Explore the Outdoors: Must-Have Gear and Gifts for Kids & Families (2023 Edition)

Do you have any outdoor kids or adventuresome families on your shopping list this year?  Or maybe, you’re an outdoor family and are looking for practical gifts to help get you and your kids outside. This guide full of outdoor gifts for kids is the perfect starting point for this year’s gift giving season!

Below, you’ll find favourite outdoors toys and outdoor gear perfect for families who like to get outside, and actually written by a mom that gets her kids outside!

All the things below are toys and gear that we’ve use when we’re outside exploring, playing, or just hanging out.

Top Three Outdoor Gift Ideas (most used by my kids)

Want to know the top suggestions, the most used outdoorsy items that my kids and my outdoorsy friends’ kids have used? Here they are:

Bikes: Strider balance bikes for toddlers, second-hand used bikes for young kids, quality mountain bikes for older kids

Jumping and Climbing: Trampolines, slack lines, hanging bars, swing sets

Nature Study: Binoculars and field guides

Read more about these suggestions and other great ideas below!

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The best outdoor family gifts

Here you’ll find suggestions to help get families outside together, mostly items to help encourage outdoor adventure or make it easier.

The Wagon

Kids can’t help but love a little red wagon!  Wagons are great for family walks around the neighborhood, going to zoos, outdoor events, the farmer’s market, and backyard play time.  Parents will love how handy it is when they’re out with other families and the little ones can take turns in the wagon instead of everyone bringing their own strollers.

Some higher quality wagons may even have ski attachments for snow, sun shades, and attachable umbrellas. 

If this wagon will be used on rough terrain (and if it’s for an outdoorsy family, that’ll be the case!), get a wagon with wider wheels. These will be better for off-roading on packed dirt, gravel, or even packed snow. Avoid plastic wheels. Not only are the plastic wheels bumpier, but they tend to also be a lot louder on pavement.

You may also want to consider one of these sturdy, collapsible wagons. I think they’re often marketed as landscaping wagons, but I see a lot of families using these at festivals, the zoo, and visiting the park.

kid pulling a red wagon with her dolly inside it on a sidewalk in the winter
My little one taking her baby out for a winter walk in our red wagon

Now that our kids are older and don’t ride in the wagon, we still use it for hauling our garbage to the dumpster down the road, selling Girl Guide Cookies around town, and carrying our water toys and picnic gear from the parking lot to the beach.

A few years ago, our boys used the wagon to haul kayaks three blocks to the creek, which he then proceeded to paddle down!

Balance Bikes

Have you seen these balance bikes?  They’re so small and cute!  After some practice toddlers learn to zip along making family walks quicker and more enjoyable for everyone!

Tip: Bring along the wagon too so when the littles gets tired of biking, both the toddler and the bike can take a ride in the wagon.

Our toddlers all used balance bikes from about 18 months of age until they started riding a regular pedal bike.  Because they had the skills from these little bikes, they didn’t use training wheels and were biking like the big kids by 4 years old.

Kids bikes

As a family, we use our bikes a lot. The kids bike to school. We bike around town to get places instead of driving. The kids toot around town and explore the trails with their friends.

There’s a lot to consider when choosing a bike for kids: sizing, tires, where the bikes will be ridden, brake system, how much you want to spend, style preferences and much much more.

All of our little kid bikes have been second hand purchases. Especially for kids who will be rough on bikes, we’d rather buy a good quality second hand bike for the same price of buying a new lower quality bike for the younger years.

But, once our kids have enough biking experience to hit the mountain trails, we really want to make sure their bike is in top shape to keep them safe on those trails. While we have found some good quality second hand bikes for our older kids, we’ve also had to purchase a few new bikes.

I’d suggest if you’re looking to purchase a good quality mountain bike, go out and seek advice from a bike shop or find a reputable online bike seller.

We recently received this Prevelo bike for our 8 year old. This was the first time we ordered a bike online, but we used their online bike sizing guide and it was bang on. We were pleasantly surprised with the shipping speed and the ease of assembling the bike once it arrived.

girl riding a mountain bike on a dirt trail
My daughter loving her new mountain bike (and biking in crocs!)

Some of the factors that we’ve looked for when buying bikes for the kids are:

  • The bike is light enough that little kids can lift it easily from the road up onto the curb (and I can lift it up into the truck).
  • For kids first learning to bike, we preferred the pedal brakes
  • Once kids mastered the pedal brakes, we look for bikes with hand brakes
  • It can be very challenging for kids to change gears so consider how gears shift, if they shift easily, and what will be easiest for your child
  • An easy to adjust bike seat is just easier to adjust with quickly growing kids
  • The bike needs reflectors and lights – surprisingly, not all kids bikes have reflectors… or they’ve broken off if buying second hand. (but these can be purchased and attached, if needed)

The snow sled

Come winter time, our pull-behind toboggan was used all the time! As long as the sidewalks weren’t bare (and here in Canada, they are frequently snow packed), the kids loved to go for a ride around the block in the sled.

The wooden sleds for babies and toddlers are super cute, but we found they weren’t as long-lived as this type of sled. Also, our wooden wagon often tipped over when going on bumpy trails or up and down curbs and such. So, while it looked trendier and made cuter photographs, we found it to be less functional.

Mom tip: make sure the pull-rope is long enough that you can comfortably pull the sled behind you without it hitting your feet. Also, a handle on the end of the rope will be much more comfortable on your hands than plain rope.

a small child pulling a red snow sled carrying ice skates
Using our sled to haul our skates

We’ve used our for Trick-or-treating, for hikes through the forest, for going to the store, for carrying gear when skating on the frozen lake, and for hauling food up the road for family get togethers.

Also, many a dolly or stuffed animal (or a bunch of dollies and stuffed animals) have also been on many a sled ride along the trails!

a little kid pulling her doll in a sled through the winter snow

When kids get older they’ll prefer a ‘cooler’ sled for tobogganing with. The saucer (round plastic sled) was my favorite as a kid, but quality saucers are sometimes harder to find these days.

Instead, it seems many tobogganers are using these inflatable tubes on the snow hills. Maybe they’re softer on the tailbone when you hit the bumps!

The Picnic Blanket

We use our outdoor blanket ALL THE TIME. In fact, I even have one tucked into the bag on my bike so we’ve always got one on hand for unexpected sits around town.

We use our blanket mostly for sitting, eating, reading, and watching… at the beach, at the playground, the park, in the canoe, on the truck’s tail gate… you get the idea. We don’t bring one hiking though (because I hate carrying unnecessary weight).

In my opinion, the perfect outdoor blanket is soft on one side, won’t let the moisture from the ground seep through to your bum, and is easily folded, carried, and cleaned.

Mom tip: an outdoor blanket with a woven or knit-like fabric will collect twigs, dried grass, and such… and it will be super hard to brush anything off of it. Instead, look for low pile fleece or slippery fabrics.

A super cheap option are those grey felt/wool type moving blankets. However, if the ground is wet the moisture will eventually come through.

We were recently gifted this KAMUI Outdoor Blanket and it’s already come in handy on a few of our outdoor adventures. I particularly like this one because one side is waterproof. On a recent canoe trip the kids started to get cold when it started to rain. I had the kids use the blanket bottom-side out to keep them dry and warm… and it worked wonderfully!

A few other gift ideas that are great for getting kids and families outside together:

  • Scooters, roller blades, skateboards… anything to make evening walks after dinner a bit more enjoyable for kids
  • For adventurous families, a canoe… but that’s a pretty big and pricey gift…
  • For lake-loving families, inflatable paddleboards and kid-sized kayaks!
kids and families playing at the beach with kayaks, paddleboards, shovels, and buckets
paddleboards, kayaks, floaties, kitty litter buckets… all for family fun!

The best classic outdoor gifts for kids

These following gift ideas are the standard outdoor toys and such! All families should have an odd smattering of these sorts of items to help encourage outdoor play, activity, and adventure.

Regular old Shovels and Buckets

If you’re heading to the beach, playing in the backyard, the sand at the local park, a bucket and shovel will always be entertaining.  Toddlers will dig in anything!  And a bucket is so handy for carrying toys, treats, and treasures too. 

Gifting tip: If a bucket seems like a boring gift, consider filling it with other goodies before wrapping it up!

If you’re handy and into re-purposing,  you could probably make some buckets yourself.  Large milk jugs, cut open at he top, yogurt tubs with rope attached, cat litter or ice cream pails also make wonderful buckets for toddlers. And, to be honest, our repurposed cat litter pails as buckets are the only ones that have actually lasted through the years of kid abuse… notice the photo above?

Mom tip: If you want a pail that will last more than one season of play, look at pails intended for gardening and house chores instead of a kids cheap plastic bucket. Or consider a metal kid’s bucket or one with a reinforced handle attachment. And, try to find a shovel with a metal handle or a sand scoop instead of the standard small kid’s shovel. Those break too easily!

I happened upon some sand scoops at Ikea about 12 years ago and those things still haven’t broken after all these years of digging and playing… they’re definitely my top recommendation here, but I don’t think Ikea sells them any more.

The water table

This was by far our most used outdoor door! I found our water table at a garage sale when our first was a toddler. It has sat on our porch for 13 years since! It seems kids under 5 used this the most. However, even the older kids will still play if I throw something fun in there like kitchen tools, Lego, or something from the house.

I’d suggest a basic table… all those attachments and mechanics that some tables come with look pretty fun, but I’d worry how long before they break (or get lost). Ours is a basic water basin on legs at toddler height. However, a lid might be nice to keep dirt and dust out of the table otherwise it will need more frequent cleaning.

But, cleaning it is pretty easy and the kids usually like to help wash it out with some scrub brushes and dish soap every now and then.

Mom tip: the tables that combine water and sand are simply an invitation to make mud. Or, if your water table is in the yard it will inevitably get dirt dumped into it. If you’re like me and don’t want to deal with mud clean-up, I’d suggest avoiding this temptation.

The swing set

Yes, this isn’t a standard gift and you’d probably want to check with the parents before buying kids a swing set. But, seriously, if I’m considering hours of use, the swing set is definitely a winner for our family!

Our swing set was made simply from 4×4’s and metal bracing. Once our children outgrow the swings I think I’ll look into buying a large saucer swing or lounger swing to hang from it and see if they’ll use it for swinging and reading or day-dreaming into their teen years.

All kids should have a few of these:

These are low cost kids outdoor gifts that help families get out and get active.  They’re great around home, for camping, or for bringing on family picnics or trips to the park.  Hours of fun for only a few dollars!

Here are some classic outdoor toy suggestions:

  • Frisbees
  • Kites
  • Soccer and Footballs
  • Skipping Ropes
  • Baseball Gloves, Bats, Balls
  • Basketballs and hoops
  • Hoola Hoops
  • Pogo Jump Sticks or Balls
  • Sidewalk Chalk

If you’re thinking these make boring gifts, there are actually some pretty cool frisbees and kites available these days!  Don’t you know a kid who’d love to fly their own dragon?!

Backyard Outdoor Equipment for kids and families


Have you ever tried one of these?  They’re a lot harder than it looks!  But, slack lines are tonnes of fun for both kids and adults. 

If you have a large backyard with mature trees, you could probably set up a slack line.

If you purchase a slack line kit make sure it comes with tree trunk protectors. An extra rope to string across as a guide rope will be very helpful for beginners. But, if the set doesn’t come with one you can use any rope

We bought a slackline a few summers ago for our camping trips and it has provided endless hours of play, competitions, balancing, and bouncing!  (Sure, we also had some bumps and memorable falls, but all in the name of playing and trying something new!)

Cool tip: check out these attachments you can add to slacklines to create obstacle courses and ultimate challenges.  They’re pretty neat!  I haven’t tried them, so I’m not so sure how they work, but they sure look fun!

close up of a kid's shoes on a slackline, trees in the background
using our slackline at the campground

Climbing structures and trampolines

Yes, these gifts are a little too big to wrap up, but in terms of quality outdoor gear to get kids playing in the backyard, stuff to jump, swing, and climb is usually a hit!

Mom tip: The bigger the structure and the more gizmos and attachments a structure has, does not necessarily mean more the fun it is.

Nets: Badminton, Volleyball, Basketball, Soccer

I’m a strong supporter of open-ended play. When my kids were young they’d do all sorts of non-standard play with very standard items. But, as they got older, I noticed their preferences for organized sport increased. And with that came a request for nets… for a badminton net (that they also use for volleyball), a basketball net (which we refuse to get for my husband’s fear of broken windows), and soccer nets (that my oldest dragged home from the nearest dumpster!).

Exploring and learning gifts for the outdoorsy family

The following gift ideas are perfect for encouraging outdoor learning and exploration. Knowing the child well and being able to foster learning around their particular interests will make the gift more meaningful.

Our favourite Kid’s Binoculars

For families that like to learn and explore, binoculars and trail guides are both practical and super useful.  If you’re worried about kids using binoculars gently, there are shock resistant binoculars specifically made for children.

2 kids looking at the camera through kids binoculars
My kiddos using their binoculars

My preschoolers absolutely love these kid-friendly binoculars that we have. I thought they’d be too big for the kids to enjoy, but that was not the case! And, since I’m not worried about their condition, I keep them in the toy bucket which means my daughter picks them out and plays with them much more frequently than if I had to remember to pull them out for her to use them once in a while… and they’re actually decent binoculars too!

Nature Books and Journals

A fun outdoorsy kid themed gift could include a little nature journal, some binoculars, and a beautiful nature guide, like this one, Nature Anatomy or some location specific field guides to birds, bugs, or flowers.

Location specific field guides are also a great gift for kids and families that like to get out and learn and explore. I have fond memories of my daughter (at 5 years old) biking around the campground with her Audbon Bird’s of North America in her barbie bike basket… stopping every so often to look off into the trees and find the flamingo or owl or swan that she is certain she’d spotted!


I’m not going to pretend to know anything about telescopes, because I don’t.  But I do know that star gazing can be a lot of fun and a great reason to get outside after dark.

Technically, you don’t need anything special to enjoy the starry sky, but a star guide and telescope could help prolong the activity and get kids a little more interested and involved.  There are also great apps to help identify stars and constellations available for free.

The Best ‘No-Toys’ idea: An Outdoorsy Gift Experience

I think these are some of the best gift ideas… gifting activities, experiences, time spent together, and memories!  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Gift a package of outdoor scavenger hunts for your or another family to enjoy together (you can download and print these scavenger hunts for free)
  • memberships or family passes to zoos and wildlife reserves
  • state / provincial and national park passes
  • a homemade coupon to bring them out camping, hiking, bird watching, kite-flying, or skating (you get the idea)
  • gift certificates to local experiences (think about outdoor tourist attractions for your location – a swamp tour, river rafting, guided snow shoeing, horseback riding, caving, snorkeling, sailboat lesson, ice climbing… the list is endless)
  • club fees for an outdoor club like scouts or junior rangers
  • Entry fees to a summer outdoor camp like horseback riding, canoeing, nature science camps and so on.

To make the giving of these experience gifts a bit more exciting, consider adding the gift card or coupon into a Nalgene bottle or small gift bag with some smaller outdoorsy items suggested below.

A Nalgene bottle with a gift certificate inside wrapped with a bow ready for gift giving

Stocking Stuffer gift ideas for outdoor kids

If you’re in need of some smaller gift ideas, here’s a list of things our family uses outside on a regular basis. 

These would make perfect stocking stuffers for outdoor kids:

Last Words…

Getting outside can be easy and tones of fun.  You don’t need fancy gadgets and gear, or special toys and activities, but they don’t hurt either!

Personally, I like to give gifts that I know are practical and will get used.  These outdoor gifts for kids are all things that our family has used and enjoy using regularly.

Hopefully this will give you some ideas of gifts for for kids who love outdoors and for adventuresome outdoorsy families.


4 thoughts on “Explore the Outdoors: Must-Have Gear and Gifts for Kids & Families (2023 Edition)”

  1. Love all the recommendations. My daughter loves the outdoors and adding binoculars, a magnifying glass and a bug collection kit makes it sooo much fun!!

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