Review: Great Hiking Rucksacks for Little Kids

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Looking for a hiking rucksack for a child aged 3-6? Here are some great options which have seen lots of use in our family. The best choice for your child will depend on what they are primarily using it for. I wouldn’t particularly encourage such a young child to carry a pack on a normal hike, because I want them to feel free and unconstrained, and because I would probably end up carrying it myself anyway! But there are plenty of occasions when a rucksack might be useful. For example:

  • Carrying lunch and spare clothes for outdoor nursery or forest school.
  • A pack which can take a water reservoir to encourage your child to stay hydrated in hot weather.
  • Carrying their own sleeping bag and soft toy for a first wild camp.

Even on a normal day hike, some children might really enjoy the independence of carrying their own pack with a snack, drink and perhaps accessories like sunglasses or a beanie hat.

Hiking rucksacks for little kids: What features should I look for?

Not all children’s packs were created equal, and the features you need will depend on your use case. Here are some to look out for:

Adjustable back straps: these will enable the rucksack to grow with your child.

A chest strap: this is an essential feature for me, it holds the rucksack in the correct ergonomic position and stops it sliding around. I look for chest straps on sliders that can be adjusted up and down so that they can be in the correct position for a range of torso lengths as the child grows.

Backpack chest strap on sliders so that it can be adjusted for a range of torso heights.

Water bottle holders: mesh containers on the side of the pack which are the correct size for holding a child’s water bottle, so that they can access it easily. Some can be too tight.

More than one pocket: it can be helpful to have a second smaller pocket for storing small items like a snack or pair of gloves, so that the child can find them easily.

Hydration reservoir compatibility: this might be particularly important in hot climates where you would like your child to be drinking frequently on hikes.

The Osprey Daylite Kids is hydration reservoir compatible

Grab handle: I like our packs to have a handle so that they can be put on a peg at forest school.

Name label: I prefer packs which have a place for a conspicuous name label, so that they can be used for outdoor nursery/forest school/school trips.

Our favourite hiking packs for little kids: Summary

Osprey Daylite Kids
Overall best pack for little kids
-10L capacity
-Dimensions (cm): 33L x 38W x 17D
-Hydration reservoir compatible
-Weight: 268g (manufacturer: 300g)
-RRP: £40.00

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Jack Wolfskin Little Joe
Best for preschoolers
-11L capacity
-Dimensions (cm): 31L x 26W x 23D
-Wide opening lid for easy access
-Weight: 302g (manufacturer: 300g)
RRP: £30.00

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Jack Wolfskin Track Jack
Best for 5-6 year olds
-10L capacity
-Dimensions (cm): 37L x 23W x 15D
-(Just!) fits A4 documents and folders
-Weight: 346g (manufacturer: 360g)
-RRP: £35.00

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Mountaintop Elementary
Budget school-compatible option
-12L capacity
-Dimensions (cm): 39L x 27W x16D
-Good fit for A4 paper and folders
-Weight: 430g (manufacturer: 360g)
RRP: £24.99

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Best overall pack for hiking: Osprey Daylite Kids

Capacity: 10L

Weight: 268g

This pack has the most features of any of our children’s packs, as you would expect from Osprey. The chest strap is really easy to adjust and has a whistle feature…although I haven’t pointed this out to the child who owns it! The straps are mesh and the handle is cleverly integrated into the straps to keep the weight down. The shoulder straps have velcro ties on the end so that spare fabric can be rolled up out of the way.

The pack is hydration reservoir compatible, and it also has a useful small external pocket. It fits well on a four year old but would also suit an older child.

The whole pack feels very high quality, from the strap mechanisms to the zip pulls. It is also very lightweight at 268g, lighter than listed on the website (Osprey are selling themselves short!). I wouldn’t pay the RRP of £40.00 as that feels excessive to me for a children’s pack, but this pack is often on special offer, and I would say it is worth purchasing if you want a durable pack that is laden with useful features.

Best rucksack for preschoolers: Jack Wolfskin Little Joe

Capacity: 11L

Weight: 302g

This pack is slightly deeper than the others and has a wide opening lid, which makes it an excellent choice for preschoolers managing their own pack, as they can get good access to the interior.

It has some thoughtful features like a yellow chest buckle to help children to locate it quickly, and a bright external label (removable) if you are using this for nursery or forest school. It also has an external pocket which is a good size for sunhat/suncream or gloves/hat.

This pack is not big enough for everything a child would need for outdoor nursery (i.e. full changes of clothes), but it will easily carry their lunch, an extra layer and accessories.

I have been really impressed with the durability of this pack which has withstood heavy use for three years and is still in great condition.

Best all-rounder for 5 and 6 year olds: Jack Wolfskin Track Jack

Capacity: 10L

Weight: 346g

This pack has a similar capacity to the Little Joe, but is taller and slimmer. It has an adjustable chest strap with yellow buckle to make it easy for kids to locate. There is a small external pocket and also a mesh outer pocket which is great for snacks. The pack comes with an external name tag (removable) which is helpful for school/nursery. It is really durable and has been well used but still looks nearly new.

This pack is just about big enough to take an A4 book or folder if it is tucked up into the top of the pack (see below), and we have found that we can use it for school. I really appreciate this, because it means that we can use this pack for a variety of purposes, which is good for space-saving, budget and the environment. I’d love it if the dimensions were tweaked slightly to give a bit more wiggle room for an A4 folder. Overall, another great backpack from Jack Wolfskin!

Searching for a hiking backpack which is school compatible: MountainTop Elementary 12L

For reasons of simplicity and budget, I have been looking for a rucksack which is suitable for hiking, but can also be used as a school pack. I would like it to be lightweight, durable, with an ergonomic fit, and I would also like it to take an A4 folder comfortably. This seems nearly impossible to find! The Track Jack pack (above) comes close, but it is a very tight fit for an A4 folder.

Our newest pack is the MountainTop Elementary 12L pack, which is reasonably priced and covers my main requirements. You can see in this photo that it is slightly taller than the Track Jack, and is therefore able to comfortably accommodate A4 paper:

A4 paper in the rucksacks. From left to right: Osprey Daylite Kids; Jack Wolfskin Little Joe; Jack Wolfskin Track Jack (you can see the top corners are pushed out by the folder); MountainTop Elementary 12L.

The rucksack feels well built and durable, but the quality of the components does feel lower than the other backpacks in this review. It has a small external zip pocket and an open external pocket (quite useful for shoving a jacket into). There is also an internal document sleeve. The chest straps are not as ergonomic and do not lay as well across a child’s torso. The rucksack is noticeably heavier than the others reviewed, and our pack is 20% heavier than the manufacturer’s listed weight, which annoys me.

The increased size of the rucksack means that it looks bulky on the back of a 110cm child (average 5 year old), much more so than the Track Jack. But if it were much smaller, it would not accommodate an A4 folder so well. So it may be that it is not possible to design a rucksack that is a suitable size for a 5 year old’s torso and can accommodate an A4 folder. All the same, I would love it if some of the main hiking pack designers could attempt the challenge!

Final Thoughts

Overall, my favourite hiking pack for little kids is definitely the Daylite Osprey Kids. It exudes quality and has lots of really helpful features. It also fits really nicely on kids of various sizes, and is very lightweight, which I think is important when you are trying to keep the weight down on a small person’s back.

I do really like the two Jack Wolfskin packs, and think these are good durable options for everyday packs for small children, which can also be used for hiking. The Little Joe is great for preschoolers, whilst the Track Jack is a good choice for 5 and 6 year olds.

I am still hunting for a dual-purpose hiking and school pack which can comfortably accommodate an A4 folder. The MountainTop Elementary is quite a good compromise, but it feels a bit too heavy and not ergonomic enough to be a great choice for hiking – it is definitely more of a school pack than a hiking pack.

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