The best outdoor clothing and gear for kids
Planning a successful family adventure depends not only on choosing the right destination, but also packing the right gear.
What you wear and bring along in your day pack can dramatically affect your experience when downhill skiing, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, rafting or embarking on some other adventure.
Moisture-wicking base layers and thermal gloves can mean the difference between riding the last chairlift at 4 p.m. and leaving the slopes to warm up before noon. An afternoon rainstorm can put a damper on a day hike in the mountains, and nothing will trigger kids’ whining more than wet shoes and shorts. However, with the right gear, wild fluctuations in weather and conditions shouldn't make you run for cover.
To help you prepare for your next trip to the great outdoors, here’s some of our favorite outdoor apparel and travel gear for kids:
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Columbia Silver Ridge IV Convertible Pants (boys and girls)
Columbia's loose-fitting, convertible pants — for boys and girls — are a versatile, all-season essential for outdoorsy kids. Made from nylon, they are lightweight, comfortable and hold up well against scrambling, sliding and trekking. With zip-off pant legs, kids can horseback ride in the morning, raft in the afternoon or simply cool off as the mercury rises and conditions change. These are also great travel pants since you can easily convert them to shorts on the plane before landing in a warmer climate.
For older kids and teens, two front pockets and a back zipper pocket can fit a cell phone, keys and other small sundries. Columbia’s Omni-SHADE technology has UPF 50, and the Omni-WICK material wicks away moisture. It’s available in six neutral colors and sizes, from age 4 through teen.
Related: TPG's top family destinations for 2022
Columbia Glennaker Rain Jacket
This reliable, lightweight rain jacket easily rolls up into a day pack or large pocket if you are hitting the trails or taking an urban hike during spring and fall. The outer shell is 100% nylon and effectively repels water and dirt; the elastic cuffs and deep, wide hood keep the elements at bay.
There are handy pockets for phones and small items and the reflective detailing is a nice safety touch, making it easier to spot your kids in low light. It’s available in a variety of fun colors and sizes for anyone from toddler age to teens to adults. There are few better raincoats for less than $30.
Children’s Place Pull-up Skort
Fun and practical, skorts are a versatile option. This Children’s Place version doesn’t have any performance gear traits per se, but the cotton-polyester blend is soft and durable, and at less than $15, it's a good value. There are nine colors to choose from and sizes run from toddler to teen.
For a more sporty (and pricey) option, Athleta’s highly rated, lightweight Swing Skort collection has UPF 50 and a useful zippered back pocket. The moisture-wicking, breathable undershorts will hold a ball (they are ideal for tennis) and they come in four colors (blue, white, gray and black) and sizes for ages 6 through 16.
Volcom Frickin' Cross Shred Static Shorts
For light packers, hybrid clothing is a game changer. Many hybrid short brands look just fine at the beach, but they are too casual and slouchy for evening wear.
Volcom’s Cross Shred Static Shorts are more structured and dressy enough to wear to a fancy resort dinner with a nice shirt. The stretchy fabric allows for maneuverability in the pool and playing games on the beach. They also dry super quickly — so you don't leave your chair soaked when you head to the pool bar for lunch.
They are comfortable to wear on flights and are especially handy if you are arriving before check-in and want to head straight to the beach. Made from durable polyester, they come in four neutral, mix-and-matchable colors and they don’t crease easily, even when stuffed in a bag or pocket. Big kid sizing runs from age 8 through teens.
Related: My secret to packing for 3 kids and not leaving anything (or anyone) behind
Columbia Boys Steens Mountain II Fleece Jacket
For an outer layer in spring and fall, or a winter base layer, this super soft Columbia fleece is a versatile wardrobe staple for outdoorsy kids. It’s warm without being bulky and zips up to a soft collar that keeps out the elements without irritating sensitive necks.
Made from polyester and Columbia’s trademark thermal retention fleece lining, it also features zippered pockets to keep items secure — a must for kids on the go. It comes in a variety of bold and muted colors and a range of sizes, from toddlers through to teens.
Columbia Girls Benton Springs Fleece Jacket
This cozy, fleece jacket is ideal for spring and fall, and also provides an extra layer of insulation in the winter. It’s made from super-warm synthetic fleece and has a stand-up zippered color to keep the wind out on blustery days. It’s not the most technical fleece out there, but it’s comfortable, easy to move in, and well suited to exploring outdoors when the temperatures drop. The fleece-lined zippered pockets are an especially nice touch and it’s available in over 20 colors, and sizes for ages 4 to 18.
Uniqlo HeatTech Long-sleeve T-shirt
Whether you are heading on a ski trip, hiking in a national park in fall or taking an offseason city break in Europe, Uniqlo's HeatTech base layer collection is hard to beat.
The Japanese fast-fashion brand's long-sleeve, crew-neck T-shirts are warm, soft and stretchy, they don't itch and they are smart enough to wear for apres ski or dinner at the lodge. Made from a synthetic-blend, moisture-wicking fabric, they are available in four colors and sizes run from age 3 to 13 years. At less than $15 and a unisex fit, they can be easily be passed around and passed on, which really helps streamline packing.
Shoes and accessories
Keen Newport H2 Sandals
Innovative and eco-friendly, the American, family-owned Keens brand became an overnight sensation when it first debuted its hybrid shoes in 2003. They may not be the fashion statement of the year, but for outdoorsy kids who enjoy adventures on land and sea, there are few more comfortable, durable hybrid shoes out there. The shoes can handle pretty much any adventure you throw at it; rafting, hiking, horseback riding, sailing.
The upper polyester webbing dries quickly and with a supportive midsole, protective toe box and highly grippy rubber sole, kids will have the comfort and stability to play hard. You can even throw them in the washing machine.
North Face Brimmer Hat
Whether children are playing on the beach, jumping in and out of the pool, or being exposed to more intense UV rays while hiking and biking in the mountains, a wide-brimmed hat is an essential safeguard.
North Face’s Class V series has UPF 40 protection, moisture-wicking FlashDry and features an adjustable chin strap and an eco-friendly, recycled plastic toggle. It comes in an array of eye-catching colors and designs that kids will love and that are easy for parents to pick out by the pool. It's made from soft, 100% cotton and comes in sizes XX small (2 to 3 years) to medium (age 7 to 10 years). The lightweight design is not too cumbersome or overbearing for little kids and it floats, making it easy to retrieve when it inevitably comes off in the water.
Carhartt Kids Watch Hat
Carhartt has expanded beyond construction sites to produce rugged travel apparel and gear that appeals to kids and grown-ups that play hard. The Watch Hat is warm, fits over the ears and has plenty of stretch and room as kids grow. It can roll up in a pocket for early morning, high-altitude hikes, and it will also fit under a ski helmet for an extra layer of sub-zero warmth on the piste.
It comes in an array of colors and, unlike many one-size-fits-all brands, these are sized for babies, toddlers, little kids and teens. The larger, teen size will fit adults with smaller heads, and it has all the same features as the men's and women's versions, at a significantly lower price.
CamelBak Mini M.U.L.E Hydration Backpack
Kids love the novelty factor and independence of CamelBaks and, for parents looking to keep momentum on the trails, hydration packs avoid the constant stop-start to dig out a water bottle. This lightweight mule holds up to 1.5 liters of water and has nifty safety features, including a whistle and reflective detailing. The storage pocket can easily accommodate a hat, change of clothes, binoculars, snacks and any other on-the-go items and there's even a bike tool organizer pocket.
CamelBak’s pioneering bladder systems are easy to fill, don’t leak and provide steady flow rates. The ergonomic handle is easy for kids to fill themselves and with a breathable mesh back, it's comfortable to wear hiking and cycling in warmer temperatures.
Encouraging kids to be observant on long hikes will keep them engaged and entertained, as well as spark curiosity for local flora and fauna. These lightweight, compact binoculars are specially made to be safe and easy for kids to use. They are ergonomic and feature a shockproof design as well as an eight-times magnification and soft rubber eyepieces that are easy on kids' eyes. They are available in 13 colors and you can easily stash them in a large jacket pocket.
Wishouse Walkie Talkies
Walkie-talkies are not only a reassuring safety net for off-the-beaten-path adventures, but they are also entertaining, fun and practical for family camping trips. Wisehouse walkie-talkies appeal to little kids with their fun, colorful designs, clear 1-mile range (up to 20 miles in mountains and valleys), and lanyards for wearability.
There is a built-in flashlight, a keypad lock and the two-way radio has 22 channels and the option to create your own private channel. Use a micro USB charger or rechargeable batteries to power them — both are included.
Petzl Tikkina Headlamp
A headlamp is a simple but indispensable item. It extends the time spent exploring outdoors, it can function as a reading lamp and it helps kids navigate campsites and unfamiliar hotel rooms in the middle of the night when they can’t figure out the light switches.
The Petzl Tikkina is an especially versatile option for kids and teens. It has a simple on-off button, a 60-meter beam and a really comfortable headband. Extra accessories are also available, such as a bike helmet mount and core rechargeable battery, which add to its versatility.
Streamlining your packing and feeling prepared to face four seasons in one day is a tall order.
When temperatures fluctuate wildly and conditions change in a second, dressing for success means opting for lightweight, quick drying, versatile layers — and preferably anything with a hybrid prefix.
Packing a few fun, safety essentials into a hydration day pack that kids can carry themselves will also alleviate a lot of stress and help young adventurers feel confident, comfortable and prepared wherever they roam.