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Double-Duty Back to School Gear for Outdoor Families

It’s back to school season – time for cool breezes, freshly sharpened pencils and fall camping trips. And of course – back-to-school shopping.

When we do ours, what I’m really looking for is gear that can do double duty. We need shoes that can hold up to the daily wear and tear of recess and be sturdy enough for the hiking trail, lunch boxes that are fun and easy to throw in a backpack, and backpacks that aren’t too bulky to hike with our too technical to hold library books.

Finding double-duty gear helps us minimize what we have to buy, and makes life a little easier for everyone. So here’s our list of gear that can get your kids through school days and take them straight outdoors afterwards. To meet our criteria, this gear has to be:

  • Sturdy enough to hold up to daily use
  • Cool enough to satisfy our kids
  • Reliable enough for outdoor adventures. 


We love this Sprouts backpack from North Face for preschoolers.

This Deuter Junior Pack also holds up through weekends and week days.  It’s recommended ages 5 and up, so it’s perfect for your younger elementary schooler. 


It can be hard to find a lunch bag that will last for longer than a year (why are kids so hard on them??), but this L. L. Bean bag is the best. This one is hands-down our favorite for school, picnic dinners, traveling and sustaining the abuse of regular old kids! Ours are 3 years old now and still look (and work) like new.

If you hate flying through ziploc bags to pack up trail snacks and school lunches, try these from Bumkins. They come in loads of fun prints (but of course we’re going to link to the cute outdoorsy print). I have tried several different reusable bags and these are hands down our favorite.

We used these Thermos containers all school year long and never had any complaints about food temperature. These are the perfect size for a serving of pasta or a hard boiled egg. I’ve even sent soup to school with no spillage before.

Obviously staying hydrated on the trail is important, but our school also requires water bottles in an attempt to keep germs from spreading at the water fountain. This double walled bottle from Hydro Flask will keep drinks cold, without sweating all over important school assignments.

Our team also likes these CamelBak water bottles, which come in fun patterns for kids.


I wouldn’t normally let my son wear good khakis hiking, but we got these Land’s End pants as hand me downs and he didn’t want to rip his “athletic pants” climbing on rocks. So my son wore these and now calls them his “sturdy” pants since they held up so well.

We also highly recommend Kuhl’s Renegade pants for boys and Kuhl’s Kliffside pants for girls.

Keen’s Chandler CNX shoes are flexible enough for gym class, but are sturdy enough to wear hiking.

For t-shirts and sweaters, Sawyer has high-quality, well-made clothes that feature outdoor themes. They’re great for outdoors and school. You can read our full review of this brand here.


Our school has recess in all weather, and I love that my kids get a chance to play during the day. But I hate the thought of them sitting through class afterwards wet and cold.

We love this raincoat from Jan and Jul. It’s fleece lined for chilly weather.

This one from Oaki is also a great choice, and goes up to size 11.

For rain boats, we recommend these Lone Cone boots. They come in lots of fun prints (as well as solid colors), and have always kept feet nice and dry.

lone cone boots for kids

These rain boots from Jan and Jul are also another great choice for preschoolers.

The artist series trucker hats from Sunday Afternoons are also perfect for kids who want to look cool on the playground. While I was skeptical about how foam-front hats would hold up, these still look great even after being squashed at the bottom of backpacks.

Fleece jackets are great for chilly mornings, cool classrooms and shoulder weather hikes. These ones from LL Bean are thick with hoods – a combo that can be tough to find in fleece coats. 

Hopefully this guide will help minimize the amount of gear you need to buy as you get ready for school and cooler weather. If the outdoors is your classroom, be sure to check out our review of Wild Math

Be sure to tell us below what your favorite double duty gear is!

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Team Member Jackie is a coffee-lover, writer and a mom of a six year old, five year old and a toddler living in Helena, MT. She thought that hiking might help tame her children’s wild spirits, and co-leads a Hike it Baby branch. All that hiking only made her crew wilder, but in a good way. Before kids she enjoyed reading, knitting and baking, but now she enjoys making it to bedtime.

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