7 Essential Tips for Winter Hiking with Kids

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It’s kind of a natural instinct to hole up inside where it’s nice and warm during the winter months. But no matter the time of year, it’s still important to haul the kids (and yourself) outside for some fresh air, exercise, and play time! If you have kids tagging along, you might not be sure where to start. Which is why I want to share some tips for winter hiking with kids!

It might seem like an intimidating prospect at first, but it’s well worth a little extra effort! And the more you do it, the easier it will become. Not to mention choosing to embrace winter by getting outside can help eliminate the feeling of cabin fever or the winter blues that affect so many people.

So here are seven essential tips to help you while winter hiking with kids!

1. Dress appropriately.

close up of child's face while bundled up outside in snow

Arguably the most important thing to help guarantee success while winter hiking with kids is wearing the right clothes. In colder temperatures it’s obviously important to make sure you and the kiddos stay warm and dry.

But when you’re hiking, it’s also important to make sure that the clothes next to your skin can wick away moisture when you sweat. This way, you won’t find yourself damp and chilly later if you stop moving. There are three primary layers to consider when planning outfits for winter hiking with kids:

Base layer

The base layer is the layer closest to your body. Its main function is to wick away moisture and keep it off of your skin, which prevents you from getting cold later. To achieve this, look for layers made of polyester, nylon, wool, or silk.

I’m personally not a fan of synthetic fibers, at least for the layer next to my skin, and prefer merino wool base layers like this one. There are a lot of reasons to love wool. It has natural antibacterial properties, so clothes made of wool don’t get as smelly. It also helps regulate your body temperature, which is quite helpful in the winter months. Wool leggings are also a great option for a base layer on the bottom underneath the snow pants.

And wool clothing will practically last forever, so it’s definitely a great item for hand-me-downs. The only downside is that wool clothing is on the expensive side, but with all the aforementioned benefits, I definitely feel that it’s worth the price. And, as always with kids clothes, I buy a few sizes up because they can always grow into it and get much more use out of it that way.

Middle layer

The purpose of the middle layer is to retain the heat close to our bodies. A fleece made of wool or polyester like this one works well. This is one layer that I don’t feel is necessary to spend top dollar on as long as it’s made from the right kind of fabric.

The most important fabric to avoid is cotton, which retains all the moisture. We definitely don’t want that to happen when we’re outside in the cold. If you purchase a coat that already comes in two layers (one insulating layer and a weather proof shell), you can probably skip this layer altogether.

Outer layer

The outer layer acts as a shell or buffer between you and the elements, so ideally this would be waterproof. There are plenty of different styles and insulation materials to choose from when it comes to winter coats.

Personally, I like insulated coats with a canvas type outer layer like this one for our little guy. I prefer these because the extra length is nice and they don’t get snagged up and poked full of holes like the puffy coats have a tendency to do. Read here to find out some pros and cons of different types of winter coats to help you choose.

Our favorite snow pants for winter hiking with kids are the bib overall style with adjustable suspenders. Remember what it feels like to get snow down your pants? Yup…that’s what we’re trying to avoid here. Unless you’re of the belief that this builds character and is necessary for children to experience sometimes. I could get on board with that too.

Boots and socks

Footwear is super important while winter hiking with kids, so this is one area where I’m willing to spend a little extra. We bought these Merrell snow boots for our little guy, and we absolutely love them! He has never once complained about cold feet while wearing them.

Our family wears Merrell shoes almost exclusively. They have more toe space than the majority of other brands, which is a huge deal for us, and especially for kids! We don’t want any toes jammed into narrow shoes while their feet are still developing.

Don’t hesitate to buy children’s boots a few sizes up! Thick winter socks will help them fit and the extra space can actually help keep the feet warmer! And don’t forget to pair them with wool socks to keep the feet cozy and dry!

Hats and mittens

Now it’s time to make sure to extremities are covered while winter hiking with kids! For toddlers and younger kids, I highly recommend mittens with extra long arm cuffs like these. Nothing else that we tried would stay on our boy while he was out playing. And let me tell you, putting on your kids gloves over and over again when you’re outside gets old real fast.

If your winters aren’t super frigid, the type of hat you choose isn’t a big deal. However, if you live somewhere with pretty harsh winters, I’m definitely a fan of balaclavas over a scarf and hat combo. They do a better job of retaining the heat around the head and neck and it makes for for fewer clothing items to keep track of.

For babies

toddler outside in snow wearing puffy snowsuit

We’ve found that the best thing for toddlers and babies when we’re outside in the winter is a one piece snowsuit. This makes for fewer pieces that we have to find and put on when it’s time to get dressed for outside. (Because believe me, you want that part to be as easy as possible!) For toddlers that are actually walking around, this is a great option.

For babies, look for a snowsuit that comes with footies. (Because who wants to spend money on boots for a baby that they’ll outgrow in a month?) Ideally, the snowsuit would have a covering for the hands as well as the feet since mittens don’t really stay on babies.

Once you’ve found a warm snowsuit, your babies will be snugly and comfortable too while you’re winter hiking with kids!

2. Have an activity for the kids.

My four-year-old boy always does better outdoors, and especially on hikes, when I plan an activity for him. He loves having some sort of mission! He’s commented in the past that hiking is “really just a lot of walking”. He’s not wrong 😁.

We also have a limited amount of nature trails close to our home, so we often end up hiking in the same places repeatedly. So I definitely don’t blame the guy for getting a little bored sometimes. Which is why it’s super helpful to have an extra activity planned while winter hiking with kids!

These are some of our favorite activity options for hikes:

Nature scavenger hunt

Yup, this one works even in the winter! And it’s super easy. Just print out this winter nature scavenger hunt, place it on a clipboard with a pencil, and bring it long on your next hike! This particular scavenger hunt is extra snazzy because it involves all the senses! Activities like this always keep our little guy occupied and involved while hiking.

Evergreen identification

close up of evergreen branch with snow

Even though most of the trees have lost their foliage, evergreen identification while winter hiking with kids is a great activity! Not to mention it’s a fun way to sneak a little science lesson in there. Grab a field guide and bring it along with you on your next excursion!

This is a kid friendly field guide that’s fun to bring along. If you’re looking for a good, all around field guide to trees, this field guide from National Geographic is one of the best. Once you spot an evergreen, head over to get a closer look and crack open your field guide!

Have your kids study the bark, needles, pine cones, and any other features of the tree and see if they can use the field guides to correctly identify it! Do this every time you spot a new evergreen tree on your hike. Pretty soon, you’ll have some little tree experts on your hands!

Play games.

I have yet to meet any kids (or adults, for that matter) who don’t enjoy games! This can make winter hiking with kids infinitely more enjoyable if they’re beginning to get bored. Here’s a great list of ideas for some fun games you can easily play while on the trail!

Look for animal tracks.

Another fun science lesson opportunity that’s available while winter hiking with kids is searching for animal tracks! Especially if you live in an area with snow, it can be super easy to spot and identify tracks while you’re out on the trail. Bring along a track identification book like this one and use it to help you figure which animals have been on the path before you!

3. Bring snacks as incentive.

kids sipping hot drinks outside in snow

Can I be presumptuous and say everyone loves snacks or sipping a hot beverage when it’s cold outside? This is why bringing some goodies along while winter hiking with kids is a great idea! It’ll provide you and the kids with that extra nudge you need midway through your hike. Not to mention you need more energy when sloshing through the snow!

Grab a thermos and fill it up with some hot chocolate (or your family’s preferred hot beverage) and toss it in your hiking pack for later! Make this easy by purchasing some hot chocolate mix that’s easy to throw together or make your own delicious mix at home to keep on hand. For snacks, we really like these granola bars and these fruit and nut bars.

4. Keep it realistic.

When you first begin winter hiking with kids, it’s important to know your limits. Keep in mind that it will take you longer to finish a hike in the winter than it would in the summertime. It’s a good ideas to choose shorter paths that you’re familiar with and have hiked previously, at least when you first start out.

With daylight hours being pretty limited, we make sure to start out early enough so we’re not caught out on the trail in the dark. And hiking at midday also ensures that we’ll be out during the warmest portion of the day. All of these precautions will help your time on the trails go much more smoothly!

5. Try a new approach.

Bring a sled.

Mom pulling two kids on sleds through the woods while winter hiking with kids

Sometimes you just need to try out something a little different to make winter hiking with kids work. A lot of the time, we opt to bring a sled and pull our little guy on trails. He loves it when we do this!

It allows him to walk and play in the snow whenever he pleases and then he can hop on the sled whenever he gets tired or wants a ride. It’s also much easier for us to pull him than to have him asking to be carried.

Pulling a sled is a great option for paths that are pretty level and unhindered by roots and rocks. It’s also essential that the snow on the path has already been packed down so that the sled will glide smoothly over top. Deep, untouched snow doesn’t work so well and you probably won’t end up getting too far. (Ask me how I know 😆).

Try snowshoeing or cross country skiing.

boy snowshoeing on a trail

Another thing you can do to switch up your winter hiking with kids routine is try something besides walking when you’re on the trails! Depending on the amount of snow and how packed down it is on the trail, why not strap on some snowshoes or cross country skis?

If your kids are a little older, this would be a fun new approach for them to try! If you have young kids or a toddler, baby-wearing is still an option while doing either of these things!

If that’s too much to try out right now, then I highly suggest a simple walking stick. It’s amazing how much fun my son has when he has his “trusty walking stick”… which is normally just whatever stick he finds along the way 🙂

Go on a night time hike.

Since winter has an abundance of darkness, why not try a winter hike with kids at night? On busy days, going out after dark might be your only option for a little outdoors time anyway. And kids will think it’s a blast to go out at night! It feels totally different than the norm, which makes it really memorable.

Again, make sure to choose a path you’re familiar with since the terrain will be a bit harder to navigate in the dark. Equip everyone with headlamps, flashlights, or some pretty lanterns. Now head out and enjoy the forest after dark!

6. Find the right carrier for babies/toddlers.

Father carrying baby on his back while hiking

If you have a baby and still want to get out in the winter, don’t despair! There are plenty of great baby-wearing options that will allow you to go winter hiking with kids.

We live in a pretty urban area, so the majority of our hikes are really just easy walks through the woods. For that reason, this Ergobaby carrier suited us just fine. It’s the only babywearing device I ever used for our little guy when we were out on the trails (or anywhere else, for that matter). It can be used beginning at the newborn stage up until your child reaches 45 pounds.

It allows your baby/toddler to be put in three different positions, which was a really nice option to have. Sometimes he was sleepy so we’d strap him in front facing inward and he would snooze peacefully on my chest the entire time. When they’re awake and curious, you can face them outward on your front or place them on your back. Our little guy loved looking being able to look at his surroundings while we carried him on our walks!

If you’re actually planning on some more intense hiking or backpacking with your littles and want something designed specifically for hiking, read here to figure out which hiking carrier would work best for you.

7. Stay hydrated.

It’s easy to forget to drink during the winter. In the summer when we’re hot and sweaty, it makes sense that we would think to take drinks often. But cold water doesn’t exactly sound good when we’re already out in the cold. Nonetheless, it’s still super important to remember water while you’re winter hiking with kids.

Especially when doing something active like hiking in the snow, our bodies can sweat a lot under all those layers. This makes it easy to get dehydrated, so make sure to bring along water bottles for everyone! We keep ours in our hiking pack. As a general rule, we take a drink right before starting out, at least once during the actual hike, and again afterward.

We used this one for our little guy when he was a toddler and needed a sippy cup lid. Now that he’s four, we use this water bottle and we bring it with us everywhere! It’s a super durable option that holds up to our son throwing it around and it prevents spills when he’s drinking on the go. We also love stainless steel since it won’t leave your water tasting like plastic.

Conclusion

Winter hiking with kids can be a bit tricky at first, but with a little adjustment, you’ll be a pro in no time! It’s essential to make sure that you’re dressing appropriately for the weather. Choose the right layers for yourself and the kids to help ensure proper moisture management, temperature regulation, and protection from the elements.

To help motivate the kids, make sure to have some sort of activity for them to do besides just hiking. Any time they have a goal or mission to accomplish, they’ll be much more excited and involved in the hike!

It also never hurts to bring along incentive to help motivate, primarily in the form of snacks and warm beverages. You might be amazed at how much more your kids are willing to do when the promise of snacks is involved! (Or, if you’re accustomed to bribery, you might not be surprised at all!)

Remember that winter hiking with kids usually takes longer, so keep it realistic. Pick a trail you’re familiar with that isn’t crazy long or challenging and make sure to leave early enough in the day to get back before sundown.

Sometimes, it’s nice to shake it up and try a completely new approach. Some ways you can do this are to bring a sled along, try snowshoeing or cross country skiing, or go on a night hike. If your kids are a little unenthusiastic about another hike, trying something new can help bring back the enthusiasm!

If you’re bringing along a toddler or baby, it’s important to identify the right type of baby wearing device. It can be such a joy to bring along the newest addition to your family and watch them experience nature for the first time!

Lastly, don’t forget to stay hydrated while winter hiking with kids. It can be really easy to forget to drink water, but it’s just as important in the winter!

Incorporating all of these ideas has helped our time winter hiking with kids be much more enjoyable! We’re able to get out and enjoy the beauty of winter together while getting some exercise and becoming much more resilient people. Not to mention it helps us enjoy the winter season more when we choose to embrace it. So head out and enjoy winter with your family today!

If you’re looking for even more winter activity inspiration, check out these no-snow winter activities or these must-do winter ideas!

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