Planning a day out with your favorite young nature explorer but unsure what to pack? If patience could be bottled, you should definitely bring a whole gallon for any hike with preschoolers. However for practical reasons, this list of 11 items are the essentials that can make a hike an adventure to look forward to and one to repeat next week with gusto—rain or shine.
Whatever the outcome of the hike, whether or not you make it to the point you had in mind, always keep a positive attitude. Yes, getting kids outside takes planning and time, but exposing them to their natural environment from very early on is the best gift you could give them as a parent. Raising a well-balanced child who's comfortable both inside and outside is a winning combo for the digital generation.
The Basic 11 Hiking Items
1. Change of clothes, underwear, and socks. You never know when a puddle might show up on the trail but you do know that kids can't resist a good puddle. All clear?
2. Water. Keeping hydrated on the trail is the key to maintaining stamina. Pack a water bottle for every hiker—small bottles for small hikers, bigger ones for the adults.
3. Snacks. Pack several different kinds, preferably in bite-size portions so they're easy to whip out of the pack and feed to little fingers. GORP and small cereals like Cheerios or Fruit Loops do wonders for preschoolers.
4. Cloth, paper towels or wipes. For those who can't resist getting grimy right before hopping in the car.
5. Extra layer. Always have an extra layer to add to the day's outfit. Whether a fleece jacket, a wind breaker or a rainproof coat, it'll be most welcome when the Bay Area's notoriously unpredictable weather turns around.
6. Sun and bug protection. Mosquitoes by the river? Carry a small stick for bug bites such as the Burt's Bees Bug Bite Relief and soothe the itching immediately. As for the sun, sunglasses and sun hat will help protect little ones on hikes, particularly if you're hiking on exposed trails with little tree protection.
7. Plastic bag. For when little ones get soiled and wet, and you need to change them before driving home.
8. Pocket knife. Need to cut an apple? Remove a thorn with tweezers? Screw sunglasses tight? Cut some string? A Swiss Army-type pocket knife is both a versatile and compact tool, great for urban and wilder expeditions.
9. Light source. A flashlight or headlamp (those now come in kid-size with bright colors) can prove useful when exploring hollow trees or secret caves.
10. Basic first aid kit. Antibacterial soap or disinfecting wipes, Band-Aids and pain relief make a minimum first aid kit for trail boo-boos but feel free to add your usual must-haves.
11. Bug box or empty clear plastic container. A cool bug on the trail or a tadpole in a stream can quickly become the highlight of a hike if you can watch them at will before returning them to their home. Trailmix's page of bug-catching devices could turn any hard-core urban kid into a green Indiana Jones.
Now, when your pint-sized hiker is big enough to carry his own backpack, don't delay and get one. Children love carrying a snack in a backpack, if only because they get to decide when to eat it. Happy trails!
Laure Latham is the author of The Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area. Laure grew up in New Caledonia, a remote island in the South Pacific between Australia and Tahiti. Along with her spirited brothers, she spent her childhood years playing in bushes, building forts, climbing trees, fixing kites, and snorkeling around coral reefs. Then one day she really had to grow up. After a stint as a tax attorney in France, she now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she writes about the outdoors and travels with her two young daughters and husband. A complete chocoholic and tea-addict, she needs her daily fix to breeze through the day, luxuries she always packs along in her backpack for her hikes.
You can read more about her on her blog Frog Mom. Originally published in 2011.
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