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An Expert’s Checklist for Hiking with Kids

By Patricia Ellis Herr


The author of the recently released book Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure shares what to pack for a safe and healthy day-hike adventure with tiny trailblazers.

My friends joke that I carry a portable helicopter in my backpack. I bring a lot of stuff, and I consider all of it necessary since I take one or two young kids deep into the wilderness—an adventure I detailed in my book, Up. While not every hiker needs the full onslaught of gear I bring, every hiker does need to have first aid and emergency items, whether they are travelling alone or with their kids.

If one does have an accident in the wilderness, then it’s vital to keep warm until help can arrive; search and rescue missions can take over 24 hours. In addition to my Pocket Medic kit, I carry a Lafuma Thermolite sleeping bag, a Black Diamond bivouac sack, a Therm-A-Rest sleeping pad, Grabber hand and body warmers, an Adventure Medical Kits emergency bivy, a hiker towel, waterproof matches, and a tarp. The girls each carry an emergency bivy and several Grabber body warmers. In the event of an accident, my kids would share the sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and bivouac sack and I’d make do with the emergency bivies and tarp. I carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) so I can alert the authorities to our exact location, but the less frequent hiker might prefer to carry a cell phone instead of a PLB. Other just-in-case items include a pocketknife, duct tape, rope, and plastic emergency whistles. Teach your child to stand still and blow her whistle if she becomes separated from you; this simple act might prevent your child from becoming lost.

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Even if one plans on getting home before dark, it’s best to bring a headlamp or flashlight. The girls and I have used durable, water-resistant Black Diamond headlamps for over three years.

Other necessary items include OraLabs SPF 60 sunscreen stick (easy to put on, water resistant, and doesn’t sting the eyes), White Mountain insect repellent (DEET-free and safe for kids), hair ties for the girls, walking sticks, and, of course, a trail map and compass.

A hungry and dehydrated child won’t hike very far, so it’s important to bring food you know they enjoy. Alex and Sage carry their own Goldfish crackers, Luna Bars, Larabars, and candy. I carry mixed nuts, pepperoni, crackers, trail mix, cheese, and Hershey’s Bars. All three of us carry Nalgene bottles of water and Powerade. When the girls start to feel tired, a quick snack usually does the trick.

What you wear on your hike is nearly as important as what you carry with you. We dress in synthetic base layers and bring insulating fleece and water- and wind-proof jackets and pants. The kids wear Merrell waterproof hiking boots and I use Asolo hiking boots.

It’s important to carry the right gear and to make sure you’re prepared, but don’t forget to have fun! Let your child help choose the trails and destination, and remember to go at her pace and respect her interests. Enjoy the journey and your child’s company, and the hike will be a success.

Author of Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure, Patricia Ellis Herr holds a master’s degree in biological anthropology from Harvard University and homeschools her two daughters. She lives in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Photo Credit: Family hiking via Shutterstock

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