The REI Tarn 12 is a hiking backpack designed to fit 5-8 year olds.  It's made of rugged material, has a few features that you would expect in an outdoor focused bag and looks pretty cool.  It's also cheap enough that you can pretty easily justify it when it goes on sale.

My Experience

I think the best way to review this bag is to explain exactly how my daughter uses it.  We use it as a hiking backpack but also for any random day trip that we happen to be taking.  The side pockets on the Tarn are perfect for a mini water bottle and there is enough room inside to fit a change of clothes, some snacks and some wipes.  At one point this was also my daughter's diaper bag but thankfully those days are behind us.


What I like

  1. The bag is durable.  I like this because I can throw it around, get it dirty and it can be wiped clean easily.  The material they use is pretty comparable to what you would find in adult packs.  After a couple years of use there isn't any significant signs of wear.  The only hard to clean spots are the mesh side pockets but even then it's hard to see the dirt.  It seems to be made out of similar material to the Trail 40 pack for adults and feels well built.
  2. It's actually does have nice features for a hiking bag.  Obviously you're not expecting a lot from your young child but the chest strap and back padding add to the overall comfort.
  3. The outside pockets expand a lot.  The side mesh pockets on the Tarn 12 fit snacks and water bottles perfectly.  The center (expandable) pouch is fantastic for storing wet things.  Think swimsuits, clothes, sandals etc.
  4. The whistle in the chest strap.  It's been a constant source of enjoyment for my daughter.  I was torn between putting this in the like or dislike, but I guess it's about my daughter and not about me….

What I Don't Like

The hip strap.  I don't get why it's needed and when I try to just carry the bag for my daughter, which is often, that thing just gets in the way.  No one is putting actual weight in their 5 year olds bag and beyond using it as a way to keep the bag on her body I'm not sure what purpose it serves since stabilization isn't really needed.

Bottom Line

If you get the REI Tarn 12 on sale it's a good deal if you're going to use it outdoors.  You have the benefit of the REI return policy, some great material and you're getting a really solidly built pack.  If you're trying to do a lot of hiking with your kids then I would recommend this in a heartbeat.  If you're just looking for a pack to carry to daycare you could save money going with something from Target.  That being said if you wouldn't benefit from ripstop nylon, chest strap and 3 mesh pockets then it isn't really worth the money.  It's just about how you're going to use it. 

More Reading

Make sure to read our beginners guide to hiking backpacks if you aren't sure what you're interested in.  Most backpack manufacturers have a kids version with useful features.  This article will go over some of the basics on what makes a hiking pack different.

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