Travel Gear We Use: best overnight backpack brands for kids and youth

As an editor at Practical Travel Gear and a gear reviewer for OutdoorsNW, I test a lot of travel products and outdoor gear. Some of this gear we keep and continue to use as a family, and some of it gets pushed to the wayside. Some of the most-frequent questions I’m asked on Pit Stops for Kids is related to what to pack, what to bring, and what to wear. Our Travel Gear We Use series will address our most commonly requested gear recommendations.

best overnight backpack

Quality, backpack trip-worthy packs are hard to find that fit young kids and youth (tweens and teens). Many so-called kids’ packs are flimsy, or simply not designed for multi-day, serious hiking and trekking. It’s very important to find a pack for your kids that takes the weight off their shoulders and onto their hips, just like the grown-up models do. As with all travel-related activities, your kids will have better success and more fun when backpacking with the right gear. Here’s what we use when it comes to best overnight backpack picks for kids:

For young kids (ages 6-11):

Kelty Junior Tioga External Frame Pack

jr tiogaWhy we use this pack: firstly, Kelty is a brand we trust to be of quality design at a reasonable price. Kids grow out of gear quickly and pack styles are improved upon often…no need to spend top dollar to hand-down something obsolete. The Kelty Jr. Tioga (shown in the photo above, worn by Toby, age 8) is 34L, which offers a large enough capacity to be helpful, but not so large that the child is over-burdened with too much weight. (Tip: our young kids carry only their own clothing, their own sleeping bag and pad, and lightweight food items, such as freeze-dried meals). 

While the Jr. Tioga isn’t too large, it still offers a secure waist belt and sternum straps, allowing weight to be carried on the hips. The external frame is nice at this age, because the pack is more highly adjustable than most with internal frames. Not only can the waist belt and shoulder straps be adjusted to size, but the frame can be made larger or smaller. This pack has grown with our kids from age 6-11. Buy at sale price on Amazon.

Deuter Fox 40

deuter-foxWhy this pack: once kids have outgrown the external frame pack above, enter the Deuter Fox. We tried many internal frame packs for kids in the 40-45L range, and found the Deuter to provide the best ‘adult’ features in a kid-friendly package. There’s a dedicated sleeping bag compartment and an adjustable torso, and good ventilation on the back panel and hip belt. We kind of wish it wasn’t top-loading, and kids tend to toss everything out of the bag to find that one thing at the bottom, but this is a feature we can live with. Buy on Amazon for $109.

Note: if you find you simply can’t find a narrow enough hip belt for a thin child, try the REI brand Passage 38. It was the only pack to properly fit our narrow-hipped child!

For tweens and teens (ages 12-17):

Mountainsmith Youth Pursuit

youth pursuitWhy we use this pack: It is so hard to correctly size tweens and teens! They may be ready to carry the load of many adults, but for most teens, adult packs are still too large-framed, either in torso length or sternum/waist belt width or both. The Youth Pursuit is 45L (a nice in-between capacity) and offers an internal frame that’s fully customizable by velcro adjustment (for torso length). The waist belt fits our 12-year-old and our 14-year-old, and there are plenty of organizational pockets so older kids can be in charge of packing and using their own tools and gear. Kids get adult-pack quality ventilation on the pack pads, and pack material is equal to that of mom’s and dad’s. Read a full review here. Buy at sale price on Amazon.

Granite Gear Leopard

Why this pack: the Granite Gear Leopard is our older teen son’s all-time favorite pack. Yes, he’s in a height category that opens up his options to include any men’s pack, but with a thin waist, it can still be hard to find a proper fit. The Granite Gear Leopard fits perfectly, isn’t too big  at 58L (most men’s packs are 65 L or more), and doesn’t break the bank. It also comes in a minimalist 46 liters! He loves all the pockets and included loops for his accessories like an axe and a collapsible shovel, and how easily it can be cinched down or expanded. Buy on Amazon for under $150.

Top youth backpacking packs at a glance: