How to Choose the Right Backpack for Family Travel

I won’t carry the kid, but I’ll carry the pack!

I can’t travel without a trusty backpack, so while on our most recent road trip, I paid close attention to the types of bags and packs other families carried in and out of restaurants, museums, picnic areas, and on hikes and tours. As you’d guess, I saw a vast assortment of styles and solutions ranging from fanny packs to Camelbaks to messenger bags, and for good reason: the family pack is an important and personal choice!

Whether you opt to outfit every member of your family with their own packs or stick to one family pack for which you share the load (our choice), there are several features we’ve learned we can’t get by without:

1. Size matters. You don’t want a pack too big or heavy for the intended wearer. We’re not talking about backpacking here: you only need to carry the essentials. Likewise, not having enough space in your pack means you’ll be spending too much time searching for things squished inside or worse yet, leaving important items in your hotel room or car.

2. Lots of zippered compartments are good for more than just toddler diversion (although it’s good for that, too). A pack with multiple compartments means the difference between finding the sunscreen or the car keys quickly or trying to corral kids in the baking sun or a parking lot (or both simultaneously) while you search. Since we carry one family pack, I also make sure our pack has water bottle compartments.

3. Price isn’t important, but comfort is…and they often go hand-in-hand. I’ve yet to use a cheap backpack that doesn’t hurt my shoulders, neck, or back. (If you’ve found one, please let me know!) Mid-priced packs work great for us. Remember, you can use backpacks for much more than just hiking as a family: we like the hands-free convenience of them on planes, in museums (where permitted), and in the car (slung over a seat back to be off the floor), too.

For more tips on packing and luggage, see the other articles in our Travel Tips section!

About the author

Pit Stops for Kids AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.




  1. I have an REI pack that I love. They will help you try on packs and fit you with the right one.

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