January 06, 2024 3 min read

1. Set realistic expectations

If there is one lesson I have learned as a parent in an active, outdoors-loving family, over any other, it is to set realistic expectations.  It’s the 1-mile hikes that prepare us for the 2-mile hikes that then prepare us for the 5-mile days on the trail. After all, it’s about the smiles, not the miles, right?

There have been more than a few occasions where carrying our little ones turned into the best option (or last ditch effort to keep the smiles going)...and that’s ok, too!Hiking with kids

Once you figure out what your little ones (and you) can handle, you can then train together to reach bigger and longer hikes! We expose our kids to diverse trails (rocky, groomed, muddy, etc.) and by increasing the distance each time we explore a new (or familiar) hiking tail, we learn just how much we can all handle. 

2. Timing is everything 

Timing is everything when hiking with kids

We’ve all been there before: You got a late start, the kids fell asleep in the car, lunches are somehow insufficient and the kids are still hungry, and now you’re in the middle of the weather you planned to miss by leaving early. It happens to the best of us! We have increased the success of any trail day by knowing our kids’ nap schedules (or keeping them engaged on the drive) and getting an early or on-time departure. 

Yes, it’s been a game of trial and error some days, but other days have come together in some magical ways. This time of year, try the following:

  • Pack everything and load bags, gear, etc. into the vehicle the night before a hike
  • Make a quick, but hearty breakfast (our kids love egg sandwiches or oatmeal with yogurt)
  • Plan for car games to keep kiddos engaged/deter naps (our kids love books, coloring, and toys. Unplugged mama tip: Etch-A-Sketch works every time!)  
  • Make extra snacks and drinks easily available - Our kids seem to always be hungry! By keeping snacks within an arms reach, we’re able to provide a healthy snack at a moments notice (especially on longer drives).
3. Pack like their bellies depend on it
Pack the snacks when hiking with kids

Food fuels us. I know it fuels my adventures (solo or otherwise) and I have learned that it definitely fuels my kiddos. Pack healthy energy-packed foods like apples, oranges, and trail mix, as well as some fun “trail snacks”. We tend to bring organic fruit gummies  just in case our kids start fading before reaching the trailhead. These give their morale a boost and us a break from hearing “are we there yet!?”. 

4. Dress for success

Our kids have experienced everything from dry, high-elevation hikes to humid, lowland adventures. We’ve learned a thing or two about apparel and gear and what works best for us. While it takes practice an experience to dial in a “kit”, I’m here to tell you that it IS possible. Will your kids outgrow the clothing as soon as you figure it all out? Yes, yes they will. But, at least you’re learning the best combinations of layers and footwear to keep them happy and comfortable on the trail. 

What to wear when winter hiking with kids

On winter hikes, we bring ALL the layers, wool socks and waterproof hiking boots. We also bring high-visibility clothing! Blaze orange is the color of the season. It keeps you warm and it keeps you seen by others (especially hunters). In the end, noses will run, gloves will be swapped out (either from sweat or wet from snow), and good times will be had!

5. Extra isn’t a bad thing

From extra snacks to extra gloves, we always pack a secondary set/bag/pair/etc. of just about everything. While your child might have their favorite pair of gloves on while leaving the house, somehow the glove monster living in the backseat stole one and it is nowhere to be found. Cue the spare gear duffle! We’ve responded to bathroom accidents (spare pants!), chilled bones (extra jacket!) and “I”m still hungry” (more snacks!) more than once.

Pack some extras for winter hikes with kids

Your hikes don’t necessarily have to include a backpack full of extra everything. But on winter hikes, I always bring extra gloves, a few layers, and snacks (surprise!) for each of my kiddos in my pack and leave all the other extras in the vehicle (just in case). It has saved us more than a time or two.


Blog and Photos by Ryan Michelle Scavo, Outdoorswoman & Adventure Mama. Instagram: @Ryoutside

copyright Purple Lizard Maps 2022