Gear reviewing is a family enterprise in our household. As the kids grow in size and capability, their needs have begun to outstrip some of the younger children's gear in the stash; but they're not yet in the market for full-sized adult stuff. While this probably goes for a number of items, I'm thinking particularly here about packs. There's very clearly a gap in the market for proper adult-standard rucksacks in sub-XS sizes.
Last year we were really taken with Deuter's Climber, hitherto the only model we've encountered that aims to meet that need. A simplified and scaled-down take on the popular Guide, this is a vanishingly rare example of a child-sized rucksack that's genuinely designed for mountain use, up to and including mountaineering.
For 2023 the German brand has taken its children's offering a step further, with the launch of a mini-sized trekking pack, the Fox. We liked our review sample so much that we immediately bought a second so that both the girls could be properly equipped on family adventures. Edith, our youngest, took on the job of helping with this review. It's been such a hit that we really had to include it in Gear of the Year 2023.
It feels comfy, it's really cool, and I love the design and the colour
Cost vs value
Spending a lot of money on kids' gear is rarely an enticing prospect. Children are capable of wrecking most clothing and equipment, but I suspect even the most determined would struggle to seriously dent this pack. At £110 for the Fox 30 or £120 for the 40, this is not a budget buy; but given the pack's quality and toughness, and the fact that it can grow with your child for several years and probably still have solid hand-me-down credentials even after that, we think it actually represents really good value.
The Climber has a capacity of 22L, which we've found generous but not excessive for day trips. Bearing in mind that childrens' clothing takes up far less space than an average adult's, a lot of it can fit into a relatively modest pack. However, adding overnight gear - even if the parents take the tent - will require something bigger. Gone are the days when I would porter three sleeping bags and mats; I'm getting no younger, and the kids can bleeding well carry their own.
Coming in either 30L or 40L, the Fox seems spot on for a multi-day trip, if you don't want to overload growing bodies but do need them to pull a fair share of the weight. Both our girls, 11 and 13, are slight for their ages, so we opted for 30 litres. This is spacious enough for everything they might want for a night or two, yet still not so large that it can't be used at a pinch for day-length hill walks - it compresses pretty effectively, after all. In fact ours to date have seen much more use on day trips than overnights, which probably goes to show that we need to get out camping more.
There's a lot of room for all my stuff, like lunch, jackets, penknife, catapult, and whoopee cushion. The top pocket is spacious and I like keeping sweets in the little hip pocket
Weight and build quality
On our kitchen scales the Fox 30 weighs 1170g (Deuter say 1150g), while the Fox 40 is quoted as 1260g. For a kid's pack this really can't be called light, especially when ultralight adult-sized backpacking packs can weigh less. To take one children's comparison, the 22 litre Kid's Climber pack we looked at last year comes in at just 695g. But remember the Fox is a real trekking pack, with a full-on carrying system, adjustable back length, and plenty of useful features. It's also made tough enough to take the knocks that kids will inevitably dish out, with a mix of 600D and 210D fabric, and the usual high build quality we've come to expect from Deuter.
Fit and comfort
With chunky straps and a supportive back sheet (but no wire frame - it's not needed), this looks and feels like a familiar trekking pack, but just one built on smaller lines. Back length is easily adjusted, and allows enough play to offer quite a bit of growing room. In the time she's had it, Edith has had to add about an inch. For smaller kids the shoulder straps will be set lower on the pack, and this will mean that the top of the pack rises higher, potentially impeding the back of the head when looking up. If they complain about this, I'd say don't write it off as a typical moan, and consider moving the straps up a notch; we found that worked.
Deuter don't offer a size or age range. With the disclaimer that kids come in all shapes and sizes I'd guesstimate the Fox should be good from around 8 years up to mid teens.
The straps are close-fitting without restricting movement, well-padded but also really breathable for summer comfort. Back padding seems enough for comfort, with a nice big air gap up the middle too. It's a simple waist belt, with no fancy pivoting action, but it reportedly does the trick in terms of taking some of the load off the shoulders. The sliding sternum strap is easily adjustable for height, and all the webbing and buckles feel sturdy.
Overall the Fox seems to offer plenty of support for heavier loads, and while it isn't the lightest pack in itself, the comfort and breathability seem to more than make up for that. Edith is certainly very happy carrying it up Munros, which is a fairly rigorous test for a kid's bag.
There's quite a lot going on here - this really is a proper backpacking pack in miniature. The main pack can be separated with a zipped divider, giving you the standard lower compartment. A good place for either wet clothes or sleeping bag/mat, this section is accessible via a robust zipped entry - note, not waterproof. Up top, the lid pocket has loads of room for hat, gloves and, yes, catapults. There's also a wee zipped hip pocket for the essential Haribo stash (I'd like to pretend she only eats nuts and seeds on the hill, but we all know that would be a fib).
Stretchy side pockets for water bottles, and a decent-sized main stretch pocket for a jacket allow for more quick-access storage. You also get a small zipped bellows pocket on one side of the pack - a feature we've only recently noticed. The twin compression straps are really effective, something you'll appreciate if, like us, you end up using the Fox on day walks as well as overnights. They're not massively long, for carrying bulky things like rollmats, but various attachment points elsewhere allow for cord to be added if they did want to strap a rollmat to the outside. A pair of poles or even a single ice axe can also be carried - something we may welcome as winter progresses.
Ethics and environment
Deuter is a member of the Fair Wear Foundation, an independent verification initiative cooperating with companies and factories to improve labour conditions, especially in low-wage countries. For many years the company has also used a single factory in Vietnam for all its production - an unusual commitment in an industry that tends to make stuff all over the place, and a model that arguably makes it easier to ensure high production standards and levels of welfare. The DWR coating on the fabrics is PFAS-free.
There is clearly a small market for child-sized trekking packs, and Deuter are the only brand I know who make one. The Fox is superb, taking the principles of an adult-sized pack and simply shrinking them to suit a child's frame. It's not infantilised in any way, but a fully functional pack that offers a supportive and comfy fit, and all the necessary features. Though fairly pricey for a kid's rucksack, it's built to take the inevitable abuse, and adjustable enough to offer a few years of growing room. The Fox 40 would be quite bulky on a smaller child, but we've found the 30 is compact enough - within reason - for single days, as well as the overnight trips it is clearly aimed at. For an outdoor family with ambitions to get out into the hills, the Fox is absolutely spot on. Big hit with the kids too.