Charlotte Mason said in Home Education, “Let them once get in touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life…” The summer months are finally upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere and I hope that means lots of nature hikes for you and your kids! I make an attempt to schedule a longer nature hike for us at least once per week and I know that having the right gear for the excursion can either make or break the trip. Obviously for shorter trips to a local park or even just a path near your home, a whole lot of extra equipment isn’t needed. However, today I thought I might share some of our favorite nature hike gear for longer day hikes.
I’ve written about my hydration pack before but I can’t go on about it enough. I used an old backpack I got from a former employer for years when we went hiking, but as the kids got older and water bottles got larger, the backpack got heavier and more cumbersome. For the price, this pack absolutely cannot be beat. It offers better back support for longer hikes and not only comes with a 2-liter bladder, but also two side pockets for extra bottles. So I have my water in the bladder (which I can drink through the tube attached to my shoulder any time without having to ask the kids to stop), and then a bottle for each of them in the side pockets.
It also comes with several other pockets that offer plenty of room to carry whatever I need on the trail, including a pocket large enough to carry a first-aid kit and my camera. One of my favorite parts is that the chest strap has a built-in whistle, so if the kids get too far ahead of me, I let out a quick whistle and they come running.
I debated between the blue and green bags, but decided on the blue as it’s brighter and if we ever got lost for whatever reason, it’s easier to see from a distance. My only caveat with this bag is that the plastic taste of the bladder was very strong in the beginning, so I switched that one out for my old CamelBak bladder which has already been conditioned. According to reviews, the taste does go away after a few uses, just make sure you clean it out well between nature hikes and I like to store mine in the freezer to keep it as clean as possible.
Here in Colorado, we can go from 30 degrees in the morning to over 90 in the afternoon, especially if you’re changing altitude at any time. For this reason, I’ve learned to dress in layers. In spring and fall, I usually start with a tank top base layer, then a light, long-sleeve t-shirt (to protect my arms from the sun), then either a rain jacket (or windbreaker) or sweatshirt, depending on what the forecast says, as well as a baseball hat. In the summer, I’ll skip the long-sleeve shirt and just wear a short-sleeve t-shirt instead (I offer some fun designs here!). For winter hikes, I usually go with the sweatshirt option then wear a down jacket over that with gloves (I prefer fingerless to be able to take photos) and a knit hat.
I generally wear hiking pants (with side pockets to carry my cell phone, loose field guide, etc.), but another great option that is also comfortable in the warmer months is leggings. In the winter, I layer the hiking pants with thermal leggings. I’m very much a jeans kind of girl the rest of the time, but they just don’t cut it for comfort when we’re hiking.
To save money, I like to get my hiking clothes on thredUP, primarily because I can get good-quality, name-brand (prAna, Patagonia, Columbia, and The North Face are a few favorites) outdoor clothing for much less money than I would at REI or other outdoor stores. If consignment clothing isn’t your thing, Sierra Trading Post also has great deals on outdoor clothing.
In warmer months, I use my trusty KEEN sandals. I bought these several years ago on clearance at REI and they’ve been fantastic hiking shoes. In cooler temps and winter time, I have a pair of KEEN hiking boots that I love as well. I usually get all of my shoes at Sierra Trading Post.
For the Kids
Because I’m still carrying the kids’ bottles in my pack, I wanted ones that were as light as possible but still stay away from plastic. Sigg or Klean Kanteen bottles are lightweight and the perfect size for day hikes.
Wide-brimmed hats are an absolute must when we go on a nature hike and I actually also make the kids wear them when they’re playing in the yard (yes, I’m THAT mom). Usually, they wear light-weight, long-sleeved, light-colored t-shirts to protect their arms from the sun and depending on the forecast, I’ll carry rain jackets for them in my bag.
In the summer, I let them wear shorts to stay cooler but they know very well what poison ivy looks like and I also keep a watch out for it if they head off the trail. In cooler temps, they usually wear sweatpants and snowpants when they’re called for. I generally get their clothes at thrift sales, Primary, or Target.
I get the kids new sandals every year when temps are higher, so the brand may vary, but usually they’re either KEENs, Tevas, Pedipeds, or from See Kai Run. I also make sure they are water-friendly as most of our hikes run into water at some point and they like to splash around in it.
In the winter and cooler weather, I get them Kamik Snowbusters as these come with a removable lining, so they keep their toes dry and warm in the winter but we can still use them in the warmer months, particularly the spring when the trails are still very muddy. I also like to get all of their shoes on Sierra Trading Post.
This is also a must on the trail. I have one that I bought years ago at REI for backpacking and have just replaced and added to over the years as necessary. This is another great option if you want one pre-assembled, but you can also make your own (or a more holistic version). I’d also recommend including a trail first-aid book and I like to add Arnica (for bumps, bruises, and bleeding), Apis (for bug bites and stings), Rhus Tox (for poison ivy/oak), and calendula cream (for burns, cuts, scrapes, etc.). Often, if you buy a pre-made one, it will also come with survival equipment like matches, thermal blankets, whistles, glowsticks, etc. which can be literal life-savers.
I know there are apps for identifying just about every bird/flower/tree/mammal/rock under the sun, but out in the boonies, sometimes cell coverage can be spotty so field guides are also quite handy. Our favorites are from Stan Tekiela who makes a number of field guides on various topics for several different states. These are the perfect size for the trail and are easy to page through and find what you’re looking for. In addition, a good pair of binoculars is a must for identifying far-away things (as birds so often are).
In the Bag
Other random things you might want to consider including are:
- Though we don’t always pull ours out, I try to remember to pack our nature journals and watercolor sets (brush pens and a paper towel are also useful but not necessary). Usually we end up finding something on the trail to bring home and paint later, but it’s good to have the option if creativity demands it.
- A whistle and a small mirror in case you get lost and need to draw attention to yourself. It probably seems silly, but getting lost in the wilderness does happen and carrying these two small items is not much of a sacrifice.
- A magnifying glass for looking at plants, bugs, rocks, etc. up close! Some have built-in flashlights which are good not only for lighting up dark spaces, but also to have on hand in case of an emergency.
- If you don’t bring a good multi-tool, it is inevitable that at some point or another, you will need a good multi-tool. Sometimes pre-made first-aid kits come with them but they’re not the best quality.
- I also like to bring plastic grocery bags to pick up trash on the trail as well as plastic zip-lock bags to keep any things the kids pick up that they want to bring home (usually leaves and millions of acorns).
- I’ve been known to carry mason jars and fish nets when we look for tadpoles and crawfish, but as these are heavy and cumbersome, I only do this when I know we’re heading to a pond.
- We don’t usually go the sunscreen route, opting for long-sleeve shirts and hats instead, but when we do, Badger makes the best. The same goes for bug spray.
- Hand sanitizer spray is not only good for spraying hands after playing in the water, but also for cleaning out cuts and scrapes.
- For longer hikes, we bring snacks including fruit leathers, grain-free granola, and almond butter squeeze packs. These offer a lot of protein, fat, and carbs in a small package, so they’re a good smaller and lighter-weight alternative to sandwiches/chips/etc.
- I never go on a nature hike without my DSLR. My cell phone is always an option, but my larger camera allows for a lot more creativity. Generally I use my 50mm or wide angle lenses.
- If you’re going on a hike that’s further away from civilization, you’ll want to also bring a map of the area and definitely stay on the trail.
These are not necessarily things to bring, but are related to hiking!
- Many areas have lots of great local, free trails or open space, but it’s also nice to have state and National Parks passes (the National Parks passes are free for fourth graders!) as these are often less crowded (people don’t want to pay to get in…imagine that!). Our library district even has a program to get a free pass to state parks for a week – others may follow suit!
- If you have a GPS, I highly recommend looking at Geocaching in your area. This is a great way to entice kids who might be a little resistant to hiking to go on a treasure hunt instead. 🙂