Best backpacks for boy scouts and girl scouts

Author: Mike Age: 31

Mike is a former boy scout, and has been troop scoutmaster for many years. Very keen on outdoor activities, over the years Mike has gained significant experience in camping, hiking, and trekking. He lives in Los Angeles, California, and regularly goes hiking with his troop in the various sites of the state.

Anyone who has spent some time out there, as a kid or adult, knows that gear is one important asset you want to be comfortable with. Among the key resources you need is the backpack.

Besides boots, no other piece of gear will affect your adventure like your backpack. As a troop scoutmaster, I have seen kids from all age having really different experiences depending on their gear. This article is based on what I have seen lately on the field and may help you find the right backpack for a boy scout or a girl scout.

My selection, age by age

I have written down a list of backpacks that have been used in recently in my scout community and caught my attention. In my experience, this selection has proved to be relevant for scouting activities. Plus all these items are of great quality, meaning they can last and you can rely on them. I have sorted them by age to help you pick something that will suit your needs.

Best backpack for Lion Cub Scouts:Best backpack for Tiger and Wolf Scouts:Best backpack for Bear and Webelos Scouts:The Best backpack for Boy and Girl Scouts
REI Co-op Tarn 12 pack
REI Co-op Tarn 12 pack
Deuter Fox 30
Deuter Fox 30
REI co-op tarn 40 pack
REI Co-op Tarn 40 pack
REI Co-op Tarn 65 pack
REI Co-op Tarn 65 pack
Another great pick:Another great pick:Another great pick:Another great pick:
REI Co-op Tarn 18 pack kids
REI Co-op Tarn 18 pack kids
Osprey ace 38
Osprey ace 38
Osprey ace 50 pack kids
Osprey ace 50 pack kids
Teton Sports Explorer 4000
Teton Sports Explorer 4000

Best pack for Lion Cub Scouts : REI Co-op Tarn 12 pack

The most important thing when picking a backpack for a kid is that it fits his size. The REI Co-op Tarn 12 will fit most of the kids aged from 4 up to 6. This backpack is perfect for a young scouts to get started with hiking and camping. Its size is designed to carry as much weight as a kid of that age can carry.
The Tarn 12 pack makes it easy for kids to stay hydrated with water bottle pockets that are quick to access while wearing the pack. A large main zippered compartment offers enough space for the needs of a 4 to 6 years old. A front stuff pocket with stretch mesh side panels is great for a light jacket. A zippered front pocket stores essentials securely. Padded shoulder straps are comfortable and a padded back panel with built-in airflow channel improves ventilation to reduce heat. Buckled hip belt distributes the weight on longer journeys. Zipper pulls and lash loops double have reflective accents, improving night-time visibility.
– Weight : 12 ounces
– Volume : 12 liters
– Price : $34.95
– Scouts like: Reasonable price / Multiple pockets / right capacity and size for that age / little “essentials” picture inside the bad / chest strap (so it doesn’t slide off tiny shoulders) / good resistance to rain (stay dry inside) / water hydration system compatibility + water bottle pockets that can be accessed while carrying the pack / good quality and style / nice and soft shoulder straps / safety whistle on the strap
– Scouts don’t like: only two colors available !
– Scouts quotes: « i want to take it to school with me ! »

Another Great Pick for taller kids or kids aged from 5 up to even 10 : the Tarn 18

The Tarn 18 has the same attributes as the Tarn 12 but is bigger and provides additional features such as a side compression straps to stabilize the load for a balanced hike, a padded hip belt with pockets (perfect for storing snacks and scouts treasures), and a hydration reservoir space.
– Weight : 17 ounces
– Volume : 18 liters
– Price : $39.95
Should you hesitate between the two of them, I would recommend to opt for the REI Co-op Tarn 18 Pack. Kids grow fast and they will need to carry more and bigger things with time.

My best pick for Tiger and Wolf Scouts (6 to 8 years old) : Deuter Fox 30

– Weight : 2 lb. 11oz.
– Volume : 30 liters
– Price : $110
– Scouts like: high quality / built to last / easy to use straps / fully adjustable / plenty of compartments / comfortable / separate zippered section for sleeping bag / hip belt pocket
– Scouts don’t like: not cheap !
– Scouts quotes: « can’t wait for the next hike with my fantastic backpack ! »

While the “REI Co-op Tarn 18 Pack – Kids” described above is still a good fit for Tiger and Wolf scouts, at some point they might need a backpack with more capacity. Longer journeys, more stuff to carry… My recommendation is to buy the Deuter Fox 30. It’s a fantastic pack with excellent scouts’ reviews. The Deuter Fox 30 will also last for a long period of time and will perfectly fit any scouts needs as they get older.

The Deuter Fox 30 is fully adjustable, equipped with a back length adjustment system, so it grows along with your child. Compression straps regulate backpack volume. Hip belt and chest straps easily adjust and feature an emergency whistle.
It is a light pack with comfortable shoulder straps. Alpine back system offers comfort, ventilation, and very good balance. Ergonomic design keeps loads close to the wearer’s center of gravity. A channel between 2 flexible back pads provides cooling airflow to reduce heat.

The pack is hydration system compatible. Its capacity is of 30-liter (internal) plus side bellows pockets and lid pocket. There is also a secured compartment for scouts valuables under the lid and a separate space to store wet gear.
The Deuter Fox 30 also features gear loops on hipbelt and attachment loops on the lid, and fastening option for material with daisy chain.

Another Great Pack for Tiger and Wolf Scouts (6 to 8 years old) : Osprey Ace 38 Pack

– Weight : 2 lbs. 6.4 oz.
– Volume : 38 liters
– Price : $140
– Scouts like: lightweight / adjustable / comfortable / zippered sleeping bag compartment / good suspension / Easy To Load / Right capacity for a kid
– Scouts don’t like: single top opening (may be hard for some kids to keep organized) / no trekking pole carry attachments
– Scouts quotes: “i hardly take it off !”

For scouts who want only the best, this pack offers more capacity (38 liters) to carry more stuff, and is more technical than the previous. I would recommend this pack for kids having reasonable experience out there. This would be a perfect fit for a scout discovering long overnight adventures, or for a tall kid who would need a bigger pack.

The Osprey 38 eatures a light weight peripheral frame and has fully adjustable harness, hipbelt and backpanel for fit and comfort, plus a sternum strap with emergency whistle. External side compression straps and inside-out compression straps help secure the load.

The Osprey 38 is hydration system compatible thanks to its internal reservoir sleeve. It includes an integrated and detachable raincover to keep scouts stuff dry.
A sleeping bag base compartment with internal divider allows to keep things organized. Sleeping pad straps are included but detachable if not needed.
Looking at the organization, the Osprey 38 features top lid access, zippered under lid pocket, large stretch-mesh front pocket, and a daisy chain.

My best pick for Bear and Webelos Scouts (8 to 10 years old) : REI co-op-tarn-40

– Weight : 2 lbs. 10 oz.
– Volume : 40 liters
– Price : $110
– Scouts like: reasonable price / great torso length adjustment system / removable top lid pocket / perfect volume / comfortable / easy to adjust straps
– Scouts don’t like: no attachment points for trekking poles / single top opening / no rain cover included
– Scouts quotes: “One of my best friend out there”

The Tarn 40 will fit perfectly scouts willing to carry all the stuff for longer overnight adventures. It is designed to carry sleeping bags and pads, clothes for several days and more. It has a very convenient torso length adjustment system, making it the right pack for growing hikers.

The Tarn 40 has adjustable back panel and side compression straps combine to provide a customizable fit. Padded shoulder straps and hipbelt provide a comfortable carry. Hipbelt pockets keep snacks or a phone at hand. Large stuff pocket in the front provides quick-access storage for an extra layer. Removable top-lid pocket allows options for organization and loops on the front allow bungees or clips to be attached.

Another Great Pack for Bear and Webelos Scouts (8 to 10 years old) : Osprey Ace 50 Pack Kids

– Weight : 2 lbs. 15 oz.
– Volume : 50 liters
– Price : $160
– Scouts like: high quality / very durable / integrated raincover / allows for kid growth / comfortable / fully adjustable / outside back pocket for damp items to dry while hiking / pockets on the hip belt
– Scouts don’t like: not cheap / single top opening
– Scouts quotes:

This is a more technical, slightly bigger (and more expensive) pack for young adventurers going on multi-day trips. Perfect for tall kids, or if you want the pack to grow longer with your kid. It has very qualitative functionalities, a great capacity, and remains comfortable even when not fully loaded.

A fully adjustable harness system allows to customize torso length and adjust hipbelt for proper weight distribution. Internal and external compression straps stabilize large gear loads and help reduce bulk for more comfortable carrying on the trail. Lower sleeping bag compartment with dividers keeps your bag protected and easily accessible without emptying your pack. Dual stretch-mesh side pockets and large front stuff pocket keep water bottles, rain shells and other bulky gear contained and readily available. Integrated raincover provides additional protection from wet and snowy weather.

The Osprey Ace 50 is hydration system compatible (reservoir not included), and also features removable floating top lid with external zip pocket and additional underside pockets, dual zippered hipbelt pockets to keep snack at hand, adjustable tool loop for ice axes or poles, sleeping pad straps, plus a daisy chain to attach stuff.

The Best Pick for Boy and Girl Scouts (from 10 years old) : REI co-op Tarn 65 Pack Kids

– Weight : 4 lbs. 5 oz..
– Volume : 65 liters
– Price : $165
– Scouts like: designed for kids / easy to use / very adjustable / lots of pockets / top of the pack can be taken off and used as a day pack.
– Scouts don’t like : not cheap / quality and durability ok but not great
– Scouts quotes:

This would be the perfect “first big pack” for a young scout. It is very adjustable and can easily grow with kids into their teens. It is simple to use and designed for kids and teens. It is the perfect match for a kid that goes a few times a year on scouting adventures. Quality is good but not of the highest standards. This is a good fit for an occasional hiker.

Padded back panel can be adjusted to fit multiple torso lengths and features a central chimney to allow airflow and improve breathability and reduce heat. Hipbelt delivers comfort and stability, lumbar pad can be removed to adjust the girth fitting. Bottom-access compartment provides convenient storage for a sleeping bag. Removable top-lid offers customizable pack volume and can be converted into a day pack using clip-together webbing. Large zippered pocket in the front provides easy-access storage of lightweight items. Loops on the front allow to attach ice axes, tools and more.

Another Great Pack for Boys and Girls Scouts (from 10 years old) : Teton Sports Explorer 4000

– Weight : 5 lbs (2.3 kg)
– Volume : 65 liters
– Price : $74.99
– Scouts like: very high quality for a very reasonable price / many functionalities and details that will thrill experienced hikers / very good durability
– Scouts don’t like: not designed specifically for kids / may seem a bit too technical for some kids
– Scouts comments:

This pack from Teton is less expensive than the previous one, it has the same capacity, and in my experience is of (way) higher quality. This is an “adult” pack,therefore is was not designed especially for kids. However, many scouts use it and I would recommend it for scouts of at least 10 y/o. In my opinion, The Teuton Explorer 4000 is suited for kids having experience in outdoor activities and who are used to spending quite a lot of time out there throughout the year. This pack is perfect for regular hikers that expect some reliable and durable products. If you do go often out there with your kids, this is a must.

On the technical side, the Teuton Explorer 4000 has a rugged, internal frame backpack with 4,000 cubic inch capacity. A dual aluminum stays adjust to the contour of your back while full-length adjustable torso and adjustable shoulder straps provide more comfortable fit. The packs features padded shoulder straps, padded waist belts and padded lumbar area for maximum comfort, with airflow system to reduce heat. A separate sleeping bag compartment helps keep things organized. A bright yellow attached rainfly will be much appreciated during rainy days. Hydration system is included allowing easy access to water in sufficient amount.


Well I hope this has been of some interest! Obviously there are many different options when it comes to picking the pack of a scout’s dreams. This list of products can be trusted for outdoor scouting activities. It’s now up to you/your kid to decide. Before you buy anything, don’t forget to check that your pick is suited for your needs. Make sure it is the right pack for the occasion : regular or occasional hiker ? technical or practical ? Your choice will also depend on your kids personality, very organized scouts might prefer multiple pockets packs while others will favor simple main bag packs.

You may also need to invest in two different packs, because you have changing needs depending on the type of trip you go for and the type of gear you carry. For instance : having a small backpack for day trips and one larger pack for multidays overnight adventures makes a lot of sense.

Personally, I do have a one big pack for my multiple days trips, and one very small pack which I can use to leave quickly on a few hours / day hike. I often travel with my small pack actually packed in my big pack, so I can take it out whenever I need it.

In the US there is a great scout community fo feel free to ask around for some advice. Also please feel free to send us any feedback you might have on scout outdoor backpacks. Thank you !

3 easy rules to follow when selecting a backpack

Obviously, there are many options out there from many brands. It is good to spend some time on this kind of purchase. Going outdoor with bad or irrelevant gear is a very unpleasant experience, which can also be unsafe, especially for kids. Picking the right product will ensure your kid has a good time but it will also save you money. A relevant and quality pack may last a long time, even a lifetime, and will give you piece of mind and satisfaction. It’s also a great souvenir when you get older ! Mine brings back a lot of good memories each time I see it. So where to start?

What you really want to focus on when picking a scout backpack is suitability, capacity and quality.


Is this backpack relevant for outdoor activities? for camping? for kid use? Does it have accessories relevant for scouting? Scouting is not going to school, you should try to select a pack suited for scouting and outdoor activities. Stay away from multi-tasked products that will not give satisfaction for any of the pretended uses it has.

Backpacks made for scouting will have a specific design, ergonomic features and must have accessories such as rain protection system (waterproof material or rain cover), smart and convenient straps, handy pockets and zippers, hip belts, hydration system compatibility and/or side water bottle pockets, load lifters, rear stretch pocket, etc.


How big does the backpack need to be? Will your kid use it for a day, a week-end, a week, or more? Here are basic guidelines to help you out with capacity :

  • Below 20 liters pack : daytrip
  • 20 to 50 liters pack : 1 to 2 nights
  • 50 to 60 liters : 2 to 3 nights
  • 60 to 80 liters : 2 to 5 nights
  • 80 liters or more : 5 nights or more

For kids and teens of 10 years old and more, I would advise to pick a backpack with a maximum capacity of 65 liters. Bigger packs only suit adults in most cases. For kids younger than 10 years old, pick packs not exceeding 50/60 liters.
While making your choice, keep in mind that kids grow fast, so if you hesitate between different options that both fit, you might want to pick the bigger capacity option or a slightly oversized pack. However that does not mean the pack should not fit the kid. Always go for the comfortable option. That’s the key message here.
Also important is where and when you will be using the pack ? Going in altitude or hiking in winter will require more gear to carry (warm clothes for instance).


Is this backpack reliable? how long will it last? does it come with quality features?
Quality is one of the most important feature. It has always been the main driver to pick my own scout gear. You do not want a kid having all his clothes wet because his pack had poor rain protection. Also a pack should be comfortable for anyone and especially for kids. Comfort comes from quality design and material. Most of the times quality and durability cost money, but there are exceptions and my selection below includes some very good picks for boy and girl scouts at reasonable price.

The Right Way to Wear a Backpack for a Good Fit

To carry your pack correctly and comfortably, it needs to be the right size for the needs of your trip, then it needs to fit both your torso length and your hip size.

  • Torso length: measured along the spine between the base of the neck and the top of the hips.
  • Hip size: measured around the top of the hips.

Hips are very important as they will play a key role in supporting the weight of the pack thanks to the hip belt (it is not just an esthetic feature!). Most of the weight of your pack should be supported by your hips, not your shoulders.

For boys and girls the hip belt might be more comfortable in slightly different position. For girls, the middle of the hip belt will feel better when lined up with the top of their hip bone. For boys, the top of the belt lined up with the top of their hip bone. The pack should not be too high on their back, and should not go above their eye level.

Thanks to padded shoulder straps, shoulders will be involved in keeping the balance of the pack and making the whole thing stick to your back. There should be no space between your back and the pack. It must stick. However shoulder straps should not be adjusted too tight as the weight will be taken off the hips and onto the shoulders. They should be adjusted so they curve around the shoulder
The more your pack sticks to your hips, back and shoulders, the more comfortable and secure you will get. What we want here is to “merge” with the pack, you should feel your body and the pack are just one whole merged piece. But as said that does not mean you should tighten belts and straps too much. You do not want to be compressed, you want to be “wrapped up” comfortably with belts and straps. See ?
A sternum strap is also one convenient feature that would want to have on a backpack, as it will also help you be more balanced and secure especially when going up or down rocky steep paths.

Here is a good video that explains how a backpack should fit :

Important: people sometimes confuse waist size with hip size. Waist size is about your stomach circumference and has no importance for backpack and hiking considerations. Spend some tiem with your kid to explain her/him how to adjust the backpack. Scouts usually learn that from their leaders but hey, their first leader is their parents !

My Recommendations for Scouts:

  • Adjustable Length or Interchangeable hip belts: this allows for kids to grow with the pack
  • Hydration System Compatibility (backpacks equipped with a special compartment for a water reservoir and an opening for a water tube) : as said earlier do not underestimate the important of having water in sufficient amount. Scouts do a lot of outdoors activities that require a lot of drinking water!
  • Side Pockets (can be used to store gear or water bottles) ; having side pockets is one important feature for scouts, as it will be easier for them to pack, organize and access their scouts gear. Adults sometimes prefer having no pockets and just a single main cavity, but I would not recommend this for scouts.
  • Front / Side and top openings : a lot of backpacks only offer a single top opening to reach the main cavity. This is not the best for scouts to access their gear. I would recommend having a backpack with a top opening and a front or side opening, this will allow them to access the cavity from different points and to reach stuff more easily.
  • Hip belt pockets to store snacks, maps, light and more. Important for kids security.
  • Rain protection system : preferably a rain cover, or some backpack claims to be “waterproof” but are more expensive and in my experience they are rarely fully waterproof. A rain cover will do the job perfectly, it needs to be large enough to protect stuff strapped to the exterior of the pack. Also consider taking large garbage bags to protect clothe inside the pack. It’s always helpful and doesn’t take much room.
  • Rear stretch pocket: to put wet gear or stuff layers
  • Load lifters straps: considered a multi-day backpack essential and allowing to fine tune the fit of a backpack. These connect the top of the shoulder straps to the top of the bags and can be tightened so that the bag actually stick to your back and shoulders. This will be convenient for large packpacks so it’s more important for older scouts
  • Compression straps : will help stabilize and compress the load

Internal or external frame?

External frames were very popular decades ago and had some advantages for experienced hikers. However I would not recommend this neither for girl scouts or boy scouts. These old-school backpacks are the best choice to carry lots of weight so scouts are unlikely to use them often. Internal frames backpacks are in most cases lighter, easier to use and more durable. Stores tend anyway to not sell external frames packs any more.

What are your needs ?

To start with you need to narrow down your search, as there is a large choice out there. You should spend a lot of time thinking about the needs of your kid. Are we talking about a 5 years old or an 11 year old kid? Is she/he going to be out in the wild for a day, or for a week ? Is the kid regularly practicing sport? Does he carry stuff on his shoulders regularly? Do not hesitate to ask questions to those in charge in your scout community and try to get as much information as possible about the activities they have planned.

Read online comments and get as much information as possible

I have purchased all my stuff online and I found comments to be extremely helpful. For this article I have also asked scouts from all ages for their suggestions and feedback. I would recommend to use internet to shortlist some backpacks,. Alternatively you can also go in a store to get additional advice from a sales.

When your choice is made, take your time to pack well

Having the right backpack is important, and knowing how to pack it too ! Of course all your clothe should be folded right. Light items should preferably be at the bottom of the pack. Heavy items preferably as close as possible to the frame (your back).

The most heavy items scouts are likely to carry are : water, food, sleeping bag, sleeping pads, and their pack ! (plus possibly a tent for the oldest ones).
The golden rule about packing is : only pack what you really need. It may sound obvious, but we all tend (at the beginning) to travel with loads of unnecessary things. Especially this can be the case with kids.

Packing only the strict necessary things will help you travel light, which will make your trip much more pleasant and safe. Travelling light will also increase the pack’s lifetime and durability. Unnecessary weight will be a burden for any scout and will damage the pack, so avoid it !

Experience will help you make the difference between necessary and unnecessary stuff. Here is my scout golden rule is “if your kid hesitates to take one item, in most cases it means it is not necessary”. That does not apply to basic security items: light, knife, compass, water, maps, mobile, hats, solar cream, … A scout should always have those !

In addition, in my experience people tend to take too much food and not enough water for their hikes. Think about it when packing. Water in sufficient amount is a must have, food is heavy and not as important compared to water.
Here is a cool article about packing light:

What about ultralight packs for Scouts?

That is another good question. Well in my opinion this is not so relevant for scouts. Ultralight packs may be very handy for experienced adult hikers having some very specific needs such as trailing, mountain climbing, etc.
Most backpacks to date are light enough for scouting purposes. Ultralight packs target other uses and are very expensive. I would not recommend it for your any scouts. Plus you may realize that your pack is so ultralight that it cannot withstand the stuff you need to carry. If you want to be light: pack cleverly and sensibly, it will end up being cheaper than buying a ultralight pack!

Why you should trust me

I have been scout leader for 15 years to date, in various points of California, with no gap on my resume ! I have been out there with hundreds of kids and I have seen them either hate or love their gear. So I have gathered quite a bit of knowledge!
Personally, hiking has been one of my favorite things to do for the last 20 years. Over that period of time, I have been out there with a number of different backpacks. I have made good purchases and also bad ones. My needs and my practice have evolved and so have my gear. Overall I have gained a pretty decent knowledge and understanding about scouting gear. With experience, I am now ab le to detect instantly if a pack fits a kid, is overloaded or unbalanced. And when planning a trip, I am ready in minutes with the right gear, because I have been through this so many times.

Who is this For?

The backpacks I talk about in this article are perfect for scouts of any age, or for any kid or teen willing to go hiking out there with some stuff to carry. The larger backpacks I talk about are for boy and girl scouts willing to hike and camp either for a night or more. Please note that we have only discussed backpacks for in this article and therefore our selection is not relevant for adults.
These backpacks are made for outdoor adventures: hike, camping, trek in a natural environment. They will not be very relevant for exploring a city or going on a short walk on a flat path where a regular backpack should do the job.
These backpacks are made for mud, hills, forests, rain, dust, tears (yes sometimes)..

How we tested and selected the packs

Every year for the last 15 years, all scout leaders of my district gather to share ideas, improvements, projets etc. Gear and especially backpacks have always been one important topic. Over time we’ve come up with a list of packs which we believe are very good options for Scouts. We do not carry lab test, this article is solely based on the expeirience of our friends and Scout community.

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