Gear · hiking · Hiking Gear

What Do Our Toddler & Preschooler Carry?

Posts on “What I Carry In My Pack” are pretty common on the interwebs, although it is nearly always written from an adult’s perspective. Children get covered here and there, but it is nearly always older children (school-age). In my years of hiking I have noticed one constant truth: children are not taken out enough, in the years between toddler and early school-age. They are not easy years, this I will agree with. They go veeerrrryyyy slow and only get moving if they want to. They are too heavy to carry on your back. They claim they cannot possibly go on one more step (but once at the car, at the trailhead, suddenly have unlimited energy….).


The payoffs though for putting up with this maddening pace is worth it. Even if it means you must stop at EVERY mud puddle, fat worm, carry sticks they found (and slowly disperse when they are not paying attention), have melt downs because you didn’t bring the color of M&M’s they have to have….

You see so much more in life. It gives time to take photos of flowers, butterflies, vistas and then you get to mold those little minds below you. And let them teach you about nature as well. If you can, grit your teeth and embrace the toddler & preschool years – the payoffs are worth it.


They don’t always need to carry a backpack, but neither does it hurt them to learn about carrying their own gear. Most young children enjoy having ‘mini-me’ gear – and if you get them used to it when young, they don’t balk at the idea of it at 8.

The two younger boys carry packs when hiking and also at their outdoor preschool. The only difference with preschool is I don’t worry about their food.

Walker’s pack (he is 4½ years old and wears a 5T to size 5 clothing):


  • Dueter Junior Pack
  • Rain jacket (I do not worry about breathable for them, I want full rain proof)
  • Kleenex packs (you can never have enough of this)
  • Warm hat
  • Breathable rain pants (REI)
  • Sun hat
  • 2 pairs gloves
  • Sandals for warmer months
  • Sit pad (Thermarest)
  • Emergency blanket
  • Handwarmers
  • Waterproof bag
  • Sunglasses
  • Whistle (Connected to front of pack, for easy access, taught only for emergencies!!)

Not pictured:

  • Insulating layer (jacket, fleece)
  • Snacks
  • Garbage bag (quart freezer bag)
  • Water bottles
  • Extra pair socks, pants and underwear (and these are stored in a sealed and wrapped over gallon freezer bag)

Alistaire’s pack (he is 2½ years old and wears 3T to 4T clothing):


Not pictured:

Both boys also each have pairs of Black Diamond First Strike trekking poles. I often pack a few waterproof guides as well, on plants, birds and critters of the area we are in. Binoculars as well.

Things you might wonder about:

They are getting headlamps for Christmas this year. Before they had LED flashlights as an emergency backup. They are old enough now for them. I don’t leave a first aid kit in their packs, when they are older, they will get one each. Same with knives, Walker is nearly ready for one, few more years for the youngest!


Now then, my boys are on the very high scale for physical size (Percentile Chart). Children who are on the lower end and smaller in size/weight cannot and should not carry as much. And there is nothing saying kids have to carry all this – you can pick and choose, letting them carry a few items, but then you carry the rest (for example, I carry spare clothing, lunches, diapers when they were younger, and so on). You might even find you have to carry a pack on the way back – so always have a few ‘biners on the back of your pack to connect them.

But most of all, don’t miss the chance to take your children hiking. Even if all you do is an hour here and there, on local trails! Kids don’t care if it is local, or at a fancy National Park. They just want to be outside! Running, playing and yes, being god-awful noisy (hey adults, I see those glares you give kids – get over yourself!)

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