Hiking with Kids: Five Things in Our “Essentials Bag”

By | November 18, 2011

Over the next nine months, I am researching and writing my first hiking guide. To produce accurate maps for the publisher, I will need to walk every inch of my chosen trails and record the route with my Garmin. That’s 40 plus trails that range in length from a couple miles to over 36 miles long. It seems I have a lot of walking to do.

I am trying to get as much in now as I can before the weather shifts. Of course, I am happy to keep on hiking until the trails are impassable with snow, but the cold makes hiking with kids difficult. And I am planning on taking the kids with me as much as possible.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of our essential hiking gear (a term I use rather loosely here). Of course, a lot depends on the ages of your kids. If you have a toddler or pre-toddler, you will need a child carrier of some kind. We’ve talked about this before: Taking Babies Outdoors and the Kelty Child Carrier Review. You will also need to make the decision about diapers, bottles, tissue, etc.

Aside from these essentials and temperature-appropriate outerwear, what else do we bring on the trail?

#1 – A handy blade
I think 9-11 set us back a bit about the acceptability of carrying a knife. There was a time when every man had a pocketknife handy, in his pocket with his handkerchief I suspect. As a kid I carried one myself. But several years back I brought a miniature key chain box cutter to work, and my colleagues expressed shock.The blade was less than a half inch long! (Experts estimate that there are close to 283 million guns in the hands of civilians in the United States. That’s nearly one gun for every man, woman, and child. I think pocket knives are one the last thing we Americans need to worry about.)

I say all of this to highlight the fact that hiking and camping (and hunting, of course) are the last remaining activities where a knife is not only handy and acceptable. So when I go hiking, I always bring along my old Leatherman. When we go paddling, I bring a sheath knife—considered an essential safety tool for paddlers (when you’re tangled in a rope underwater, you absolutely must have a knife, and you don’t want to fiddle with opening up the right blade!). So far there hasn’t been much call to use the Leatherman. I’ve used the smaller blade to cut out a sliver, and we’ve used the pliers or screwdrivers to fix gear. But mostly it stays in my pocket or on my belt, depending on my level of geekiness on a given day.

#2 – A plastic grocery bag or two
Last year I was reading a book on environmentalism, and the author was pointing out that there really is no place left on earth not impacted by human society. A writer who explorers some of the remotest places on the planet reported finding litter. In these places, it might have floated in on the wind or was left by swollen rivers carrying trash downstream. On the trails we hike, it’s most often left by inconsiderate hikers and others messing around in the woods. So we carry a plastic bag to pick up the odd trash as we go. It’s also helpful for packing out dirty diapers and the leavings of our dog.

#3 – Binoculars
What kid doesn’t like binoculars? They are up there with periscopes and walkie-talkies. Part of the fun of hiking with kids is to get them to pay attention to nature. Sometimes it’s no easy task—they are either having too much or not enough fun and all they see is the path six feet ahead of them. Binoculars make looking purposeful. We have found eagles’ nests, watched loons dive, and just scoped of the woods.

#4 – Camera
Earlier this week I talked about taking great outdoor photos. One thing I didn’t mention in that post was the importance of always keeping your camera handy. You never know when the perfect opportunity will present itself. I carry the camera to get pictures of my kids, to try and capture dramatic landscapes, and to record different plants and trees so I can try and identify them when I get home. Of course, I could just make this a list of eight and add my copies of National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees (Eastern Region), North American Wildflowers (Eastern Region), and North American Birds (Eastern Region).

#5 – Moleskin notebook and pen(s)
This one serves a couple purposes. First and foremost hiking often leads me to contemplation. Even with one kid giggling on my back and the other streaking away up the next hill, the sounds of leaves underfoot and the soft quiet of the woods frees my mind somewhat. Every now and then I think of something that I want to remember, so it’s nice having a way to jot down my thoughts. The other reason it’s nice having a notebook is that, in a pinchm it can be used to entertain the kids. Grace is old enough to find tic-tac-toe endlessly challenging, and Tater loves to scribble. Caught in a sudden rain and need to huddle under a shelter for a little before heading back to the car? A notebook will help fill the void.

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