketch what they see when you stop for a break or on the way home.

Scavenger Hunt

A great way to keep kids engaged on a hike is to give them a list of things to find and have a scavenger hunt! Come up with your own list or laminate a printable one with pictures like these and use it over & over again.

Summary

Hopefully, this kids’ hiking gear review helps you to better understand what gear you may already have on hand to repurpose and the best hiking gear for kids we think is worth purchasing. The bottom line is: just get kids outside enjoying the trails – and if they’re comfortable they’ll last longer with fewer complaints!

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