Tips and Tricks for Hiking With Kids At Any Age

© 2017 Melanie Centeno

With winter break for school-aged children quickly approaching, those of you with kids might be racking your brain about what you can do as a family in the coming weeks.

Why not take them outside for a hike?!

Whether you’ve got a newborn, toddler, preschooler, grade-schooler, tween, teenager, or a niece, nephew, or grandkid, it’s never too early or too late to introduce the outdoors to your little loved ones! Hiking with kids might take a little more preparation than just venturing out with friends but watching a kid experience snow, skip rocks, or spot a deer for the first time will be well worth it! We’ve already done the research for you so keep reading to find out tips and tricks for adventuring in the great outdoors with kids.

© 2017 Melanie Centeno

Newborn – Toddler (0-3 years)

It’s never too early to hit the trail as a family! If you’re heading out on a hike with a baby, you’ll need to invest in a good carrier that gives adequate support. When they’re small you’ll carry them in the front and then eventually you can transition to a backpack. Once you’ve got the main piece of gear, there are just a few more things to keep in mind. Here are some tips for taking baby steps into the wilderness with your little one.

  • Keep Them Warm – Babies don’t regulate heat very well and they won’t generate heat sitting in a carrier so make sure to dress your baby in warm clothing and block any drafts that might make them chilly. Be sure to cover them from the sun too.
  • Pack it Up – Bring lots of trash bags or Ziploc bags to seal up dirty diapers since you’ll need to pack them out. Bring extra diapers; you never know when a blowout might happen!
  • Time it Right – Hiking/walking often puts babies to sleep so time the hike right so that you begin around nap time.
  • Take it Slow – If you’ve got a walker on your hands, plan to cover a lot less ground in a shorter amount of time than what you’re used to. Hikes are for exploring; there’s so much to see and experience so embrace the slow pace.
© 2017 Paloma Korich

Preschooler – Grade-Schooler (4-7 years)

At this age, your kids will be old enough to remember the experiences you have together. This is the prime time for getting them hooked on hiking and camping! I definitely remember hiking with my parents at this age. My memory for the specifics of the scenery may be fuzzy but I remember laughing on the trail, learning about animal tracks, and sitting by the fire! Here are some tips on how to ignite their love for adventure.

  • Give Them Gear – A little backpack with something small inside will add to the sense of adventure.
  • Tell Stories – Whether you’re sitting around the campfire or just out on a hike, try to have some stories up your sleeve. Everyone loves a good campfire story!
  • Engage Them – Let them help hunt for sticks for the s’mores or involve them in the planning and prepping for the trip.
  • Keep an Eye Out – Educate yourself on what poison oak and ivy look like so that you can make sure your kids stay clear of it. The same goes for the hiking pace; make sure they don’t wander ahead or fall back.
© 2017 Melanie Centeno

Tween + (8+ years)

If you start hiking as a family early on, by the time they get to this age, they’ll most likely be nature ambassadors and fans of the outdoors. They’ll also be able to hike for longer distances which means you can spend more time exploring.

  • Invest in Gear – At this age they’ll be hiking longer distances and can start wearing hiking boots, using a bladder for water, and carrying a small pack with hip straps.
  • Invite a Friend – If you feel like you can add one more to the adventure, tell them they can bring a friend along. They’ll occupy each other and most likely keep each other excited.
  • Teach Them – Rather than pitching the tent while they’re out playing, ask them to help you. The same goes for packing for a hike or a camping trip. Show them the essentials and maybe next time they can take the lead on a task.
  • Prioritize Safety – At this age, they’ll want to run ahead or stay behind to look at something. Be sure to set clear expectations and rules so that they understand what they can and cannot do on the trail. Tell them to stop and stay where they are if they get lost. Make sure everyone in the family carries a whistle, it’s a good thing to have if someone gets separated from the group.


  • – They’ve published a review of gear that will help you get outside with your kids. Whether you’re looking to learn more about baby carriers, jogging strollers, starter bikes or snowboards, you’ll find it all (and more)!
  • Check out REI’s expert advice on How to Choose Child Carriers!
  • Strollers, backpacking carriers, and camping/hiking gear can get pricey so check out your nearest consignment shop, an REI used gear sale, or Gear Trade which is a website that allows people to buy and sell used gear.


  • National Park Service Junior Ranger Program – Many national parks have a Junior Ranger Program which gives kids an opportunity to complete activities throughout the park and then after sharing their answers with a park ranger, they earn an official Junior Ranger patch and certificate.
  • Every Kid in A Park – Do you have a 4th grader? If so, it’s your lucky year! After a few simple steps your child (and the rest of your family) will have access to hundreds of national parks, lands, and waters free for a year!
  • Hike it Baby – If you’re looking for a community of families with young kids who enjoy hiking, start your search here! Hike it Baby connects members to communities across the United States!
  • Tinkergarten – Kids as young as 18 months and as old as 8 years can enroll in Tinkergarten classes and activities that engage children with nature in a play-based curriculum that teaches important life skills. The Tinkergarten network spans 45 states and connects families with trained instructors.

Seize the day this winter break and have fun raising the next generation of adventurers! Already have a trip planned or regularly spend time outdoors with your kids? Comment below and share your own tips and tricks with the Shoestring Adventures community!

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