You don’t need a ton of expensive gear to give your kids a great outdoor life.
There. I said it. All you need to do to have an amazing time is walk right out your front door.
But the truth is, good gear can definitely help you have a better (or at least warmer/dryer/safer/easier) time outdoors.
Check out this guide and then be sure to head here for ALL our guides for 2019 – our team has worked hard to gather our very favorite recommendations.
And if you choose right, good outdoor gear for kids can help you save money in the long run. No one is thrilled to have to throw away a kid’s shoes that have fallen apart before he even outgrew them.
With three kids, and several winters and summers under my belt, I’ve had the opportunity to learn what kids gear actually helps us have a better time outdoors, and what gear can survive being handed down kid-to-kid.
Which ultimately translates to more time outdoors for us, more savings in the bank, and less junk in the landfill. Win-win-win.
So if you are looking for the BEST outdoor gear for kids, we’ve got you covered. You don’t need it all, but hopefully this guide will help make your outdoor time a little smoother.
Big thanks to REI for helping sponsor this guide. However, be assured these recommendations are our own and exactly what we tell our family and friends. We are life-time members who believe in their mission to get ALL people outside.
Note: These links are affiliates. When you click through them to purchase, it helps support our mission and we thank you!
On the Go
If you are looking for an all-in-one beast, our Burley Encore X has been logging plenty of miles as both a stroller and a bike trailer. The spacious trunk makes it easy to stash gear, and the cover makes it easy to keep them warm and dry on cold days.
The suspension, padded seats and sunshade means I haven’t had any complaints from the littles. Even if you have one kid, I highly recommend getting a double to have extra room for blankets, toys, and groceries. You can read our review of it here.
If you want a more traditional stroller, the Bob is a classic for avid runners and walkers. The swivel front wheel makes maneuvering easy, and the sturdy wheels and suspension allow for a smooth ride on bumpy trails. If you’ve got more than one, the double will give you plenty of (much needed!) freedom.
Before kids, I would’ve never thought kids need quality outdoor clothes. But after watching my kids tear through several pairs of flimsy shorts while scooting over rocks, I’ve changed my mind.
We love these Patagonia Baggies shorts for their durability and their ability to dry quickly. (Boys’ version here). If your kids tend to rip their shorts climbing and sliding over rocks, these will hold up.
There are days where my kids just absolutely do not want to wear sunscreen. Rather than fight this battle, I give them the choice: they can wear sunscreen or they can wear long sleeves. I’m always surprised how often they choose to wear long sleeves, even in summer. This style is lightweight enough to wear on hot days, but will protect from bugs and burn.
In the summer, the Sunday Afternoon bucket hat has been one of our favorites. The brim keeps ears and necks protected, and the vent keeps it cool.
We get a ton of use from basic fleece jackets. They’re handy in the fall and spring, and layer well under winter jackets in the winter. This one comes with a hood, in case you too are always forgetting your kid’s hats.
Rain pants are another thing I didn’t think I needed before I had kids who loved to jump in puddles. But unless you want to be stuck in side on rainy days, you’ll need more than just a rain coat.
Best shoes for outdoor play
My oldest was thrilled when we tossed his aforementioned pair of shoes that had fallen apart before he outgrew (or really even grew into) them, and bought him another a pair of these Keen’s CNX shoes. We’ve had them before for the kids and they are lightweight and sturdy and we love them.
For new walkers, I have to admit that I simply love Crocs. While they might not have the traction you are looking for in all situations, they are easy to get off and on, don’t stink, and seem to avoid any sensory issues many young kids have.
If you want more traction, these Keen Newport H2 sandals were a favorite of ours. They’re sturdier than the Seacamp version, and hold up well. They are great for everything from hiking to splashing in water.
Kids’ snow and cold weather gear
Mittens that come up OVER coat sleeves and can be cinched shut are a must for kids who want to keep their fingers dry. This style from REI will help keep snow out of sleeves, meaning you can stay and play outside longer. If you want just a basic fleece mitten to keep fingers warm when it’s not snowy, these fleece mittens have a synthetic suede grip, which means less slipping on the monkey bars.
For littles who aren’t going to be spending any time in the snow, and more time hanging out on mom or dad’s back or tucked warmly in a stroller, the Columbia Snowtop II Bunting is perfect for laying under.
Tip: if you size up, not only will you be able to get more use out of it, it is easier to put warmer layers underneath, and little toes don’t get bunched up when in a carrier.
Hands down, the Columbia Buga set is my favorite snowsuit for toddlers and little kids. After five years of continual use by various kids, our first one still looks mostly brand new. It’s warm, easy to get on and off (so important!), and can hold up in the washer when you get to the muddy seasons.
Wool socks are another must for warm dry kids. While yes, they are expensive for a pair of socks, you only need one or two really good pairs per kid. These Darn Tough socks hold up better than other brands I’ve tried, and are pretty cute. This pair comes up nice and high, adding an extra layer of warmth.
For boots, Bogs are great for cold and wet weather. With no liner to deal with, they are easy to get off and on and have always kept our kids toes warm.
Sleeping bags for kids
Other helpful gear for getting out with kids
If you do a lot of hiking (and find the constant drone of “can I have another snack?” interrupts your pace), you might find it beneficial to have your kids start carrying their own food and water, even at an early age.
My kids stay much more hydrated when they are hiking with a hydration pack like this one from REI, and helps it keep the end-of-trail grumpies at bay.
If you aren’t hiking, a regular water bottle can be just as easy. This Hydroflask will keep your water cold even on hot days.
And if you suspect your kids won’t carry their packs or bottles the whole way, we have found having a few carabiners to attach their packs to ours have come in really handy.
We find a few bandanas stuffed in our packs can be handy for a mini picnic, cleaning up messes, or stashing treasures in.
Our kids love hiking at night during the winter, and headlamps make it safer (and more fun!). This one from Hybridlight is rechargeable through solar power or through a USB port.
Hopefully this list helps you find some outdoor gear that works for your kids. If you have favorites that we missed, please let us know in the comments!
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