The rules for children’s gear are similar to adults – you want to maximise comfort and safety
A good-fitting pack
This is essential and sometimes hard to find for younger children, but there’s lots of choice so hunt around. Look for padded waist belts, comfortable shoulder straps and good lumbar support. Ask the shop sales staff to help fit it correctly to your child. Packs with pockets for a lolly stash and drink bottle, or hooks to hang cups from, might not be on your list of features, but are appealing to kids.
A quality raincoat
Even with the best planning, it will rain at some point. Children will need good quality raincoats. Go for a long cut to cover shorts, a hood that can be tightened and loosened easily, and large pockets for storing gloves and hats.
Only when children are very young and not carrying a pack should they be expected to wear sneakers or light footwear. Once they have a load on their back, boots with support, grip and good edges are as important for them as they are for you. Even without a pack, slimy rocks, steep scree slopes and slippery tussock are not enjoyable in sneakers.
Safety – PLB and cellphone
Not all your trips will be in cellphone range, but many will so it is worth carrying a cellphone as an extra safety device. If going on longer, more difficult tramps in less popular areas, always take an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB). These can be hired if you don’t want to purchase one.
If you do own one, let your friends know so they can borrow it. When your kids are old enough, make sure they know who’s pack it’s in and teach them how to use it in case something untoward happens to both adults.
Good food and lots of it
Don’t be stingy with the food. Nothing will be more unpleasant for children than going hungry or eating food they find boring. That means heavier packs for parents. Raro is great for getting children to drink lots during the day and to mask the taste of dirty tarn water. It also helps hide the aquatic insects swimming around in the drink bottle. Mix one up half strength every lunch-time.
Hand sanitiser and wet wipes
These are a heavy but convenient way to keep hands clean for adults and children. Hand sanitiser is especially good when you are dealing with babies and toddlers for nappy changes on the side of a track and there is no water available.
Sandflies and their bites can drive some kids crazy. If you don’t fancy smothering your children in repellant, try funny hats with insect mesh that covers their face. They’ll love that.
Sunscreen, hats and scarves
Children have to be taught how to apply sunscreen effectively. Even teenagers will need reminding to use it. Wide-brim hats are good, and neck scarves will provide added protection.
Whistle and small survival kit
Make sure children have a whistle in their top pocket and know to stop and use it as soon as they think they have become lost or separated. A small survival kit could include an emergency sleeping bag, pencil and paper, a glow stick and some high energy food such as a Moro bar.
I struggled big time when our teenager insisted on taking her iPod on a tramp. However, once ‘plugged in’ there was no stopping her and she romped up the valley. True, she had a light pack, but the music helped so much that she eventually stopped and, with a hint of guilt, offered to take some of the weight from her father’s pack.
Buy the best you can afford
It can be difficult to know whether it’s worth buying good gear for growing children. If you can afford it though, every dollar spent on making children comfortable is money well spent. Compromise on your own gear first: you can cope much more easily than your children with cold, wet, cotton underwear, an old worn pack, or a leaking raincoat.
We have good friends whose three children are younger than ours, so anything we bought for our eldest we knew would eventually go through several children. Hopefully you will know other tramping families with whom you can share gear.