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10 Best Kids Backpacking Packs of 2023

10 Best Backpacks for Kids

Buying a kid’s backpack is very different from buying an adult backpack because kids have smaller physical proportions. They also grow very quickly so you want to make sure that you purchase a backpack that can be adjusted over time. In addition to bringing them close to nature, the accomplishment they feel at being able to carry everything they need on their backs over miles of backcountry terrain is a great confidence builder. However, a well-chosen, properly-packed backpack is probably the single biggest difference between misery and enjoyment on the trail.

Here are the top 10 backpacks we recommend for kids. All of them have adjustable-length torsos to account for their growth as they get older.

Make / ModelKids SpecificPrice
REI Tarn 40Yes$100
Osprey Ace 38Yes$160
Gregory Wander 50Yes$200
REI Tarn 65Yes$165
Osprey Ace 50Yes$190
ULA Spark 41Yes$230
Teton Sports Scout 3400No$80
Deuter Fox 40Yes$130
Gregory Icarus 40Yes$130
Amazon Basics 55No$70

1. REI Tarn 40 Pack – Kid’s

REI Tarn 40 Kid's Backpack
The REI Tarn 40 is an adjustable frame backpack that you can resize as your child grows taller. It has a removable spring steel frame that provides lightweight support and side daisy chains if you want to attach additional gear to the backpack. The top lid is removable if you want to save weight and the pack is easy to adjust for a good fit. With a torso range of 12-16″, this is a good backpack pack for younger children that has plenty of pockets and is durably built.

View at REI

2. Osprey Ace 38

Osprey Ace 38
The Osprey Ace 38 is a lightweight backpack sized for smaller children with a torso length of 11-15″. It has an adjustable length torso in addition to an adjustable length hip belt so your child can get a near-custom fit that can be modified as they grow. The Ace 38 has a front stash pocket, sleeping pad straps, and daisy chains, in addition to a top lid and hip belt pockets in a good slim package that transfers weight very well to the hips.

View at REI

3. Gregory Wander 50 Youth Backpack

Gregory Wander 50 Youth Backpack
The Gregory Wander 50 is a kid’s backpack designed for overnight and multi-day backpacking trips. It has an adjustable torso and an adjustable hip belt so you can adjust the pack sizing as your child grows. The Wander 50 provides top lid access to the backpack contents as well as panel-style access through a U-shaped zipper surrounding a front stretch pocket. Overall, the Wander 50 has great padding, is durable, easy to load and unpack, and has a form-fitting design that keeps loads balanced nicely.

View at REI

4. REI Tarn 65 Pack – Kids

REI Tarn 65
The REI Tarn 65 is a good pack for tweens and teens because it has an adjustable length frame so that the torso length can be resized as they grow. The pack has a sleeping bag hatch and a large stretch front storage pocket providing easy to access extra storage. Large water bottle pockets make it easy for kids to get a drink when they want without relying on an adult, while the hip belt is heavily padded and has a wide adjustment capacity to fit growing backpackers for years.

View at REI

5. Osprey Ace 50

Osprey Ace 50
The Osprey Ace 50 is another lightweight backpack for kids with torso lengths from 13-18″. Like the Ace 38, it also has an adjustable torso length and adjustable hip belt that can be resized as your child grows. This feature-rich pack has a floating top lid, a sleeping bag hatch, side water bottle pockets, a front stretch pocket, and hip belt pockets.  A rain cover is also included.

View at REI

6. ULA Spark Backpack

ULA Spark
The ULA Spark is an ultralight backpack designed for kids with an adjustable torso length that ranges from 12″ to 18″ so it can be increased as your child grows. Replaceable, kid-sized hip belts can also be swapped in to accommodate their growth spurts. Weighing 33 oz, the Spark has a capacity of 41L and a maximum recommended load of 30 lbs. It’s configured exactly like a ULA’s other ultralight backpacks with a roll-top closure, a front stretch pocket, and a single internal frame stay.

View at ULA

7. Teton Sports Scout 3400

Teton Sports Scout 3400

The Teton Sports Scout 3400 is a 55L internal frame backpack with an adjustable length torso and hip belt designed for kids, teens, and adults with a torso range between 15″ – 19.5″. It’s loaded with external gear pockets to keep you organized, it has a sleeping bag compartment, side water bottle pockets, external sleeping pad straps, and includes a rain cover. It’s also very similar to Amazon Basics 55 backpack we also list below, but slightly better quality.

View at Amazon

8. Deuter Fox 40

Deuter Fox 40 Kids Backpack
The Deuter Fox 40 is a kid-sized backpack with an adjustable torso that includes load lifters for extra adjustability.  It has an excellent shoulder harness, a very conforming hip belt, and is solidly constructed. The Fox has a sleeping bag compartment providing front access in addition to a top lid with a drawstring closure. A zippered side pocket provides additional storage, the pack includes trekking pole holders and external daisy chains make it possible to lash additional gear to the pack’s exterior.

View at Amazon

9. Gregory Icarus 40 Backpack

Gregory Icarus 40 Backpack
The Gregory Icarus 40 is a durably-made kids’ backpack with an adjustable torso length that adjusts to your child as they grow taller. It has a dedicated lower compartment for quick access to a sleeping bag or extra layers and a front stretch pocket to hold wet items like a rain jacket or crocs. The top pocket has two pockets to provide a dedicated area for a headlamp, snacks, and other essentials, while two mesh side pockets provide easy access to water bottles or vertical storage for tent poles. The Icarus fits children with a torso length down to 13″ and up to 18″, making it a good selection for young children who are about to enjoy a growth spurt.

View at Amazon

10. Amazon Basics 55

AmazonbasicsInternal Frame Backpack

In my experience, the best “budget” choice is the AmazonBasics 55L Backpack and it’s still a choice that represents a real compromise.  It’s a workmanlike pack for lighter loads that will handle abuse without breaking. It comes loaded with external pockets, has a sleeping bag compartment, side water bottle pockets, external sleeping pad straps, and includes a rain cover. The real problem with it is that the shoulder straps are prone to slippage with a heavier load.  If the straps slip, I usually tie a carabiner or s-biner onto the strap to keep it from slipping and that seems to work well. Read our review.

View at Amazon

How to Buy a Kid’s Backpack

Kid’s Backpack Volume

Avoid buying a backpack that has too much volume.  Overpacking is tempting; it’s a natural tendency to fill the pack all the way, resulting in a far heavier pack than necessary.  Almost as bad is an under-packed backpack, with its contents bouncing jauntily at every step and the top pocket flopping loosely even though its straps are fully tightened.  The 40 to 50 liter capacity range makes a great choice for the young backpacker, big enough to hold their personal gear and a share of group gear for a weekend trip.

Appropriate Gear Weight for Kids

Ensure that the load your child is carrying is appropriate for their size and stature.  A 20-pound pack is a much more difficult burden for a 60-pound child than a 100 pound one, no matter what physical condition the child is in.

Torso Length  Adjustability

Look for adjustability in the pack in a couple of key areas.  The torso length adjustment allows the pack to accommodate growth.  A nice feature on a pack is the ability to adjust the torso length while it’s being worn.  This lets you dial in the fit of the pack with much less trial and error.  Where the waist belt sits on the torso needs some experimentation to find the right spot, and that often necessitates ongoing torso length adjustments.

Hip Belt Padding

Young backpackers lack the amount of, shall we say, padding around the waist.  This gives a couple of important considerations.  Less prominence to the hips and waist means that a low-slung pack will not transfer weight to the lower body as well as on an adult.  As a result, most kids will need to wear the hip belt higher than an adult would.  There isn’t as much cushioning between skin and bone as with adults, so ample padding in the waistband prevents raw spots and bruising. The hip belt should be able to be worn comfortably but still be tightened further; if it is fully cinched down in the store, it will be too loose on the trail.

Complaints of Backpack Discomfort

Hit the trail with the expectation that the pack may need to be adjusted frequently, especially for a new backpacker.  Sometimes I swear my children have grown a couple of inches overnight!  A few minutes ensuring the proper fit can make for a far happier trip.  If your child is complaining about hurting, take the time to find out where they’re feeling pain or pressure, then take steps to alleviate the situation.  (Hint: I’ve solved a lot of complaints simply by grabbing the carry strap on the pack, raising it up, tightening the hip belt, and loosening the shoulder straps a touch.)

Ultralight Backpacks for Kids

While the temptation is there to purchase an ultralight pack and save weight on a child’s body, very few ultralight packs feature the adjustability needed for a kid’s pack to last longer than a year or so. I hope that will change when ultralight backpacking companies discover the youth market, but today’s ultralight backpacks aren’t built or priced for kids with rapid torso-length growth spurts.

Shoulder Straps

Pay attention to where the shoulder straps hit.  They will be too far apart on many adult packs, pulling the points of the shoulders backward.  The straps should ideally rest where the trapezius muscle meets the shoulder blade.  This keeps the strap on the meaty part of the shoulder rather than the bonier end of the shoulder blade.  The pack should be supported with the shoulder in a natural posture rather than having to pull forward or up, which causes muscular fatigue.

Load Lifters

Many kid’s backpacks come without load lifters.  While I likely wouldn’t consider a non-ultralight adult backpack without load lifters, it’s not a requirement in a kid pack because torso length adjustment serves the purpose.  A good test to make sure shoulder straps without load lifters are set properly is to have the wearer shrug their shoulders.  If the shrug has more than minimal resistance from the weight of the pack, the straps are likely too low.

Inexpensive Backpacks

While it’s tempting to buy an inexpensive pack, beware of poor quality discount packs.  Look for reinforced stitching at weight-bearing points, especially where the shoulder straps and hip belt meet the bottom of the pack.  The buckles, especially the hip belt buckles, should feel beefy and substantial without any flex—if you don’t feel like you can tighten the buckle vigorously, it likely will not hold up to the stress of backpacking.

Packing Technique

With younger backpackers, it’s also important to pay attention to proper packing techniques.  There’s a temptation to hang a tent and/or sleeping bag from the straps or tie points toward the bottom of the pack.  This throws the balance off by pulling the wearer backward from the shoulders.  Relocating the hanging item between the pack body and top pocket transfers the weight to the hips and legs instead.

Resale Value

While investing in a good-quality backpack with the full knowledge that your child will likely grow out of it in a few years may feel daunting, most will have good resale value to offset some of the cost when they move to larger packs and adventures.  The investment in a proper fitting pack now will contribute to happier miles, for both of you.

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About the author

Carl Nelson developed his interest in the outdoors on childhood family road trips that included many National Parks. He was introduced to backpacking through Boy Scouts in the 1980s. He refined his interest and skills in college as a trip leader for the Vanderbilt University Outdoor Recreation program, culminating in leading a week-long backpack in the Grand Canyon three times. He is an Eagle Scout and Assistant Scoutmaster, frequently serving as the adult advisor for his troop’s outdoor activities. His backpacking experience ranges from his home state of Tennessee to the Appalachians, the Rockies, the Cascades, Philmont Scout Ranch, and China. Carl is an avid photographer and reader, a self-proclaimed gear nerd, and an unabashed lover of maps.


  1. As the article points out, pack weight is even more important for kids than adults. Unfortunately, most kids’ backpacks are extremely heavy. My pack is not ultralight, it’s a 60 liter Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor that weighs 42 ounces and can easily carry 40 lb loads. But it weighs considerably less than every 50+ liter pack on this list. Even most of the 40 liter packs are heavier; the only ones that are lighter are the ULA Spark (33 ounces) and the Gregory Icarus 40 (36 ounces). Speaking of the Icarus, the article should at least mention that it doesn’t have hip belt pockets.

    I try to keep my daughter’s pack weight under 14 pounds (20% of her body weight), and it’s annoying to have a backpack take 2-3 lbs before I even put something in it. I recently gave up and sewed her a frameless pack, since she isn’t carrying heavy loads anyways.

    Unfortunately, I think this list really is the 10 “best” kids’ backpacks, even though none of them are all that great. The kid backpack market is simply decades behind the adult market.

    • I wish it was that simple. Most parents can’t afford to buy a new backpack for their kids each year as they grow, so adjustable torso length is a must have. That feature can add a lot of weight to a backpack, even in the case of the Ultralight Spark which is over 2 lbs in weight. While the weight of a pack is important, perhaps more focus should be put on the contents of the backpack instead. That’s where the bulk of the weight is.

  2. With regard to volume of a kid’s pack, I’d also warn not to go too small. Kids tend to have synthetic fill sleeping bags that take up more space, without being particularly heavy.

    I bought my son a Deuter Fox 40 after he tried multiple packs with weight at the outfitter, and he declared that was “the one”. His sleeping bag alone takes up 2/3 of the space in the bag. On scout outings he can’t fit his both his 2 person tent and sleeping bag inside the pack.

    I also suspect the Fox 40 is closer to 30 liters, at least in the main compartment. My pack claims 46 liters of internal capacity, and the Fox 40 isn’t even close to the same volume.

  3. I’ve learned a lot of lessons, generally the hard way, while taking my grandkids and their friends backpacking. I’ve been taking my grandson backpacking since he was four. He can now, quite disgustingly, dunk a basketball over Grandpa… but I still clobber him at the free throw line!

    One of his first backpacks was a cheap school pack, which came completely apart on one trip and I spent much of the rest of that outing trying to keep the thing together. I then bought him an REI Flash 18, which worked for a year or two until he outgrew it and it became his sister’s pack. I replaced the Flash 18 an REI Flash 22, which worked until he outgrew that and I now use it as my day pack. Both of those REI packs are rather inexpensive and quite lightweight. My grandkids are adult size now so they use some of my spare adult packs.

    One of the most comfortable adult packs I own is rather heavy. What I do when we have an expedition of the kiddos and their friends is weight limit the packs. Depending on who’s carrying it, the heavy pack may get a lighter load than the more lightweight packs. I decide on an appropriate pack weight for each hiker and divvy up the load accordingly.

    The point about the synthetic bags is one I learned the hard way. When my grandson was four, I bought him a Marmot 30º down bag and he spilled his hot chocolate inside it the first time we used it. Afterwards, I bought him a child size synthetic bag, which he used until it he outgrew it and it became his sister’s bag. By the time they outgrew the smaller synthetic bag, they were mature enough to properly care for the more delicate down products.

    Kids grow, and unfortunately, the budgets sometimes fail to keep up. When I stress over the cost of camping gear, I think of the cost of motels and the fact that the camping gear only gets paid for once. Saving a couple days in a motel will buy a nice piece of gear.

  4. The kid will also need a backpack for school. With books, lunch, etc., it may weigh more than what (s)he takes backpacking! The hip belt and frame are especially important. You’ll be saving future back problems for your child/teenager by using the supportive backpacking backpack for school, even though it will wear out sooner. At least you won’t have to worry about reselling it. Also, style is important to children of any age, so be sure to enlist his/her help in choosing the pack.

  5. This is a very helpful list – especially if you’re looking to outfit your kid(s) but aren’t sure they’ll be “all-in” on the hiking/backpacking experience. I’m gradually trying to get my 12-year old son to go with me:
    2021: I had him use an old Kelty external frame that I used as a kid. Pro’s: Good stability and frame, but too rigid and he out-grew it any way.
    2022: I was at EMS in Peterborough and the associate was super helpful and had him fitted for a Gregory Wander. But I balked at the price and ended up getting him an REI Tarn used but in almost-new-condition. It was still pretty heavy on its own and the lid was overkill although the torso adjustment was super easy. Of note, since he is so light, he doesn’t really have much center-mass and when he tried to tug down on the shoulder straps and hip belt to tighten them, I had to hold him steady so he could get leverage. Kind of funny to see him spin himself around trying to tighten his pack. He used that pack on a few overnights, but hit the wall on some uphills and offered verbal resistance that became a steady insurrection about continuing hiking. Too heavy! was his refrain.
    2023: I ended up getting him a new Waymark Mile 25L on sale with just the web belt ($140.00 total). It is super light, the perfect amount of storage, has a mostly water-proof zipper pocket so he can store his electronics. I agree with Mr. Werner in that it makes more sense to invest in lighter gear if possible so I got him an REI Magma 15 degree bag that he can grow into. It packs down small, keeps him warm and is only 1 lb 13oz. We shall see how he manages this spring and summer. I don’t want to turn him off from hiking so I figured I would try to lighten his load. (And if when grows out of the pack, it can still be a great daypack for a child through adult).
    Finally – I really appreciate and all the knowledge and expertise that Mr. Werner and team provide. Such a phenomenal resource!

  6. I love your site, thanks for the information, Hopefully you can help me, I am a 175 pounds man, I am going for a 4 days hike, is there a specific model you would advice since I have a very sensitive lower back. thanks in advance for your time….Eric

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