There are lots of great gift guides out there that highlight the best presents to give your child and admittedly, I’ve read a lot of them. But what I haven’t seen is a gift guide specifically created to encourage outdoor play for little ones. I put an outdoor-oriented guide together last season, and I still stand by those recommendations, but I wanted to update it now that my son is a year older. So I created this guide to highlight products that I think will entice and excite your child to get outside. Some of the products listed will be more appreciated by parents than a child. Everything on here is something my family enjoys using.
Also, please check your local shops before ordering these online. Some items are unavailable online but I’ve found a number of them in local gear and toy stores.
And as always, I’d love to hear from you. What are your favorite outdoor activities and/or products? Leave a comment below to let me know.
I’ve always admired homes that have sweet playsets for children but I’ve never wanted one at my house. First, because they’re expensive (and I’m fairly cheap), second, because I have no idea what you do with them when your child inevitably outgrows them, and third, they seem to require a bit of maintenance if you want to avoid splinters. Oh and fourth, what if you don’t have a flat yard or even anything that resembles a yard or enough space to put one?
My family and I recently relocated and we now live in the woods. There’s zero grass to mow (which has its perks) and very very little flat ground so installing a traditional playset was already out of the question. But we have trees. Lots of them. And my son loves swings. When a sponsored ad somehow knew everything I outlined above, it introduced me to the Slackers Swingline and I was sold.
The Slackers Swingline is compact and lightweight enough for travel (hello camping trip fun), easy to set up (especially when compared to building a playset), and it won’t give you splinters (digging splinters out of my child’s hand might be my least favorite activity). If you live in the woods or just have a couple of trees in your yard or park, the Swingline will provide some fun outdoor play for your child.
Skis and Boots
MSRP: $0 – 250+
If you live near a shop that offers quality seasonal rentals, consider yourself lucky. And by all means, start your gear shopping there. If you live near Pittsburgh, PA, or Spokane, WA, I recommend stopping by Willi’s, or the Spokane Alpine Haus, respectively. Both shops are part of Blister’s Recommended Shop Program and both have incredible seasonal lease programs for kids. But if you aren’t so fortunate, like my family, you’re going to need to do a bit more digging to find gear for your little one.
For the past two seasons, my husband and I have leased an alpine set-up for our son (thank you PK’s Ski Shop), but this year he received his own pair of Nordica skis and boots. We also purchased a new pair of cross-country skis and boots for him, but had I known about this program, I would have signed him up for it instead of purchasing new gear. Kids grow out of ski boots fairly quickly (once their feet are actually big enough to fit in the ski boots) and having the option to trade-in or return items each season or even during the season is money well spent. It also provides a lot of peace of mind. I never realized how stressful it could be to purchase new ski gear for a child when you don’t know when they’ll outgrow them. Or even how well the boots really fit. Fingers crossed both sets last an entire season.
We love having both an alpine and cross-country setup. The cross-country set gets used when we receive fresh snow or have snow on the ground around the house. Or when we are in Crested Butte (their xc trails are beautiful and beginner-friendly). It’s great fun to watch my 3 yo tromp around in the powder or to try to stay in the tracks. He falls so often he’s become quite good at picking himself up. He also likes to watch my near-crashes. No matter how good of a cross-country skier you are, there will be times when you lose your balance and look ridiculous. Especially when skiing on 4 inches of wet powder over a zero-inch base. This makes for some great laughs for everyone.
I’ve only flown three times with the Jetkids suitcase, but I would highly recommend it to anyone considering travel with a 2-4-year-old. The first time I used it was on a solo cross-country trip and it paid for itself that day.
If you’ve been to the new SLC airport, you likely know that you’re in for a walk. My son and I landed at 12:40 am and thanks in part to the Jetkids converting to a bed, my son was sound asleep. I was a little worried about how I was going to get him, my heavy backpack style carry-on, and his Jetkids suitcase to baggage claim by myself. My son loves ‘uppies’, especially when being woken up in the middle of the night, so I assumed I would have to carry him.
In the past, uppies were the norm and the biggest reason I purchased the Jetkids. But thankfully this did not happen. Even in his sleepy stumper, he happily climbed onto his suitcase and let me tow him through the airport for over 20 minutes. It was a long walk and there was no way I could have carried him the whole way without stopping a few times. Even when we got to baggage claim and met up with my husband, my son still preferred riding on the Jetkids to being carried. And we had to take a few extra laps through the parking garage for him.
On a more recent trip, we had a 4-hour layover plus 10 additional hours of travel. Not something anyone would look forward to but my husband, son, and I made the best of it entirely thanks to Jetkids. We found an empty hallway that led to an empty terminal and spent the 4 hours racing up and down and weaving in and out of the empty Southwest Airlines line markers all while my son was riding on the Jetkids.
The Jetkids suitcase has an adjustable strap that can be used for carrying or for towing, padding inside the suitcase that converts the seat into a first-class experience, a handle for the child to hold onto when riding, and swivel wheels that have shockingly little resistance. You can turn it on a dime and my son, now at 36 in / 91 cm tall, can touch the ground when riding.
This makes the suitcase even more fun because now he can scoot it all over the airport on his own. My son has never tipped it on his own, but I have definitely tipped him off it. I don’t advise stopping it quickly after running to catch your flight as your toddler will be lucky to stay upright. *no one was hurt but I think some people were unimpressed by me*
If you have travel plans that involve a 2-4 year old or know someone that does, this is a great gift idea. I am so happy to have purchased the Jetkids and I actually look forward to the next time we get to use it.
We have tried lots of different mittens for my son over the past 4 winters and I even put together a roundup with a few of the options. While I work on the updated version of that post, I can tell you that our current favorites based on warmth and fit, are the Stonz Youth Mitts and the Gordini Children’s Snugget Mitt. Both mittens have a long cuff with a cinch at the top and are waterproof and wind-resistant.
The Youth Mitts are synthetic and run larger as each size covers a range of ages. Last year, the 2-4 yo size came up to my son’s elbow, but he still wore them on days that involved time in the snow.
I personally prefer a goose-down filled mitt as I’ve always found them to be a bit warmer, so the Snugget was already high on my list before it arrived. And the zipper, long cuff combination has made it one of my go-to’s this winter. The Snugget and the Youth Mitts are both good options if you’re looking to give a warm gift this season.
A Good Winter Hat
MSRP: prices vary
I love winter hats. I used to purchase a new one every year but here lately, I spend more time looking for good hats for my son than myself. My current favorites are the Sunday Afternoon Kid’s Snowflip Hat, the Reima Wool-Mix Beanie Hinlopen, and the Reima Toddlers’ Wool-mix Beanie Hiberna. My son is on his second season for all these hats, and I’m happy they all still fit him comfortably.
The Hinlopen and Hiberna have a soft fleece lining and are a nice warm hat for cold days. Not only are these hats good for cold days, but the combination of a fleece inner and wool outer will keep your child’s head warm on breezy days too. And of course, the ear flaps on the Hiberna provide extra warmth and coverage.
The Snowflip Hat is much lighter weight and is not windproof, but it provides sun protection and is cozy enough for milder winter days. The Snowflip hat is our go-to for preschool and any day that isn’t particularly cold. My son loves all these hats but he definitely gets the most use out of the Snowflip Hat.
Bike and Ski Helmets
I’m not a big fan of poor-fitting helmets. Whether they are too small, oversized, or create the biggest gap on the forehead, I want nothing to do with them. When I was searching for bike and ski helmets for my son I found it challenging to find them in his size (47 cm at the time). But with some digging, I managed to find a couple of great options. Stay tuned for a full roundup on ski helmets, but for now, know that our favorite pint-sized ski helmet is the POCito Obex MIPS (the XXS comes in a 48-52 cm size) and for the smallest bikers, we love the GIRO Scamp.
The Scamp does have a tendency to slide back on my son’s head, but in general, it does a good job of protecting his head. He’s been wearing the Scamp since his neck was strong enough to hold one up and now, at 3 yo he’s just about to outgrow it.
We received the Obex last winter (along with a handful of other helmets) and it quickly became our favorite. It sits on his head correctly and once on and tightened down with the adjustable dial, I never need to readjust it. It does not migrate back to expose his forehead. It also pairs well with the POCito Opsin goggles (zero gaper / forehead gap). And the earpieces have pockets for the ears and are removable. My son will happily spend hours in the Obex with zero complaints.
My son has been wearing wool baselayers for the past 2 years and had I known about these companies sooner, he would have been wearing wool since birth. He wears them for cool weather hikes, on river trips when I want to keep him warm if he gets splashed, at preschool, and just about every day once the temperature starts to drop. Nui Organics, Iksplor, and Ella’s Wool make great products and I would highly recommend any one of these companies. The cost might seem high, but considering how much wear my son has gotten out of his sets, it’s a good investment. My son is currently on his second winter for all of them, which also helps justify the investment. Check out my recently published roundup on wool baselayers to learn more about the options I’ve found for babies and toddlers.
A Co-Ride Bike Seat
My favorite sport is skiing but my favorite outdoor activity to do with my child is mountain biking. I’m not even a particularly good mountain biker but riding easy to intermediate level single track with him on a co-ride bike seat is so much fun. If you’re not familiar with this type of kid’s bike seat, it’s mounted to the bike between the handlebars and your bike seat. The child holds onto your handlebars and has pegs with straps for his/her feet. Other than the feet, the child is not strapped in. Both Mac Ride and Shotgun recommend children be at least 2 years old to use this type of seat but we started my son on one when he was a bit younger. The Mac Ride can hold kids up to 60lbs / 27kg and the Shotgun up to 48lbs / 22kg.
The reason I love co-ride seats is that my son sits so close to me that it’s easy to have a conversation with him. When I ski with my son, the earflaps on the helmet and the scraping of the snow make it hard to communicate. But on a co-ride seat, I can hear everything. From him singing original tunes like ‘biking is so much fun’ in his best baritone voice to providing non-stop commentary on everything he sees. It’s amazing and I can’t help but smile every time we hop on the bike. And on top of that, adding the weight of my child plus the co-ride bike seat makes for a great workout and really good traction.
I’ve had the opportunity to test both the Mac Ride Child Bike Seat and the Shotgun Front Mounted Child Bike Seat. Mac Ride only makes one style of co-ride bike seat whereas Shotgun currently has two models. The Mac Ride and the Shotgun Pro model look to be fairly similar but, having never seen or tested the latter, I can’t weigh in on it. Initially, I was worried about installing the Mac Ride myself (I am not a bike mechanic or overly bike savvy), but after watching a YouTube video, I found the process to be pretty simple and straightforward. To adjust the seat, it was easy to follow the directions provided and once the leg length was set, it was pretty easy to dial in the angle to keep my son’s feet from hitting the tire. Once adjusted, the Mac Ride is easy to set up and take off (you’re supposed to remove the seat during travel) as long as you have a multitool to loosen the front connector. The downsides to the Mac Ride are it is not compatible with all mountain bikes and it has a wider seat, with no cushioning. Despite this, my son and I both love it, and very rarely does the width of the seat get in my way.
Kids Ride Shotgun makes two different models of co-ride bike seats. The seat I tested is the Shotgun Front Mounted Child Bike Seat. The Shotgun seat is more cushioned, narrower, and it fits all mountain bikes.
This seat is a great option if 1) your bike isn’t compatible with the Mac Ride or the Shotgun pro model and 2) you’re traveling and you plan to rent a bike but want to bring your own co-ride seat. The Front Mounted Child Bike Seat Requires zero adjustments to your bike. No need to adjust your dropper post, install a bracket to your headpiece, or do anything at all to your bike.
I’ve had the Child Bike Seat for a few months and I still find it frustrating to install and remove the Shotgun. I’m not using it daily and I don’t have a great system to store the parts, so I think this is part of my problem. But more often than not I lose patience when installing and end up with a fit that isn’t quite right. Because I have to travel every time I mountain bike, I’m constantly installing and taking off the co-ride seat, and I don’t have a great system to remember exactly where I mounted the seat on the previous ride. The Shotgun is not hard to install, in fact, it is rather easy once you have the seat angle adjusted and it requires zero tools. But it is a little more time-consuming than the Mac Ride because you have to unscrew three different pieces just to put it on or take it off your bike.
Knowing I have a limited amount of time before my son loses patience, I usually end up hurrying along and not getting an ideal fit. Despite this, every time my son gets on the seat, he’s comfortable and happy. So I chalk this up to me being the issue more than the seat. I have some avid biker friends that love the Child Bike Seat, and I understand why. The seat itself is cushioned so the kid will have a more comfortable ride and it’s narrower so you don’t have to worry about hitting the seat.
Regardless of which seat you choose, I think you’ll have a great time riding around with your child. If the person you are shopping for already has one of these seats, head over to the Kids Ride Shotgun and Mac Ride websites to check out their accessories. With handlebar-mounted handlebars (my son loves his set), Darth Vader biking shirts, tiny bike gloves, kid pogies, and mountain bike activity books, there are some great bike-oriented gift ideas.
I purchased this headlamp for a camping trip this past summer because I was pretty sure my son would love using it for storytime in the tent. He did and he has since used it for storytime at home as well as to play games. Have you ever played hide and seek in the dark–where you hide a toy and have to use a headlamp to find it? I never had, but my dad and son spent a good hour playing this one night.
We have also used the BOT for some night ‘runs’. If you have a safe place to run in the dark (we live on a quiet dirt road) and you need to tire out your child, I highly suggest a night run. We recently bundled up and headed out the door at 7 pm. My son zoomed all around while wearing a headlamp. We all loved the mini adventure and we hope to do it more often.
The BOT is lightweight and has an adjustable strap that fits my son’s head. And it will fit him for years to come. For indoor or outdoor play, the BOT is a fun option.
Magnifying Glass or Microscope
I think we had a dead butterfly (it died of natural causes, we think) sitting on our windowsill for 3+ months. Not my favorite decoration, but if my son is interested in getting an up-close look at a butterfly or insect, I’ll happily oblige. I purchased the YINAMA microscope for my son’s 3rd birthday. It has a large screen, is easy to focus, and can even take photos. The entire family enjoys looking at bugs and leaves through the lens and it has led to some interesting discussions (and an investment in insect books).
For a more travel-friendly way to get a close-up view of nature, I recommend the Jumbo Magnifier. It was also a big hit from day 1. My son loved bringing it on float trips and exploring dirt parking lots with it this summer. And more recently he asked to bring it skiing so he could get a closer look at the sparkly snow. The Jumbo Magnifier is an easy tool / toy to keep my son entertained while outside.
MSRP: $189 (currently on sale for $170)
The T-Mini 2-person Double Camping Hammock (3.0) is a 3-strap hammock that has several storage pockets, is compatible with other Tentsile products to make it camping friendly, and is extremely comfortable. The best part about the T-Mini is that it actually fits 2 people comfortably. Other double hammocks I’ve tried had me squished in the center with my partner, which was kind of nice but definitely not that comfortable, especially for an extended amount of time.
The T-mini has solved the centering (squishing) issue by using adjustable seatbelt webbing to separate the two sleeping areas. When adjusted correctly, the webbing keeps each person on their own side. If this is starting to sound remotely interesting, keep reading because there are a few things to consider before gifting or purchasing one for your family.
The T-Mini needs three trees that are well spaced and fairly large. Finding trees that meet these criteria can be challenging. But if you live in or near or are planning to travel to a place with big old trees, then the T-Mini is a fun option to have for outdoor storytime or play. The moment my son laid eyes on the T-mini, he loved it. Instinctively he wanted to use it as a trampoline, but we convinced him not to stand on it. He eventually settled for a bit of gentle up and down motion while on his knees. And he loved laying in it too especially if he could lay right next to me.
The T-Mini is fairly lightweight (~5 lbs / 2.3 kg) so it’s easy to pack for road trips, camping trips, or even some adventure picnics. The T-Mini includes everything you need to set up the hammock and it all fits in a mesh bag. We packed it on a recent flight and were happy to play on it even though it was winter and snowy. We haven’t had it too long, but I look forward to storytime in it when temps warm back up.
Sometimes all it takes for my son to get out the door is the promise of a picnic. He picnics so much that anytime we are out for a bike ride or hike he’ll tell us when a spot meets his standards for a picnic (most spots meet his not-so-high standards). I think he’s particularly fond of picnics because, in the winter months, picnics mean hot cocoa. And drinking hot cocoa in the woods where he can dig and generally turn himself into a construction vehicle is about as good as it gets for my son.
Last winter (and spring, summer, and fall) we picnicked fairly frequently (maybe the only upside of the pandemic) and we usually brought along tasty snacks, a thermos of chocolatey goodness, and sometimes a second thermos of soup. We’re planning to picnic a lot this winter too, but I no longer have to use old yogurt containers, Ziploc bags, and plastic silverware. My upgraded snacking system is thanks to U-Konserve and Ecovessel. Between their Round Nesting Containers, Divided Square To-Go Food Storage Container, Recycled Insulated Lunch Tote, and Ecovessel’s WANDERWARE 6-piece Reusable Stainless Steel Utensil Set with Travel Pouch, my picnic game is pretty much dialed. Everything (except my large thermos) fits nicely into the Tote which I can throw over my shoulder or for longer hikes, I can throw it into my backpack. It’s nice to know that the containers won’t break or leak in the bag. If you are looking to upgrade your to-go food storage, I recommend checking out U-Konserve and Ecovessel. Their stainless steel and environmentally friendly products are well made and designed for convenience.
This might be the hardest gift to give but it’s arguably the most special. Whether you’re giving your child a new holiday memory or a weekly ski date or just an hour of your undivided attention (put down the phone), it will be time well spent.
If you’re looking to give something to a friend that has kids, or to a friend or family member’s child, consider arranging a special playdate or volunteer to make dinner or babysit. This doesn’t have to cost anything, but it will be greatly appreciated by all parties. I wish I had thought of this when I was childless and my friends had little ones running around. But as a parent to a toddler, I now know how just a 30-minute break can feel amazing.
The other night I was having a rough evening. I was exhausted and wanted to be left alone but my son insisted on doing our morning run after dinner. Our morning runs usually happen in the morning (hence the name), before preschool and they don’t necessarily involve that much running. But we get outside and it’s amazing. Well, this time we skipped it and agreed to postpone it until the evening. That night, it was cold and damp and I was grumpy, and despite my hope that he would forget our earlier agreement, my son remembered and insisted we go. Right when we stepped outside, all bundled up, my frown faded. My son had on his BOT headlamp and we walked and ran along our quiet dirt road. It was amazing and it was a nice reminder to get outside.
Last winter we had a number of evening explorations and they all were made brighter and more enticing with the promise of light. From a handlebar light to copper LED lights wrapped around my son’s wagon to headlamp explorations and to our new Christmas eve tradition of searching for the magical Christmas tree, night adventures are always worth the effort.
We have the Revel Gear Trailhound 30 ft. Camping Light and have used it to light up my son’s wagon, our house Christmas tree, and for an evergreen tree in the woods (the ‘magical Christmas tree’). The 30 ft. length is definitely overkill for wrapping the wagon, but it certainly made it visible to any potential cars. The only downside to the lights is that the thin strand tangles pretty easily. Also, it’s worth noting that the light does not come with a power source but it can be plugged into any USB outlet. We use an external battery pack, but the Revel solar pack looks like a good option for longer use. Especially if you intend to take it camping or backpacking.
For my son’s bike, we have a silicone LED bike light that wraps around his handlebars. We got the light for free from a bike commuter day years ago and much to all our surprise and delight, the light still works. My son loves turning it on and off, regardless of the time of day, and it’s small enough to fit on the handlebars of his balance bike.
Donate to Charities
This list is not ordered by importance but if it was, this one would be much closer to the top. It’s important to set good examples for your children and the spirit of giving doesn’t have to be all about purchasing a present for someone else. For the parents that are constantly battling ‘too much stuff’ or for the child that might not need another present to open under the tree, consider giving to charity in their name. If you know the person you’re shopping for is passionate about something, consider finding a charity that would honor them and their values. Some of my favorite charities include local animal shelters, local food banks, World Wildlife Fund, and Save the Children. What are some of your favorites?