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REI Tarn 18 Backpack Review

I don’t know about your children, but mine LOVE pockets. My 6, 8, and 10 year old children all helped test this pack. They all liked one thing in particular about the REI Tarn 18 day pack. That one thing? The waist belt pockets. My 6 year old stashes acorns in them, my 8 year old is all about the snacks, and my 10 year old puts his pocket knife in them.

Do you have kiddos who are ready to graduate to a bigger pack for hiking, but still not quite ready for a large pack? The REI Tarn 18 packs fits this niche. It is the optimal size for children 8-12 (although it works well for my 6 year old as well), while having room for all the essentials.

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What Makes the REI Tarn 18 Pack Stand Out

When we received the REI Tarn 18 pack, I was impressed by a few of its features. It has a comfortable, padded back panel with channels for ventilation, padded, adjustable straps, and a great articulated waist belt with two pockets, perfect for storing snacks or treasures.

Seriously, the pockets on the waist belt are the BEST. My 6 year old daughter actually enjoys hiking more now that she has a place to put things she finds on the trail.

Another feature that I love is the stretchy and expandable zipper-less pocket on the back. It is a great spot for stashing hats, gloves, or a jacket as they shed layers on a hike.

REI Tarn 18 Pack Tech Specs

  • Volume: 18 Liters
  • Weight: 17 oz
  • Dimensions:  16.5″ x 9″ x 4.5″
  • Gear Capacity: 1,098 cubic inches
  • Hydration Compatible: Yes
  • Exterior Pockets: 7 + main compartment
  • Hipbelt: Yes
  • Hipbelt Pockets: Yes, 2
  • Material: Recycled ripstop nylon; recycled nylon (bluesign approved)
  • Ages: 8-12
  • Hydration Compatible: Yes, but reservoir not included

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, articulated hip belt distributes weight on longer journeys and stows away in hidden pocket when it’s not needed
  • Two zippered waist belt pockets, convenient for kids
  • 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
  • Side compression straps help with distributing the load
  • Plenty of space for children ready to carry more

My children tested this pack out, and found it more comfortable than several other packs they have worn. It is the right size for the necessary day hike gear. It also has good load distribution, which is crucial for staying comfortable on long hikes.

Often as parents we think that any old gear will work for kids. We let them use a random pack, knowing that we might just end up carrying it in our own pack eventually. This pack really motivated my 6 year old to become independent, as she suddenly was comfortable, and felt prepared. We haven’t carried her stuff on a hike since she got this pack.

The pocket placement is also great on the pack. Having the waist belt pockets is awesome. Additionally, all the zippers are easy to operate, and have reflective accents for visibility.

My children also enjoy the packing list that is printed inside the pack. It lists the 10 Essentials, which a great list of supplies to bring on every hike.They like to go through the list with me to make sure the family is prepared before a hike. I love that this bag is encouraging their independence and responsibility.

Another feature I appreciate about the pack are the durable materials it is made of. My children have gone crashing through forest, scrambled down ledges and boulders, and tossed it all over the floor over our vehicle.

So far, it doesn’t have wear marks or damage. That is a huge deal in my book. Durability is super important with kids’ gear because of how hard they are on stuff.

Best Uses for the Tarn 18 Pack


This pack is an excellent option for hiking. The back panel is comfortable, and the waist belt sits well on the hips to distribute the weight. The sternum strap keeps the load well balanced on the child’s shoulders.

On the waist belt, there are two zippered pockets that are perfect for storing snacks or treasures they find along the trail.

The pack is hydration reservoir compatible, but does not come with one. There are also two stretchy mesh water bottle pockets on the pack. They hold smaller water bottles well, but tall water bottles can fall out if the straps are not cinched tightly.

Nature Walks and Exploring

I have a son who loves to bring drawing supplies wherever he goes. He brings this pack with him whenever we are out for a local nature walk.

He has plenty of room for his drawing journal, with room to organize his pencils and his other various supplies. Nature artifacts that he wants to bring home he can easily stash in the back stretch pocket without getting his other supplies messy.

Mountain Biking

The REI Tarn 18 Pack also works well as a mountain bike pack for young riders. My biking son finds it comfortable to wear while on the bike. The pack is low-profile enough that it won’t intrude, whether on the single track or pump track.

Because it has a hydration port, you can easily buy your own reservoir, which sets it up well for using during a ride, and ensures your young riders stay hydrated and healthy. The waist belt pockets make it easy for them to grab a snack on the go.

The Bottom Line

What We Love

Have I mentioned the waist belt pockets? In case you missed it earlier, both my kids and myself just adored the pockets on the waist belt of this pack. It is a feature usually present on much more expensive adult packs. Therefore, it was exciting to see them on a pack with such a reasonable price.

We also loved the comfortable shoulder straps, large water bottle pockets, and zipper-free stash pocket on the back. The fit was also great for my children. My kids all liked testing it so much that I bought two more from REI so they could each have their own!

My 6 year old is actually enjoying hiking more now that she has her own comfy pack (with waist belt pockets, of course). Major win for this mom.

What We Aren’t So Crazy About

It would be sweet if this pack came with a hydration reservoir. However, REI doens’t make their own, which means you’ll need to find one from an alternate brand that fits. A reservoir isn’t essential, of course. For the price, the pack is great, and a reservoir would increase the price.

I also wished that the side water bottle pockets were a little taller. A full, 32 oz Nalgene does tend to fall out if my children are moving boisterously down the trail. We figured that tightening up the load straps around the water bottle helps a lot with this.

Where to Purchase

This backpack is exclusively sold by REI Co-op. It’s price is $44.95, which is very modest when compared to similar quality kids’ packs.

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