Gear Review: Osprey Ace Kids Backpacks

Kids Backpack
Osprey Ace 38
$140, 38L/2,319 c.i., 2 lbs. 4 oz. (my scale, not including the 3-oz. rain cover that comes with the pack)
One size, adjustable, fits torsos 28-38cm/11-15 ins., for ages 6 to 11 (approx.)
Osprey Ace 50
$160, 50L/3,051 c.i., 3 lbs. (my scale, not including the 3-oz. rain cover)
One size, adjustable, fits torsos 33-46cm/13-18 ins., for ages 8 to 14 (approx.)
Osprey Ace 75
$180, 75L/4,577 c.i., 3 lbs. 9 oz. (weight stated by Osprey)
One size, adjustable, fits torsos 35.5-48cm/14-19 ins., for ages 11 to 18 (approx.)

If backpacking is sometimes hard on an adult, it presents a particular set of challenges to a kid who weighs 100 pounds or less. One rule I followed when my kids were young was to not ask them to carry a backpack; instead, I waited for them to say they wanted to carry their own pack. (See my popular “10 Tips For Raising Outdoors-Loving Kids.”) And then, I made sure my kids had good-quality gear, to help ensure they’d want to go backpacking again. My kids (now 15 and 13) have carried Osprey Ace backpacks on trips from Southwest canyons to Idaho’s Sawtooth and White Cloud mountains to Canada’s Kootenay National Park. Built for a huge range of children’s body sizes—from the youngest you’d want to put a pack on to bigger teenagers—the Ace packs have made it a little easier to turn your child into a backpacker.

Osprey Ace 38 harness
Osprey Ace 38 harness

My daughter first carried the Ace 38, weighing up to 18 pounds, on a five-day, 38-mile, family backpacking trip down Paria Canyon in Utah and Arizona, a trip that began three days after her 12th birthday. I easily adjusted the pack’s harness to fit her 14-inch torso well then, and have with each subsequent trip as she’s grown taller. My son has used the Ace 50 on several trips, hauling up to about 25 pounds, which is more than he ever had before and more than 25 percent of his body weight—equivalent to a 150-pound adult carrying about 40 pounds. He told me: “I like this pack a lot. I can carry more and it’s really comfortable.”

The peripheral-wire frame with a plastic framesheet found on all of the Ace packs shifts much of the pack’s weight to the hips. The Ace packs use the same perforated, mesh-covered foam in the shoulder straps and ridged foam in the back and lumbar pads. But the Ace 50 and 75 add Osprey’s Fit-on-the-Fly adjustability in the hipbelt—same as found in the men’s Atmos AG and women’s Aura AG packs—not only extends the fit range for waists by five inches, but adds a little rigidity and support to the hipbelt. I would say the Ace 38 is designed for carrying 15 to 20 pounds comfortably, and the Ace 50 and 75 more like 20 to 30 pounds (always depending on the child).

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Osprey Ace 50 hipbelt
Osprey Ace 50 hipbelt

The top-loading Ace packs have a basic, functional feature set that avoids piling on unnecessary bells and whistles that add weight and cost. All three have a large, stretch-mesh front pocket, ideal for a kid to stuff a jacket inside, and stretch-mesh side pockets that each fit a bottle (although each pack has a bladder sleeve and port). The lid pocket has space for a headlamp, hat, gloves, and other small items, and there’s a zippered, mesh pocket on the lid’s underside. All three packs come with an integrated rain cover, a zipper accessing the sleeping-bag compartment (whose panel can be detached to make one main compartment), and external sleeping-pad straps that easily held my daughter’s foam pad. The Ace 50 and 75 have a few features lacking in the Ace 38: zippered hipbelt pockets roomy enough for two to three energy bars in each; a removable, floating lid pocket (the Ace 38 lid pocket is fixed); and an adjustable ice tool/fishing rod loop.

Osprey Ace 38 side view
Osprey Ace 38 side view

These packs have not only wide adjustability to accommodate a growing child, but also side compression to shrink the pack when you’re under-filling it for a smaller kid. For my daughter, who weighed only 80 pounds and stood just shy of five feet when she first got this pack, the Ace 38 was a good choice. For my son, who at 14 was five feet tall and 90 pounds, with a 15-inch torso, the Ace 50 has worked well.

In deciding the pack capacity for your son or daughter, consider both their body size and abilities now and where they’ll be in a year or two. Start a kid who’s new to backpacking carrying around 15 percent of body weight on their back (10 to 12 pounds for a 70-pound kid, or their own sleeping bag, pad, maybe clothes, and a liter of water); and if that goes well, try bumping up to 20 percent of body weight. Experienced, stronger kids—certainly many teenagers who have hit their growth spurt and begun building muscle—may take on as much as 25 percent of body weight without complaint.

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Osprey Ace 38 front
Osprey Ace 38 front

While the Ace 38 lacks a few nice features found in the 50 and 75—and I’d like to have seen the hipbelt pockets in the Ace 38—that simpler design also helps keep the price of the line’s smallest pack lower. With the Ace 38 and Ace 50, parents have good choices for a young boy or girl who’s ready for a first backpack, while the Ace 75 is made for bigger teens who are capable of pulling their own weight.

I’ve found it hard to find packs that fit small, skinny, grade-school-age kids who are ready to carry a sleeping bad, pad, and their own clothes and water. The Ace 38 is a pack for those kids. Built with a level of quality that compares with better, entry-level adult packs, the Ace packs tackle the challenge of fitting a wide range of kids’ body sizes comfortably, and giving parents a broad range of pack capacities to choose from for their kids.

My daughter with the Osprey Ace 38 in Paria Canyon.
My daughter with the Osprey Ace 38 in Paria Canyon.

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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my reviews at my Gear Reviews page.

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11 thoughts on “Gear Review: Osprey Ace Kids Backpacks”

  1. Hi,
    I am looking for a “long term” solution for a backpacking pack for my 14 year old son, who is on the small side, now, but hasn’t really fully hit his adolescent growth spurt (we’re a family of late bloomers… my daughter went from 3rd percentile on the growth charts at 13 to 5’9″ in about 18 months). This pack is sounding pretty perfect. He’s 85 lbs and 5’2″ today, but as soon as puberty hits, which can’t be far off now to judge by the signs, I expect he’ll shoot up. About what would you say is the upper range of body size for the Osprey 75? We’d like something he can use this summer, but also through high school. His dad is 6’2″, my brother 6’5″, so he’s probably not going to be terribly short.
    Thanks for article, which is so helpful.

    • Hi Alexa,

      Thanks for the nice words about my review. You’re asking a smart question. It definitely sounds like your son is going to grow tall soon. The Osprey Ace 75 fits torsos 14 to 19 inches, meaning it is probably going to fit your son now or soon and until he’s an adult size.

      Another option I’d highly recommend is the Gregory Wander 70. As I wrote in that review, my son was five feet, four inches, a skinny 110 pounds, and had a 15-inch torso when he carried that pack for several hours a day on a backpacking trip and found it comfortable. A friend who’s a short woman also found that pack very comfortable for her. The Wander 70 fits torso 13 to 18 inches, meaning it will also likely fit your son now (or soon) and until he’s an adult size.

      My “5 Expert Tips for Buying the Right Backpacking Pack” describes how to measure torso length, but given that your son’s torso length is about to keep changing quickly, either of these packs is a good choice because either will fit him throughout his teen years. If the fit of either is initially slightly big, that won’t last long, and the best solution is to keep his pack lighter until he’s ready to carry more weight.

      One recommendation in my “10 Tips for Raising Outdoors-Loving Kids” is to let a kid ask to carry more weight. But at your son’s age, he’ll be strong soon if not already.

      I hope that’s helpful. Thanks for the good question and I wish you and your family many happy and safe adventures together!

  2. Hi!
    I have been doing a lot of research and would like to purchase the Ace 50 for both my kids, 8 and 10. While googling, I have landed on a lot of pages selling the Osprey Ace 48. What is the difference between Ace 48 and Ace 50, other than the 2 liters? Is 48 the older version of 50?
    Being a Norwegian living in the US, I would also like to support Norwegian retailers like Norrøna and Bergans. Do you have any experience or recommendations for youth backpacks from these brands?

    Thank you for a great blog. Let me know if you have gear your kids have outgrown you would like to sell! 😉 Also, we would be happy to take you around Norway to do some hiking! We are climbing Glittertind this summer.

    • Hi Kjersti-Helene, yes, the Ace 48 was the previous version of the Ace backpacks. I highly recommend the current Ace 50 as a great choice for most kids, for all the reasons I’ve laid out in the above review. You’ll be happy because your kids will be happy.

      I have used Bergans packs, but my kids have not used Bergans kids packs, so I cannot comment on that except to say that I’ve always been impressed with Bergans gear, but they don’t usually compete well for price in the U.S.

      I’ve only been to Norway once, trekking with my family in Jotunheimen, and we loved it. We hiked Galdhøpiggen on the last day of our trek. Read about it here:

      Thanks for writing and good luck.

  3. Hi Michael,
    We are heading over to Nepal and Bhutan to go some low altitude trekking with the kids. Our youngest girl will be nearly 9 and I believe this will be the pack we get her. Obviously I will have to carry some of her gear, however do you think this pack would be able to hold a fair amount of her personal belongings (we will be staying in lodges so don’t need camping gear for this trip) Any advice appreciated. She is quite tall for her age.

    • Hi Leah, sounds like a fabulous trip. My daughter (12) uses the Ace 38 and my son (15) the Ace 50, and both kids carry their own sleeping bag, clothing, and other personal stuff inside, so I think you’ll find there’s plenty of space in all three packs. If your daughter is tall, she may be ready for the Ace 50. But it’s important to try on the packs, with some of her gear/clothes packed inside, before buying, to make sure of a good fit. Good luck.

  4. very good review describing these backpacks! My daughter wants to climb a volcano next year in Guatemala with her cousins while we are there visiting my husband’s family and we’ve been thinking of getting her a backpack so that they can enjoy some Smores and stuff once they reach their destination, plus she also plans on checking out her Dad’s coffee fields which are quite a hike from where her aunt lives in my hubby’s hometown, so again, she’d want to bring supplies and might even camp out with Daddy and the crew during the coffee harvest.

  5. Michael,
    After reading your reviews I purchased the Osprey Ace 50 for my 14 year old son. We took it out for a test run today, and it has a good fit for his body size. It has plenty of carrying capacity. We also looked at the 75, but decided that the 50 was the right size for him.
    Thanks for your advice,
    Honolulu, HI

    • Hi Jim, excellent choice. I also picked one up for my 14-year-old son. Let me know if you want advice on a new pack for yourself! (Hint, hint.)