How to pick the best backpack for kids suitable for travel and family vacations
The first place we start with our kid’s packing is with their travel backpack but so many options! What’s the best sort of bag for travel?
In this travel gear guide, we’ll take you through the different types of bags and when they might be best for your child’s age and stage. We’ll then hone in on why backpacks are our favourite choice for the type of international travel we most commonly undertake – but will they be right for you and your kids?
This post is part of our best travel products series – find everything you’ll need for travelling with your family
No time to read? Top Kids Travel Backpacks for 2022:
What sort of travel bags are there for kids?
There are so many options when it comes to what sort of luggage your child should travel with and this is highly dependent on their age and abilities, as well as the type of journey you’ll be taking.
Your child may have just one bag that needs to fit everything they need for their whole journey in an airplane carry-on size. Alternatively, you may put all their clothing and toiletries in with a family suitcase (we recommend giving each child their own packing cube if you’re doing this). Then and all your child needs are their own toys and snacks that come with them in the car or on a plane, train or whatever mode of transport you’re using!
Check out our complete guide on what toys we are packing in our kid’s travel bags over here – detailed guides for every age group baby to tween.
The main types of luggage for children are:
Kids travel backpacks
Kids travel backpacks are lightweight and made from highly durable materials. Worn with two straps over the shoulders, these vary hugely in size and capacity from toddlers to teenagers.
Small children may have a novelty backpack attached to a harness or reins, just big enough for a few small toys and essentials, through to much larger backpacks intended for hikes, school camps and everything in between – we’ll look at these features in much more detail below.
Cute little rolling suitcases for kids certainly have a time and a place. If you are taking a very straightforward resort-style vacation or will be road-tripping where the bag will sit in the trunk of the car rather than at your child’s feet, then a rolling suitcase could well work for you. Even within rolling luggage, there are several sub-categories:
- A rolling suitcase – either hard-sided or made from tough nylon, a smaller version of an adult suitcase on either two wheels or 4 spinning wheels for maximum manoeuvrability.
- Ride-on suitcases – these are suitcases that run on 4 wheels that your child can either sit on or be pulled along with. We have a complete review of this type of kids luggage over here.
- Scooter Suitcases – combining a small hard-shelled suitcase with a scooter for ease of mobility – we cover kids scooter suitcases in much more detail here.
- Rolling Backpacks – a hybrid between a suitcase and a backpack. Whilst they can be carried over the shoulder, they allow kids the option to pull their suitcase along too. If they are bringing this as their only bag, it may be a better option for small kids, though note they really are NOT then practical to use as a day bag for hikes or taking along to dinner out in a restaurant – the frame and wheels will add substantially to the overall weight of the bag.
There may not be just one style of kids travel bag that will suit your needs for a whole journey; you will have to pick out the type of bag that will suit your needs for MOST of the time. And remember, invariable at some point in your journey – especially if you have children under the age of about 8 – you will end up needing to pull or carry this bag at some point!!
Because our international travels have always involved a combination of long haul flights, rental cars and hopping on and off different forms of transport frequently, we have always found it best to equip all of us with a backpack each, then limit ourselves to one or two family suitcases.
What to look for in a good kids travel backpack
So assuming you’ve decided a kids travel backpack is the way to go, what great features should you look our for?
Size & Weight
Essential for a child’s product, if the expectation is they are the ones carrying it, it’s got to fit their body. As mentioned above, any bag with wheels has a hard frame inside too which will add to the weight for children. The more zips, gadgetry and unnecessary novelty features a bag has can also add to the weight of the bag before it has anything in it.
If you want to take the bag with you in the car or to keep it under the seat in front of you on a plane, make sure it will squish down small enough – and if you have a chronic over-packer, make sure the bag won’t be too wide to fit your airline’s cabin baggage policies once filled.
Think about what items are expected to fit in the bag too. Electronics and headphones although not too heavy add a lot of bulk, you’ll want to measure up these items before purchasing a kids travel backpack.
An essential for a kids travel backpack is that it must be comfortable to wear. Once you have the sizing sorted, ensure the backpack has padded and adjustable straps. The better the fit the less likely they are to complain about wearing it. An added bonus for larger backpacks is chest and waist straps to help evenly distribute the weight.
It also helps if a bag has extra carry handles in addition to the straps, making it easier to pick up without pulling on the straps.
Not a deal-breaker for any kids backpack unless your serious hikers, but having separate pockets certainly can help kids keep organised. At the very least, a separate pocket for their water bottle and if possible a front zipper pocket for their valuable little items.
Material & Durability
Goes without saying you want the bag to last your journey; always pick quality over novelty. Check the quality of the seams and stitching, how robust are the zips? Woven materials are almost always going to be better than anything that’s made with plastic and glued together.
Although not essential for all types of travel, if you’ll be travelling anywhere with inclement weather look for water-resistant materials. They won’t be fully waterproof but will give your gear that extra shelter if you get caught out in the rain. And another consideration, if you will be travelling through hot destinations, is back ventilation.
We also look for materials that can either be machine washed or easy wipe clean – for obvious reasons!
Can’t I just use their school bag?
While a school backpack might double as a travel backpack, chances are they are serving different purposes. School backpacks tend to be quite large to fit book bags, lunch boxes, gym kit; you name it! But tend to be built for style and space over practicality.
Besides, have you seen how grubby they get by the end of term?! We like to keep a special bag set aside just for travel but we do tend to travel at every single term break. If you’re only taking one vacation in a year then yes, a decent quality school backpack, if it has excellent shoulder straps and isn’t overfilled, could double as your next travel backpack.
Best Kids Travel Backpack
We have chosen different products for every age and stage from toddlers to teens; you can see the summary here but read on for the details of why we love each of them and the practical pros and cons to consider:
|Munchkin Brica by-My-Side Safety Harness Backpack||Toddlers||14.1 x 7.8 x 2.8 inches / 6.4 oz||$|
|Skip Hop Toddler Leash and Harness Backpack||Toddlers||3.25 x 7.5 x 9 inches / 6 oz||$|
|Naturally Kids Stuffed Animal Backpack||Toddlers||11.26 x 9.49 x 5.47 inches / 10.6 oz||$$|
|DB Dinosaur Toddler Mini Backpack||Toddlers||11.1 x 9.61 x 2.09 inches / 5.3 oz||$|
|Deuter Kikki Kid's Backpack||Little Kids||6.3 x 7.87 x 14.17 inches / 3.5 oz||$$|
|Vaschy Little Kid Backpacks||Little Kids||11 x 4.3 x 14.6 inches / 12.3 oz||$$|
|Bseash Waterproof Sport Backpack||Little Kids||13 x 9.06 x 6.69 inches / 7.76 oz||$|
|Osprey Daylite Kid's Backpack||Little Kids||10 L||$$$|
|Mountaintop Kids Backpack||Big Kids||14.9 x 8.9 x 2 inches / 11.2 oz||$$|
|Jack Wolfskin Kids Little Trt||Big Kids||14 x 12 x 1.3 inches / 15.2 oz||$$|
|The North Face Youth Recon||Big Kids||17 x 13 x 3 inches / 14.4 Ounces||$$$|
|Deuter Junior Kid's Backpack||Big Kids||9 x 6 x 3 inches / 14.8 oz 18L||$$
|High Sierra Loop Backpack||Tweens||19.0" x 13.5" x 8.5" / 2.04 lbs / 33L||$$
|Herschel Kids' Little America Laptop Backpack||Tweens||5.25 x 11 x 17 inches / 1.77 lbs / 18L||$$$|
|Abshoo Classical Basic Travel Backpack||Tweens||16 x 11.5 x 1.5 inches; 1.1 Pounds||$$|
|Osprey Ace 38||Tweens||38L||$$$|
$ – under $20 USD ; $$ – $20 to $50 USD; $$$ – over $50 USD
Best travel backpack for toddlers (under 4’s)
When your toddler wants to start independently taking their own little luggage with them, please proceed with caution! We see so many new parents run straight to adorable little suitcases – which are just that; adorable, but impractical for serious travellers.
For MOST types of travel (we’re talking flying, jumping on public transport, hiring cars) we have found by far the best type of toddler luggage is a small backpack with a detachable leash.
Winner best toddler travel backpack: Munchkin Brica by-My-Side Safety Harness Backpack
This is the best toddler backpack for parents looking for a backpack that is super practical rather than just cute. The harness on the backpack is fully adjustable and the backpack itself is spacious enough to fit a few snacks, a sippy and some essentials.
Runner up travel backpack for toddlers: Skip Hop Toddler Leash and Harness backpack
The Skip Hop brand comes through for us once again with their fabulous range of toddler backpacks. If it’s a variety of cute animal designs you are after then Skip Hop delivers. With a detachable leash included, it’s not the most robust of the toddler rein products but certainly does the job when you need and will grow with your child, leaving them with a quite roomy backpack.
We love that Skip Hop comes in such a cute and colourful range of products, so you can complement them with bottles, lunch boxes and neck pillows in their favourite designs.
Best travel backpack for little kids (4 to 6-year-olds)
Preschoolers are ready to start carrying a bag with a little more size and weight – but you still need to go in with the expectations you may end up carrying it when they tire. Go for brands that are size appropriate to their body and allow a little more toy space.
We like a bag that contains a side pocket and has an internal divider pocket. You ideally want to look for around 12″ to 15″ but this well depends on your child size too. Our recommendation is to make it larger enough to fit a tablet and headphones. Any bag with a divider that keeps the tablet protected against scratches other toys is a great idea
Winner best travel backpack for little kids: Deuter Kikki Kids Backpack
The Dueter kikki managed to combine cute and practical in this neat little package. Durable material but also lightweight, the Dueter kikki has a breathable mesh back and chest strap for waring comfort. It somes in several different color combinations to match your child’s tastes.
Runner up travel backpack for little kids: Vaschy Little Kids Backpacks
A great one for spacious storage without being too large for their little bodies, the Vaschy Backpacks range offer bags with not only an inertnal zipper pocket but also an internal tablet pocket too, accomodating up to A4 size. They come with elasticated side pockets for water bottles and an additional chest strap for comfortable wearing.
We love the extra-long zip pullers to help little fingers and the easy-clean lining, they are made of water-resistant material. Not just for girls, there are plenty of colors and designs in the Vaschy Little Kids range.
- Bseash Outdoor Daypack – perfect for kids under 4ft, two compartments and water bottle pocket, ideal for adventurous outdoor families travelling with smaller children who can still carry their own load.
- Opsrey Daylite – best for adventurous outdoor kids – the smallest in the Osprey range including a detachable hydration pack
What goes in your backpacks? You’ll want our guide to the best travel toys for 5 year olds+
Best travel backpack for grade schoolers (6 to 9-year-olds)
Oh, how we love to travel with this age group! Communication is spot on (mostly!) and choices are sensible (mostly) so you can give a little larger bag and much more free reign over what they’re packing.
With a guided packing list they should be able to put together their own little vacation bag – subject to a lot of censorship – and for the most part, will carry this throughout their whole trip. Your young grade-schooler still love favourite characters, animals and novelty so play to this as much as you can in picking a design that you know they’ll love and want to carry.
Winner best travel backpack for grade schoolers: Mountaintop Kids Backpack
Available in a huge variety of colours, this is a super comfortable backpack for kids on any type of adventure. Made from durable and water-resistant material, the buckles are of high quality and adjustable straps plus a chest clasp means you can make a snug and comfortable fit for all-day wearing. With plenty of storage space but not oversized at under 15″ tall its the perfect fit for a grade-schooler.
Runner up travel backpack for grade-schoolers: Jack Wolfskin Kids Little Trt
We love this compact kids backpack for any sort of travel, though it excels as an outdoors daypack. It has deep side pockets for drinks and an external zipper pocket as well as an internal tablet sleeve and a padded back. Adjustable shoulder and sternum straps ensure a snug fit.
One of the smallest of the high-quality Jack Wolfskin range certainly worthy of the price tag for a durable and reliable product that will last your big kids through many adventures.
Best travel backpack for tweens (9 to 12-year-olds)
We love that tweens can really start to take on some independence. Not only packing their own bags (with a little parental assistance, of course) but carrying them throughout the journey too; we have a strict you pack it, you carry it rule for our tweens!
As they grow, they need to fit a laptop should also be considered in your tween travel backpack buying checklist – though not essential if this is a travel backpack only, separate from their school bag.
Best travel backpack for tweens: High Sierra Loop Backpack
If it’s pockets and storage you’re looking for with wide, comfortable carrying straps then this tween backpack covers just about every base. The ideal size for carry-on only when your tween will be responsible for all their own gear, the High Sierra comes in a huge range of patterns and colors and features fabulous zip pullers for durability along with a separate tech pocket and tech spot for charger cords and headphones.
Runner up travel backpack for tweens: Herschel Kids Little America Laptop Backpack
We love the quality of Herschels backpacks, we’ve had several over the years, and the stitching and durability have proven second to none. For a growing tween (they come in a huge range of colors, not just florals!), they offer plenty of storage space and handy compartments. The padded shoulder straps and mesh back make it comfortable for longer spells of carrying, with an external front zipper pocket as well as an internal tech pocket and tablet/laptop sleeve.
You may also be interested in our pick of the best backpacks for Disney – here we look in detail at practical considerations of what to carry for a Disney parks day and whether you should carry one family day pack with all your theme park essentials, or take something super small and lightweight for you all (this option is handy if you want tweens/teens to take their own phone and water bottle, for example)
Looking for more kids’ travel products?
We have an absolutely bumper collection of travel product reviews to help you choose the best gear for your travel needs + a bunch of handy tips to help you get underway. You may want to check out next:
- The coolest new family travel gear – gadgets and equipment travelling families will love (and they make ideal gifts too!)
- Kids camping essentials – perfect gift ideas for your outdoorsy kids.
- Family Beach Essentials – plan the perfect day at the beach with this bumper packing list for the beach.
- Hiking Essentials for Families – the most important things for families to pack when hitting the trails.
- 45 Essentials for a Road Trip – everything you need to think about before hitting the road with your family.
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