Mom Goes Camping

Best Kids Backpacks for Hiking and Backpacking

best hiking backpacks for kids

Once your kids are ready to go on longer hikes or overnight trips, you’ll want to get them a good hiking backpack. These range from simple youth packs for day hikes to serious backpacking packs with built-in suspension systems, padded hip belts, and other features that make it easier for even small kids to carry a heavy load comfortably.

 

Quick Picks

 

Best Hiking Backpacks for Kids

Here are my picks for best kids hiking packs.  They are organized by size in liters, so first you’ll see backpacks for little kids, youth day hike backpacks and then larger-capacity kids backpacking packs.

 

Deuter Kikki 8L

Deuter Kikki hiking backpack for little kids

Capacity: 8 liters
Age range: 3-5 years old
Best use: Hiking backpack for little kids

Review

The Deuter Kikki is a great hiking backpack for kids ages 3 to 5 years old.  It is designed like a proper hiking pack with padded straps and a sternum strap to keep the bag in place. The side pockets are large enough to hold most water bottles and the lid does a good job of keeping gear dry in light rain.

This backpack is far from perfect.  I wish it had two straps instead of one so I could put my kid’s jacket there (a jacket will still fit but wobbles around a bit). I also wish the sternum straps were adjustable height and that it had an external zippered pocket.  But, it suits its purpose and is cute enough that little kids will want to carry it hiking.

The good news is that the drawstring top opens completely wide, so you can easily get books inside.  That makes this suitable as a kindergarten bag, so you will get a lot of use out of it.

Pros:

  • Padded straps
  • Cute design and lots of colors

Cons:

  • Torso length not adjustable
  • No hip belt
  • Sternum straps don’t adjust height
  • No zippered external pockets

Buy It Here


 

Deuter Junior 18L

Deuter Junior hiking backpack

Capacity: 18 liters
Age range: 5-9 years old
Best use: Backpacking pack or day hikes

Review

The Deuter Junior is a good backpack for 5 year olds up to a petite 9 years old.   The 18L capacity is large enough to hold a kids sleeping bag, a stuffed animal, some snacks, and water bottles on the side pockets, so it’s good for multi-day backpacking trips.  However, it’s also small enough to use as a day hiking backpack.

The pack is comfortable with padded back air channels for ventilation and padded straps.  There is no hip belt though, so be careful that you don’t put too much weight into the pack.

I do wish that it had more places to attach or tie down gear.  The water bottle pockets are shallow and bottles easily fall out.  Don’t expect to use this pack for school: binders won’t fit into the drawstring top well.  Keep it for hiking only.  It’s very affordable and you should get many years of use out of it, so it’s a good investment for your kids.

Pros:

  • Good ventilation
  • Affordable
  • Kid friendly buckles
  • External pockets

Cons:

  • No hip belt
  • Water bottle pockets aren’t very deep

Buy It Here


 

REI Tarn 18

Capacity: 18 liters
Age range: 7-12 years old
Best use: Backpacking pack, day hikes or travel

Review

The REI Tarn 18 is the perfect size for a day hike pack for kids. Because it has a zipper instead of a lid, it is also a lot easier to get gear out on hikes.  The Tarn 18 has enough features to be used as a small backpacking pack too.  You can fit a kids sleeping bag and some clothes, plus there are places to attach gear outside the pack.

As far as comfort goes, the Tarn 18 has padded straps, an adjustable sternum strap and a thick hip belt for distributing weight.  The torso length is not adjustable, so don’t expect to get too much use out of the pack.

At 5’1”, I’m very petite. On backpacking trips, my daughter can use this as her pack until we get to base camp.  Then I can wear it as our day hike pack.  Even taller people have said they can wear it comfortably, though the shoulder straps might rub against the neck.

Note that REI also makes an almost identical pack called the Tarn 12.  It is good for kids 5-7 years old but I prefer the Deuter Junior over it; the larger size means you’ll get more use out of it.  Plus, the Tarn 12 is really ugly and I know my daughter would complain about that!

Pros:

  • Lightweight (17oz)
  • Lots of exterior pockets
  • Hip belt and sternum strap
  • Hydration pack compatible

Cons:

  • Torso length is not adjustable
  • Shoulder straps might rub neck on larger kids or adults
  • Won’t fit large schoolbooks; only for hiking use

Buy It Here


 

Deuter Climber 22L 

Deuter Climber kids backpacking pack

Capacity: 22 liters
Age range: 10+ years old
Best use: Backpacking, climbing

Review

Compared to other kids backpacking packs, the Deuter Climber has more places to attach gear. There are also pockets inside the pack and lid, so you can keep gear organized.

Another standout feature of the Deuter Climber is that it fits tightly against the body.  This makes it more suitable for hiking on rough terrain since the pack won’t wobble around on a kid’s small body.  The hip belt is thick and padded to help distribute weight well.

Considering how much storage and feature are on the pack, it is surprisingly lightweight.  The pack weighs 24oz. I wish it had a rain cover though.

The only real downside to the Deuter Climber is that the torso length isn’t adjustable.  They claim that the pack will fit 10 to 17 inches torso lengths , but obviously this isn’t going to fit well.  The pack is really better suited for kids or small adults with torsos around 14 to 15 inches.  Some people say it fits their 7 year old children well but the backpack is probably better suited for ages 10 years and up.

Pros:

  • Lots of storage and places to attach gear
  • Very comfortable
  • Hydration pack compatible
  • Padded straps, back and hip belt
  • Good weight (2lb 8oz)

Cons:

  • Torso length not adjustable
  • No rain cover

 Get It Here


 

Kelty Sanitas 34 External Frame Youth Backpack

Kelty Sanitas external frame youth backpack

Capacity: 34 liters
Age range: 8-14 years old (9-14 inch torso)
Best use: Scouts

Review

The Kelty Sanitas is one of the only youth external frame backpacks sold today.  While external frames aren’t as trendy as lightweight internal frame packs, these packs are a lot better for scouting trips where your children will be carrying all their own gear and thus need the extra space and organizational pockets.  With gear strapped onto the pack frame, you can carry much more than 34 liters on this youth pack.

Even though the Sanitas pack looks retro, it’s got a lot of modern features like a hydration sleeve, comfortable S-shaped straps, and a padded hip belt. As you’d expect from an external frame pack, the ventilation is great.

The torso length on the Sanitas is fixed and fits around 10-14 inches.  It is possible to do some DIY modifications to adjust the torso length though.

Pros:

  • Hydration pack compatible
  • Great suspension
  • Lots of pockets
  • Places to tie down gear
  • Lid coverts to pouch

Cons:

  • 3lbs 8oz
  • No rain cover
  • Torso length not adjustable

 Get It Here


 

REI Tarn 40

REI Tarn 40 youth backpacking pack

Capacity: 40 liters
Age range: 8+ years old (12-16 inch torso)
Best use: Backpacking

Review

The REI Tarn 40 is an affordable backpack for tweens going on overnight backpacking trips.  The main feature is that the torso length is adjustable from 12 to 16 inches so you can get a good fit.  I also love that the hip belt has lots of padding so your kids can carry heavier loads in it without straining their back.

While there are some really nice features on the REI Tarn 40 pack, it annoys me that you can only access the gear from the lid.  A bottom or front-access zipper would be very helpful on longer trips. You can strap some gear outside the pack but it could make the pack too bulky for your kids – so resist the urge to strap everything on the outside.

Because it’s so deep, the Tarn 40 doesn’t work well as a day hike pack because it’s so deep.  Note that REI also makes a 65L version of this youth pack (the Tarn 65).  It has a torso length of 14-19 inches though, so it only suitable for taller children.

Pros:

  • Adjustable torso
  • Lots of places to attach gear to pack
  • Padded straps, hip belt and back
  • Okay weight (2lbs 10oz)
  • Hydration pack compatible

Cons:

  • Thin material not as durable
  • Only top access to gear in pack
  • No rain cover

Get It Here


 

Deuter Fox 40

Deuter Fox 40 kids backpacking pack

Capacity: 40 liters
Age range: 8+ years old (10-18 inch torso)
Best use: Backpacking, trekking

Review

The Deuter Fox 40 is slightly more expensive than the REI Tarn 40, but it has many more features which mean you’ll get more use out of it.

For starts, the Deuter Fox 40 is a very comfortable backpacking pack. It has nice padded straps and back area, good ventilation, and a sturdy hip belt.  The straps have an S-shape to them so won’t rub against your neck. This makes it a good backpack for petite women too.  You can adjust the torso length from 10 inches to 18 inches.  In theory, younger kids could use the Deuter Fox 40 but it probably way to big for kids under 8 years old.

I love the storage on the Deuter Fox 40. You can access gear from the top or bottom.  There are 5 pockets plus the main compartment (which is one more pocket than the REI Tarn 40) and a sleeping bag divider inside the pack.

The only real complaint is that the pack doesn’t have a rain cover and is a bit heavy at over 3lbs.  But, the weight comes from more durable materials and a sturdier frame, so it’s more comfortable to carry heavy loads with it.

Note that Deuter also makes a Fox 30 backpack.  It has the same torso length range as the Fox 40.  It probably makes more sense to just get the larger 40L pack since you’ll be able to get more use out of it.

Pros:

  • Adjustable torso length (11 to 18 inches)
  • Very comfortable
  • S-shaped straps
  • Padded straps, hip belt and back
  • Lots of storage space
  • Top and bottom access
  • Hydration pack compatible

Cons:

  • No rain cover
  • Heavy (3lbs 2oz)

 Get It Here


 

Gregory Wander 50

Gregory Wander 50 youth backpacking pack

Features on Gregory Wander youth backpack

Capacity: 50 liters
Age range: 10+ years old (13-18 inch torso)
Best use: Backpacking, trekking, travel 

Review

For older kids going on more serious backpacking trips, this is a great pack.  It has all the features you’d expect of a professional adult pack, just scaled down a bit to fit a kid’s body.  The torso length is adjustable from 13 to 18 inches.  It could fit kids as young as 8 years old, though 50L is too large for most kids of that age.  Realistically, this backpacking pack is best for kids starting at 10 years old.

One of my favorite features on the Gregory Wander 50 is the U-zipper that goes around the front of the pack.  It allows you to completely open the front, which makes packing gear easily.  It also makes this backpack good for travel.

There’s a good steel spring internal frame in the pack.  Combined with the padded hip belt and straps, your child will get a good fit. The pack is sleek and fits well against the body, so is suitable for hiking on rough terrain.

The only slight issue with this youth pack is the lightweight materials used to make it.  They aren’t very durable, which isn’t great for kids who don’t know how to take good care of their gear yet.

Pros:

  • Hydration pack compatible
  • Rain cover included
  • U zipper front access
  • 6 external pockets

Cons:

  • Heavy (3lbs 5.6oz)
  • Lightweight materials not very durable

 Get It Here


 

Osprey Ace 50

Osprey Ace 50 kids backpacking pack

Capacity: 50 liters
Age range: 10+ years old (13-17 inch torso)
Best use: Backpacking, trekking

Review

Osprey makes nice backpacking packs, so it’s no surprise that their youth backpack pack is full of features.  It is designed like a real pack and has a padded hip belt, lift loader straps, and a good suspension system for comfortably carrying loads on rough terrain.

The Osprey Ace 50 and Gregory Wander 50 are the same capacity and mostly have the same features.  However, I prefer the Gregory Wander 50.  It is lighter, has that awesome U zipper, and is much less bulky for the same storage capacity.  However, if your kid really likes suspended mesh back panels, then Osprey Ace 50 is the better choice.

Pros:

  • Hydration pack compatible
  • Durable materials
  • Rain cover included
  • Suspended back mesh
  • Top and bottom access
  • 6 external pockets

Cons:

  • Heavy (3lbs 11oz)
  • Bulky fit

Get It Here


 

Choosing a Kids Hiking Backpack

Not sure what backpack  your kids need for hiking or backpacking trips?  Here are the things you should consider when buying your kid a pack.

 

Torso Length

A backpack should fit exactly against your kids back. Otherwise the pack won’t sit right on your child, which means the weight will put at the shoulders instead of being distributed around the hips.   REI has a good guide to measuring torso length here.

The best youth backpacking packs have adjustable torso lengths.  This allows you to get a perfect fit on your kids and also still use the pack as they grow.

 

Pack Volume

Even if your kids are tall enough to wear large-volume backpacks, it doesn’t mean they should.  It’s very easy to overload a large backpack with too much gear, which in turn could cause spinal compression (not good on growing backs!).

If you aren’t sure what pack volume your kids should have, lay out all the gear you plan on them carrying.  Then see how much space it takes up in liters. Add another 5-10 liters to this amount to allow room for growth.

For more, read: How much weight can kids carry backpacking?

 

Frame Type

Kids hiking backpacks can be divided into three types by frame:

  • No frame: Backpacks without frames are only suitable for holding lighter loads for shorter periods of times, such as day hike packs.
  • Internal frame: Internal frames are most common on modern backpacking packs. It’s important that the pack is fitted to your child’s torso length.  Otherwise the frame won’t distribute the weight well.
  • External frame: External frames do a great job of distributing weight, have great back ventilation, and they have lots of places where you can add extra gear. They are bulky and wobbly though, so not as good for rough terrain like an internal frame youth pack.

 

Hiking Packs for Very Little Kids

When your kids are very little, it often doesn’t make sense to buy them their own hiking pack.  They will outgrow it quickly, so you won’t get much use out of it.  A lot of parents just use their kids’ school bags when hiking since they already know they are comfortable.

However, kids also like to have their own special packs. My daughter got her own pack at 3 years old. I still ended up carrying it on backpacking trips, but at least it was small enough to attach to my pack.

Tip: Get a backpack which will fit you too.  Then you can use it as a day pack on trips from base camp.

 

Using an Adult Backpack on Kids

Ideally, you shouldn’t use an adult backpack for a child.  Adult packs are much wider and have longer torso lengths.  The hip belt probably won’t fit snugly either.  You are better off using your kid’s school bag instead of trying to put an adult pack on their smaller body.

 

Hip Belts on Youth Backpacks

For easy day hikes, your kids’ backpack probably doesn’t need a hip belt.  But anytime you put a heavy load on your child or get on rough terrain, your kids need to use a hip belt.  It is crucial for distributing the weight to your child’s hips.

The problem is that kids don’t really have much in terms of hips.  Thin hip belts will slide right off, so your kids will probably end up cinching them over their stomach (not comfortable or good for the back!).  This is why it’s really worth it to look for youth packs with wide, padded hip belts.  And make sure your kids actually wear them!

 

How Much to Spend on a Youth Backpack

Youth backpacks for serious trekking aren’t cheap.  But avoid using a cheap backpack without suspension, hip belts, padded straps or a good fit.

Cheap backpacks won’t distribute the pack weight well, which can mess up your kid’s back.   Also bear in mind that your kids will like backpacking more if they are comfortable.

To save money, choose an in-demand brand of backpack; it will have more resell value.  You can also check out REI’s Outlet.  They sometimes have great deals on last-season’s models youth backpacks.

 

What hiking backpack do your kids use? Let us know in the comments below.

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About the author /


Diane Vukovic grew up camping and backpacking in upstate New York. Now, she takes her own daughters on wilderness adventures so they can connect with nature and learn resiliency. With dozens of trips under her belt, Diane is an expert in minimalist camping, going lightweight, planning, and keeping her kids entertained without screens.

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