Essential Gear Guide for Kids

Outdoor Gear Checklist for Kids

The following list is excerpted from AMC's Outdoors With Kids guidebook series.

Note: No checklist is infallible. Before you head out on an adventure, it is important to check the weather, prepare for the worse possible conditions and make a plan based upon your personal and/or your group's abilities in mind. Plan an alternate route in case of bad weather, injury, illness or slower than expected travel time. Before departing, make sure someone at home knows your plan: where you are going, with whom, and when you plan to return. And make sure you know how to use the gear you carry.

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Outdoor gear checklist for Kids

Make sure to carry the 10 Essentials on every trip, no matter how close to home, no matter the forecast. Each one improves the chances that you are prepared for unexpected emergencies. Along with the Ten Essentials, consider bringing these additional items to make your outing more comfortable and enjoyable.

Clothing and Gear

Outdoor Clothing Basics

Put kids in long-sleeved shirts and long pants for increased sun protection or to keep bugs away from tender skin.

Lightweight and easily packed, hats offer quick warmth, shade children from sun, and protect from wind and cold.

Teach kids to wear clothes that are quick-drying and retain warmth even when wet. That means steering clear of jeans, sweats, and cotton shirts; instead, choose wicking synthetics, fleeces, wools, and quick-drying nylons.

Dress children in layers. Light wicking layers go under heavier layers, which are under warm outer layers and wind protection. Adding or removing layers keeps kids from being soaked with sweat or rain, and from becoming too hot or too cold.

Footwear

Choose appropriate footwear. For hiking, wear closed-toe shoes with good ankle support. For biking, wear closed-toe shoes, not sandals or flip-flops.

For paddling, pick closed-toe shoes that can get wet repeatedly and dry quickly. For snowshoeing, choose thick snow boots or hiking boots that hold their shape under snowshoe straps or buckles.

Synthetic liner socks under wool socks offer the most warmth and blister protection when hiking, skiing, or snowshoeing. If you need smaller sizes that outdoor manufacturers don't make, kids' nylon dress socks work decently as liners.

Helmets

Helmets are a must for bicycling, including riding in trailers and in bike seats. Fit is important for safety; the helmet should sit level on a child's head and fit securely with the strap fastened.

Babies may not have the neck strength to wear a helmet until after age 1.

Although it may be tempting to buy a used helmet at a yard sale, you may have trouble assessing its condition and whether it meets current safety standards. New helmets are relatively inexpensive (about $10 at discount stores) and worth the investment.

Dressing for Summer

Sun hats protect children from intense sun. Look for lightweight hats with wide brims or visors long enough to shade a child's entire face. "Safari" hats with removable neck protection also work well, as do bandannas.

Protect children's eyes with sunglasses, especially if you're traveling on water or over open landscapes. Expect to lose a few pairs along the way.

Dressing for Winter

Don't overdress your children for winter. When active, people generate heat quickly. Dress in layers and remove a layer as necessary.

One-piece snowsuits work best for younger children. Older children should practice the same layering system as adults. A common mistake: putting a child in a too-heavy winter coat when hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing.

Balaclavas are great winter hats for kids because they cover both head and neck, leaving just an opening for the face.

Keep toes warm-invest in a pair of wool or fleece socks.

Mittens keep small hands warmer than gloves, so unless children need to use their fingers, mittens are best in winter. Wool socks can double as mittens.

Remember sunglasses when out on the snow.

Attach plastic bags over hands or mittens and socks or shoes to protect against rain or to add warmth in cold conditions.

Snowshoes and Skis

Select snowshoes by weight, and look for ones that are easy for children to put on and take off.

Waxless skis are the best choice for children who are learning the basics of cross-country skiing.

Many Nordic centers and downhill ski resorts rent snowshoes and cross-country ski equipment for children.

Dressing for Wind or Rain

Getting wet is often a safety risk, so be sure children have rain gear that is waterproof, not just water resistant. For extended trips, rain pants are a good addition to a rain jacket. Ponchos aren't recommended because they don't cover enough of the body and are useless in wind. If you plan to be out and active in rain for any length of time, breathable rain gear works best.

Wearing a visored hat under a raincoat helps keep the hood of the raincoat out of a child's eyes.

Wind protection is especially important when hiking or snowshoeing in the mountains or in exposed areas, paddling on the ocean or open water, bicycling, or cross-country skiing.

Dressing Babies for the Outdoors

In hot weather, try thin, cotton one-pieces without feet to keep babies from overheating.

In cooler weather, babies may need a hat or mittens before you do because they're not moving their bodies.

In winter, babies stay warmer in snowsacks, rather than snowsuits with legs. If you ski or snowshoe with a child in a back carrier or open sled, remember that the child is not exercising and warming up as you are. Dress a baby in warm layers, minimize exposed skin, and check often to be sure the baby's nose, face, neck, and limbs are warm.

Choose brimmed hats with a strap under the chin so they stay on.

Pack twice as many diapers, covers, and clothing changes as you think you'll need. Bring several sturdy plastic bags to carry out soiled diapers and clothing.

Packing

No single packing list can cover every activity in this book. The basic list below should work well for most day hikes. We've also provided specific tips for children's packs and for carriers, trailers, and sleds.

Basic Pack

You'll want to have the following items in your bag or backpack on outings in every season.

  • Cell phone: Be sure to have emergency phone numbers on hand, though service is unreliable in rural and remote areas.

  • Water: Bring enough for yourself, plus more to share. Two quarts per person is usually adequate, depending on the weather and the length of the trip.

  • Food: Crankiness is increased by hunger. Pack high-energy snacks such as nuts, dried fruit, or granola bars. Pack a lunch for longer trips. Include children in this task as much as possible.

  • Outerwear: wind protection, rain protection, warm jackets. Pack for the range of weather you're likely to encounter.

  • Extra clothing: Extra socks, mittens, hats, and sunglasses come in handy and don't take up much room. Bringing extra warm clothes in all but the hottest weather is a good idea. If your activity takes you to a lake, river, stream, or ocean, a change of clothing may be required for everyone.

  • Wet wipes

  • Plastic bags

  • Sunscreen

  • First-aid kit: adhesive bandages, athletic or hospital tape, gauze, blister protection, small scissors, children's antihistamines, nonprescription painkillers, and tweezers for removing splinters

  • Toilet paper or a pack of tissues

  • Map and compass

  • Whistle

  • Flashlight or headlamp

  • Insect repellent

  • Extra clothes to leave in the car for the trip home

Optional Items

  • Binoculars

  • Camera

  • Books: guidebooks, nature guides, picture books for young children

  • Journal or loose paper, plus pens, pencils, or crayons

  • Bandannas

  • Fishing poles

  • Trekking poles

  • GPS device

Carriers, Trailers, and Pulks

At very young ages, for trips that don't involve a stroller, children are usually carried in a front pack or backpack, in a bike trailer, or on a sled behind skis. As children get older, bike seats and bike extensions may help you enjoy the outdoors together.

  • Front packs are a good idea for babies up to about 6 months of age. They get the benefit of your body warmth, and you have a close-up view of them.

  • You can move older babies to a child backpack when they're able to hold up their heads unaided.

  • Children can ride in bike trailers as soon as they're able to hold their heads up independently. Be careful on bumpy terrain, however, and remember bike helmets, as with any cycling activity.

  • Attached bike seats are appropriate when children can hold their heads upright while wearing a helmet and can comfortably sit upright on their own.

  • For a period of a few years in between riding in a bicycle trailer and riding longer distances on a separate bicycle, your child may enjoy riding on a one-wheel child bike extension, complete with pedals, that attaches to the back of your bicycle. This may extend the distance you are able to enjoy riding together, but requires training and good communication.

  • When cross-country skiing, it's easier and safer to use a sled built specifically for pulling children, called a pulk, than it is to ski with a baby in a backpack or front child carrier. You may start using a pulk with a child between 6 and 12 months old. The sled has two poles that are secured to the adult with a padded waist belt. Many cross-country ski areas have pulks available for rent.

Children's Packs

For many reasons-including safety, increasing skills and responsibility, and engaging them in the outdoors experience-children should carry some of their gear as early as possible.

  • Food: Carrying their own snacks or lunches lets children replenish their energy on the go and also minimizes arguments among siblings over who has more of a favored food.

  • Water: Carrying their own water encourages children to drink on the trail. You may want to try personal hydration systems for them.

  • Clothing: When kids have their own jackets, rain gear, or wind protection, they're more likely to put them on and take them off when needed.

  • Whistle: Teach children how to use a whistle for safety.

  • Map and compass: Older children can help with route-finding (and learn a valuable skill while they're at it).

  • Address and phone number: Put this important information in a waterproof bag and in a place (such as a pack or pocket) where your child knows to find it.

  • Fun stuff: sketch pad, magnifying glass, binoculars, camera, Frisbee, ball, glow sticks, coloring books, harmonica. Young children may want to bring a favorite toy or stuffed animal.

Personal Flotation Devices

When paddling, children should always wear personal flotation devices (PFDs). Parents should set an example by wearing PFDs as well.

Ensure the PFD fits your child well. The PFD should fit snugly. Choose based on your child's weight:

  • Infant PFDs are for children 8 pounds to 30 pounds

  • Child PFDs are for children 30 pounds to 50 pounds

  • Youth PFDs are for children 50 pounds to 90 pounds

To test the fit, secure your child in the PFD, then grasp the shoulders of the PFD and lift your child. The child's ears and chin should not slip through the PFD.

PFDs come in five types. Most children will use a Type III, which is a flotation aid suitable for various activities. Infants can use Type II PFDs, which are designed for use in calm waters.

Paddling Gear

When paddling, store gear in specialized dry bags or in double-bagged, heavy-duty plastic bags. Older children can be responsible for their own bags of personal gear.

If you do a lot of paddling, you may want to invest in sized-down paddles so children can participate.

Everyone should wear a properly fitted personal flotation device