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REI Tarn 12

We’ve put the REI Tarn 12 to the test this Spring – hiking, biking, and puddle stomping around the neighborhood. This is a little pack with a lot of incredible features!

The Tarn 12 is well-designed, solidly constructed, and incredibly comfortable for kiddos even when packed to the brim. With tons of storage pockets, sternum strap and hipbelt for weight distribution, and easy-to-clean water resistant fabric, it’s an excellent go-to for all kinds of adventures.

We also love that it’s made from recycled materials and bluesign approved.

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Tech Specs

  • Volume: 12 Liters
  • Weight: 12 oz
  • Dimensions: 14″H x 10″W x 5″D
  • Hydration Compatible: Yes
  • Exterior Pockets: 5 + main compartment
  • Hipbelt: Yes
  • Material: Recycled ripstop nylon; recycled nylon (bluesign approved)
  • Ages: 5-8

Key Features

  • Durable water repellent (DWR) finish to shed light rain and stains
  • Front stuff pocket with stretch mesh side panels
  • Padded shoulder straps and padded back panel with built-in airflow channel for excellent comfort and ventilation
  • Buckled hipbelt distributes weight on longer journeys and stows away in hidden pocket when it’s not needed
  • Large mesh water bottle pockets and hydration reservoir compatibility (reservoir not included) give plenty of options for carrying water
  • Zipper pulls and lash loops double as reflective accents for added nighttime visibility
  • Adjustable sternum strap with rescue whistle

My 4.5-year-old son transitioned to this pack from an 8 liter daypack, and one of the features that made that jump seamless was the hipbelt.

This feature definitely helps him manage the increased weight load. And maybe more importantly (at least for a preschooler) it keeps the shoulder straps from sliding off as he runs, jumps, climbs, and bounces all over the place.

The Tarn 12 is a quality daypack that could easily grow with a young child for several years. REI suggests an age range of 5-8, but my slender 4.5-year-old wears it very comfortably.

Best Uses for the Tarn 12 day pack

Day Hiking

One of the ways our kids get motivated for a hike is taking ownership of packing their bag. On most shorter, close-to-home hikes this means a whole crew of stuffies coming along for the ride.

Big thumbs up from the preschooler on the Tarn 12’s stuffy capacity!

Even with the pack fully loaded, we’ve had no complaints about comfort on longer day hikes. The shoulder straps and back panel are well-padded, well-ventilated, and easy to adjust.


The snug fit of this pack makes it an excellent choice for biking. The hipbelt adds an extra element of stability and keeps the pack from sliding around on rougher trails.

Although there is no included bladder, the pack is also hydration compatible. The extra cargo space in addition to the bladder sleeve makes it easy for kids to carry their own water and supplies for longer rides.

Appearance and Functionality

The pack looks really sharp, and we love that REI has chosen to utilize recycled material. The DWR finish on the nylon works nicely to repel light rain and also makes for super easy cleaning with a damp cloth.

The exterior pocket options are abundant and make it really easy to access items on-the-go. Water bottle pockets are nice and deep, and the buckled stash pocket with mesh side panels is a great option for separating any items that may get wet along the way.

What Does it Hold?

For longer hikes and rides when we need kids to carry more practical supplies, this pack has a surprisingly large capacity.

It easily holds extra layers (puffy jacket and raincoat), winter hat and gloves, spare socks, sunglasses, water, and plenty of snacks. And even with all that gear, there is still room for a stowaway puppy!

The pack itself is lightweight enough that all of this cargo is still manageable for my skinny 4-year-old to carry comfortably. And with so many separate pockets, everything feels accessible without having to dig around or empty it out to get at what you need.

So many helpful pockets!

The Bottom Line

What we Love

The REI Tarn 12 is an excellent, well-constructed pack with a ton of storage capacity. It has become a beloved companion on our family adventures.

The hipbelt keeps the pack secure enough for wiggly kiddos to run, jump, climb, and bike without needing to take it off.

Exterior pocket options are abundant and practical.

And the price tag of $39.95 is really reasonable for a pack that could easily grow with your child for several years.

What we aren’t so crazy about

While we appreciate that the pack is hydration compatible, it would be nice if it came with a bladder included. REI doesn’t make its own bladders at this time, so cross-brand compatibility could be an issue. Not an insurmountable obstacle, but be sure to do your research if you purchase a separate bladder to make sure it fits the pack.

Where to buy

The Tarn 12 is available for purchase exclusively from REI.

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