As a family, backpacking is our preferred way to travel. We love the ease of minimalist family travel, jumping on and off busses and trains. We pack light and two spare hands are always ‘handy’ when travelling with young kids. But with so much choice, what is the best travel backpack for kids?
In the very early days of backpacking with kids, when the boys were under the age of four, such as when we travelled Sri Lanka with kids, us parents would carry everything the boys needed in our own backpacks. Around the age of 4/5, they would have their own small backpack each to get used to carrying their own things (at this age the essentials were cuddly toys and a few clothes).
From the age of 6, the boys had their own backpacks to travel with, containing almost everything they needed.
When it came to finding the best backpack for our 4 months of family travel in Morocco, I was surprised how little decent choice there was for kids travel backpacks. Yes, there are a lot of backpacks on the market, but surprisingly little in the way of travel backpacks that fitted our criteria.
Nevertheless, we’ve done the research for you, and put the backpacks to the test across Africa, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Read on for the best travel backpack for kids.
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What age should kids carry their own backpack?
As with most things with kids, the earlier you introduce them to something, the sooner they get used to it.
A very small and light backpack from the age of 4 is a good way for kids to get used to carrying their own things. Yes, you may end up carrying it on many occasions (this is why it needs to be small and light), but it gives them a sense of responsibility.
When we left for our 4 months travelling Morocco, the boys were 6 and 8 years old, and it felt the right time for them to have a backpack each for our adventures. I would have got the eldest a backpack sooner, but the pandemic put a stop to our backpacking for a couple of years.
What to look for when buying a travel backpack for kids
Kids travel backpacks need to fit correctly for them to be comfortable. You also want the backpack to last the years, but not break the bank.
When buying a kids travel backpack, you need to look for:
- a waist strap to distribute the weight of the backpack
- 30L – 40L to fit everything in
- a backpack that isn’t too long in the back, with no gap between their shoulders and arm straps
- separate compartments for ease of access
- good quality material and stitching to last the distance
- a backpack that is affordable
Try some out, if you can
As with kids shoes, it’s a good idea to try some out. A kids travel backpack need to fit correctly and comfortably, otherwise they may not want to carry it (one guess as to who will end up carrying it instead).
We live in Bakewell in the heart of the UK’s Peak District, which is a haven for outdoor lovers. On our doorstep are at least half a dozen outdoor shops. So one Saturday afternoon, we walked into the town to try out some kids travel backpacks.
I was totally dumbfounded that there were no kids travel backpacks in stock anywhere for us to try! Well there were some cute animal-character backpacks, but these were not at all ideal for travelling with (no waist strap, no separate compartments, and completely the wrong size).
So we decided to try Decathlon. Our nearest one is a good 30 minutes drive away in Sheffield, so not ideal. The choice kids travel backpacks in stock were extremely limited. There was an 18L kids backpack (this one) with a waist strap, but it wasn’t roomy enough to carry all their items, only had the one main compartment, and stitching quality didn’t fill me with confidence. Apparently Decathlon do a 40+10L backpack for kids, but 50L is too big for kids this age.
So we resorted to online shopping.
Online shopping for kids travel backpacks
As we were unable to try any kids travel backpacks on, we had to order online and try at home.
I asked followers on Instagram and two brands were recommended – Osprey and Deuter.
Now the Osprey Ace 38 (38L) ticks all the boxes for the best kids travel backpack, except for one important criteria at the time – cost. Prices were around £200 at the time, which seems a lot for a kids travel backpack. However, these have since come down in price on Amazon.
A cheaper kids travel backpack that still ticks all the boxes is the Deuter Fox Kids’ 30L Backpack. If you’re not picky on colour, you can often pick one up on Amazon for under £100.
What backpacks do our kids travel with?
So it came down to price between the Osprey and Deuter.
We purchased one Deuter Fox Kids’ 30L Backpack online for both boys to try. For Arthur (age 8 at the time) it fitted perfectly on the shorter setting (you can adjust the back length as your child grows). It is a brilliant travel backpack for kids. It’s just the right size, has waist straps, adjustable back height to grow with him, and it’s decently priced (especially compared to the Osprey kids backpacks).
However, for Ez (age 6 at the time) it was just too big. So we ended up buying the 18L Quecha kids backpack for him as it fitted perfectly and it (just about) fitted everything he needed. I didn’t expect it to last longer than the Morocco trip, but it has, and he also used it for our 10 weeks backpacking Southeast Asia. The Deuter one would have fitted him, but he could fit all he needed into the Decathlon bag, and we didn’t want to overload him. However, he bought a few extras with his pocket money on our Southeast Asia travels (LEGO and cuddly toys) and in hindsight, we should have upgraded his backpack before we left.
Check out our Southeast Asia packing list for families
What is the best travel backpack for kids?
When backpacking with kids, the backpack your kids carry could make or break a trip. It’s essential to get it right.
The best travel backpack for kids has to be the Deuter Fox Kids’ 30L Backpack. It ticks all the criteria – size, longevity, comfort, adjustable straps, different compartment. I can see the boys used them up to the age of 15. Plus, we’ve also used it as carryon for AirAsia and Firefly to/from Borneo, easyJet to Billund and from Milan, and also for Ryanair to Essaouira, Morocco (we just ensure the top compartment isn’t too full).
The 18L Quecha kids backpack from Decathlon did last longer than I thought it would, but it’s only 18L and for our backpacking adventures, kids need a little more volume to fill. The Osprey Ace 38 loses out on price.