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10 Best Kids Backpacking Packs

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 I regularly recommend for kids.

Make / ModelKids SpecificAdj TorsoAdj HipbeltPrice
REI Tarn 40YesYesNo$110
Osprey Ace 38YesYesYes$140
Gregory Wander 50YesYesYes$170
REI Tarn 65YesYesNo$165
Osprey Ace 50YesYesYes$160
Osprey Talon 44NoYesNo$160
Cotopaxi Taboche 55NoYesYes$190
Deuter Fox 40YesYesNo$120
Kelty Redcloud 65YesYesNo$180
Amazon Basics 55NoYesNo$80

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.

Check for the Latest Price at:
REI

2. Osprey Ace 38

Osprey Ace 38 Kids Backpack
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.

Check for the Latest Price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

3. Gregory Wander 50 Youth Backpack

Gregory Wander 50 Youth Backpack
The Gregory Wander 50 is a kids 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 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.

Check for Latest Price at:
Moosejaw | Amazon

4. REI Tarn 65 Pack – Kids

REI Tarn 65 Backpack
The REI Tarn 65 is a good pack for tweens and teens and also has an adjustable length frame so that the torso length can be resized as they grow. The frame has a central air channel for enhanced ventilation and the top lid can be removed and used as a daypack for shorter hikes. The pack has a sleeping bag hatch and a large zippered front storage pocket provides easy to access extra storage, while the hip belt is heavily padded for enhanced comfort and support.

Check for the Latest Price at:
REI

5. Osprey Ace 50

Osprey Ace 50 Kids Backpack
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.

Check for the Latest Price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

6. Osprey Talon 44

Osprey Talon 44 Backpack
The Osprey Talon 44 is an adult backpack that’s available in a short torso length, suitable for kids and teens with a longer torso. It’s a fully-featured and reasonably affordable lightweight backpack with a floating top lid, a front mesh stretch pockets. side water bottle pockets and hip belt pockets.  It also has an external hydration pocket, which is much easier to refill on the go because it doesn’t require unpacking your pack to pull out a reservoir.

Check for Latest Price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

7. Cotopaxi Taboche 55L

Cotopaxi Taboche 55 Backpack

The Cotopaxi Taboche 55L has an adjustable torso length and hip belt length making it a good choice for teens. It has a separate sleeping bag compartment, stretch water bottle pockets, hip belt pockets, and sleeping pad straps. Dual front pockets provide extra organization, while the side compression straps do a great job of centering weight close to the body. A rain cover is included.

Check for Latest Price at:
Moosejaw | 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 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.

Check for Latest Price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

9. Kelty Junior’s Redcloud 65 Backpack

Kelty RTdcloud 65 backpack
The Kelty Junior Redcloud 65 has all the features of Kelty’s Adult Redcloud Backpack but is sized for kids with the extra padding and adjustability they need. It comes with a separate sleeping bag compartment and loads of external pockets to keep youngsters organized on the trail. Panel access lets you retrieve items buried deep in the back without unpacking, while the top lid is removable and can be used as a sling pack for side trips from camp.

Check for Latest Price at:
REI | Moosejaw | 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.

Check for Latest Price 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.

16 comments

  1. Did you look at the ULA Spark? It’s only been on the market a year but I think it’s the perfect kids pack given that they custom make it to match your child’s torso length and the torso adjustment allows you to keep it fitting well as they grow just like all of these. Custom color choices and embroidery options are a nice touch as well and the tough fabrics they use should stand up to years of abuse. Seems like a no brainer to me.

    • Ula says it’s adjustable but provides zero information on how that works. The fact that each pack is custom built for your child’s existing torso isn’t a huge confidence builder. I’ll get in touch with the owner (Chris) to see if we can facilitate a gear review. The cost is $199 which is more expensive than every pack that Carl has listed here.

      • I’d say that the custom fit is ideal for a kids pack. The low end of the adjustability would start at the customized height and go up from there. These other packs would have my kid starting part way up the adjustability range meaning they wouldn’t be usable for as along as the ULA pack.

      • I’m sure it is if parents can afford it. Is your kid using a ULA spark?

      • I immediately contacted ULA when it was released for more information and decided it was the way to go. The spark will be our oldest’s (7) first frame pack to replace the tarn 18 he has carried on his last 4 overnight trips. I’ve been putting the money aside to make it happen before next spring. If I can afford to save up for my own gear then I can do the same for my kid.
        He’s not your typical 7 year old backpacker and has been doing overnight trips with a pack on since he was 4. His younger brother will get some use from this pack as well so the 200 is pretty reasonable considering what you get and how much lighter it is than all of the packs on this list. It’s made of some tough stuff too so I am confident it will last long enough for my kids to both use.

  2. Actual parent of two backpacking boys here. Thanks for posting all this advice about kids backpack selection. While that ULA pack sounds intriguing, we’ve been quite happy with the Osprey Ace 50 and Ace 38, particularly they’re adjustable hip belts and torso length. Hip belt sizing and padding is a bigger deal for kids than most people realize. Thanks also for listing the prices. Many parents we know have opted for less expensive packs listed also with good results, but I doubt many of your readers grasp the economic constraints of child rearing in this day and age.

  3. One reason that adjustability is so important IMO is that it helps alleviate the situation where the kid seems to have grown overnight, and the pack that they wore for a trip a couple months ago needs fairly significant adjustment at the trailhead to get it to fit correctly. Without having a large built-in adjustment range, you’re then faced with the choice of either having an ill-fitting pack for your kid or bailing on the trip–neither one a good option. That’s why I’m a bit leery of the ULA Spark, where the torso adjustment method really isn’t clear from the product information and the hip belt adjustment is based on ordering a new hipbelt in a larger size and swapping it out. Otherwise that pack is intriguing.

    Happy trails, Sam and That Guy, and may your hikes with your children be rewarding and memorable!

  4. Teton Sports scout! Own three for my kids. Have worked out great.

    • I’ve seen three of these on Scout trips. Two have been great. The other wound up being carried out on the last day (fortunately downhill most of the way!) strapped onto my pack, victim first of a broken zipper on the sleeping bag compartment and then of a ripped-out shoulder strap that compromised the seam at the bottom corner of the pack. My guess is that they have mixed quality control, with some batches that work as intended and other batches that are prone to problems. Hope yours give you many trouble-free and happy miles!

  5. Great discussion! I’ve been taking grandchildren backpacking since they were four years old. The first backpack my grandson used was a small inexpensive kid’s pack that was still too large. I had to fashion a chest strap to tie the shoulder pads together to keep them from slipping off. On another trip with him and an older step grandson, the school backpack he was using at the time completely came apart and I had to tie and duct tape it together for it to be in the least bit useful. When he got a little bigger, he used an REI Flash 18. When his sister joined us, she used the Flash 18 and he used a small Gossamer Gear pack I bought used. Then he graduated to a larger GG pack I also bought used. Now, he’s taller than me and uses my old GoLite Pinnacle while I use a Granite Gear Crown 60.

    I’m planing on taking my wife, daughter, the grandkids and a couple of their friends on a two night backpacking trip soon. I’m going through all my equipment, making decisions on who will use what based on their size and ability. I’ll set a weight limit for each person’s load.

    I just got back from my longest hike ever, a 103 mile section hike on the AT, spread over two weeks. We had a couple nero days while repositioning vehicles and trying to avoid (not always successfully) winter storms. I learned a bunch on that expedition and will apply it to planning the upcoming hike with the family.

    • How awesome to take your grandchildren backpacking! I agree a lot with your philosophy of using a day pack or school backpack for younger children, and the Flash 18 at under 10 ounces is a great choice. They probably don’t have the physique to properly support a hip belt or the ability to carry a load that necessitates a hip belt until they’re in their tweens or teens, so a larger pack adds a lot of weight and adjustments that don’t provide any real benefit. And needing to hand down a backpack to the younger generation is a great excuse to buy a new one for me… :-D

      My kids generally carried only their clothing, flashlight, and eating utensils when they were small, then gradually added their own sleeping bag and tent/hammock until they were ready to carry food, group gear, etc. I tried to have their load where they were aware that what they carried had weight, but not so heavy as to be a burden.

      Congrats on the AT hike! What an experience to do that as a family!

  6. Hi- I use a Osprey Talon 44 for my 5 foot tall teen son, and I can report that it DOES have an adjustable torso system. Your matrix of features indicates it does not.

  7. Great that so many more great kid options have come along in the last few years! When my kids were little, it was Osprey or Deuter.

  8. I have two kids, each with an REI Tarn… and here are my thoughts.

    Pros:
    Torso adjustability – easy to dial in the fit and grow with the kid
    General fit to the back
    Familiar set-up with two side pockets and nice front pocket

    Cons:
    From back to front, I wish it was a bit narrower. For my kids at least, it makes them prone to fall backwards. I’ve tried to address it with weight distribution – with “ok” results.
    Would prefer no top lid and simple roll-top closure.
    It’s heavy for what it costs. It doesn’t have to be an Arc Blast, but they could drop the weight with better hardware and fabric choices.

    These packs are serviceable for our kids – and so we’ll keep using them. But if I was starting over, I’d probably look at something else. The biggest reason that I was attracted to these was the torso adjustment, which is quite good. It’s the best attribute of these packs.

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