Hiking with Kids: Teaching Them What to Bring, What to Leave! Packing Their Backpacks & No More Mommy Sherpa

Happy, Hydrated, Independent Kiddos!

Last week the kids and I took a gorgeous day-hike down Tennessee Valley. A 4 mile round-trip, easy hike that’s perfect for beginners and little, yet sturdy legs. The reward is the turn-around point: a secluded beach touching the Pacific Ocean and snuggled into the walls of the glowing, green, towering Marin Headlands.

In a brilliant move this past Christmas, we coordinated with Grandma for the girls (age 7) to get the Camelback Mini-M.U.L.E. , which Camelback touts as perfect for bike riding, but I tout as a fantastic starter, day-hiking pack for the little ones.

For the first time, they’re responsible for carrying their own water and we can tuck a vital snack into the small pockets as well. (And there’s also space to tuck a few favorite rocks and leaves and treasures along the way…)

The big news here is teaching them not only the value of hydration but also the shocking news that mommy is no longer their Sherpa – it’s their pack, their water on their back, and not a hand-off to Mommy-The-Mule halfway down the trail.

The hike down to the beach that day was blustery. Cool, misty wind blowing up the valley from a distant fog bank out swimming with the fish. But once at the beach, the kids stripped down and ran-amok hiding and fort building and pirate treasuring for over an hour.

Which leads us to the tired hike home: still somewhat jolly and boostered by chocolate-chip granola bars, the girls and I walked hand-in-hand. Though I knew we were just moments from the “Are we there yet?” inevitability of stamina challenged little ones, so I came up with a game.

What to pack for a hike.

The girls took turns selecting items and I gently hinted when they got stuck. No doubt their list, if they’d been say, 5 years old, would have been more fantastical and filled with kitchen sinks and swing-sets and lots of Pirate Booty. Yet my girls kept it right on line, surprisingly practical and unbelievably thorough:

Food (what kind of food: nuts, raisins, granola bars, no Skittles)
First aid kit
Tissues (in a Ziplock)
Jacket (how do we dress for hikes, girls? in LAYERS, Mom!)
and, finally, Cameron Sense (which I finally figured out was “Common Sense”)

What a nice list! Things got goofy after this, as we moved into packing for an overnight and then car-camping vs. backpacking.

The one thing that made all the lists was: S'MORES, because “you always want Ssss…more, Mommy!” That was a real knee slapper in this crowd.

A gentle day outside with a gentle lesson involved. A treat to hear my girls developing Common Sense about taking care of themselves, becoming independent, thinking past Pirate Booty. A practical, simple list to share with you all, built from a lovely moment of togetherness in Ma Nature.

Namaste & Three Cheers! -OM

P.S. So worth doing the homework, we found the Camelback Mini-M.U.L.E. on sale. Check REI, LLBean (free shipping), and Google it!

For more fun info:
Bay Area Hikes: Wildflowers & Waterfalls - Cataract Falls
More Hikes: Rock Creek Trail with views of San Francisco city
3 Ways to get Your Kids up the Mountain... hiking with Kids


  1. Seriously the best purchase ever. Our 3-year-olds get the Camelbak Skeeter and a sleeping bag for their birthday. They love having their own pack to carry and the freedom to drink whenever they want to. Sometimes it means a LOT more potty breaks, but that's okay.

    1. ha, michelle! i hear you on the potty breaks. so funny! (the clear downside of kid self-hydration ;)