Test: Kid-Size Backpacking Gear


With an impressive strength-to-weight ratio, flexibility that is well above average, and an energy supply that seems bottomless at times, kids are natural athletes in the outdoors. However, finding equipment for your little adventurer can be tricky, as most gear companies don’t offer children’s options.

This spring, I ordered some children’s backpacking gear from the German manufacturer Deuter. For my sons, ages 10 and seven years, I chose two backpacks, the Fox 40 (40 liters, $109) and the Fox 30 (30 liters, $99) as well as two Starlight EXP sleeping bags for overnight trips into the wilds.

Deuter Fox 40 children’s backpack

With the Fox packs, I found the build quality and attention to detail to be every bit as good as I would expect for an adult pack, just smaller. Sewn from a combination of rip-stop and a suppler nylon, the packs should hold up well even at the hands of children. Big thumbs up too for keeping the packs lightweight: both are under 3 lbs. when empty.

The height-adjustable shoulder harness will keep the pack fitting correctly as the child ages. Both packs are single-compartment, but they have a zippered access at the bottom. A sewn-on lid has zippers inside and out for small items. To please even the most adventuresome kids, there are daisy-chains, gear loops on the waist belt and an ice-axe loop. Side compression straps and an emergency whistle are just plain handy features.

Fox 30 harness system

My boys had few comments on the packs, not knowing what to say really. But the lack of complaints about the bags told me what I needed to know. They were comfortable, and they were proud of their packs — making them feel like real hikers. They insisted on finding items to put in every pocket and utilize every little feature.

When the sun went down, the Starlight sleeping bags proved to be great choices for my tiny campers. The $79 mummy-style, synthetic-filled sleeper is 2lbs, 3 oz, making it easy for a child to carry on their own. My favorite feature: a zippered bottom that allows the 51-inch (zipped) bag to unzip and unfurl to 67 inches for growing explorers — genius! “So, now I won’t outgrow my sleeping bag like last time?” my youngest inquired.

Starlight EXP children’s sleeping bag

A draft collar, cinching hood and inner “stash” pocket make the bag “just like daddy’s.” A polyester inner lining is a great choice, as it is quiet and never “sticky” feeling when warm. Temperature ratings for kids equipment are not available, but I’d recommend the Starlight EXP for late-spring, summer and early-fall camping only. They’ll also work just fine for sleep-overs and summer camp.

I’m genuinely impressed with the kids gear from Deuter — these are not watered down “toy” pieces. Deuter designed the gear well, priced it fairly, and made the items light and tough to meet the special needs of the pint-sized camper. If your children are ready to explore the outdoors with you, I’d suggest a hard look at what Deuter has in stock.

T.C. Worley