If you like to adventure outside with your little one, whether on foot, bike, or skis — or are looking for gifts for outdoor-oriented parents — this holiday gift guide is for you. Introducing kids to the outdoors is awesome and we want to make that introduction as safe, comfortable, and fun as possible. With that in mind, these are some of our favorites that have kept us and our kids happy.
And as always, we’d love to hear your thoughts. We’ve found some of our favorite products through recommendations, so please share your favorites with us!
Finally, for our more general gift ideas, see our other gift guides:
A fidget spinner for toddlers? I’m still not entirely clear on what a fidget spinner is but this toy has been attached to our Osprey Poco kid-carrier pack for over a year and every time my son sees it he wants to play with it. A Simpl Dimpl is like bubble wrap that can be endlessly popped. From the bright colors to the playful popping noise, this toy is a simple but effective way to keep my son entertained. Now that my hikes involve an opinionated toddler, the Simple Dimpl helps distract him, which is key to keeping him in the pack. Between the Simpl Dimpl and a few jelly beans or pieces of chocolate, I’m able to get a little extra time to hike at my own pace. Another way to distract him — bring a friend with a dog. But that’s harder to fit in a stocking…
Wool Neck Gaiter / Balaclava
MSRP:$38 (Iksplor) / $28 (Nui Organics)
Maybe not the most fun thing for a child to open on Christmas morning, but I am pretty sure parents will appreciate it. As a new(ish) mom trying to figure out how to keep my little one’s neck warm, I had no idea that merino balaclavas and neck gaiters were an option for kids. Nui Organics makes soft merino wool balaclavas that are perfect for under bike or ski helmets. Soft and seamless, your little one shouldn’t need too much enticing to wear it.
Another favorite of ours is the 100% ZQ-Certified merino wool Iksplor Neckie. Designed specifically for toddlers and kids, the Neckie comes in a variety of colors, and are soft and comfortable. Both items work well to keep your little one’s neck warm, especially when they hate to have their jacket zipped all the way to the top.
On a recent bike ride, my son refused to wear the balaclava which was more about him needing to be in charge than disliking it. Just getting him out of the car was an exercise in patience that day. So I let him go without it and after a few minutes on his Mac Ride I asked him if his ears are cold. He responded yes, so we then stopped and he was more than happy to put the balaclava under his helmet and wear it the rest of the ride. He also does this with jackets and mittens on occasion. Oh, toddlers.
MSRP: $14.99 to $169
First off — a heads-up on sleds that we learned the hard way: if you’re planning on using a sled sometime in the winter, I’d recommend purchasing it soon since they have a tendency to sell out.
I purchased the Flexible Flyer Sled 16” for my son last year when he was 1 and he loved it. It’s terrible in powder as it plows more than it floats, it isn’t overly stable on uneven ground (I have accidentally tipped him out multiple times), and it’s easy to lose the belt (ours is long gone). But despite all these issues, we still love it. It is great for pulling behind you when walking around a snowy base area to keep your little one occupied. We also purchased the Flexible Flyer Sled 48” and enjoyed towing him around last spring and riding tandem with him. We did a few spring tours where we skinned up the mountain with our son in a backpack and dragged the sled behind us. Once we found a flat spot with a good view, we had a picnic and did some sledding. The Flexible Flyer Sled 48” is also ideal for low snow as it’s light enough to carry until you find snow, and inexpensive and durable enough to be towed over rocks and sticks without stressing about destroying it.
This year I also purchased a used toboggan-style L.L. Bean pull sled. As you probably can tell, I’m a fan of sleds, and for the most part, I figured my son would have zero preference regarding sleds. Of course, I was wrong. The first time we took him out in the L.L. Bean Sled, he was in love. I’ve never seen him so relaxed in a sled. The high backrest and elevated metal runners make for a comfortable and smooth ride and he just took it all in as we pulled him up a snow-covered trail. And for a 2-year-old in the snow to just chill, that is impressive.
The toboggan sled is much more expensive than others on the market but the quality wood build makes it an investment and an heirloom piece. It’s best used in light powder or on packed snow — when the snow gets too deep, it’s hard to pull the sled. And for what it’s worth, I was able to fit (fairly comfortably) in the sled with my son. If you are buying it new, I would splurge for the cushion as you can’t purchase it after the fact — at least not from L.L. Bean. (I reached out to L.L. Bean regarding this and they provided me with contact information and instructions on how to order the cushion from their supplier.)
Backpack / Baby Carrier
If you like to hike, explore, or just carry your child and still have use of your arms, check out our Baby / Child Carrier Roundup. We tested 8 different carriers, from soft-structured carriers to baby backpacks, all of which will help you maintain an active lifestyle while keeping your little one happy (we included carriers for babies up through toddlers). We are still using the backpacks and we plan to use them for at least another year as our son grows. While the initial investment can be pricey, if you buy a baby backpack when they are young, you can use them for several years.
A Stroller or Bike Trailer
This is definitely a big gift, but also a gift that can be used for years. Without our jog stroller and bike trailers, my time with my son wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable. Escaping for a daily run when the child is super young can be the best type of break for parent and child, especially over the past 9 months. Now that my son is 2, he isn’t quite as willing to hop in a stroller (why are toddlers so independent?!), but with a little coaxing, a comfortable ride, and a pump track to look forward to, I can usually get my way. I’ve been logging lots of miles in the Chicco TRE Jogging Stroller and the Thule Urban Glide 2. Both are great jog strollers with adjustable front wheels.
The Chicco TRE has the easiest mechanism to lock / unlock the front wheel while on the go, which makes it great for cornering. It also doesn’t require an adapter if you have a Chicco KeyFit or Fit2 infant car seat. The Thule Urban Glide 2 is a smoother and faster stroller than the TRE and it also has ergonomic handlebars which are more comfortable to hold while running. The front wheel also unlocks but the stroller must be stopped to switch between the two settings. Either of these strollers would make a great option for someone looking for an everyday stroller and a jog stroller.
Before we had the Mac Ride (see below), I used a Thule Chariot Lite 2 and a Burley D’Lite while biking. Both kid trailers include a bike-arm connection and a front wheel (or 2 for the Thule) so that the trailer can be used as a stroller, and accessories can be purchased to transform the trailers into jog strollers or ski trailers. The trailers and their accessories aren’t cheap but they are extremely versatile. Unlike the Mac Ride, you can carry a lot of gear in the trailer, your child can sleep, and they can have easy access to snacks and water with the handy internal pockets. They are also tucked in with a five-point safety harness and the metal frame offers protection from any crashes. We tipped the trailer a few times but our son came away unscathed and actually seemed to enjoy the novelty of it. Granted, they were minor “crashes” but the experience was reassuring. In general, I highly recommend having one, especially when your child is young, and if you can find a used one, even better.
If you listened to our podcast on kid’s products, you already know that this is our favorite item for children approximately aged 2-4. (The child must be old enough to hold on to the handlebars and have an attention span as long as the ride.)
We started using ours at 22 months but I think he was ready a little before that age — we just didn’t have one yet. We use ours every other day or so and even plan weekends and vacations around the Mac Ride. This past summer, my husband, son, and I drove across the country in an RV and packed our bikes because we wanted to use the Mac Ride, even when we were out of town. It was a dream vacation as we explored new trails and were able to introduce our 2-year-old son to so many things by simply riding around with him on our bikes, and the Mac Ride was the perfect complement. It facilitated family rides and we weren’t limited to multi-use paved paths. Plus, when we flew home, the Mac Ride was so easy to remove and impressively compact, it easily fit into our luggage. This fall I picked him up from preschool on the bike and we would have the best conversations on our ride home. While I love our Burley and Thule bike trailers, it’s easier to interact with my son when he’s on the Mac Ride since he’s sitting right in front of me.
If you’re not comfortable riding a bike, I don’t recommend the Mac Ride — or at least not until you get comfortable on a bike. But if you are and even if you only consider yourself an intermediate-level biker (I’d say I’m intermediate-advanced), you will love it. Just stick to easy trails and practice stopping and starting as the seat makes it tricky to get one’s foot down. I rely on my dropper post for this and highly recommend installing one if possible.
Ski / Bike Helmet
If you’re planning to ride bikes or ski with your child (even if skiing means putting them in a backpack), we recommend getting a helmet. For the first two winters, my son didn’t wear a helmet when we skied with him and I regret that. It would have been such an easy thing to do and if I had fallen, I would never have forgiven myself. I was extremely cautious with him in the backpack but it still would have been safer to put one on him for the descent.
For biking, we do not allow my son on his push-bike, scooter, Mac Ride, or in his bike trailer without a helmet. In New Mexico, children actually must wear helmets and we don’t make any exceptions for him. We are currently working on a helmet roundup but what we can tell you now is POC, Giro, Elan, and Smith have some of the smallest ski helmets on the market and those same brands (minus Elan), have small bike helmets, too. Most helmets allow for a customized fit, but it’s important to start with the right size. A poor-fitting helmet can lead to meltdowns, among other things like poorer safety, which is sure to ruin a bike ride or ski.
A New (or New to Them) Set of Wheels
I imagine every bike-loving parent wants to get their child on two wheels as early as possible. While I don’t think biking from a young age necessarily correlates to one’s child becoming a better biker in the long run, it is a great way to encourage kids to get outside, learn balance, and have fun.
When looking at balance bikes, pay attention to the height. My son has a Strider 12 Sport and a PRE pushbike by Giant and he is just now able to comfortably touch the ground. The Strider’s seat lowers more than the Giant, so he’s still growing into the Giant. He’s 2 years old and 32 inches tall, for reference. We also have the Strider rocking base, which transforms the Strider into a rocking horse / rocking bike, and with that we were able to start using the bike when it arrived at 12 months old. But in hindsight, we didn’t “need” a balance bike until he was 18 months old or so. There are a lot of push bikes on the market, with some having hard plastic tires like the Strider 12 and some having air-filled tires like the PRE. The air-filled tires provide a smoother ride but also require a bit more maintenance like fixing flat tires.
An alternative, or in addition to a pushbike, is a scooter. My son enjoys his scooter more than his pushbike at the moment, most likely because he was able to get the hang of it much quicker. This is the one my son was gifted and the adjustable height means he can use it for several years. Your local toy store probably has some great options too, so be sure to call or stop in to see.
My son loves to ride on his Mac Ride but as the temperature started dropping, I noticed he wasn’t as psyched to go “fast.” It didn’t take me too long to realize that he wanted a slower speed because his hands were cold. His winter mittens work fine for cold days, but for cool days, I wanted to find something lighter that also offered good grip. Zippy Rooz makes the smallest bike gloves I’ve found. My son loves to wear his full-finger gloves even if it takes a while to get each tiny finger into each finger hole. They are warm enough for cool weather but not so hot that we can’t wear them in the summer, too. Giro also makes kid’s bike gloves but their smallest size is a bit big for most 2-year-olds.
Far too many times I’ve gone on adventures and not packed a first-aid kit. We’ve been lucky thus far in that we haven’t needed one, but I imagine my luck will run out soon, especially since my son loves to run fast down rocky trails. We have long been fans of Adventure Medical Kits and have purchased a number of them over the years. We restock and add items as needed, and while the kits won’t get you out of every situation, having one with you will help in most cases. In their current line-up, the Mountain Hiker kit and Ultralight / watertight look to be good options due to their weight, but they also make a Family First Aid Kit. This gift is more oriented to parents but I do recommend adding a few kid-friendly band-aids or glow sticks to the pack before you wrap it up to keep the little one happy.