It took me a couple of times hiking with the kids to figure out what I needed to put in my backpack, but this a comprehensive list of what I take & have collected over the last year. All of this will either fit in my carrier pockets with my youngest or I put them in an old bag I bought a long time ago. You don’t need anything fancy or the latest item from the outdoor store. Just pull basic things you already have in your house for a successful day hiking trip!
- I always make sure that we have enough water & if I can I will stop at the store on my way out of town to grab some sports drinks. The kids love those & it helps them to get excited about the hike since they aren’t allowed to drink them at home. I typically have about 64-128 oz of water on me if all 4 of us are going. I have Nalgene bottles with tops that will let me attach them to the bars of my carrier. I’d rather have too much than too little & I don’t notice the extra weight. If it’s only myself & my youngest, I take 64 oz & we usually only drink 32 on the trail & drink the other 32 in the car once we’re done. It all depends on mileage & how long you plan on being out there. We don’t hike more than 2-10 miles right now if that helps for reference.
- I am about to add a bladder & that will carry my water instead of the bottles. I have 2 sitting in the garage but haven’t busted them out, the water bottles have served their purpose. But we have some trips planned for the summer where the bladders will come in much handier!
- I talked about snacks in an earlier post, Day Hiking with Kids. I will reiterate some of my points here. I always make sure that I have food that I can bribe the kids with on the trail so that when they start telling me they are ready to stop I can remind them we have fun food coming their way. It works 99% of the time! My kids rarely get candy or fruit snacks, but if it means the hiking experience will be a success & be fun then they can have it. I don’t ever let them eat any of the fun food until we are there & on the trail. Sometimes, I make them wait to the stopping point. It really depends on what kind of mood they’re in that day.
- First Aid Kit.
- I did some research on what to put in a day pack first aid kit. Some of those lists are very extensive, but since I’m hiking in well trafficked areas & not in the back country of a major national park, I chose the highlights. I have hydrogen peroxide, Neosporin, Benadryl (children & adult), Ibuprofen (children & adult), hydrocortisone cream, Band-aids, gauze pads, small scissors, tweezers, & a syringe to administer liquid meds. Fortunately, I haven’t had to use anything but the tweezers for a splinter. But, I always rest easy knowing it’s there if I need it. I’m also collecting extra things as I go, I’m considering a pain relieving spray of some sort. The key for me is keeping everything small so it can fit in my bag.
- I personally do not like to visit parks without cell service when I’m out alone with the kids. The only park we’ve visited with no service is Devil’s Den & if I go there alone with the kids then I make sure it’s on a day when it’s going to be heavily trafficked so I’m not stranded out there without a way to call for help if one of us is seriously injured. I know as we continue to explore on new adventures, this may not always work. But for now, this is the guideline I stick to during the weekdays when I’m in the woods all alone with a 3 year old & there aren’t other people out there.
- The only camera I currently take with me on hiking trips is my iPhone 10. Between the portrait mode & some decent editing software, it produces some amazing photos.
- Sharing Feature Turned On.
- I’m going to make this it’s own list item even though it’s on my iPhone. I choose 2 people who I know will be in the area, I text them to let them know where I am going, when I get on the trail & when I plan on being off the trail. And then I set up “share my location” with that person INDEFINITELY. Once I’m off the trail, I turn off the sharing feature. This is really important to me, I will not disappear into the woods without letting people know where I am going & when I plan on being done. If you have a smartphone, I can’t recommend this enough (this recommendation came to me from my sister who is in law enforcement & a backpacker.)
- Extra change of clothes & socks for kids.
- I don’t always grab an extra change of clothes for all the kids, but I definitely do for my youngest since he rides in the carrier & I can only imagine how uncomfortable it is to wear wet clothes while being stuck in one position. Most of the hikes we go on have some sort of water option, so in warmer weather all 3 kids have been known to get soaked. Dry socks always feel better, even in wet shoes. I will usually let the older 2 walk in wet clothes, it keeps them cool & dries fast in the heat of the summer.
- Binoculars, magnifying glass, & a treasure jar and/or brown paper sack.
- The kids always have fun with these. We like to look at birds & across the lake with the binoculars, check out bugs on the trail with the magnifying glass, & collect cool leaves & flowers to put in a treasure jar or bag. Hiking is exercise but it’s also a fantastic learning experience about the natural world. These are the things the kids enjoy the most!
- Tree guide book.
- I do have an app for checking out plants called PlantNet but the kids get a big kick out of carrying our tree guide book with us & saving the leaves or flowers inside a page in the book. It’s always fun to get home & spend time together looking up what we found. I bought the book, Trees of Arkansas, by Dwight Moore from the visitor center at Hobbs State Park. I would bet most Arkansas State Park visitor centers would carry the book if you’re interested in purchasing it.
- Individual Backpacks for the Kids.
- My older 2 (ages 9 & almost 7) are big enough to carry their own bags (we use old school backpacks) so I don’t have to be a pack mule. They enjoy being responsible for their own water, socks & treasure bags now. I make sure their bags aren’t heavy & I also make sure I remind them that whatever they bring with them on the trail they must be able to carry it themselves (IE, don’t pack up your favorite dolls or toys cause it will be too heavy!) I will end up carrying it all if they don’t keep their bag items simple, I stand my ground on this issue.
- Bug spray, whistle, lip balm, suncreen.
- I only keep a can of off in the warm months, I promise you don’t want ticks, chiggers or mosquito bites as your parting gift with the trail. I always keep some lip balm. Sunscreen is predominantly used in summer months, but that sun can get you even in the winter. I make sure it’s applied to the face before we head out.
- The whistle is a safety thing & I toss them in the bag in case we ever need it. I have explained to the kids that we never blow the whistle on the trail unless there is an emergency!
- If I know I’m going to end up on a trail with a spot where we will sit for a while at the play spot, then I grab my latest book. There is nothing better than sitting in the peace & quiet, watching your kids skip rocks while reading a fantastic book.
- Ziploc Bag for Trash.
- Whatever you take in, must come out. We practice Leave No Trace rules while we are out on the trails.
I don’t always end up with all 12 items, for example, sometimes the sunscreen & bug spray are used at the trail head & then tossed back in the car. You want to make sure your bag isn’t too burdensome or you’ll be focused on that the entire time instead of enjoying the hike. I can not adequately express how much hiking is beneficial to the human spirit & how life changing it is. I live for it!
Read my article on Day Hiking with Kids for more tips on how I get out there with 3 kids if you’re looking for more information.
Items to be added to the day pack, especially as we start adventuring out in to more remote areas across the US:
What do you keep in your hiking bag??? I’d love to hear some of your items & see if I need to add something to my list.
*None of the links are affiliate links except the lip balm & sunscreen I use frequently from my personal Rodan + Fields store. Just pick up something from your local store.
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