Fall hiking gets complicated. Going outside in the summer seems easy by comparison. Shorts, a t-shirt, throw on some shoes, grab water and a snack, and head out the door. But when the cold weather sets in we have to spend a little more time planning our outdoor gear. The temperature swing can mimic your toddler’s mood swings. Weather can go from 35 degree rain in the morning to 75 degree and sun by the afternoon. Conditions can also rapidly change. Dry trails to mud. Rain to ice. You have to be ready for anything, but you also don’t want to haul enough gear for a 7-day trek on the North Country Trail.
We asked the Hike it Baby community to share their number-one, must-have, won’t-leave-home-without-it fall hiking gear. Hopefully, this will help you prepare well without weighing you down.
An Extra Bag for Treasures or Trash
I’ve been that mom on the trail with rocks and pinecones in one pocket, leaves in the other, and trying to hold three large sticks. And, don’t set those sticks down while you’re getting out a snack and forget about them! Bringing a packable basket or bag is a great way to pick up treasures, the trail, and save your sanity.
“A basket or bag to store all the fallen nature treasures my kiddos pick up! Also, another bag to use as we pick up trash. — Katie, HiB Butte County, California
“Ziplock bags for collecting leaves and treasures!” — Lacey, HiB Kenai Peninsula Alaska
“We pack a couple of bags: A canvas-type bag for leaves & found treasures and a trash bag (an old grocery bag, chip bag, or a bread bag, etc.) to do a bit of beautification.” — Jessica
First of all, fall is the time to start wearing them on your feet. And wool socks are a particular favorite. But socks have a lot of other uses beyond keeping feet warm. As Lacey in Kenai Peninsula, Alaska mentioned that they “use socks for everything.” In a pinch, socks can become mittens, a bag for those aforementioned treasures, or a wipe to clean dirty hands.
This is a totally biased opinion, but I believe fall is the best time to grab pictures of both your family and the scenery. Those fall colors can’t be beat!
“Cameras! We love going on “fall colors” hikes to take photos of the changes. My older son (5) uses one of my old digital cameras and I bring the “fancy camera” and we have a fun nature photoshoot.” — Becca, HiB Kitsap Peninsula
Depending on the day, we usually have both our winter hats and ballcaps close at hand. Sunday Afternoons hats are a favorite of the Hike it Baby community, including the Artist Series Trucker hats for sunny, fall days and this cozy beanie that keep your kiddos head warm and protected with UPF50+.
“Winter hat! Autumn requires layering, but sometimes snacks take priority in the backpack. A hat can make a HUGE difference in feeling warm enough to continue exploring! And then if everyone decides they’re over them, they take up far less room to carry back! Added bonus: No one can tell that my hair is 99% dry shampoo and maybe the little explorers chose to skip brushing theirs altogether today!” — Laura, La Crosse, Wisconsin
“Even if it’s a warm sunny day, I always pack his L.L. Bean hat as the cold and wind can pick up quickly – especially when we hike near the water. It really helps regulate his temperature.” — Kaitlin, Hike It Baby Hartford
A Change of Clothes
…Or two. An extra set of clothes will keep kiddos warm and dry and help you stay outside longer.
“Extra shoes/clothes. It’s a wet time of year and some days are still very warm. Gotta play in those puddles!” — Christine, HiB RVA
“Rain suits and extra clothes. We live near the coast and often go to beaches in the rain.” — Constance
Layering your clothing and outerwear is the key to successful fall hiking. Especially packable, breathable options that don’t take up much space. You can easily adjust based on the weather and your level of exertion. This reversible, water-resistant jacket from L.L.Bean is a universal choice for wind, rain, and chilly air.
“Rain jacket. They pretty much stay in the car so that we are never caught without. Chilly rain is way less fun to hike in without appropriate gear than summer rain.” — Courtney, HiB Charleston/Lowcountry
“Lightweight rain jackets are a must here in the PNW – Columbia, L.L.Bean, and Joules make our favorites. Packable options that fit in their own pocket are extra handy.” Jessica, HiB Portland, OR/HiB Executive Director
“A windbreaker jacket in case temperatures drop suddenly. Most effective, easily carried layer to keep us warm in fall. — Valerie, HiB Adirondack Coast
“We pack puffer vests. Easy to stow in packs & so great to keep the core temp regulated on those fall days where the wind is chilly but the sun is still hot.” — Stefanea, HiB Twin Cities
“A packable waterproof/water-resistant puffy jacket to cover nearly all weather.” — Liz, HiB Holland, Michigan
It doesn’t matter the time of year. If you are outside with kids, make room in that pack for snacks. If you’ve been on the trail before with a hungry kiddo you’ll know nothing else really matters.
“Snacks. First thing to pack for every hike.” — Michelle, HiB Brockville, ON
“Snacks! My kids would probably hike naked… but not without snacks.” — Jodi, HiB Grand Rapids, MI
Sometimes it’s the little things that make all of the difference. And they’re often things you don’t think about until you need them. Depending on where you live and how much room is in your pack after you fill it with snacks, check out these other ideas from Hike it Baby members for your next outdoor adventure.
“A woven wrap. It can accommodate just about any sized child, from NB to school-aged, and permits you to change the kiddo’s weight distribution for the comfort of caregiver and child-can be used for back carry, hip carry or on the front and while nursing too; plus it can double as a scarf, blanket, towel, hammock/swing, or stuff sack!” — Trisha, HiB Fairbanks Alaska
“Bandana for running noses.” — Ali
“We never hike without our hammocks!” — Joey, Hike it Baby Utah County
“Traction device (microspikes/ice cleats/Yak Trax) for our hiking boots. Fall hikes in the Canadian Rockies can become winter hikes within minutes, and trails can become muddy or icy quickly.” — Christine, HiB Calgary, AB
Headed out for a fall outside adventure? What’s the one thing you won’t leave home without?