Gear to Get Kids Outdoors
Choosing the Right Gear for your Little Ones
You love and appreciate the outdoors, and you want to share it with your littles—not only bringing them along when you head outside, but also fostering in them the same enjoyment of outdoor activities. Outfitting them in the proper gear will increase their enjoyment, maximize the chances that they develop a love of the outdoors, and at the same time keep them safe.
First Steps: Getting Outdoors with Babies and Toddlers
Getting outside with your new baby is a win-win. Not only do you get to do what you love, but you expose your child to the great outdoors and give him or her the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with nature. But before you plunge hiking boot-first into a full day summit hike or head out on an early morning bike ride, consider a few articles of gear that will make your job as a parent easier and your time outside infinitely more enjoyable.
Trailers & Joggers
Whether you want to walk, run, bike, hike or even cross-country ski, there is a jogger or trailer for you. They are safe and comfortable for your child and you will often find them in the jogger, telling you it’s time to get outside. Your best training partner will soon be your kid!
If you’re passionate about more than one activity, no worries; many joggers and trailers have adapter kits for various sports. For example, the Thule Chariot Stroller can be also be towed behind your bike; combine it with the Thule Chariot Cross-Country Skiing and Hiking Kit and you’ll be able to XC ski in the winter, hike in the summer, and bike around town all year long.
When choosing the right trailer or jogger for you, make sure you consider all of your other needs as well. Also be sure to check the manufacturer’s age and size recommendations for any stroller or trailer you are considering. Then, decide if you need a car seat adapter or ample storage to stash bulky items like a diaper bag or groceries.
Once kids get a bit too old or large to be towed behind your bike in an enclosed trailer, you might want to consider attaching a Weehoo trailer to your bike. They may still sit comfortably, but they get a bit more feel for riding a bike, and they have the option of pedaling if they like. But best of all, they can go places that two-wheeled trailers simply can’t.
If the places you like to go are not stroller-friendly, a comfortable, well-fitted kid carrier will get you there. This will enable you to easily take your bundle of joy along for a hike or a day of fishing.
Most packs are adjustable so parents can take turns carrying the weight. The hip-belts are as comfortable and supportive as those on backpacking packs, and you’ll find a sturdy suspension system so that carrying your growing child won’t hurt your back. Do check the weight limits, however, as most packs can only accommodate a load up to 45-50 pounds (and you probably don’t want to be carrying much more than that, either).
As for the safety of your child, packs are equipped with multi-point, adjustable safety harnesses. There are also more basic, minimalist packs that provide basic accessories while cutting down on weight. For more extensive trips, you’ll find packs that are loaded with bells and whistles like sun and rain shades, hydration packs, pillows, and detachable daypacks.
An important note: carrying your child in a backpack is for intended for moderate activities like hiking, walking or shoreline fishing. More vigorous activities like skiing or crossing rivers with strong currents with your child in a backpack is not safe or recommended.
‘Starter’ Gear: Gear for the Growing Child
My parents set a good example for us by always getting outdoors. They introduced me and my five other siblings to everything from surfing to fly fishing to skiing, often at a very young age. But obtaining the right gear for six children was hard to do; I was always making do with outdated and poorly sized equipment. Now that I have two children of my own, it’s important to me that they have the right gear in the proper size so that they can have fun and feel confident.
Before your kid can rip along on our selection of kids’ and youth bikes you’ll want to get them started on a balance bike as a toddler. This is the best way to introduce your young child to biking and completely forgo the training wheel stage later on. Balance bikes will help children build confidence around bikes and prevent dependence on training wheels.
These became available on the market right after I taught my last son to ride a bike; this is the one kid product I really regret not having, as it would have saved my son a lot of frustration and prevented so many tears. Kids start by simply walking along with their feet and then progress to sitting down, with their feet propelling them along. Finally, they learn to coast with their feet off the ground and … ta-da! They’re practically riding, without the pain and frustration that usually come with learning to master two-wheeled travel.
Note that in many states, helmets are required for young riders. When choosing a youth bike helmet, you might want to look for models like the Bern Nina and Nino helmets, which can be also be used for winter snowsports with the addition of a fleece liner.
Starter Snowboards (with an assist)
Yet another thing I really wish had been around when my kids were younger! Conventional wisdom used to be that kids shouldn’t start snowboarding until they were at least five years old, but Burton changed all that with a great little gadget called the Riglet Reel, which attaches to kids’ snowboards so you can drag them around on the flats to get them used to riding sideways at a much earlier age. Burton’s beginner boards for tots, the Chopper, Chicklet, and After-School Special, all come with pre-drilled holes and a plug so you can take the reel on and off easily. Burton also has the Riglet Board, which comes with a reel and is designed for future rippers to play around indoors or in the back yard. You can also get the Hover Cover, which slips over the Riglet board or the smaller sizes (90cm and under) of any of the above to make them more hardwood floor-friendly. Burton even has a Riglet website with a ton of Riglet-centric tips, videos, and events
If skiing isn’t an option, or not a frequent one, you can avoid cabin fever in the snowy months by outfitting your little ones with a nifty pair of kids’ snowshoes. They can get out and search for winter rabbits, bird watch, collect items for creative projects at home, and make the occasional snowman. Okay, let’s be honest, make a lot of snowmen. It will also keep them active and healthy at the same time. Snowshoes are an easy and affordable way to teach them that, with the right gear, winter is fun.
When gearing them up for snowshoeing, make sure to get them kid-specific models. If they are trying to walk in adult snowshoes, they will have a very hard time and will most likely become frustrated. The good news is that most snowshoe models will last until they are in adult-sized shoes, so this is a good one-time purchase and a great hand-me-down.
If you’re trying to get your kids into hiking and backpacking, it’s tempting to make it easy and carry all their gear for them. But as they grow older, it’s best to get them accustomed to carrying their own necessities. Get them their own backpack, with a color they like, or a playful design, like the Deuter Kikki backpack. It can inspire excitement about toting their gear. Start by putting lightweight items inside, like a little water bottle, sunscreen, safety whistle, and a toy.
Keeping kids hydrated in the hot summer months is crucial. You can get your youngster’s backpack to do double duty by choosing a pack with a hydration bladder, like the CamelBak Mini-M.U.L.E. It gives kiddos easy access to water, plus space for the other summer essentials like insect repellent and yummy snacks.
Once they get older and are ready to carry more of their own gear on hiking or backpacking trips, they can transition to more full-featured daypacks like the Osprey Jet 18 pack. Packs like these have their own hydration bladder, a sternum strap, a soft, supportive, and comfortable waist belt, and an internal framesheet. Now they can carry their own water supply, sleeping bag, and all of the items they need for their adventures.
Kids’ Climbing Gear
One of the first things a human ever does, even before walking, is climb. If climbing is your passion, the good news is that most kids love climbing, too—but you want them to be 100% safe. Getting the proper gear for them is essential. Luckily, there are plenty of kids’ climbing gear options available that safely introduce young monkeys to the joys of climbing.
The first step to safe and happy climbing is outfitting them with a harness. If your child is six or younger, I advise using a full-body harness. The Edelrid Fraggle II Full-Body harness is the most plush and comfortable option. However, the Petzl Chest Harness paired with the Petzl Macchu Harness will grow with them. It starts as a full-body harness, but can be used as a regular harness as they get bigger.
Wearing a helmet at the crag is always a must for children, even if they are not climbing. You just never know when something might fall from above, so you always have to be prepared. When picking out a helmet, involve your child in the selection process; it’s fun to let them choose a design they like. And don’t worry, all of the reputable brands are safe and effective. Just ensure you size it properly by measuring the circumference of their head to determine the correct size to order, and check the fit once the helmet arrives (it should not wiggle around on their heads once it has been adjusted). My boys had the tiger-striped Camp USA Armour Jr Helmet when they were younger; now that they are 12 and 13, they are using the Skywalker 2 Helmet.
The next step is investing in great climbing shoes. If their shoes are too small and painfully tight, they’ll cry. If their shoes are too big or old, they will get frustrated and climbing won’t be a rewarding experience. My boys had both had the La Sportiva Stickit FiXion shoes. They worked great and were very easy for them to get on and off by themselves.
On the Water
Another kids’ item I found was a good investment was a comfortable, well-fitting PFD. Who doesn’t have memories of a big, bulky life jacket jammed up against their ears, and hating every second of being on the water as a result? A comfy PFD considerably reduces kids’ resistance to wearing one; there are now many options modeled on adult low-profile paddling vests that few kids will object to.
Rashguards are also something I didn’t have as a child, but one of the items my boys can’t live without. Rashguards are great for boogie-boarding and surfing, but they are also an easy way to protect your child from sunburns, without the mess and bother of lotion sunscreens.
Kids can’t resist the challenge presented by slacklines, and they’re great for developing coordination, balance, and confidence. Slacklining is different from tightrope walking in that the webbing isn’t completely taut–it’s more relaxed, so keeping your balance is challenging and uses a lot of core strength. This in turn benefits any other outdoor sports they may love like skiing, skateboarding, or roller-blading.
A slackline kit is easy to set up in any park, campsite, or back yard where two strong anchor points (usually trees) are present. A kit will come equipped with a basic ratchet for tightening the line. Typically, the tighter the line, the easier it is to walk on. You can also help them get started by putting a rope overhead to hold on to, or having a ski pole in each hand. My kids preferred the ski pole technique. Make sure to read all instructions and completely understand how to release the tension created by the ratchet when dismantling the slackline, as it can be dangerous if released improperly.
Outdoor gear for kids has come a long way in the last decade, and it’s now easier than ever for parents to get their kids outdoors comfortably and safely. If you need any gear recommendations or tips on parenting outdoorsy kids or inspiring a homebody to venture out, feel free to contact me!