REI Passage 40
$100, 40L/2,441 c.i., 3 lbs. 4 oz.
One size, adjustable to fit torsos 12 to 15 inches
What should you look for in a backpack for a young kid? For starters, a good fit, with a wide range of adjustability to accommodate growth. But also quality construction that ensures the pack will be comfortable for your son or daughter and durable—because it will assuredly be treated roughly. Lastly, a set of features designed with a kid’s preferences in mind. REI’s Passage 40 measures up well by those standards.
My 12-year-old son hauled this pack on a couple of trips this summer (with another coming up): a three-day, roughly 26-mile hike into the Big Boulder Lakes basin of Idaho’s White Clouds Mountains—with a significant amount of off-trail hiking—and a five-day, 36-mile loop in Washington’s Glacier Peak Wilderness. As a kid who has accumulated a respectable quiver of packs in his short hiking career, he reported that the Passage 40 felt good even on days up to 10 miles long.
The pack’s dual, curved aluminum stays shift much of the load’s weight onto the nicely padded hipbelt, which is reinforced with pre-curved plastic inside to enhance support. My 80-pound son carried this pack with up to about 18 pounds in it comfortably, scrambling rugged, off-trail terrain without the pack shifting around much. Like an adult pack, it has contoured shoulder straps as well as breathable mesh throughout the harness and back pad. My son only wished for a little more lower-back padding.
A top loader, it sports a good feature set for kids: two hipbelt pockets that fit snacks (every kid pack should have these); deep side pockets made of a tough mesh; a mesh front stuff-it pocket that fits a jacket; a lid pocket with space for a headlamp, gloves, and a few other small items; sleeping pad straps on the outside; a safety whistle in the sternum strap; and hydration compatibility. Like me, my son could do without the zipper accessing a sleeping bag compartment; we both prefer detaching the internal divider panel and just loading the pack from the top, which usually allows you to maximize use of its space. Tough fabric on the bottom and other key exterior areas protects against hard use.
REI says the pack is sized to fit kids age six to 11, but my kids, age 12 and 10, have 15.5- and 15-inch torsos and are in the middle of this pack’s fit range. I think it will fit torsos around 13 to 16 inches, or most kids from around nine years old to young teenagers—basically until they hit their growth spurt and can transition into an adult pack. As with buying any pack, try this one on your kid in the store, with some weight in it, before buying.
All in all, it’s a good first backpack for a young kid, built well enough to probably last through two or three kids, and a good value at this price.
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.