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It’s never too early to have your kid start wearing a pack. Little ones can carry snacks, water, and a couple favorite toys. Older kids can handle their clothes and sleeping gear. Either way, start them off with a real pack, like this one from the excellent Osprey Sprint series.
These classics are hand-me-down tough, comfy, and supportive.
Don’t skimp on their socks! This merino/acrylic blend wears like iron and fits little piggies well, with no bunching or hot spots.
“Genuinely warm down to 15 degrees,” reports one Colorado mom, who says the integrated pad sleeve is ideal for her tossy-turny toddler, because she never slides off her mattress and wakes up cold. The DWR-treated ripstop nylon shell is kid-tough, and the synthetic insulation keeps the price palatable. $99; bigagnes.com
Kids under 3 can be, um, a challenge, to backpack with. But not if you plop them in this plush pack. Testers big and small found it well-ventilated and comfortable to carry for both parents, thanks to the adjustable torso (15 to 22 inches).
A killer value at $59, this PrimaLoft-insulated, hooded puffy kept our little testers cozy from the bus stop to the backcountry from fall through spring. $59; llbean.com
The kids’ version of the classic Precip shell is made of the same stuff as the grown-up version: ripstop nylon with Marmot’s NanoPro waterproof coating. Dry as a bone, light and packable, and at a price that won’t break your budget. $65; marmot.com
Lull your kiddos to sleep with some soft music in the tent. This wireless speaker is tough, tiny, and affordable. $30; divoomusa.com
“I don’t think we could have functioned without this,” says one mom. In fact, several Backpacker babies virtually grew up in these snuggly fleece hooded onesies. “Worth every penny,” says one staff dad. $89; patagonia.com
Here’s the recipe for nurturing an outdoor-loving kid: First, share your passion for nature every chance you get. Talk about all your amazing trips, tell them how much fun you had, how hard you worked, how much you loved it. Second, expose them to as many tent nights, as many beautiful places, as many grand adventures as you possibly can. Third, outfit them with the right gear, so that they’re comfortable, warm, dry, safe, and happy. To that end, we’ve polled the parents on our staff for their all-time favorite kid-tested, parent-approved items.
Oh yeah, and don’t forget the all-important rule number four: pack Skittles.