Toddler Hiking Backpack
Our family enjoys backpacking. For a recent trip we felt it was important that our 2 (nearly 3) year old son begin to carry a few of his own supplies. But we ran into a snag; it’s difficult to find a “real” backpack for a toddler. I checked online for toddler hiking backpacks but was surprised to find nothing. There are plenty of backpacks to carry a toddler in or backpacks made for toddlers to carry, but all were geared for books or school. We needed something with multiple pockets, durable and flexible if he was going to do any hiking with it.
I made a few trips to local retailers, outdoor outfitters and major department stores. Closest one I could find was a woman’s day pack at EMS, but it was a $100 and if the bag was loaded he certainly would not have been able to carry it. I went back to the internet where I found some advice on doing it yourself.
I can’t remember the site, but the idea was buried deep in a forum on the subject: convert a camelbak into a toddler backpack. Seemed simple enough and I learned a few things about the process that I figured it may be helpful to share, in case anyone out there is doing a similar search and coming up with no results.
So here are some steps on how I made a toddler hiking and travel backpack
- Picked up a simple Camelbak – in our department store search we found a very small Camelbak at Walmart for something like $20. The bag itself was the perfect size for a toddler, but of course the straps were designed for an adult. So we had to do some adjusting.
- Remove water bladder - Of course he wasn’t just going to pack around a ton of water. We removed the bladder system to free up space for his clothes and gear.
- Tighten down all the straps – Just as you’d expect I tightened the straps as far as they could go and wrapped the excess in black tape to get out of the way. But even pulled all the way tight there was too much give and not fitting right on his shoulders.
- Relocated the front chest strap - What normally lines up with an adults chest came to about the belly of my son. The straps on the model we purchased were restricted from going further up by some stitches. We cut the stitches which then allowed us to relocate the cross-chest strap up to his actual chest level. That did a lot to add stability.
- Use a flexible chord to tie in the shoulder straps to appropriate length – Despite tightening all of the straps and relocating them to the correct placement the shoulder straps were still simply too long. The backpack was hanging off his back and the unsecured weight was too much for him to handle or be comfortable with. I had previously purchased a tent pole replacement kit that included extra stretchable chord. It occurred to me to use the chord to tie in the excess straps. Using the hole that the water tube typically goes down I strung chord down and tied it near the chest strap. I then strung the chord back up into the backpack and down the other side, pulled tight and and tied off. Excess chord was ran just straight back into the backpack through the same hole for the water. (See pictures at the bottom)
That last step did the trick perfectly. The backpack fit snug on his back and he was then able to carry the load. The stretchable chord was the key. It allowed the bag to fit tight on his back but the straps remained very flexible. On occasion I need to take his pack off and on quickly while we travel so having the flexible straps makes that easy. On outings where my wife and I need to leave our bigger packs behind and carry a day pack, we simply untie the chord on my son’s backpack, loosen the straps and it becomes instantly available to use as a day pack for an adult.
My son really loves having his own real backpack. He feels involved and challenged and everywhere we go people compliment him on it which really makes him proud carry his own things. I still can’t believe with how many people hike and travel that no one offers a legitimate backpack option for a 2 or 3 year old.
Steps with images are provided below.