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Choosing the right backpack, hiking shoes and bikes for kids

July 28, 2015 | Emily Moeschler


Bigger is not always better

You may think the greatest fashion discovery was the zipper, Gore-Tex or maybe even the little black dress, but you’d be mistaken.  The greatest fashion development was . . . drum roll, please . . . the extendable elastic belt thingy inside of kid’s pants and shorts.  Oh, believe me, I was a staunch supporter of the little black dress, but that was BC (Before Child).  AC (After Child) and seeing how quickly Jack grew, I began to follow the “cuff up, roll down, cinch with a safety pin” philosophy.  Finding the elastic buttonhole internal belt was nothing short of an a-ha moment for me.  I could buy pants a few sizes up, tug that belt to the 12th hole, tuck the (very long) elastic tail down Jack’s leg, and he was good to go.  Jack never met a pair of pants he didn’t wear out in the knees before I hit the first few buttonholes on the belt.

While I strongly support the “room to grow” thinking with clothes, this is the absolute wrong approach when purchasing kid’s outdoor equipment.  Bigger is not better, and, in fact, you’re setting your kids up for failure if you take that route.

Let’s talk about the 3 most common things you want to beg, borrow or steal (just kidding) for your kiddos regarding outdoor activities – backpacks, hiking shoes and bikes.


For kids, the most important things about a backpack are the color, fun characters/design, and the cool factor.  For parents, we don’t want a child with aches from carrying something that’s not right for them.  Let’s find a happy medium by keeping the following in mind:

  • Go to an outdoor store.  Buying in person, as opposed to online, gives you the benefit of the sales person’s knowledge.  The sales person can recommend the best packs for your child’s needs.  Find a local outdoor specialty store, like REI, Sports Authority or even an L.L. Bean retail store, and bring your child to try on a few AND choose their favorite color!
  • Look at the size.  Backpacks come in different sizes, and it’s important to pay attention to 2 measurements – height and width – when buying a pack for your child (and you, too).  Find the correct height by measuring from the shoulder line (where the straps sit) to the waistline (the belly button) and add 2 inches.  For the width, measure between the shoulder blades.  (Adding an extra inch or 2 here is OK.  You don’t want a 50-pound child carrying a 30-pound backpack, and we all know they’ll stuff it until the zipper practically groans.
  • Pay attention to the features.  Look for a backpack made from lightweight fabric, which helps by not adding to the total weight.  Also, find a pack with padded shoulders, shoulder straps that are about l2-inches wide, a hip belt, and pockets/compartments to distribute the weight.

Hiking shoes

I know it may be tough convincing your child that flip flops are, in fact, not appropriate shoes to wear on a hike, but hold your ground!   Hiking shoes don’t have to be expensive, but keep the following in mind:

  • Think about the kinds of hikes you’ll be doing.  If you’re mostly going on flat trails, good sneakers or trail runners should be fine.  If you’re planning on hiking steeper, rougher terrain trails, get a shoe/boot with ankle support.  Keep in mind that synthetic materials are lighter, more flexible and comfortable from the start, but leather offers more support.  Again, the best type of shoe depends on the hikes you plan to take.
  • Head to the outdoor specialty store.  You know your child’s shoe size, but take my word for it, and don’t buy hiking shoes/boots online.  Bring your kiddo (along with whatever socks they plan on wearing for hikes) to a local store, and try on a few pairs.  The heel should fit snuggly, toes should be able to wiggle, and neither foot should be able to slide back and forth.
  • Look for certain characteristics.  No matter what shoe/boot you choose, be sure it has deep treads (for traction).  Even if your child is using their sneakers, do a quick check to make sure there is still traction on the bottom.  Whether you buy above or below the ankle shoes goes back to the types of trails you’ll be doing.  (It’s all about the trail!)  Finding something appropriate that’s breathable and waterproof are bonuses, too!

If you’re looking for suggestions on hiking with your kiddos, check out our Tips & tricks:  hiking with kids post. Bikes Doesn’t every child love the freedom that comes with hopping on their bike and pedaling to the park or trying to find the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow?  But, finding the best fit can be tricky.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Grab your kiddo and head to the local bike store.  It’s so tempting to want to surprise your child with a bike.  I get it.  But, bikes are sized by height and not by age and having your child there to test drive . . . errr . . . pedal . . . is crucial to a fantastic experience.  Trust me.  Besides, if you buy a bike online and it doesn’t fit, you’ll kick yourself when it has to be returned or fixed.
  • Shop smart.  Think about where your kiddo will be doing most of their riding.  Riding without gears may be easier, but if you’re going on trails, gears help.  Bigger, knobby tires are better for dirt, but a standard street tire is fine for rides around the neighborhood.
  • Don’t forget the helmet!  I’d be remiss to not include something about always, always, always wearing a helmet when riding a bike (and that includes you, too, mom and dad).  Learn how to fit a helmet by watching a quick Safe Kids video.  It’s worth every second.

We’ve got some terrific suggestions for biking with kids.  Check out our Tips & tricks:  biking with kids post.

If you’re looking for some fun, family hiking and biking trails, check out:

In Colorado:

  • For a short hike or a bike ride with the family in the Boulder Foothills, check out Bald Mountain.  Bring a picnic and take in the views on this 1.5-mile loop trail.
  • Outside of Denver is beautiful Waterton Canyon.  This flat, well-maintained park is perfect for biking and hiking with the entire family.
  • Bayou Gulch Regional Park in Douglas County offers hiking, a mountain bikes skills course (for all levels), and an off-leash dog park for your canine companion.  Everyone can share in the outdoor fun!

In California:

  • 150 miles of hiking and biking trails are waiting for your family at Marin’s gorgeous Point Reyes National Seashore.  Your family will be mesmerized by the breathtaking California coastline!
  • Hiking or biking through stunning redwood groves and oak woods is what awaits you at Mill Valley’s Mount Tamalpais State Park.
  • Take your pick of beautiful hiking and biking trails at East Bay’s Anthony Chabot Regional Park.  With 3,314 acres, this park has more than 70 miles of hiking and riding trails – not to mention the gorgeous shores of Lake Chabot.

No matter what outdoor activity you and your family do, be sure to have the right size equipment.  I know equipment can be expensive, but don’t skimp on quality.  In fact, check out our upcoming post on the importance of buying kid-specific equipment and where to find it.

Meet our awesome partners, who provide high-end equipment just for kids.  We couldn’t get kids active for life without them!!

About the Author: Lynne Marsala Basche spent most of her career on the island of Manhattan at two New York publishing companies.  A multi-year Avid4 Adventure mom and a new contributor to the Avid4 Adventure website, Lynne’s writing adventures also take her to championing volunteerism and regional recreation stories as a staff writer for the Castle Pines Connection newspaper, as well as supporting separate large corporate communications programs.  By trying to keep pace with her mountain biking, rock climbing, snowboarding, lacrosse playing, unicycling, tae kwon do-loving 11-year old son, she, like most Avid4 parents, loves sharing the value of outdoor recreation and its positive influence on children’s health and confidence development.  Lynne lives in Castle Pines, Colorado and regularly immerses herself in outdoor activities with her family where she also runs her freelance writing company, Blue Spruce Creative

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