Gift guides for kids are all over the internet and it is overwhelming how many toys there are for kids nowadays — and not just junk, but good, quality gifts. That said, most toys are designed for indoor play. In this guide, I’m focusing more on outdoor play, and while some items on this list are designed to be used indoors, they complement outdoor play and exploration.
I created outdoor-oriented gift guides for parents / kids in 2020, 2021, and 2022, and I still stand by those recommendations — for even more ideas, be sure to check them out. But I wanted to publish another one this year now that my son is another year older. So I created this guide to highlight products that I think will (1) help you get outside with your child and (2) that will entice and excite your child to enjoy the outdoors. Some of the products listed here will be more appreciated by parents than children, but every single thing on this list is something my family and I have enjoyed using or that has been beneficial in helping us explore and play outside.
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 that you’ve enjoyed using with your children? Leave a comment below to let me know.
A Set of Wheels // Something to Ride
Whether it’s a balance bike, co-ride bike seat, scooter, pull-behind trailer, or pedal bike, introducing your child to cycling (or anything with wheels) early is fun for them and you. My son is now 5 and we still use all of the items I listed, but we are getting near the end of some of them.
If you’re an intermediate or expert-level mountain biker (or have a commuter bike that is compatible with the design) and you have a 2 to 4-year-old, a Mac Ride or Kids Ride Shotgun bike seat is an excellent investment. This past summer, it was harder to use our Mac Ride co-ride seat since my 5-year-old is now heavier, my legs aren’t as strong, and my son is getting tall enough that his head bumps my chin. I think this past summer was likely our last with the Mac Ride, which brings tears to my eyes thinking about it. We took roadtrips based around riding with my son and some of our best conversations were had while riding single track.
While I won’t be able to ride with my son directly in front of me for much longer, we recently purchased an e-cargo bike for our school commutes and I’m happy that we still get to ride on the same bike together. An e-cargo bike is something I’ve been wanting for a while but my previous commutes didn’t make it worth the investment. For one, when I lived in Santa Fe, my commute was flat and I could easily use the Mac Ride or my Burley trailer, and when I lived in the Taos area, there wasn’t a bike lane or safe way to ride to preschool.
Thanks to the amazing bike paths in the Crested Butte area, a commute that has an 800-foot vertical gain / loss, and some local and regional rebate programs, we finally made my e-bike dreams come true. We purchased the Benno Boost E Class Etility E-Bike with the Bosch Performance Line Sport motor, 400wh battery, and step-over layout. We added plenty of accessories to give my son a safe and comfortable ride and we absolutely loved riding it this summer and fall. I’m planning on adding some studded snow tires so we can commute to the ski area this winter and spring.
This past fall, we also added a new pedal bike for my son. My son was starting to outgrow his previous bike and I wanted to upgrade him to a bike with wider tires and disc brakes. His previous bike had rim brakes and they were hard to use. He ended up going over the handlebars on a dirt road by our house and while that can happen when the front brakes are used on any bike, he really struggled with that setup. After the crash, he preferred hopping on his scooter or balance bike, which was fine, but I wanted to keep the pedal-bike momentum going. We picked up a Prevelo Zulu Two largely because it has disc brakes, wider (2.1”) tires, and the option to add a suspension fork (we opted to add one). My son is just barely tall enough to ride the Zulu Two bike but we opted for the Zulu Two over the Zulu One because we know he’ll grow into it in the next few months. The first thing we did when we got on the bike was practice using the brakes correctly. The disc brakes certainly helped his confidence and he was able to control his speed much better.
My son is a rock collector. I think this is true for most kids in the 2-5 year old range. My son is not particularly picky about the quality of rocks he adds to his collection — he has lots of gravel from our driveway. But he loves them all and plays with them frequently. He has pamphlets and books about different gems and minerals and he devours those too. A few years back, I purchased an LCD Digital Microscope for him so he could closely examine his collection. (The microscope I purchased is no longer available, but it’s similar to this one.) We use the microscope to examine his gems and minerals (and gravel), but we also examine things like dead skin, grains of sand, and anything else we can find. He makes observations, while I, as Assistant Scientist, take notes. The LCD screen makes this type of microscope very kid friendly and the model we purchased can take photos and be paired with a computer. I particularly like that we can look at the screen together and talk about what we’re seeing.
While the LCD Digital Microscope is not weatherproof, there are a number of microscopes on the market that are meant to be used outdoors. We have a handheld one with a single eyepiece and a light at the end that works pretty well. Just by reading this article, you’ll probably end up seeing sponsored posts about that style. We like the simplicity of the handheld microscope, and the fact that it doesn’t need to be charged.
These work well indoors and outdoors and are fun for kids of all ages. We use them when we’re in different parts of the house, on hikes, when one person is in the yard and the other is inside, etc. We have kid-friendly walkie talkies that came in a 3-pack, which is perfect for our family of 3. We’ve had them for over a year and they’ve held up well. The buttons and settings are easy to use and we like that each one is a different color. From making up code names to checking in with each other when we’re in different parts of the house and yard, these have been a blast to use.
My son has been wearing the same pair of Pit Viper XS sunglasses for over 3 years now and they still fit, unlike many of his other sunglasses. The arms on the glasses are adjustable, both in arm length and angle, so they grow with him. If we can keep them (relatively) scratch-free, they should last at least 5 more years. Beyond the adjustable arms, we love that the Pit Viper XS sunglasses provide great coverage, have a rubber nose piece that makes it comfortable to wear and protects his nose if he falls, and have a retainer strap. They are on the more expensive side as far as kid sunglasses go (currently on sale for $55), but for what they offer and how long they last as a kid grows, it’s a good investment. Plus, your kid will get compliments from loads of people. Really. He always receives compliments on them.
Mini Dinosaur / Animal / Vehicles
My son has several Safari LTD TOOBS, a mini set of construction vehicles, and a collection of micro machines (his dad started the collection as a kid). All of these toys are small and easy to pack. My son loves playing with them at home but even better than that is when I pack some for a trip and surprise him. We have a set of dinosaurs that live in our truck and he plays with them whenever we go camping. Having a new environment so unlike his living room to play with the toys makes them feel brand new and exciting again. And it allows my husband and I time to relax.
Anything that glows // shines
I don’t know what it is, but give my son something that glows or lights up, and he’s over the moon. From fiber optic LED fairy whips to a simple glow stick, objects that glow make camping even more enjoyable for him. And of course, the fun doesn’t stop when we return home. He often plays with his battery-operated and rechargeable glow sticks and wands for days, weeks, and months later.
A few of our favorite, more practical camping items that fall into this category are the L.L. Bean Rechargeable LED Pathfinder Beanie and the Princeton Tec Bot headlamp. The Beanie is rechargeable and the light pops out, making the hat easy to wash. Both of these products fit my 5-year-old perfectly and there’s room to grow.
Give an experience
This is my favorite and something we try to emphasize year round. The number one thing my son wants is our attention. Our full attention. And while this is not something you can wrap up and put under a tree, you can give an experience you know they will love. From new places to explore near our house to trips that take hours or days to get to. We try to include something my son loves on every trip we take. And some trips are designed for him specifically. My son is a rock lover so for Christmas, I’m planning to give him a local rockhounding book so we can explore new areas in search of gems and minerals.