One of the best ways to bond with your kids while enjoying nature is by taking a hike. But as any parent knows, adventuring with your kids isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. 😅

And, one of the biggest challenges is figuring out how to keep your kids happy on a hike. Keeping kids happy and entertained can be difficult when we’re on the go or out in nature. But, over the years, we’ve found several things that help us make our time as stress-free as possible. Here are 10 strategies we use to keep kids happy on a hike!

boy wearing keen hiking shoes, bright green rain jacket and grey beanie and walking across a log in the middle of the woods

Wear Comfortable Footwear

Wearing comfortable footwear is an excellent start to keeping your kids happy on the trail. It’s well wroth it to invest in a solid pair of kids’ hiking shoes. We’ve always had great luck with Keen hiking shoes like these. They are comfortable, waterproof, and have good traction.

I also like to bring an extra pair of socks for the kids. If they end up getting them wet by “accidentally” stepping in a creek or river, it’s a good idea to have an extra pair to keep their feet warm and dry. Wool socks like these from Smartwool are always a good choice since wool will naturally wick moisture away from the skin and will keep your feet warmer when wet than cotton.

Bring Extra Snacks and Water

Nothing is worse than a hungry, thirsty kid on the trail. Always bring some high-energy snacks like granola bars, nut butter, or jerky to keep epic meltdowns at bay.

And of course, don’t forget plenty of water! Dehydration can happen quickly – especially when exerting on a hot day. We like using Camelbaks most of the time, but on short hikes, a water bottle like Hydroflask works excellent too.

boy wearing blue rain jacket and tan hiking pants in among the trees and holding a bag of wilde chips in front of him with an excited look on his face

Pack a First-Aid Kit

The last thing you want is for your child to get hurt and not have anything on hand. We always take a first aid kit with us. You can purchase one that’s already put together for you like this or build your own.

Whether you purchase a kit or build your own, you’ll want to have some over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and Benadryl so that you can take care of any discomfort on the trail.

Make sure to also include a few bandaids and some antibiotic ointment. You never know when you might need one – plus, we all know that sometimes even when it’s not really “needed,” a bandaid can make kiddos feel better anyway. 😉

A few other small items to include in your kit are gauze and tape, antiseptic wipes, and tweezers. If you want a more extensive list of what to include in your first aid kit, check out this post about what to bring on a hike.

Dress Appropriately

When hiking, it’s important to choose clothing that is appropriate for the environment. It’s best to go with layers so that you can adjust your clothing as needed and be prepared in case of changing weather conditions, which is very common on hikes!

In warmer months, wear breathable fabrics like lightweight wool or technical poly blends. Pack a hat and sunglasses for sun protection and a warmer mid-layer and a wind and waterproof layer like a rain jacket.

Consider layering with a base layer made from something like a wool or poly blend (you’ll want to avoid cotton) and then adding layers on top in cooler months. Fleece and down are excellent options to stay warm. You’ll also want a windproof and waterproof layer to keep the cold and wet out.

In any season, you’ll need comfortable socks that will provide plenty of insulation on their own or in combination with your footwear for added warmth. They should also be breathable – wool or poly blends are great for this! Consider bringing an extra pair of dry socks to wear if your feet get wet.

Give Them Something to Do

When we go hiking, we often like to bring a field guide to give the kids something to keep them occupied. Some of our favorites are the pocket guides, as they are lightweight to carry. There are various options available for field guides – you can find options for plants, flowers, birds, animal tracks, or even poop!

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Let Them Carry Their Own Gear

Our kids love to carry their own backpacks and started from a young age. Of course, at first, they only had a snack and a stuffed animal in them. 😝 But now, they are carrying most of the 10 Essentials on their own.

Kids love feeling like they’re a part of the process, and giving them their own gear and set of essentials is a great way to do that. Our kids love these backpacks from REI now. But when we first started, they just used whatever packs we already had at home.

two boys hiking in the woods wearing brightly colored green and blue rain jackets while carrying rei backpacks on their backs

Have Them Practice Navigation Skills

Another way to keep kids happy on a hike is to give them a job – and letting them practice navigation skills is the perfect task. With a compass and a paper map, they can learn how to read the map, orient themselves, and find their way.

Sun and Bug Protection

It’s no fun when your kids are sunburned or covered in bug bites, so keeping them protected is key. It’s a good idea to apply sunscreen before even hitting the trail. This way, you’ll protect their skin from harmful UVA/UVB rays. A hat and sunglasses are also a great way to protect yourself from the sun, as well.

In the Pacific Northwest, bugs are typically worst in the summer months, so having bug spray on hand is essential. You can consider using a natural bug spray with less toxic chemicals like citronella oil and peppermint extract instead of DEET-based products, depending on the severity of mosquitos and other bugs. When DEET is necessary, we make every effort to spray clothing instead of skin, especially for younger kids.

We always keep a travel-size bug spray and sunscreen in our first aid kit in our vehicle. That way, if we happen to leave it at home, we always have a backup!

boy sitting down and taking a break on steep rocky trail
Sometimes you just need to take a little break.

Take Your Time

When it comes to hiking with kids, a significant factor in how your day goes is your expectations. If you plan to hike at the same pace as your pre-kid days, you’ll likely be in for a surprise. 😅

The reality is that kids hike much slower than adults and have a lot more need for breaks. For us, that’s just part of the deal of hiking as a family!

But, the beauty of it is that the more often they go, the faster you can increase the distance, pace, and elevation. Make changes gradually, and you’ll be surprised at how much they improve over time. For instance, take a longer but more leisurely hike one day. The next time you hike, take a short but more strenuous hike. Then, pick a moderate length and intensity hike. If you slowly make changes, they’ll eventually be able to tackle more and more intense hikes.

Kids are also fascinated with everything they find on the trail. They’ll want to stop and pick up every leaf, examine every anthill, or carry every rock they find on hikes. It’s somuch fun to see them excited about the natural world around them – but it can definitely slow things down.

Ultimately, you’ll want to take frequent breaks to enjoy the scenery and stretch your legs as you go along the trail together. Don’t push yourself too hard, especially if this is your first hike together – it’s more important to have fun than to go the fastest or farthest!

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Make Hiking Fun!

One of the things we love to do to keep everyone happy on the trail is making it fun. We love to use entertainment that doesn’t require any additional gear – things like playing a game of I Spy, singing songs, or having pun wars. 🤪

Another thing that our kids love is taking turns to be the leader. We’ll let them each take a turn, and they love it! Plus, it’s an excellent way for them to learn how to pay attention and learn the skills of a good leader by choosing a pace that works for everyone and making sure they don’t leave anyone behind.

What are your favorite ways that you keep kids happy while hiking? Let us know in the comments below! 😊

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