Shoes fall into the “do not skimp” category when it comes to gear, as appropriate footwear can go far in developing healthy little feet. I love that Keen's toddler and child boots are the exact same as the grown-up version, just in a pint-sized package. Because of that quality, these shoes aren’t cheap, but they are durable enough to last through multiple children. With a water-resistant leather upper and a waterproof breathable lining on the inside, they're perfectly designed for an afternoon of puddle-jumping. Slingshot laces means easy on and off, and a sturdy design makes this shoe ready for whatever terrain your child encounters. My son Canaan is on his second season with his Alamosas, and the only signs of wear is the dirt on them.
Nomis Basic Carrier
This innovative product is ideal for kids who are old enough to hike for short distances but may poop out before the grown-ups do. When your kiddo needs a break, they simply jump onto mom or dad’s shoulders and “ride the bar.” It’s like a piggyback ride, but far more comfortable for both parent and child. Each carrier comes with a safety harness made from climbing-grade buckles and webbing, so there are no worries of your child falling off the bar.
Our family has experimented with a lot of carriers, and this one is perfect for toddlers and younger children. Other carriers take a lot of effort and adjusting (and sometimes even an extra set of hands to get strapped in safely). With this one, getting in and out is easy, so I don’t mind if my little dude wants to bounce back and forth between hiking and riding.
Osprey Jet 18 Kids Daypack
Furnishing your child with a backpack of their own not only provides an easily accessible space for any nature trinkets your kiddo picks up along the way, but also teaches the concepts of packing and organizational skills, as well as the idea that the whole family shares the load. My son Canaan has quickly learned which toys are conducive to hiking (i.e. fit in the pack along with water bottle, food, camera), and which need to be left at home.
There are kid packs for every budget, but keep in mind that you do get what you pay for, especially when it comes to gear that will be used and abused on the hiking trail. Our family has had a lot of success with the Osprey Jet 18 pack: Designed for 5- to 10-year-olds, it’s a tad too big for my three-year-old son, but he likes carrying it anyway. Plus, when he gets tired of it, it's small enough to throw across my own pack.
VTech Kidizoom Plus
The Kidizoom has taken a lot of abuse—it's been dropped, shoved into a backpack, and thrown into the backseat of a car—yet it keeps on ticking. The body of the camera is thoughtfully designed for little hands: sturdy rubber grips on the sides and a double viewfinder enable the child to peer through the camera like a pair of binoculars. The picture quality is good, provided that your child stops moving long enough to hold the camera steady (which doesn't often happen at our house). For the toddler to preschool set, this camera is simple and intuitive to use, and very durable. For 5-to-8-year-olds, photo editing, music and games add to the picture-taking fun.
They keep cold liquids cold, and hot liquids hot, and the 12-ounce size is perfect for little hands: The Hydroflask may just be the only kids' bottle that can do it all. They come in a wide variety of fun, bright colors, and even offer different cap options (sold separately). The sport cap was recommended to us as a more manageable option for toddler hands, but the twisting top that was “just like Mommy’s” was the favorite in our household. Both tops have a “loop,” making it easy to hook onto a backpack, or for a child to carry with one hand. Most importantly, the beefy stainless steel design makes it darn near impossible to break, regardless of the wear and tear your child may put on it.