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.
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).
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.
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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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.
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.