The Perfect Kit for Leading Group Hikes with Kids

The two words a parent hates most are, “I’m bored!” When the kids are restless, no one is happy. You could have all the video games, toys and treats in the house and young ones can still come up with a reason to use the dreaded B-word. 

When this happens, there’s only one thing to do: Get outside. This is exactly what I do with my own kids—and sometimes their friends—when they are moping around the house without a clue of what to do. 

If you’re venturing out with a youthful group for the first time, you might be wondering what you need to take along. (I know I did when I was a new parent.) Whether you’re a volunteer leader or simply taking an informal group of rag-tag kiddos out for the day, here are our favorite picks of what to bring and what to wear so you all have a good time and stay safe while doing so.

Remember to always pack the Ten Essentials when you’re headed out on a hike or adventure. And don’t forget our handy Day Hike Checklist for a complete list of what to bring.

Trail Food

Kate's Real Food Lemon Coconut Bar

Kids are always hungry. In fact, snacking is one of their favorite pastimes. Make their snack breaks count with satiating protein- and carbohydrate-rich foods to keep their energy levels up and tummies full for longer. Easy handhelds like trail mix and the Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate Bar or zingy Lemon Coconut Bar from Kate’s Real Food ($3) are excellent sources of nutrients to fuel hardworking bodies—and kids actually want to eat them. If DIY bites are more your jam, you can enlist young helpers to make a homemade batch of chef Maria Hines’s Peanut Butter and Jelly Granola Bars before heading out.

Learn more about what to bring along by reading Eating Right on the Trail.

More Water than You Think You’ll Need

An orange Gregory Nano 22 H2O Hydration Pack

Water is essential for replacing the hydration you lose through sweating, and even light exercise can cause you to become depleted. Always be over-prepared with water by bringing at least a half-liter per person per hour of exercise. Drinking plenty of water allows you to feel your best, keep up with your rowdy crew and prevent overheating or dehydration (both total day-ruiners). Everyone can tote their own smaller drinking vessel, like the kid-friendly REI Co-op Nalgene Sustain Graphic Wide-Mouth Water Bottle – 16 fl. oz. ($13.95) Or you can take charge with a larger water source like the comfy-to-carry Gregory Nano 22 H2O Hydration Pack, which has a 3-liter capacity and plenty of room for your other gear and snacks as well. ($89.95)

Learn more by reading How to Stay Hydrated on the Trail

A child is sprayed with natural insect repellenet.
Photo courtesy of Natrapel

Packing insect repellent is essential for an itch-free day of outdoor activities: You’ll want to choose one that repels both mosquitoes and ticks. Lemon Eucalyptus Continuous Spray Insect Repellent by Natrapel is made from  plant-derived lemon eucalyptus oil ingredients, which can repel mosquitos and some ticks for up to 6 hours. Its nongreasy formula comes in an ozone-safe continuous spray bottle, which releases a fine mist that can be sprayed at any angle. ($13)

An exploded view of a Hart Oudtoor Day Hike First-Aid Kit

Every adventurer knows that it pays to be prepared, and this is especially true when you have kids in tow. The Outdoor Day Hike First-Aid Kit from Hart has everything you (hopefully won’t) need, including adhesive bandages, gauze, antiseptic towelettes, triple antibiotic ointment, sting relief wipes and more. Make sure to get extra ready by reading articles like How to Treat Cuts, Scrapes and Gouges in the Backcountry, Blister Prevention and Care and How to Treat a Sprained Ankle. ($15)

Look for Wilderness Medicine classes at your local REI to learn more.

A smiling child is wearing a blue REI Co-op Rainwall Rain Jacket

There’s nothing worse than being wet and cold while hiking. That’s why bringing extra clothing for inclement weather is a must. The waterproof, breathable unisex kids’ Rainwall Rain Jacket from REI Co-op protects from the elements and is light and compact enough to fit in any day bag. ($69.95)

A pair of blue REI Co-op Trailsmith Merino Wool Lightweight Crew Socks with yellow heels and toes.

Become an instant hero by packing an extra pair of socks for each hiker, so the kids who love to puddle jump can wade into any bit of water they find. Wet socks can cause blisters and discomfort that could cut your hike (and the group’s fun) short. The Trailsmith Merino Wool Lightweight Crew Socks from REI Co-op have a reinforced heel and toe for durability, wick moisture away to prevent hot spots and—maybe best of all?—are odor-resistant. ($12.95)

Nite Ize Radiant 400 LED Lantern

Dusk can sneak up on you when you’re having fun on a day hike. Be prepared with a light source if you intend to still be out once the sun goes down—or bring one along at sunset and gather ‘round it to listen to the Camp Monsters podcast after dark. The Radiant 400 LED Lantern from Nite Ize has three brightness settings (30, 170 and 400 lumens) and can run for 26 hours at max power. The carabiner handle makes it especially easy to clip, carry or hang. ($29.95

Nite Ize MoonLit LED Micro Lantern

Kids are comforted by light and feel even better when they can hold onto a flashlight of their own. Plus, giving them a light source makes them easily visible in the dark. Give each hands-free illumination by letting them clip a water-resistant MoonLit LED Micro Lantern by Nite Ize onto their clothes or pack. The lights have an average run time of 60 hours and the capacity to flash as well as glow, so your group will easily light up the night. ($11)

It’s easy to get turned around when hiking on a new path. Navigation tools are a must, and a compass can help you stay on track better than relying on your cell phone connection. Our favorite, the small and steady L-B NH Clipper Compass, can keep you in the right direction and offer the young’uns a great lesson about the Earth’s magnetic pull and the four cardinal directions. This Suunto compass is as sturdy as they come, and clips onto your belt loop, wristwatch band or even the corner of a map for easy access. ($20)

Need to brush up on your orientation basics? Read How to Use a Compass.

Sun Bum Mineral SPF 50 Roll-On Lotion

Did you know that some of the worst sunburns happen on cloudy days, thanks to hard-to-perceive Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays? So don’t let the weather fool you—sun protection should always be top of mind. Make sure everyone wears a brimmed hat for eye protection, and don’t skimp on sunblock. Most dermatologists recommend sunscreen with higher than 15 SPF, and you should always check the manufacturer recommendations about how frequently to reapply. We favor roll-on sunscreen because it’s quick and easy to apply without getting hands greasy, and the scent-free and hypoallergenic Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Roll-On Lotion from Sun Bum is our favorite. It’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and blocks 98% of UVB rays. ($18.50)

Learn more about How to Choose and Use Sunscreen.

An adult and two children sit outside examining a fall leaf together

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