It was long past time to upgrade Littleflogger to his next level backpack. He's six years old and it's time he carried his own weight. OK, maybe not the full 50 pounds, but at least his lunch and a few layers. We've got a full travel schedule this year and the pack will function as carry-on and destination daypack, so we set out to find the right pack and we happily ended up with the REI Tarn 18.
The Tarn comes in 12, 18, 40 and 65 liters, with the 12L for 5-8 years and the 18L for 8-12 years. We went with the 18 for our 6yo, wanting the extra space for puffy layers in the Alaskan winter and for snacks, toys and books for car and air travel. It still fits him just barely and gives him some room to grow and some extra organization options, but the 12L probably would have worked fine too.
The 18 has pockets on the hip belt and load lifter straps to cinch the main compartment tight, and other than that and the size is pretty much identical to the 12. Both have dual stretchy mesh bottle pockets, a large stuff pocket on the front (remember the front is the back - opposite the shoulder straps - when you're talking packs), and a top front zipper pocket for smaller more frequent access. Inside is a hydration bladder sleeve, a clip on a lanyard and a small zipped pocket on the flap with a cool graphic that shows the ten essentials.
On the front of the stuff pocket are daisy chains, and on the bottom there are even four lashing points. I don't see us ever using any of those but hey, you never know. The sternum strap has a whistle, sure to be a hit with any normal loud-noise-loving kid, and a safety feature to boot. Overall this is a great and reasonably price pair of kid's packs, and either one will pull duty from school to the Jungfrau. For a video comparing the two see the link below.