Three- to five-year-olds can hike under their own power, albeit for maddeningly short intervals. A perfect kids' knapsack is the Tough Traveler Ruffian ($63; 800-468-6844), a comfy soft pack with a fleece-lined pouch inside.
Kelty's Zip-On Kid Pack ($40; 800-423-2320) has 1,600 cubic inches of space (it expands to 2,000), and also zips to a Kelty child-carrier so mom and dad can take the load.
Six- to eight-year-olds can start carrying their own jacket and Walkman, and they'll be comfortable doing it with Lowe Alpine's Contour 25 ($40; 303-465-3706), a 1,500-cubic-inch pack with a zippered inside pocket.
Jansport's Scout ($90; 800-558-3600) is an adjustable-frame backpack that can accommodate fast-growing kids between 9 and 11. It's a comfortable, ruggedly built pack with five sewn-in pockets. Jansport also has a line of accessories (like a first-aid kit and camera pocket).
Eastern Mountain Sports's EMS 3000 ($100; 603-924-6154) is a moderately capacious pack (3,000 cubic inches) that lets young teens carry bulky but light items such as clothing and sleeping bags. Older teenagers will love CirqueWorks's cutting-edge Descent 3.6 ($319;
800-313-0427). All black with a red/orange logo, the great-fitting Descent also has the best snowboard strap system on the market.
For an adult carrying a family-size pile of gear, Dana Design's Terraplane ($429; 406-587-4188) is the pack that sets the standard for comfort and durability. With 6,000 cubic inches of space, it holds enough for a week, while its superb suspension makes even 70-pound loads tolerable. At a more reasonable price, The North Face's Renegade ($250; 800-447-2333) is a roomy pack with a suspension system that allows a wide range of fit adjustments. Eureka's Nova ($260; 888-245-4984) has useful features like a well-padded hip belt and a top pocket that converts to a fanny pack.
Kelty's Kangaroo ($60; 800-423-2320) is a soft, front-carrying pack that's perfect for lugging the littlest hikers. For older infants, Tough Traveler's Stallion ($158; 800-468-6844) has big-pack features like padded, adjustable shoulder straps.