The holiday season is all about the kids. Really. But it can be challenging to find a gift that a child will truly enjoy and appreciate.
I interrogated my own 9-year-old daughter for the truth about what gifts she liked best and questioned every outdoor-oriented parent I could reach for their opinions. The list below is the result of the most comprehensive research I did for any of my assigned holiday gift guides. Because, really, the holidays are for the kids.
Passport to Your National Parks Junior Ranger Edition: $15
The experiences that led to my 9-year-old daughter getting this passport book stamped with “cancellations” at each of the five parks we visited last summer were highlights that we still discuss today.
This book is divided into geographic regions and provides history and poignant facts for the areas, as well as a checklist for every park within those regions. The “checks” and corresponding cancellation stamps require the child to partake in the Junior Ranger program for each national park. There are also dedicated pages for stickers that parks give away, and we all know how much kids love stickers.
The Junior Ranger programs are run by park rangers and were educational, engaging, and super fun for my kid. She got up early when she knew that a Junior Ranger program was on the docket for the day, and the pins she earned for each one are proudly on display in her room.
I cannot recommend this passport book ($15) and the National Junior Ranger program enough. I can’t wait for my little buddy to do more of them this coming summer.
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Victorinox Junior 09: $40
For kids of the appropriate age who are into the outdoors, their first knife can be momentous. The trust adults had in me to handle a knife safely, and the ensuing pride is something I still recall 45 years later.
Victorinox is the original Swiss Army Knife, and the Junior 09 ($40) is perfect as a first knife. The 3.3-inch knife’s eight functions can serve and kindle their spirit of adventure: locking blade, wood saw, Phillips screwdriver, tweezers, nail file, nail cleaner, toothpick, and finally, a key ring.
The Junior 09 comes in the trademark Swiss Army red finish and carries the 125-year tradition of the Swiss Army Knife.
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CamelBak Kids’ Mini M.U.L.E. 50-Ounce Hydration Pack: $55
Kids can run amok and forget to hydrate just like adults. A hydration pack can make drinking on the fly so much easier, and CamelBak has a version of their lauded M.U.L.E. (Medium to Ultra Long distance Endeavors) series just for them.
The CamelBak Kids’ Mini M.U.L.E. 50-Ounce Hydration Pack ($55) keeps up to 1.5 liters of fluids at the ready, and a zipped bike tool organizer pocket and zippered essentials pockets are perfect for snacks. Your rug rat can carry their own sustenance!
The pack also has reflective strips for easy spotting in low-light conditions and a whistle, just in case.
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Clif Bar and Co. Clif Kid Zbar: $11 (per 12-pack)
Active kids need fuel on hand to avoid the catastrophic crash and subsequent potential meltdown. And kids can be particular about food. But every kid I know loves the Clif Kid Chocolate Chip Zbar ($11 per 12-pack).
These USDA-certified organic energy bars have the soft and easy-to-eat consistency of a fresh-baked cookie. They have 11 grams of whole grains and are devoid of high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, and anything genetically modified. They are also Smart Snacks compliant.
Clif Bar and Co. recently launched two other flavors: blueberry muffin and iced oatmeal cookie.
My advice to you is to buy twice as many as you think you need. You will be eating plenty of them, more than likely.
Specialized Shuffle Youth Standard Helmet: $45
A helmet is a must for little cyclists, no matter what or where they ride. But having handled some affordable kids’ helmets from department stores left me worrying about the quality and, thus, the safety. Specialized is a trusted brand in the two-wheel world, and their Shuffle Youth Standard Buckle Helmet ($45) ensures the protection that young shredders deserve.
Specialized offers the helmet in a youth 7-10-year-old size, and it meets all US Consumer Product Safety Commission safety standards for bicycle helmets for kids 5 and older.
The Shuttle Youth Standard Buckle has a simple-to-use closure, as the name suggests, and it’s available in five colorways. And Specialized didn’t ignore styling — this helmet looks good for a kids’ model.
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Town Hall Outdoor Co. Around Town Cold Weather Jacket: $155
Finding quality outdoor apparel with sustainable materials, construction, and packaging is hard; it’s even harder for children’s apparel. That’s where Town Hall Outdoor Co. comes in. The Steamboat Springs, Colorado-based company employs recycled fabrics and components, promising that at least 75% of the garment is made of recycled materials. The young brand also chooses responsible packaging and has a lofty goal of using 100% recycled materials by 2024. The Around Town Cold Weather Jacket’s shell, sleeve liner, and insulation are made with 100% recycled materials.
The Around Town Cold Weather Jacket ($155) sports a relaxed style but flexes technical features often lacking in kids outerwear. A waterproof, breathable shell fabric, PFC-free DWR, and 100% seam sealing fend off precipitation.
A grow-cuff feature extends the life of the jacket by expanding as the child gets longer and larger. The main zipper is covered by a Velcro draft guard, and the magnetic closures on the front pockets make getting or storing necessities easy, even with gloves. There is also an internal chest media pocket to keep electronics or snacks from freezing.
ik’splôr Kid Iksplorer Set: $109
Adult outdoor adventurers have enjoyed the temperature and moisture-regulating properties of merino wool. But finding this natural wonder fiber in kids’ clothing is difficult.
Two sisters started ik’splôr to fill this void in outdoor apparel, sourcing ethically made RWS wool for their base and midlayers.
Their Kid Iksplorer base layer set ($109) is purposely long in the sleeves, legs, and torso to keep wrists, backs, and rears warm regardless of activity. Whether exploring winter wonderlands or sleeping indoors, this naturally wicking set will keep your little buddies dry and warm.
Ik’splôr offers the Kid Iskplorer sets in a broad range — sizes 2T to 12 years and in nine colors.
woom 1 Balance Bike: $199
Bicycles for the youngest future rippers are often too heavy and can be cheaply made and woefully designed. Woom set out to change the status quo by offering lightweight bikes with proper performance and safety features.
The woom 1 ($199) is the “starter” to a two-wheeled life, the first step in the brand’s series of six bikes that can grow with your child. This 12-inch balance bike isn’t a cheap throw-away toy. A 6061 aluminum frame keeps the claimed weight to 6.6 pounds so an 18-month to 3.5-year-old can learn balance with less frustration. Woom configured the geometry for a beginner, and the low entry to the upright seating position eases learning to balance on the two aluminum wheels. Narrow axles allow plenty of legroom.
An adjustable rear hand brake teaches a skill that stays with them, and the V-brake leverage is appropriate for small children. The brake caliper is mounted out of the kick path. Safety features include screw-in grips with large ends, a steering limiter, reflective accents, and an integrated stem and bars that eliminate protruding bolts and edges.
Real, air-filled Schwalbe tires provide traction and cushion, and an ergonomically designed seat keeps your kid comfortable.
One of the most exciting things about the woom ecosystem is its upCYCLING program. For a one-time $59 fee, you can return a bike and get a refund for 40% of the original cost to put toward the next woom bike. Woom even provides the bike box and pays for shipping. The trade-up window is 2 years or when the child outgrows the current ride, whichever comes first. The old bike is refurbished if possible and is sold at a discount to another family or donated to those in need. Either way, the upcycled bike benefits another child.
Cotopaxi Batac 16L Backpack, Del Día: $65
Do you have a style-conscious teen or preteen? Do they feel the need for exclusivity or to stand out? Maybe this Cotopaxi Batac 16L Backpack ($65) can satisfy both desires.
The Batac 16L is part of Cotopaxi’s Del Día program, where fabric scraps are employed for construction. The colors and combinations are chosen by the sewers and bear the brand’s usual eye-catching flair. Each piece is truly one-of-a-kind and keeps these upcycled fabrics out of landfills.
This 16L rucksack is simple, with an unstructured main body and an internal sleeve divider. There are dual mesh side pockets and a zippered front pocket with a quick-access phone or camera sleeve.
Undeniable style, one-of-a-kind exclusivity, and sustainability — it’s hard to beat that combination.
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Crescent Moon Kids’ Snowshoe: $100
Even for adults, putting snowshoes on can be a pain. So imagine what it’s like for kids. Snowshoes can be wieldy and awkward, and in a tumble, potentially sharp and hard edges could cause injury.
Enter the Crescent Moon Kids’ Snowshoe ($100) — they are made of foam! This single specification eliminates so many downsides of snowshoes for adults. They are appropriately light for kids, there are no sharp metal edges (ice cleats are optional), they are quiet, and they are rockered like sneakers for a more natural gait.
And one of the best features: The snowshoes only require one wide, industrial Velcro strap to attach to the child’s shoes. No more fumbling with multiple straps and buckles with gloves on!
The Crescent Moon Kids’ Snowshoes are 17.5 inches long, 7 inches wide, and fit shoe sizes 11Y, 13Y, and 5SZ.
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