On a Christmas backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon, our tester’s 5-year-old carried his clothes and sleeping pad in REI’s Tarn 18. He loved the pockets for headlamp and trailside treasures (yes, he carried his favorite rocks for hours). And comfort? He never complained once about carrying his stuff for 20 miles, which for a kindergartner is high praise indeed.
Credit the padded hipbelt and backpanel (there are no stays, but with a light-load capacity of 1,100 cubic inches, the pack doesn’t need them), which are kid-size but made with quality materials. Note: REI recommends this pack for slightly older kids, but our tester says it’s easy to grow in to. $40; 1 lb. 3 oz.; rei.com
See all "essential" reviews from the 2011 Gear