January 20, 2018

What to Pack while Hiking with Children

Baby at Iceberg Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana, Montana Vacation Blog

Hiking with small children may sound like an unbearable task – one filled with tears (both yours and theirs), frustration, and lack of supplies.

I am here to tell you that it is doable.  Our one-year-old hiked up to ten miles round-trip with us in Glacier National Park.  You just have to come prepared.

I will confess that we tend to overpack, as we like to be prepared in case of an emergency, especially with small children.  The following is a list of items I always take with our children:

1.  A Backpack for carrying your child.

For children under a certain weight, you will want to put them in a backpack and carry them on your back.  What weight the backpack can hold depends on what backpack brand you choose, as each backpack varies as to what weight it can hold a child safely.

We love the Deuter Kid Comfort III, and you can read all about that by clicking here.  Choosing the right backpack is critical to being prepared and helping your child enjoy their time.

For children too large to carry in a backpack, most can do a short day hike easily, and without much complaining.  You may need to help them at the very end, but lots of breaks, and lots of talking about the world around you should help keep them entertained.

2.  Formula / Food for your child.

We hiked with our first child before she was off of formula.  So we had to pack formula.  She was on a sippy cup by six months, so we packed sippy cups and liquid formula.  There is the option of course of carrying bottles and powdered formula, but I always found it easier to throw in a few liquid bottles rather than having to measure powdered formula in the woods.  

There are really handy products available now, including disposable bottle liners to use on the go.  I can’t say how well these work, because I never used them.  But they seem like they would be a great option for not having to carry several bottles while hiking. 

Be sure to pack enough food (or formula) for two days.  You never know when something may go wrong, and just in case you end up having to spend the night in the woods, be sure to have enough food to feed your child.

Bring plenty of snacks.  Snacks, snacks, and more snacks!! 

3.  Food for yourself.

We always pack a lunch for ourselves, as well as our child.

Items I like to bring: sandwiches (lunch meat or peanut butter and jelly), yogurt, string cheese, trail mix, Clif bars, goldfish, etc.

A few Mountain House meal packages would be a good option in case you get stuck somewhere overnight, but we only carry these as an emergency.  They are lightweight and a great option, but we don’t eat them as an everyday meal on our day hikes with children.

4.  A small cooler for keeping your food cold.

There are a variety of small coolers available that are insulated to keep your food cool.  We bought ours at a local sporting goods store in Montana.  I prefer the cooler to have soft sides, so that it can easily fit into your backpack and is flexible for carrying, without taking up too much space.

5.  WATER.

Water is by far the most important thing you can take with you while hiking.  Be sure to carry enough for all members of your hiking group (including children) for a couple of days.  Staying hydrated is key to survival.

The unfortunate thing about water is how heavy it is to carry, but I haven’t figured out a way around this yet!  (Watch what container you carry the water in – a hydration pack is the best option, plus a few light bottles.  Don’t carry water in glass containers – it will be too heavy!)

Neill family hiking in Glacier National Park to Red Rock Falls, Montana, Montana Vacation Blog

Hiking to Red Rock Falls, Glacier National Park

6.  A blanket (tarp).

We like to have a place to sit when we take a break to eat.  We pack a waterproof blanket mat that is very lightweight to lay out when we get to our destination.  These can even be strapped to the outside of your backpack, taking up very little room.  Ours does not offer much padding, but mostly we just want a place to sit in case the ground is wet, and a place to set all of our food.

7.  Sunscreen and bug repellent. 

We always apply sunscreen before we set out, and reapply it to our children several times throughout the hike.  Keep in mind too that if you are hiking or will be around water, the reflection off the water can burn their sensitive skin.  Cloudy days are not to be trusted either, the sun may still get through.  Sunscreen is always a good idea!

I have found that bugs are prevalent if you hike around bodies of water.  Even if you begin your hike not thinking you will see any mosquitoes, you may get to where you are going and be surrounded.  I highly suggest carrying a small bottle of repellent to deter them, especially for your children. 

8.  Bear Spray.

We never go anywhere without our bear spray, even on short hikes near our home.  Bear spray slides right onto the belt of your backpack (and this is where it should go, so that you can access it quickly if you encounter a bear).  It is expensive, but it lasts for a long time, and it is an item I believe you would rather have than not.  Each person in your hiking party should have a can on their pack.  You never know when you may see a bear.

9.  Umbrella.

We always carry a small umbrella that compacts into a small item that fits into your pack.  We always check the weather report before we go on hikes, but it is better to have an umbrella in case of inclement weather.  (Yes, it may hail out of nowhere in the middle of summer!)

10.  Extra Clothing / Hats.

Be sure to bring a hat for your child!

We always prepare for inclement weather, or the chance of having to spend a night outdoors.  I try to not overpack on the clothing, but I do recommend having extra jackets.  A raincoat plus a warmer coat for each person is a great idea if you are up to carrying it.  A jacket can be used to sit on, as a blanket, or as a coat.

11.  A smile.

A good attitude is key to surviving a hike with little ones.  

Be prepared for tears and possible boredom.  Our little one thankfully has spent so much time in her pack, that she doesn’t get bored easily.  For small children who may get restless, you may want to bring a few small toys that can attach to the backpack to give them something to do while walking.

With very small children, one trick I have learned is to strap a front carrier (such as the Ergo) to the outside of your backpack.  If at any point they get restless in the pack, you can switch it up and carry them for awhile in the front pack, which some children prefer.  

I have found that spending a lot of time talking about your surroundings or playing games as you walk goes a long way (whether they are very small children or not).


That is my list of things to bring while hiking with children.  My general rule is: if you think you may need it, bring it!  There have been many times I have given my husband the – “Do we really need to bring this?” look – mostly because things get heavy when you are carrying them up a mountain!  But you will never be upset when you need something and have it with you.  Enjoy hiking with little ones – a great way to introduce them to exercise and the outdoors!

Warm Wishes from Big Sky Country,

Alex M. Neill

Montana Vacation Blog


Baby at McGuire Lookout, Montana, Montana Vacation Blog

McGuire Lookout, northwest Montana

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