Hiking Clothes for Kids

Choosing the right apparel for kids to hike in is an important piece of having a good hiking experience! That doesn’t mean it has to be complicated or expensive or ultra-specialized, but following some simple guidelines can increase the likelihood that your kids will enjoy hiking and want to spend more time exploring the great outdoors!

The right hiking clothes for kids depends on a few factors. Variations in climate and terrain can mean very different apparel choices! Hiking clothes should layer well for changes in weather and conditions, and generally be lightweight and moisture-wicking.

You’ll notice below that we included recommendations for budget-friendly options (think clothes you would buy every year) as well as investment options (think clothes you can pass down again and again)

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Hiking Clothes for Summer

It’s probably no surprise that a lot of hiking takes place in warm weather, when more kids are on school breaks and the outdoors is more accessible. Hiking in warm sunshine sounds pretty amazing on chilly gray days, but it can also mean sweat-soaked clothing and sunburns. Choosing the right hiking clothes for warm weather will make it far more fun!

Two girls stand on a trail wearing comfortable hiking clothes for summer.
Two of my daughters on a Northern Indiana trail in comfortable hiking clothes for summer wear.

Hiking Shirts for Kids

Short and long-sleeved shirts can actually both be great for hot weather! If your kids will be hiking in a location with a lot of sun exposure, or where narrow trails could mean scraped arms, or even a hike where mosquitos and other pests are frequently present, a long-sleeved shirt may be preferred.

Regardless of sleeve length, good hiking shirts for kids should be quick-dry for comfort in hot or humid weather. Synthetic material like a polyester blend is ideal AND just happens to be a common material in kids’ sportswear! My kids love to hike in the same light and moisture-wicking shirts they practice basketball in.

Nike, Under Armor, Adidas, All in Motion by Target, and many other sportswear brands might already be in your children’s closet, and double perfectly as hiking clothes for kids. Many outdoor-specific brands, such as REI, Patagonia, and Eddie Bauer, make children’s gear as well, including lots of great hiking shirts for kids.

Three older kids hiking in the Grand Canyon, the girls wearing All in Motion brand sportswear.
My teenage daughters wearing All in Motion shirts, shorts, and leggings on a hiking trip in the Grand Canyon.

Make sure to avoid cotton for maximum comfort in hiking clothes for summer! If your kids are shopping their own closets for hiking clothes, check those labels and pick the lowest cotton percentage from among their shirts that otherwise fit the bill.

Favorite Hiking Shirts

Hiking Bottoms for Kids

Just like with shirt sleeve length, hiking in warm weather can be done in shorts or long pants. Some of my kids always prefer to hike in shorts and feel like it’s a giant punishment to wear pants. Another one of mine likes to wear full-length leggings in any weather. Personal comfort is a big factor in deciding on hiking clothes for kids.

A 10 year old girl hiking in leggings and a preschool boy hiking in shorts, on the Grand Canyon rim trail.
My son and daughter opting for different lengths in hiking clothes for summer at the Grand Canyon.

We frequently hike in areas common to ticks and long pants are a good first line of defense against tick bites. Full-length pants or leggings also provide some sun protection, and if you’ve never gotten a sunburn and still had to hike through it, I applaud you and can confirm to you that it is miserable.

My kids also like “convertible” clothing! Pants that zip off to become shorts or pants that roll up to become capris are great for hiking in locations where the conditions change throughout the day. Just make sure that you store any zip-off pieces securely in a backpack!

My son has worn a pair of REI zip-off pants to shorts on many hikes, and I plan to pass them on to my next son in a year or two. They are sturdy and versatile, great for the trail.

My 11 year old son standing on rocks near a large lake, wearing convertible hiking pants.
My son David hiking along Lake Superior in REI Sahara Convertible Pants

Shorts and leggings are also another category where sportswear can be a perfect fit for hikes. Gym shorts and non-cotton leggings are just right as hiking clothes for kids! One of our personal favorite legging brand for our kids is All In Motion from Target, which has a variety of fun patterns and styles in synthetic materials, for both boys and girls.

Favorite Hiking Bottoms

Hiking Clothes in Cool Weather

Choosing hiking clothing for kids in cooler conditions is a little more complex, but has a lot of the same foundational aspects. Material that repels water is still extremely important, and utilizing layers is much preferred over wearing large heavy clothing items.

Kids (and adults) can still work up a sweat while hiking in cold weather, and cold wet clothing on skin is not only uncomfortable, but can be dangerous as it makes it more difficult for a child to maintain a safe body temperature! And likewise, sunburn is a surprising but common occurrence in snowy locations, especially at high elevations. Ask me how I know.

Three kids sitting atop a rocky peak in the Smoky Mountains, wearing layered hiking clothes for kids.
My kids on a chilly hike near Mt LeConte in the Smoky Mountains, wearing lots of layers!

Base Layers for Kids

Starting with a base layer is always a good call for chilly or cold hiking. If the temperatures are still mild, a base layer alone may be sufficient. Base layers should be form-fitting and close to the skin to protect your kids’ natural body heat.

A high quality wool base layer, like those made by Iksplor, may be worth the investment if your kids regularly hike or camp in colder climates. If your family is more of a three-seasons hiking crew, an inexpensive synthetic brand like 32 Heat is a decent option and widely available. We often snag sets when they show up at Costco in the fall.

Two boys hiking along a road in the Smoky Mountains, wearing 32 Heat brand layers.
My sons wearing their 32 Heat base layers under their shorts and t-shirts on a road in the Smoky Mountains.

A good base layer not only helps kids maintain their body temperature, but offers that sun protection, which is important even in chilly weather. Or if the sun is obscured by rain or snow, base layers serve as an important warming layer between outer layers and skin. They also can become pajamas for those multi-day camping and backpacking trips!

Stephanie recently wrote a great article about the importance of good base layers, and highlighted several excellent brands that many of our moms love!

Favorite Base Layers

Valid for any order at full price (not including Outlet and Renewed items that are already heavily discounted).

Mid Layers for Kids

A mid layer provides an additional level of warmth for those especially cold hikes. Kids should choose something that isn’t too bulky and restrictive of movement, but it should be cozy and insulating.

A fleece pullover or a sweater made of down or wool are great options for mid layers. Just be ready with a backpack to stow that layer should the hike work up a sweat on your active kids!

A 10 year old girls sits on a log wearing layered hiking clothes, including a mid-layer pullover sweater.
My daughter Cassie with her mid-layer pullover sweater peeking out from under her rain jacket.

Surprise, surprise, this layer should also ideally be moisture-wicking. However, my kids have sometimes worn heavy cotton-blend shirts for this layer, in more moderately cool temps, since it isn’t next to the skin or an outer rain layer.

On extremely cold climate hikes, kids can even double up on this layer as long as their layers aren’t tight on top of each other–constricting layers can actually limit circulation and reduce body temperature.

Favorite Mid Layers

Outer Layers for Kids

The right outer layer for hiking should definitely be waterproof, and let me just save you a personal headache with my best outer layer advice. Always bring that rain jacket! 🙂 Leaving it at home is almost a guarantee of rainfall.

If your kids are hiking in coat weather, a waterproof winter coat shell, or even a sturdy rain jacket, on top of a mid layer (or two!) is the ideal way to prepare for the elements. Wearing a heavy or bulky overcoat could lead to overheating with no real options to remove clothing and still be well-protected against cold. Layers mean that your kids can gradually moderate what they are wearing to limit cold AND sweat.

Favorite Outer Layers

Valid for any order at full price (not including Outlet and Renewed items that are already heavily discounted).

Hiking Footwear

Regardless of whether you are looking for hiking clothes for summer or for winter, footwear is important! You may have seen the meme about kids hiking in crocs while carrying Barbies, and while that is sometimes how it goes with little people, feet should be a high priority while hiking! After all, they are carrying the rest of our bodies.

Don’t Neglect Socks!

I keep going back and forth on whether good socks or good shoes are more important when it comes to hiking clothes for kids, but it’s no debate that quality socks make a big difference! Hiking socks should definitely be free of holes, and wool is ideal.

Wool socks can be worn in all weather conditions. Because they naturally repel water, they are great protection against the blisters that form when wet or sweaty feet rub against shoes. Those same quick-dry properties reduce the chances of a cold-related injury to feet as well.

Darn Tough makes great kids socks starting at youth size 9. Smartwool kids’ socks go down to size 6. We love to give Darn Tough socks to our kids as gifts that keep on giving!

Hiking Shoes for Kids

The right shoe does depend on your kids’ hiking activity. If they are going on a rigorous hike with lots of elevation changes, the quality of the shoe is more important.

Several kids stand in a circle in a variety of muddy hiking shoes.
A group of my kids and their friends after a muddy hike.

Personal comfort might come into play with shoes more than any other hiking clothes for kids. We love to order online, but with shoes, if you can go in to a physical store and have your child try on a variety of styles, even if you ultimately place the order online, you may save yourself a big headache of returns or hiking discomfort.

Rita wrote a great article covering a lot of the considerations for kids’ hiking shoes, as well as going over several excellent shoe options.

Have your kids play a few games of tag or walk around the block in their hiking shoes before putting them in action on a trail, just to ensure they do actually feel comfortable in them once active. On the hike, if your kids get a hot spot, immediately cover it with a band-aid to hopefully prevent it turning into a full-blown blister!

Hiking Accesories

As you might expect, the type of accessories your kids will need are highly dependent on weather conditions. However, you might be surprised that some “wintry” accessories are actually also great on summery hikes!

Hiking Hats for Kids

Hats are one such accessory. Of course we all know that a hat in winter in a good thing, and that is certainly true on a hike. Legs and bodies warm with activity, but since kids’ heads are just sitting peacefully on top of their necks, they might need a cozy hat for the entire adventure!

Merino wool hats are excellent for winter hikes–warm, comfortable, and lightweight. However, just about any beanie your kids have in their winter wardrobe will work since the top part of them is less likely to step in a creek. Check out Jen’s article covering a wide range of winter hats!

Three children sit on a log on a hiking trail while wearing beanie hats.
My kids wearing some of their favorite beanies on a backpacking trip.

Hats are also helpful in summer! Sun protection is naturally a huge reason, and not just for sunburns either! It’s easy for kids to overheat, and protecting the part of their body that is most directly impacted by the sun’s rays will go a long way in keeping their entire body cooler.

For those summer or high heat hikes, choose a lightweight hat with a wide brim. Young children might also benefit from a chip strap. Amelia wrote an article highlighting some great kids’ sun hats!

Gloves

We only use gloves while hiking when the weather is really chilly, like near freezing or lower. But in general, if you are not sure if your kids will need them, probably go ahead and toss them in your backpack. It’s pretty hard to enjoy a hike with numb fingers!

My son and daughter backpacking in cold weather, wearing cotton gloves.
My son and daughter hiking in the Smoky Mountains in sub-freezing weather, wearing cotton gloves.

Our kids just bring basic cotton gloves on hikes. They are light and easy to replace. If you are hiking in heavy snow, waterproof mittens are ideal. They can even go right over cotton gloves for extra warmth–kind of like a base layer and an outer later for little hands!

Neck Gaiter

This is another accessory that shines in cold weather and in warm. When the temps are low, or conditions are windy or snowy, this simple loop of fabric offers protection from the elements for your child’s neck and even their face.

In summer, a neck gaiter is bonus sun protection, and also helps reduce body temperature. Simply soak the material in cool water and the chill right next to the large veins in your kids’ necks helps keep their entire body cooler. It’s even better than soaking their feet in a cooling creek!

A neck gaiter actually doesn’t need to be wool if you are intending to use it to hold water. There are wool neck gaiter options if your kids particularly need the thermal properties, or you can go for synthetic and cotton versions.

Keep them dry, keep them layered.

Keeping kids dry and dressing them in layers are the two key elements when it comes to hiking clothes for kids, whether in hot or cold weather! If you keep those two things in mind, your kids will be comfortable in hiking clothes for summer or winter.

Four kids running up a desert trail at the Grand Canyon.
My kids running up the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon.

Additional Resources

Check out these great articles for more on how to enjoy hiking with kids even more!

Hiking Clothes for Kids

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