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As your toddler or preschooler grows, and starts to crave more independence and responsibility, getting a special toddler backpack to begin to carry their own things can feel great for both the parent and the child.
But with a million options out there, which backpack will be perfect for your toddler?
Whether you are a family that loves to hike, a family that loves to travel, or you just need a backpack to bring things to and from school (or maybe you need a backpack that is great for ALL these things), we’ve got you covered.
We’ll start off by telling you a little bit about how we chose the best backpacks out there for toddlers and preschoolers.
What We Were Looking for
Kids outgrow their things so quickly, it feels like you need a new whatever every time you turn around. As a twin mom, trust me I KNOW. I can’t even pass things on to the next kid because they are the same size! So we assumed that most parents won’t want a backpack that is great for hiking, a separate backpack that is great for travel, and a third for bringing a few toys to a friends house. We need one backpack that is great for everything my 3-year-old could need to use a backpack for. And for that matter, it needs to work for everything they need at age 4 too. Maybe even age 5.
Sure a new backpack is fun for awhile, but if it’s uncomfortable, or won’t stay in place, a toddler won’t wear it. We wanted something sized right, and comfortable to wear even for a few hours at a time, or longer.
One thing we love to see is a chest clip or a waist belt to keep the backpack on and in place. However, most toddler and preschooler backpacks don’t have either, so we’ll negotiate on that one for the right backpack.
My toddlers are tough on gear. They drag things on the ground, throw them, and generally tests the limits of everything they own (despite my constant attempts to teach them to value their things). Toddler-tested gear that can stand up to their abuse is important.
Let’s be honest, if your toddler was choosing the best backpack, they are choosing 100% on how fun or cute it is. And toddlers love something that’s just for them. So we need to at least consider the cute factor when choosing a backpack for our littles.
We wanted to check out these packs’ real-world functionality. So I pulled out a few of my kids regularly packed items; lunch boxes, water bottles, and jackets, to see what fit, and how easily these items could be stuffed in the backpacks.
To test these out, I used two styles of lunch boxes; a large, insulated lunch box (ours is the Pottery Barn Classic Lunch Box ), and a smaller, bento-style lunch box (ours is the Bentgo). We also stuffed our big kids fleece jacket (kids size 6), and used our Contigo water bottle to check out the side pockets.
The Wildkin backpacks are amazing. With tons of fun prints and matching lunchboxes, and nap mats (sold separately), these are sure to be a hit with the kids. They will fit even younger toddlers well due to the more square than rectangular shape. And even though the backpack is small enough to fit little guys, it really has a ton of capacity. The main compartment is deeper than its competitors, so your toddler will be able to stuff some snacks, a jacket, or a few toys in there easily!
We personally tested the Wildkin 12 in. backpack and were so impressed with the quality! This is a backpack that will last, and even be good to pass down to the next kid maybe more than once!
We tested this backpack with our large, insulated lunch box, and a large fleece jacket, and they fit, no problem. It was easy to stuff the items in, and tons of room to spare. Even better, the backpack stands up when full, zipped or unzipped, which is huge for helping toddlers manage the backpack on their own.
Who is this Backpack for?
Best Splurge: Osprey Hydrajet 12
Osprey is my go to brand for backpacks for myself because they make such high quality backpacks, and for me, the most comfortable backpacks out there (and trust me, I’ve tried them all!).
When it comes to kids packs, Osprey does just as great a job. These backpacks are a whole new level of quality, with carefully thought out tech features.
We love the stretchy outside pockets for stuffing jackets, dirty shoes, or beach treasures and the chest clips to keep the pack in place. The mesh back panel is also a really great feature to keep your child cool and comfortable.
It even includes an Osprey hydration pack, which is great for kids who love to hike. Though I should warn you, those hydration packs are SO fun for young children to drink from, you MIGHT want to plan on taking a couple of extra potty breaks. The hydration pack is easily removable, and the backpack is great to use with or without the hydration pack.
For families who do a lot of hiking and exploring, or maybe those who go to nature preschool like us, or just those that really appreciate the quality and features of a higher-end backpack, this one is gold! However, the price tag can make it a tough sale for many.
The Osprey Hydrajet 12 passed the capacity test with flying colors. It easily fits a large, insulated lunch box and a fleece jacket without any difficulty and with space to spare.
Our water bottle fit easily in the stretchy mesh side pockets. The pockets are deep enough that the bottle is held in place, even if the backpack is tipped upside down, or your child is climbing or even doing somersaults.
Who is this Backpack for?
If you love the quality of Osprey backpacks, but can’t stomach the cost of the Hydrajet 12, be sure to check out the Osprey Daylite Kids Backpack. This backpack still has high quality Osprey materials, and the amazing, and SUPER comfortable Osprey fit, but it won’t have every feature that the Hydrajet 12 has.
DayLite Kids still has tons of great features including:
Probably the biggest difference is that that Daylite does NOT come with a hydration pack. You can add one later one, but they cost upwards of $30. So if you PLAN to add one later on, you’ll end up paying about the same price as the Hydrajet 12.
Best for Small Toddlers: Deuter Pico
The Deuter Pico is tiny, but packs a big punch. It’s a super high-quality pack with tons of great features. And for a backpack designed for tiny bodies, it can carry a surprising amount of gear. It has all the high end features you can expect from Deuter, including well-padded, contoured shoulder straps, a comfortable, padded back panel, a chest clip, and a wide opening with high quality zippers.
We were pretty impressed to see that such a tiny backpack could fit a small lunch box, and a big fleece jacket (this is a kids size 6 fleece, so you can expect that the intended wearer of this backpack would have a much smaller jacket).
Though our other picks could carry more gear, this backpack was SO much smaller, and intended for a smaller child, that we felt pretty good about the capacity for the size of this bag.
Our water bottle did not fit in the side pocket. We went looking through our cabinets for an alternative bottle, and found that a Replay Sippy Cup fit comfortably in the side pocket. If you intend to use the side pockets for water bottles, you’ll definitely want to keep in mind that you’ll need a narrow bottom bottle around 2 – 2 1/2 inch diameter at a maximum.
Who is this Backpack for?
Budget Runner Up: Skip Hop Toddler Backpack
The Skip Hop Zoo Collection Backpacks are so adorable! Each one is designed to look like an animal, and there are 16+ delightful choices. Each has fun details, like rainbow pulls for the unicorn, or honeycomb pulls for the bee backpack, and bright, playful colors.
They are totally functional as well. They have stretchy side pockets for water bottles or snacks. Large zipper pulls make it easy for little hands to open. And the simple design, with one large main compartment, and one smaller front compartment, works well for packing a lunch box, a jacket, or a few small toys- basically anything that a toddler would need to pack. Straps are adjustable and padded for comfort.
The Skip Hop is definitely a smaller backpack, but if we REALLY stuffed, we could get our big fleece jacket, and a large insulated lunch box, but it barely zipped, and it would be tough for a young kid to get these things in, or out. A small lunch box and a jacket fit better.
Our water bottle fit just fine, but the pockets are shallow, so the bottle will easily fall out (and potentially get lost).
Who is this Backpack For?
Splurge Runner Up: Deuter Schumusebar
Deuter, like Osprey, is a high-end backpack manufacturer and makes high-quality packs with lots extra features that will truly make life easier. The fabrics are durable, and the straps are contoured and very well padded.
We also love that Deuter took the time to add some kid-friendly prints to up the fun a little bit, and even some reflective details for added safety. The Schmusebar is clearly an extremely well-made backpack that will easily stand up to years of abuse, and fit comfortably the whole time.
The design of this backpack is pretty unique, for a kids backpack as well. Rather than a traditional zipper, it has a cinch interior close, with a buckle bucket top. The buckle opens and closes really easily, so even young kids will be able to get in and out of this backpack without any trouble. And even if your child forgets to properly close up the back, we love that the lid sort of falls into place, keeping at least MOST of the contents IN.
The biggest issue with the Deuter Schmusebar is it’s long, narrow shape. Though it does have a reasonably large capacity, the narrow bag, and particularly narrow opening meant we could not fit our large lunchbox in this bag at all.
The smaller lunchbox, plus a fleece jacket fit well, however.
It also easily fit our water bottle in the side pocket, and the pockets are deep enough that the water bottle stays nicely in place under (almost) any circumstance.
Even though this bag didn’t look great in our capacity test, it still can hold some gear. But if you are wanting a backpack that carries lunch boxes, or any other large, non-squishy items, this one might not be for you.