Kids are soft these days. Back in my day, if we got breakfast at all, it’d be nothing more than a bowl of poison. And it wouldn’t even be hot; it’d be cold poison. We then walked 15km to school, uphill all the way, lugging more than our body weight in schoolbooks. Eighteen hours later, we’d trudge home, again uphill all the way, now lugging twice our bodyweight loaded down with the 20 hours of nightly homework we had to do. And the packs we carried all the books in had straps made of barbed wire. Yeah, kids today are soft.
I keep telling this to my seven-year-old son Quincy, but he doesn’t believe me. But Osprey’s Ace series of kids’ packs are a case in point; there was nothing like this when I was young. And notwithstanding my slight exaggeration about barbed wire straps, even today the vast majority of kids’ packs seem like they’re hastily constructed afterthoughts, with inadequate hip belts (if they’re there at all), scant padding, little support, poor adjustability and few features. Not so Osprey’s Ace 38L; although aimed for kids aged 5-11, it is a genuine, fully-featured, scaled-down version of Osprey’s adult packs.
“As adults, it’s easy to forget just how darn thrilling your first pack is. Especially if it’s one of the rare kids’ packs that are actually comfortable.”
Now Quin had got by in the past on overnighters with just his school pack, but with him keen to try something longer, and with us deciding to head up to NSW’s Warrumbungles for a four-day outing he needed a proper pack. There was an agenda on my part, too; I actually wanted him to share some of the load. Given we had to go days without access to water, my pack was going to be heavy enough loaded with 10L-plus of water on top of food for both of us; every kilo Quin carried would save my back.
About the pack itself: the features Quin and I respectively found the most impressive differed. For me, there were the features I’d expect to find on my own packs: a padded hip belt that actually works; compression straps; daisy-chained gear loops; a generous top lid compartment. Beyond this, there was the adjustability; the torso length can be adjusted by over 10cm as your young ‘un grows. Quin, however, wasn’t overly fussed by adjustability; the three features that most impressed him (the first two being for reasons I can’t quite fathom) were the rain-cover, the water bladder sleeve, and the whistle. Especially the whistle. (That one I get.)
Other features included three stretchy exterior pockets (two on the side and one on the back), the largest of which had ample room for Quin’s favourite soft toy, a pig called Pork Chops, to come along for the ride. There was also a mesh backpanel allowing airflow to keep his back a little cooler.
The pack is light. It was the first adjective he used when I asked him for an adjective describing it. That said, it’s not flimsy. It feels sufficiently robust to see it get years of use, too. The base is a 500-denier nylon, while main section is a 600D nylon, which, by the way, is made from recycled plastic. Osprey is in the process of moving all its packs to having recycled source materials; the Ace kids series, however, is the first in Osprey’s line to make the move.
Also in the series are the Ace 50 and Ace 75. The Ace 50 is recommended for kids aged 8-14, and we briefly considered getting it. I’m glad we didn’t. I think it would have been too big. Firstly, I was surprised at just how much we could fit into the Ace38; even with as much weight as he could carry, there was plenty of room left. It’s also worth noting that, in terms of the hip belt, we were bang on the limit of maximum tightness; had his waist been any narrower, we couldn’t have gone any tighter. That said, if you’re young enough to max out the hip belt, you’re probably young enough you don’t want to be carrying a super heavy load that’s reliant on a hip belt. It’s also worth noting that the Ace 50 does have a slightly different—and more adjustable—hip belt.
But really, much of what I’ve talked about thus far was secondary; the Ace 38’s real value was the sheer excitement having his own ‘real’ pack. For weeks after getting it, he wandered around the house with it on. And one Saturday morning, I arose at 7AM to find him sitting on the couch watching cartoons with his pack donned. In short, perhaps more than anything, this pack makes him want to get outdoors. As adults, it’s easy to forget just how darn thrilling your first pack is. Especially if it’s one of the rare kids’ packs that are actually comfortable.
NEED TO KNOW
Intended age use: 5-11yo
Weight (as tested, w/0 raincover): 1,209g
Weight (raincover): 98g
More info: osprey.com