Let me preempt the callouts from my loyal readers (yeah Dad I am talking to you) before they start. The best backpacking backpack for Boy Scouts or youth is an external frame backpack. I have in the past made slightly disparaging remarks about external frame packs (best backpacking backpack link here). Let me assure all one of you that there is a reason, and I will address it later.
Now to the issue at hand: Boy Scouts and younger or youth backpackers. As a young thirty something I can totally relate to the eight to eighteen crowds, that is, according to my wife. Now, I know what you parents are thinking. These kids (not just boys) are dirty, stinky, lacking focus, need to get a job (oops sorry, personal issue), and are super hard on everything, including nerves. So you are tempted to buy that sweet backpacking backpack that is $2.87 at your local big box store. It certainly has beautiful pictures of people hiking on the label and it has tons of buckles so it must be great. Besides, the price is so right if they end up destroying it. There are several problems though.
One of the times I went to school they told me that there is a problem with people getting overweight in this country. Backpacking is a great way to stay in shape. Your kid is guaranteed to hate backpacking if you buy him or her that big box special. There fore if they ever end up overweight it will be all your fault for buying that backpack. You see the logic there right.
The reason they will hate that backpack is that is will not fit them. Somehow they manage to produce those backpacks so that they will not fit a single soul on the planet. It is almost miraculous that they can do that. You would think that it would fit at least one person in the world. However, according to a study I read, I think in the New England Journal of Medicine, there is no body type suited to these backpacks. If the pack does not fit well then it will ride horribly and be terribly uncomfortable, consequently souring your child’s desire to ever go backpacking again.
Also, as mentioned in previous articles, these less expensive packs carry gear about as well as a garbage sack duct taped to your back. Since we know that Boy Scouts in particular like to be prepared and that their average pack weight puts a pachyderm to shame, they need a stout, indestructible pack that carries loads well.
Why external frame?
So why then would I recommend an external frame backpack? In a previous best of backpacking article I said the Gregory Baltoro 75 was the best backpacking backpack because it carries a load so perfectly. That is 100% true. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. An internal frame backpack requires a modicum of thought in packing to produce the best results. That is not as true of an external frame backpack. Your kid can just throw everything in and strap whatever is left on the outside and it will still carry reasonably well with an external frame pack.
Another important point is that very ability to strap stuff to the outside. I have seen the gear that most Boy Scouts are using and it is less than ultralight. The average sleeping bag that a Boy Scout uses is so big that it has its own gravitational field pulling things into its orbit. How else can you explain the startling number of bugs that surround Boy Scouts. Unless you are springing for the total backpacking package, the external frame will more readily accommodate all your kid’s gear. Hanging stuff off the outside of an internal frame pack defeats many of the advantages that an internal frame provides.
Finally let me address the issue with external frames in the past. My external frame pack used a canvas belt, similar to what you will see on most men in any retirement community in Florida, as the hip belt. If you see that for a hip belt just take the pack and beat yourself unconscious to save yourself the inevitable suffering. External backpack suspensions are still fairly rudimentary but they have come a long ways in the years since I was a Boy Scout.
The Best Backpacking backpacks for Scouts
Kelty makes the best external frame backpacking backpacks for Scouts or youth. They are stout and they have a very good suspension for an external frame backpack. Adjusted properly they will carry all your Scouts gear without any problems. Pick the one with the features that you want or need and more importantly the size that will work for your kid. They have the Jr. Tioga 34, the Yukon 48 and 50, and the Trekker 64 and 65. The larger numbered pack carries more stuff. Use a Kelty sizing chart to find the right fit for you child. Kelty has a long tradition of quality production and provides a good pack. I would not put these packs in the same class as the Gregory backpacks but they are certainly the best for this demographic. Also the price is great for parents just starting their kids down this road or better yet trail.
I hate to be a downer but there is also one other advantage to these packs. I am under the impression that no Scout group, youth group, summer camp, or other young person’s organization has ever had an accident in the woods. But if the unthinkable were to happen these backpacks can make the basis for a great liter to carry the poor backpacker out on. They should even be strong enough to carry out a leader who had an infraction resulting from years of fast food abuse (oops sorry, personal issues).