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Let’s face it. Getting outside is just harder in the winter, and when you’re hiking with kids in cold weather, the secret is to be over prepared. Just like packing a diaper bag for your babes, your winter daypack for hiking will include all the necessities, and a few nonessentials to make life a bit more fun for everyone. I recommend encouraging your kids to carry their own small packs to help lighten your load.
So what kind of gear do you need to pack for winter hiking with kids? Let’s start with the necessities.
The Winter Daypack Essentials: The Parent Pack
Let’s start with your pack. What do you use to carry your gear? In the summer, I use an ancient Kelty daypack. I’ve had it forever, and I couldn’t even tell you the model or where I got it, but it’s really rugged and really dirty — perfect for all of our lightweight outdoor excursions. In the winter, especially if the weather is snowy or wet, I like opt for something waterproof. I just bought the Osprey Daylite Plus Daypack. I’ve only used it once, so I can’t sing its praises just yet, but I love how light it is!
Now that you’ve chosen your pack, it’s time to fill it up. Here’s what’s in our winter daypack for hikes that are longer than a stroll in the park, but generally shorter than five miles.
- First aid kit – We keep a plastic bag with basic first aid supplies in the bottom of our winter hiking daypack. In the winter, our most commonly used item is our ACE bandage and moleskin for blisters. You can buy a ready-made first-aid kit, but we usually make our own. This article from Backpacker lists everything you need in your day hiking first aid kit. I would only add a list of emergency numbers for the location I’m hiking in – hospital, police, and veterinarian.
- Extra socks – Everyone wears thick wool socks for winter hiking, and I always bring an extra pair for each person. I’ve only had to use the extras once, when one of the kids stepped through the ice and into a monster puddle. Those socks were immediately put to good use! Our favorite socks for winter hiking? Definitely, Darn Tough Vermont, which comes in sizes for kids and adults. For the kids, we buy the cushioned ski socks for winter hiking. We’ve had the same socks for more than five years, and they’ve still got plenty of cushion left.
- Hand/feet warmers – If you live in the northern part of the country, you can find hand-warmer packets at most drug stores, discount stores, and gas stations throughout the winter. They make great stocking stuffers for kids, and we bring a pair for everyone on every winter day hike.
- Snacks – It’s cold out and your kids are hungry. This is probably not the time to dole out apples or carrot sticks. I recommend treats that are sweet, high in protein and easy to eat with mittens on — in other words, these super-seed granola bars.
- Water bottles (2) – Depending on how cold it is, I will sometimes carry warm water in an insulated bottle. Otherwise our drinking water becomes ice-cold half-way through the hike. I like the Hydro Flask bottles for summer and winter day hikes.
- Trail map – Everyone carries their own trail map.
- Emergency firestarter – A source of fire is important to have in emergency situations. I carry matches and a lighter in my hiking daypack, and my kids are old enough to carry their own as well.
- Cell phone – just because I can. Luckily, I have never had to use it while hiking.
- Sunscreen – We are bunch of redheads, and the winter sun is harsher than it looks.
- Multitool or pocket knife
- Lip balm – I find this especially important in the winter months. I keep mine in my pocket, so I can use it often.
- Emergency mylar blanket – So light and easy to pack, this is one of those boy scout items that I’ve never used, but always carry.
- Extra mittens/gloves – Cold fingers can ruin a trip very quickly, and kids are very apt to make snowballs, fall in puddles, or just futz around with their hands in the dirt. The answer of course is an extra pair of warm mittens or gloves for everyone in your group.
- Extra clothes – This depends entirely on the weather, but I will often pack a midweight top/bottom layer for everyone, just in case.
Not-So-Essential Gear for Winter Hiking with Kids
Okay, so you’ve packed all the essentials listed above and you still have room in your bag. Here are a few winter daypack nonessentials to make your hike more fun.
- Hot cocoa or tea in a small thermos is always a hit in our family.
- A ball or something to throw – I wouldn’t recommend this on every hike, but if we’re not climbing a mountain, we often bring something to toss back and forth while we’re walking.
- A magnifying glass or a pair of binoculars – Have you ever looked at a snow flake under a magnifying glass? It’s fascinating! Tools for helping your kids see things differently make for a lot of fun on the trail.
Winter Daypack Essentials: The Kid’s Pack
Young children will love carrying their own pack with a bit of gear, even if it’s just a few necessities like food and water. As they grow and mature, kids can carry more of the load, making it a bit easier on parents. Here are some winter daypack essentials for your kids’ packs.
- Water bottle
- Whistle -Remind your kids to blow three times if they’re lost or in trouble.
- Trail map
- Pocket knife (if they’re old enough) – Opinel’s are inexpensive and fun to use.
- Hand/feet warmers
- Lip balm
- Emergency mylar blanket – Tact Bivy emergency sleeping bagWe love the , which weighs in at just 4.7 ounces.
- Extra mittens/gloves
While it may seem like a lot of stuff to carry around, it’s better over prepare for a winter day hike. Aside from the water and snacks, many of this hiking gear stays in our winter daypacks all the time. This way when it’s time to hit the trail, all we have to do is pack the snacks, fill up the water bottles, and get outside.
Did I forget anything? What does your family carry in your winter daypack when hiking with kids?
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