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10 Best Kids Backpacking Packs of 2024

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. Most of them have adjustable-length torsos to account for their growth as they get older.

Make / ModelKids SpecificPrice
REI Tarn 40Yes$119
Osprey Ace 38Yes$160
Gregory Wander 50Yes$190
REI Tarn 65Yes$165
Osprey Ace 50Yes$190
ULA Spark 41Yes$230
Teton Sports Scout 3400No$80
Deuter Fox 40Yes$130
Gregory Icarus 40Yes$140
Gossamer Gear G4-20 40LNo$195

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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10. Gossamer Gear G4-20 40L Backpack

G4-20 Gossamer Gear

The Gossamer Gear G4-20 is an ultralight backpack that is available with a very short torso length (11.5″-15.5″) suitable for kids up to 5’6″ in height. Replaceable, hip belts can also be swapped in to accommodate their growth spurts. Weighing 23.5 oz, the G4-20 has a roll top closure with 42L of storage including 5 external pockets that make it easy to use for extended day hikes, hut-to-hut trips, weekend backpacking trips or travel. Being frameless, it has a max recommended load of 25 pounds and is best used with highly compressible gear that doesn’t take up a lot of volume to carry. If you have a child hankering to explore the benefits of ultralight backpacking, something many scout troops are starting to adopt, the G4-20 is an affordable backpack that’s easy to use  and very comfortable to carry. Read our review.

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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.

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