It doesn't matter how beautiful the scenery is, without the right gear, a hike with kids can be a harrowing experience. The most important things to consider when selecting hiking gear for kids are comfort and safety. Don’t assume that your kids will be willing to “tough it out” once they get on the trail. Gear them up with the right stuff so that you at least have a chance at having a great time.
Footwear: As a parent, I find it painful to slap down a significant amount of money on kids’ shoes. Kids’ feet grow like weeds, so it can be hard to find that happy balance of comfort, need and budget. If your kids don’t hike very often, they will probably do just fine in a pair of sturdy sneakers. But if they will be hiking a lot, or if they will be embarking on a substantial hike, it is worth it to invest in a pair of hiking boots. Keep in mind that it won’t matter how great their tent is or how many pockets their backpack has -- if their feet hurt, the hike is over.
Packs: From the age of about 2 or 3 on, kids will more than likely want to carry their own backpacks. Any small day pack will work for this age, just be sure to keep it light and be prepared to carry that pack for the better part of the day. Little ones can carry their own snacks, a sweater and possibly even their own water bottle. As kids get older, they can progress to larger packs that are designed to carry more gear. It’s still a good idea to keep a kid’s pack light to avoid injury.
Snacks: Hungry kids are cranky kids and that makes for a bad day for everyone on the trail. So make sure you pack plenty of nutritious and energy-boosting snacks to keep your kids hiking throughout the day. Steer clear of anything sugar-coated and opt for snacks like nuts, raisins, apples, crackers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cereal, dried fruit, or granola bars.
Other stuff: Here are a few items that you'll want to have along for the hike: Reusable water bottle, sunscreen, bug lotion, binoculars, trail map or guide book, digital camera, extra clothes, flashlight, first aid kit, cell phone and sketch book.
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