The best outdoor kids deserve the best kids hiking backpack. Not only will they feel more independent, a sturdy backpack can keep them safe. That’s why I’ve spent hours over the years to find the best kids hiking backpack.
I’ve always loved hiking. My husband and I often hiked and camped as newlyweds and were determined to keep it up with any future family. Although I knew we would keep hiking after our children were born, I didn’t know how or when to start purchasing them their own camping and hiking gear. One of the first quality purchases we made was to look for the best kids hiking backpack. What a difference that made!
Everyone started enjoying our hikes more when the kids had quality backpacks in their own sizes. We ended up preferring because it’s incredibly adjustable, thoughtfully designed, and just the right size for my mini hikers.
The best kids hiking backpack: Deuter Climber Kids Hiking Backpack
What my family loves best about the Deuter Climber Kids Hiking Backpack is that it is a scaled down version of their full-sized packs without sacrificing the helpful features that are common on adult hiking backpacks. I appreciate the quality details, sizing, and ergonomic design.
We tried hiking with the kid’s school backpacks, but it never went well. The straps slipped, they complained about sore backs, and there were never enough pockets. I ended up carrying more of their backpacks and supplies than they did. All of that changed when we tried an actual hiking backpack. I love all the details included in the Deuter Climber Kids Hiking Backpack. It feels more like an adult climbing backpacked scaled down to pint-size:
- Only 1 lb. 11 oz. when empty
- Can hold up to 30lb gear
- 20″ x 11″ x 7.9″
- 22L volume capacity
- Made from durable ripstop nylon: durable, easy to clean, and won’t leak in light rain
- Padded shoulder straps and waist belt
- Ergonomically-shaped shoulder straps have soft edges
- Sternum strap to hold the shoulder straps in place
- Works with a hydration bladder (up to 2L)
- Mesh side pockets actually deep enough to hold a water bottle
- Easy-access top essentials pocket
- Built-in emergency whistle on the chest strap
- Gear loops and D rings for easy storage on the outside of the backpack
- Exterior straps for trekking poles or other bulky gear
Just the Right Size
Children seem to grow the very minute you buy anything that is just the right size, so I especially appreciate the adjustable shoulder and hip straps. This is a backpack you fit to the size of your child, not the age.
With the ability to change the strap length, this backpack is perfect for children with a back length of anywhere from 10-18 inches. This is a backpack that will grow with your child. (The torso itself is not adjustable; for that, you’ll need to upgrade to the Fox line of backpacks instead.) The adjustable waist belt fits children with a minimum hip circumference of 50cm.
Although Deuter does make larger, framed backpacks for kids, I prefer the size of the Climber Kids. At 22L capacity, it is the perfect size for hikers as young as 5. I find a larger pack is easy to overfill. It doesn’t matter one bit if a backpack can hold more if my first grader can’t carry it by herself. Unpacked, the Deuter Climbing Kids weighs just over 1 pound. That means I can comfortably fill my six-year old’s backpack with at least 5 pounds of gear and know I won’t be the one hauling her pack up the mountain.
Deuter made a name for itself with the first “aircomfort” back ventilation system as early as 1984. The tradition of lightweight, breathable backpacks continues with the Climber Kids. With a specially designed back ventilation system, your child will stay cooler than with any other hiking backpack.
The Alpine back system creates a “chimney” with body-hugging side panels to let hot air escape along the center. If you’ve read my other reviews on camping equipment, you know that I hike and camp in hot, muggy conditions most of the year. Anything that cuts down on the sweat and discomfort of carrying gear is a positive for our family.
I also appreciate how easy it is to fit the Climber Kids to my child. A large part of comfortably carrying a pack is having the right fit. Adjustable shoulder straps and a sternum strap mean no more slipping shoulders. The sturdy (but comfortable) hip belt is adjustable and designed to carry the majority of the load. All in all, this is a backpack my kids can carry without hurting their backs or joints.
Part of a Family of Backpack Options
The Deuter Climber Kids is our favorite all-in-one backpack for hiking or overnight trips. Many of the same features are available on the Deuter Junior Kids if you want something for a shorter hike or a child less accustomed to carrying gear. Our main complaint with the Junior Kids is the lack of a bladder sleeve.
On the other end of the spectrum, (and other Fox backpacks) are perfect for a child that’s gotten too big for the Climber Kids or will be carrying more gear.
Our runner-up for the best kids hiking backpack: Osprey Packs Youth Jet 18
Another fantastic option for hitting the trail with young children is Osprey Packs Youth Jet 18. Like I mentioned in my review of the best sleeping bags for year-round camping, a company’s warranty and customer service are incredibly important for me when choosing quality outdoor gear. For all Osprey packs purchased in the United States, the company completely guarantees a repair or replacement if anything goes wrong…ever. When I’m outfitting my children in serious camping and hiking gear, Osprey’s All Mighty Guarantee is something I really appreciate.
is a solid choice for a rugged, versatile kid’s hiking backpack. In the end, we slightly preferred the fit of the Deuter Climber Kids. If you can’t try both backpacks in person, either one will be far and away better for hiking and backpacking than just about anything else on the market.
- 18L volume capacity
- 2lb empty weight
- Mesh back panel to increase circulation
- Secure hip belt and sternum strap keep the backpack in place even while running
- External zippered pockets for easy access to snacks, lip balm, etc.
- Shoulder strap mesh pocket that perfect for grabbing things on the go without taking off the pack
- Mesh pockets on either side for water bottles or gear
- Easy-to-access reservoir pocket
- Attachment points for hooking on gear without having to unload the contents
- Compression straps to stabilize a fully-loaded backpack
The best kids hiking backpack for the hikers under eight: Jack Wolfskin Kids Moab Jam
You may not recognize the brand name, but Jack Wolfskin has been a premier name among European outfitters for many years. It is a very common brand in Germany especially. The entire brand qualified for the ISPO Eco Achievement Award thanks to their dedication to brand-wide sustainability. Jack Wolfskin makes high-quality backpacks and outdoor gear of all sizes, but I just love their petite Moab Jam for kids. The adjustable shoulder and sternum straps help you get just the right fit. I appreciate the mix of zippered and mesh external pockets—for the times when you need both options. This is a fairly small backpack, even for kids hiking backpacks, which is why I recommend it most for hikers under eight (or so).
- 10L volume capacity
- 440oz (under 1lb) empty weight
- Proprietary suspension system helps keep the backpack close to the body
- Identification nametag and stencil
- Reflective panels and LED light
- Extra airflow thanks to special back ventilation panels
- Equipped to handle a small hydration bladder
The best kids hiking backpack for quick trips: CamelBak Kids Mini M.U.L.E. Hydration Pack
As much as I love both the other backpacks on this list, they can sometimes be too much for a simple morning hike. That’s not to say I’m ready to go back to hiking without a quality kids backpack—I still have no desire to carry all the water bottles and snacks myself!
For quick trips and the youngest members of our family, we love . At only 11oz empty, I don’t have to worry about it weighing down my little hikers. It doesn’t have as many ergonomic features or places to stash gear as a full backpacking system, but it does have 4 external pockets and a 1.5L reservoir included.
If you have toddlers or very small children that want to carry their own water and snacks, we’ve also successfully outfitted our two-year-old with the CamelBak Mini M.U.L.E. before she was even big enough for the Scout Hydration Pack.
- 5L volume capacity
- 11oz empty weight
- Padded mesh back panel
- Sternum strap with a safety whistle
- Bladder tube attaches to the sternum strap for easy sipping on the go
- Bright name patch
- Reflective accents for high visibility in low light
- Got Your Bak Lifetime Guarantee
What to Look For in the Best Kids Hiking Backpack
I recently took my oldest child shopping for a new school backpack. He tried out a few zippers, chose his favorite color, and we were on our way. Shopping for the best kids hiking backpack is more complicated than that, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. The four main things to consider are fit, comfort, durability, and ease of use.
Proper fit is essential when choosing a hiking backpack, especially for kids. Since they may not be able to articulate exactly what’s wrong with the way the backpack feels, you’ll need to double check the fit in a few key areas:
- Start with torso length. Instead of judging backpack size based on height, measure the length of the child’s torso. Most quality backpacks include a torso length published on the sizing card. From there, you will be able to move to specific strap adjustments.
- Loosen all the straps and load up the pack. Before you can adjust the individual straps, you want to mimic the actual weight of the backpack on a hike. Once the straps are loose and the backpack approximates carrying weight, you can begin the adjustments.
- Begin tightening the straps. Start by adjusting the hip belt. Most of the weight of the pack should be carried by the hip belt, so you will want to adjust that first. After the hip belt, move on to adjusting the shoulder straps followed by the sternum. Aim for a snug enough fit to keep the straps from sliding around without being uncomfortably tight.
Kids may not suffer from the same neck, back, and hip pain as older hikers, but they still benefit from a well-fitting backpack. The best kids hiking backpack will be adjustable so they can use it as they grow.
If you want a backpack your child can carry for the entire hike, it needs to be comfortable. The best kids hiking backpack will have special shoulder straps designed to fit comfortably on little shoulders. If you are able to try the backpack on in the store, let your child open all the pockets and heft the bag on and off a few times. All of the backpacks on this list are thoughtfully made, but there is nothing as good at predicting comfort as trying it on first.
It is also important to choose a backpack that is big enough for your needs without being too large. A backpack that is too big is easy to overfill. Even if the backpack fits slightly less than a larger model, a young hiker will rarely finish the hike with an overly heavy backpack.
As with other quality hiking and camping gear, choose something made from a durable and easy-to-clean material. Ripstop nylon—the same kind of fabric used in most tents and camping hammocks—is resistant to rips and often waterproof. In addition to durable material, look for quality zippers, double- (or triple-) stitched seams, and a generous warranty or guarantee. Durability is key in the best kids hiking backpack.
Ease of Use
All of the best kids hiking backpack options on this list include exterior pockets, easy access to water (either bottles, bladders, or both), and thoughtful details that are designed to make them convenient and easy to use. That said, each backpack has its own feel and arrangement. Finding a backpack with a snack or accessory pocket that your child can open with one hand will make your hikes easier.
Wrapping Up the Best Kids Hiking Backpack
Finding the best kids hiking backpack that fits well and is truly designed for hiking is crucial! We found that once our children started carrying their own water, snacks, and basic gear, everyone—from the parents to the kids—enjoyed the hikes more. Our children felt more independent and my husband and I appreciated not having to carry everyone’s water and supplies.
Backpacks that fasten at the sternum and especially around the hips distribute weight better than a regular school backpack. When the shoulder straps aren’t slipping, it’s easier to keep the backpack on all day long. Whether you have hiked with children for many years or are just looking to get started, the right backpack will get you off to a great start!
Q: Is there a right way to pack a backpack?
A: Yes! In fact, it’s surprising how much of a difference the packing procedure can make in how the backpack fits and carries. The first rule to remember is to only pack what is absolutely necessary. After that, you will need to balance weight distribution with convenience. Ideally, the center of gravity should hit you (or the person wearing the pack) right at the shoulder. On the other hand, you will also want easy access to any small or often-used items.
Put your sleeping bag or other lightweight items you won’t need all day at the bottom of the backpack. Then fill it with heavier items, leaving enough room at the top for anything you’ll need access to throughout the hike. If you feel yourself leaning backward when throughout the hike, the weight is not distributed properly.
Q: How much weight can my child carry in his/her backpack?
A: Opinions differ on exactly how much your child can carry, but the first thing to realize is that ideal pack weight has more to do with a child’s size than age. A quick guideline is to limit the total weight of a child’s backpack to a maximum of 25% of his/her weight. If it’s the first time out on the trail or your child is not accustomed to periods of physical activity, 10-15% would be a better rule of thumb.
For example, a 60lb child who has very limited hiking experience should carry a pack no heavier than 6lb total. Considering the weight of a water bottle or hydration bladder, that does not leave much room for gear. A child of the same weight with more time spent hiking would be able to handle a backpack closer to 15lb.
If there is any question or if you read differing guidelines, use your child as your guide. Pack up the new backpack and try a short hike to see how things go before deciding if you can put more (or less) in the backpack.
Q: At what age can my child start carrying a backpack on the trail?
A: The younger the better! The sooner you get your child carrying a backpack on hikes, the sooner you will be able to take even longer hikes together as a family. We started with hikes shorter than a mile, but we insisted that each child carry his or her own water and snacks. On your first time out, be patient. It may be a few years before your children can carry an entire weekend’s worth of supplies, but they should be plenty capable as soon as they have the interest to join you on the trail.
Again, it’s important to go slow. Don’t expect your child to go from a few minutes carrying a backpack to a full day. Injuries are much more common with sudden changes in the distance, duration, or weight carried on a hike.
Q: How do you handle rain during a hike?
A: When it comes to protecting your hiking backpack from rain on the trail, look for a backpack rain cover. Some backpacks come with a special rain cover. If yours does not, there are many after-market products made exactly for that purpose. You can also pack your gear in plastic bags for further rain protection.
During the actual hike, tread carefully as you walk on wet trails and slippery rocks. Trekking poles can help you keep your balance and relieve pressure off your knees. It is also incredibly important to stay hydrated during rainy weather. When it’s not sunny and hot, many people forget to drink enough water to stay healthy. Kids especially will need reminders to keep drinking water even during the rain.
Q: Which is better: a hydration bladder or water bottle?
A: Either! What matters is that your child stays hydrated on hikes. Hydration bladders are convenient because the fit easily into a backpack. It is also easy to sip steadily hands-free when using a reservoir, especially if the tubing attaches directly to the sternum strap. On the other hand, a water bottle is more convenient in many ways. Water bottles are easy to refill throughout the afternoon. It’s also easy to replace water bottles for very little cost. Just about every hiking backpack (and most other backpacks) include side pockets for water bottles.
When we are hiking as a family, we use just about every form of hydration we can. What matters most is that everyone gets enough water all day long!
Q: How should I go about finding good places to hike with kids?
A: Early on, try taking short walks close to home. That gives everyone the chance to get accustomed to their new backpacks. After that, your kids should be able to handle any low-impact hikes that take just a few hours or less. In general, we prefer to hike a loop so we can turn around at any point if our children get tired early. Another tip is to select hikes with a waterfall or swimming hole. If we pack a lunch and take a long break at the edge of a stream, everyone has more energy for the hike back to the car in good spirits.
If you want more specific suggestions, check out the resources page of the American Hiking Association, the interactive map at Kids in Parks or find your local Hike It Baby group to meet up with like-minded parents looking to get out and hike with their children. I hope this list gave you some guidance on the best kids hiking backpack options available today.