What to Pack for a Family Day Hike – FREE Printable Checklist!

What to Pack for a Family Day Hike - FREE Printable Checklist!

The more I use Instagram and Facebook to interact with other creatives, the more I realize how interested I am in connecting with the person behind the art. Even if I’m just reading a tutorial, I am curious – who is this person? What do we have in common? How are we different?

I usually share design-related posts on this blog, but I’d like to start writing more about what inspires my designs and how I incorporate experiences and adventures into my art.

My favorite posts from others remove the mask of perfection and reveal a glimpse of personality. To that end, today I’m writing about something that’s personally important to me – getting outdoors with my family – so that we can get to know each other better.

I have my friend Danielle from HimmelandSoul to thank for this idea. She recently asked me to chat about our family’s outdoor adventures with her – ON VIDEO.

As in, you’ll see my face.

And my studio inside my home.


I hate being on camera.

But, you guys, I said yes.

My interview and freebie are included as part of the bonus content in Danielle’s new Wild and Happy Family Toolkit. In the interview, we talk all things family travel and hiking with kids. It’s jam-packed with tons of tips and takeaways for families who want to get outdoors more. Yay!

As a follow up to that interview, I created a printable Family Hiking Checklist which you can get right here. However, I know how utterly lost I was when starting out hiking with kids, so I wanted to explain a little more about what we pack and why.

Just to clarify, to access the interview, you’ll need to purchase the toolkit; but if you just want the checklist, you can get it by clicking the link here.

Let’s get started!

What to Pack for a Family Day Hike - FREE Printable Checklist! - ZirkusDesign.com


From Books to Boots

As a child, I preferred to read. I would occasionally ride my bike or roller blade outside, but I’d rather have spent time with Nancy Drew. I rode horses for a few years (see, I told you we’re getting to know each other!), and that was the closest I got to anything that could be called a sport.

It wasn’t until I became a broke newlywed that I began to do anything sport-y. I started with running because it was cheap and could be done year round where I lived in Florida.

In 2010, I moved to Germany and experienced seasons for what felt like the first time in my life. I couldn’t get enough of the forests, the changing leaves, the hills and their views.

My husband and I began taking our two sons for walks in the woods. We soon tired of the same easy-peasy trails and began to look at local hiking guides for inspiration, all the while insisting we weren’t “real hikers.” After all, we did not wear zip-off pants or boots.

I can’t even tell you exactly how or when it happened, but in the span of about a year or two, we became a hiking family. We bought boots. Trekking poles. Backpacks. We planned travel around where we wanted to hike, and we hit the trail, always with kids in tow.

Today, our three sons are 11, 9, and 7. We’ve hiked and traveled all over Europe, the US, Canada, and even South Korea and Morocco – all with kids. Our longest day hike to date clocked in at 15 miles when my youngest was 6, and he did Crypt Lake and The Highline when he was 4.

We’ve certainly picked up some tips and tricks in our eight-ish years as hiking family. As any parent knows, a successful adventure begins with solid planning and preparation. Hiking is no different, and today I’m sharing my packing and prep process with you.

What to Pack for a Family Day Hike - FREE Printable Checklist! - ZirkusDesign.com


How to Prepare for a Family Day Hike : The Essentials

Before I tell you everything I put in my day pack when I hit the trail with my kids, it’s important to note that what you should pack varies wildly with when, where, and with whom you are hiking. My list is meant to be a starting point, not a set of rigid rules. Your needs may differ, but I hope my list will guide you in crafting your own packing process.

First, you need to select your trail. That might seem obvious, but you really can’t go any further until you do. After that, you’ll need:

  • Directions to the trailhead
  • Parking / hiking permit, if applicable
  • Trail description / map to bring with you
  • Notify a friend of where you’re going and expected time of return
  • Check weather to determine clothing
  • Bring ID for adults and attach contact info inside kids’ packs
  • Charge cell phone and camera batteries
  • Gather activities for kids to do during the car ride to / from the trailhead

This last one may seem a little silly, but trails often begin far from home. We typically end up driving at least 30 minutes if not an hour or more to the trailhead. Don’t start your adventure with bored and cranky kids. Give them something fun to do in the car before the hiking even begins.

You may notice that books and notebooks appear on other family hiking checklists. I have never brought either of these things for two reasons.

First, any book/notebook is heavy! I don’t want to lug an encyclopedia on birds up a mountain, do you?! And second, when we hike, the focus is on hiking and being together and conversation.

I honestly don’t know where/when we would have time for journaling on the trail. On the car ride home? Yes. On the trail, no.

That’s not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t bring books and notebooks; we just don’t.

What to Pack for a Family Day Hike - FREE Printable Checklist! - ZirkusDesign.com - Essential Prep for Hiking with Kids


Family Hiking Gear

Location and personal hiking style will likely dictate what gear you bring, but here’s what we bring:

  • Hiking backpacks. Every single person in our family carries a backpack. As soon as my kids could walk, they carried a backpack (even if it only had a granola bar or a diaper in it).
  • Trekking poles. Do you need trekking poles? Maybe not. But we have found that we hike better with them (especially the adults!).
  • First Aid Kit. Duh.
  • Duct Tape. If you aren’t already acquainted with the wonders of duct tape, now is the time. From repairing ripped packs to closing deep cuts, don’t leave home without duct tape – but do leave the heavy roll behind. Instead, wrap a yard/meter or two around an old credit card and stick that in your pack (see below for what our duct tape card looks like).
  • Waterproof matches. Admittedly, we rarely carry these in our pack since they’re only in case of emergency. But, you should bring some matches in a waterproof container since they’re small and light.
  • Multi-tool with tweezers. I cannot tell you how many times a boy managed to get a splinter while hiking, so make sure your multi-tool has tweezers!
  • Whistle. Just hang it on your pack. You’re not likely to need it, but it’s good to have if you need to call for help.
  • Flashlight. Our family doesn’t hike in the dark (snakes in the desert anyone??), but we’ve almost gotten caught in rapidly-disappearing daylight. You do not want to be in the woods in the dark with no light. Look for a model that’s small and bright but not too heavy.

You could also include an emergency blanket, rope (paracord), and a headlamp. I don’t bring any of these items, but decide what is right for your desired level of emergency preparedness.

What to Pack for a Family Day Hike - FREE Printable Checklist! - ZirkusDesign.com - Essential Gear for Hiking with Kids


Clothing for Hiking Families

Below, I’ve listed what our hiking family wears/brings on our trail adventures. I don’t have any particular brands to recommend, but if you would like more specifics or links, just leave me a comment below. When selecting these items, you’ll need to balance price, quality, and comfort.

  • Hiking boots or shoes. You can hike in athletic shoes or fashion boots (and I’ve done it), but pretty please invest in some actual hiking boots/shoes for yourself AND your kids if hiking is going to be a regular thing. Thick hiking boots prevent against so many trail hazards. They really are worth every penny.
  • Moisture-wicking socks. Unless you just love blisters, do not hike in cotton socks. Ever.
  • Moisture-wicking clothing. For kids, a wicking shirt and hiking pants or athletic shorts work just fine. For adults, I highly recommend wicking under garments as well. You do not want sweaty, saggy cotton drawers. Need I say chafing? And please, please, please, do not hike in jeans if at all possible.
  • Hat. Bring a hat to protect your face against the sun.
  • Waterproof watch. We use a watch to time water breaks and estimate how fast we’re hiking. You’ll want one that can get sweaty and rained on.
  • Sunglasses. Helpful in both sunny and windy conditions, I always pack my sunnies.
  • Gloves. You may not need gloves in summer, but they’re great to have in kids’ packs at all times. My youngest son used to trip about every tenth step, and we found that if  he wore fingerless gloves, he wouldn’t skin his palms (and scream his head off) as often.
  • Jacket, coat, or fleece. Weather changes so suddenly, even in the predictable Arizona desert. I almost always bring a light, waterproof windbreaker just in case.
  • Extra clothing layer. It’s always a good idea to pack an extra top layer. Long sleeves can protect against sun or keep you warm if the wind suddenly turns cooler.

What to Pack for a Family Day Hike - FREE Printable Checklist! - ZirkusDesign.com - Essential Clothing for Hiking with Kids


Protection from the Elements – and Wildlife

Unless you’re hiking underground, you’ll need sunscreen for any exposed skin. Be sure to also bring lip balm with an SPF. Our kids get chapped lips from thirst, dry desert air, wind, cold, etc. Trust me, you’ll definitely want to have that lip balm handy!

Along with the sunscreen, pack insect repellent if it applies to your area. Cold does not necessarily mean no bugs. The worst mosquitoes I’ve ever experienced feasted on my family while we hiked through snow in July in the Canadian Rockies. Florida had nothing on these beasts.

And, speaking of the Rockies, if you’re hiking anywhere with bears, bring bear spray! We bought ours at Walmart, but you can buy it at Costco in some places or nearly any outdoors store. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with how to properly use bear spray and always wear it on your hip, ready to use. Do not put bear spray in your pack; it should be out and ready to use immediately.

Lastly, don’t forget any medications or prescriptions (pills, epi-pen, inhaler, etc.) you’ll need.

What to Pack for a Family Day Hike - FREE Printable Checklist! - ZirkusDesign.com - Essential Protection for Hiking with Kids


Water + Snacks

No matter where or when you’re hiking, you’re going to need food and water.

How much food and water? Well, that’s up to your particular family’s needs.

I personally tend to drink a lot of water, so I probably bring more than most people. I’ve hiked with friends before who bring a third of what I do and have water left over. I tend toward bringing much more than I need because I don’t carry water purification tablets.

As for food, I bring whatever meal I would normally be eating during that time plus snacks. I try to pack snacks that I don’t normally buy or are my kids’ favorites just to keep interest level up. Below you can see some of our favorite snack bars. Can you tell we have a thing for peanut butter and chocolate?!

I also focus on three snack categories: salty (to make up for lost sodium while sweating), protein, and sweet. For example, this could be a bag of pretzels (salty) with peanuts (protein) and raisins (sweet).

Don’t forget to also bring a bag to pack out your trash as well as additional food+water to leave in the car for the drive home.

What to Pack for a Family Day Hike - FREE Printable Checklist! - ZirkusDesign.com - Essential Snacks for Hiking with Kids


The No Whiner’s Club

When I reveal a few hiking adventures to new friends, I’m almost always asked how we hike so often, so far, so long with our kids.

And, I always reply that the answer is simple – we bribe them.

Okay, so the answer isn’t really that simple, and it’s not the whole story, but it is a big part of how we’ve had successful hiking adventures.

When our boys were little (and there were only two instead of three), we had to find a way to fight back against the whining. Even when we picked do-able hiking distances or hiked to a fun destination like a castle ruin, we still ended up with a constant stream of negativity and whining.

If you’ve hiked with kids, do any of these sound familiar?

“How far is this hike?”

“Are we there yet?”

“I’m tired.”

“My feet hurt.”

“I don’t want to walk any more.”

“My bag’s too heavy.”

“I want to go home!”

So, we came up with the No Whiner’s Club, and it still exists in our family to this day.

The rules are simple: if you want to be in the club, you can’t whine. You get one warning, and then you’re out. It only takes a time or two of not being “in the club” to send the message, especially when siblings are enjoying the spoils.

Those who make it into the No Whiner’s Club are rewarded some kind of ridiculous sweets, candy, soda, or chocolate (see, I told you we bribe!).

We’ve been known to do a halfway No Whiner’s Club on long hikes where we need a little mid-hike pick-me-up. My kids LOVE to eat and they also LOVE dessert and sweets of any kind (and these aren’t part of our normal diet), so this works really well for them.

What to Pack for a Family Day Hike - FREE Printable Checklist! - ZirkusDesign.com - Hiking Family of 5


Family Hiking Hygiene

I don’t think I have to tell any parent that poop happens. Just be prepared for it to happen when you’re miles away from an actual toilet by packing the following:

  • Hand sanitizer. Whether you go in the woods or a pit toilet, you’re going to need a lot of this.
  • Tissues. We bring small packs of folded tissues. These are helpful in so many situations.
  • Toilet paper. I’ve read that some ultra-light backpackers wipe with what they find in nature. I just can’t bring myself to wipe with snow, so TP is a must especially when you need to use your…
  • Trowel. Kids have to go #2 at the most inconvenient of times. Get yourself a lightweight folding trowel (see below for ours – and yes, there’s a reason we wrote a Bible verse on it..!), and learn how to use it. Keep the woods sanitary and safe for all.
  • Feminine products. ‘Nough said.
  • Zip top bags. You’ll need to pack out any TP or feminine products you use, and a zip top bag contains the mess.

Did you notice that I didn’t include antibacterial wipes? I honestly haven’t had a need for them (hand sanitizer has worked well enough for us), AND I don’t want to pack them out. Having to carry my own used TP is enough.

What to Pack for a Family Day Hike - FREE Printable Checklist! - ZirkusDesign.com - Essential Hygiene for Hiking with Kids


Weather-Appropriate Clothing

I’ve included a few special sections on the checklist for various types of weather you might encounter on the trail and what kind of clothing and accessories you might want to bring.

  • Rain: In wet, rainy weather, I pack a waterproof jacket, waterproof backpack cover, and a waterproof case for my phone. Rain pants are also a great idea if you’ll be hiking in very wet weather for long periods of time.
  • Cold: When temps dip, I bring a beanie, scarf, hat, gloves/mittens, and a warm coat. I always wear warm socks and, if necessary, thermals. If you can handle the weight, a thermos full of a hot drink or warm soup really hits the spot.
  • Swim: If your trail boasts a swimming hole or river, don’t forget your swimsuit, water sandals, microfiber towel, and a wet bag to store all the drippy things in for the hike home.

What to Pack for a Family Day Hike - FREE Printable Checklist! - ZirkusDesign.com - Essential Warm Clothing for Hiking with Kids


Easy, Printable, FREE Family Hiking Checklist

Want my packing list for hiking families including a section for babies and dogs all packaged in a neat and nifty printable?

Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE?!

Click here to get yours sent straight to your inbox. It’s a gift from my adventuring family to yours.

What to Pack for a Family Day Hike - FREE Printable Checklist! - ZirkusDesign.com - Hiking Family of 5

By the way, my favorite way to use a checklist like this is to laminate it (see below). I can then use wet-erase markers to reuse the list over and over.

Cross out the sections that don’t apply and write in things that I didn’t include. Make the list work for you!

What to Pack for a Family Day Hike - FREE Printable Checklist! - ZirkusDesign.comto Pack for a Family Day Hike - FREE Printable Checklist! - ZirkusDesign.com - Hiking Family of 5


We SO enjoy inspiring other families to spend time together outdoors, hiking and exploring God’s amazing creation. If you’ve used this checklist for your family adventure, I’d love to hear from you! Let me know what worked and what didn’t, what you’d add or didn’t need.

Have more questions? Want to share a favorite family hiking tip? Let me know in the comments below. I look forward to chatting with you and getting to know you better.


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