I realize that with so many novel wheeled luggage products for children available in stores today a backpack review may seem a little misguided. But backpacks still have their place and it’s worth taking a moment to learn what to keep in mind when choosing one for your child.
We love to camp, but we don’t do a lot of backcountry camping and so I didn’t expect to find myself in the market for a kid’s backpack when my older son, CAM, turned six. His school had other ideas. Camp Orkila, a YMCA camp on Orcas Island, Washington, is a favorite location for overnight camping and outdoor experiences for the lucky students of many schools in this area. When the letter from the school came informing us that his 1st grade class would be taking an overnight trip, I just about held it together enough to read through the list of required equipment and fought back the “oh-my-baby-is-growing-up-too-fast” tears on my way to our local REI store.
On that shopping trip I chose the REI-brand youth backpack – and it’s been used regularly since. It wasn’t cheap, but it was a worthwhile investment. Now that CAM has outgrown it, it’s a perfect size for BigB and it’s still in great shape. REI’s current model is the Comet Pack for $89.50. The Deuter Fox 30 Youth Backpack is a very similar product and is available on Amazon.com for $98.95.
Tips For Choosing a Kid-Sized Backpack
1. Packs should be fitted so that the front point of your child’s hip bones hit at the mid-point of the waist strap. When closed, the waist straps should fit snugly, but should not be too tight.
2. Ideally, the shoulder strap harness should be adjustable so that the pack can “grow” with your child so that he or she can use it for as long as possible. Similarly, look for plenty of extensible strap on the waist band.
3. Zippered top, side and front pockets are very handy to keep necessary items such as toiletries, a good book and a flashlight within easy reach. One drawback of internal frame packs is that when full, it’s difficult to find what you’re looking for inside the pack. Still, these packs can feel more comfortable on little bodies.
4. External hooks and loops on which to hang stinky shoes and other beaten-about outdoor gear are great to have.
5. The biggest improvement in the current REI Comet Pack – over the earlier version of the pack which I purchased seven years ago – is that it has a zippered bottom pocket which is great for stashing dirty clothes and rocks and bird feathers and all the other random, ‘interesting’ things your child feels obliged to bring home just for you.
After six years of elementary school and three years of middle school I can honestly say that buying a good pack at the begining was a decision which saved time and effort for both me and my son on every school trip – and many family adventures also.
If you’ve got a scout or girl guide who backpacks regularly with his or her troop, do leave a comment with a recommendation for your favorite kid’s pack.