1. Little hikers from three to six can walk farther if they feel they're part of the team. Give them an L.L. Bear rucksack from, who else, L.L. Bean ($19), put their lunch and windbreaker inside, and watch them go. The L.L. Bear has a 975-cubic-inch capacity, including the two zippered back pockets.
2. Once six- to nine-year-olds start collecting a few more of their own things ("You're taking a Gameboy on a hiking trip?"), they'll need a little extra room. The EMS 2000 from Eastern Mountain Sports ($55) has a 2,000-cubic- inch capacity, an inside pocket for extra Gameboy cartridges, curved shoulder straps, and a quilted-foam back panel. The North Face Miwok ($65), also a roomy 2,000 cubic inches, adds two external pockets.
3. If your eight- to 11-year-old is ready for a real backpack, try the full-featured Camp Trails Scout ($80). The injection-molded frame adjusts to accommodate fast-growing bodies, and the bag expands too, from 2,000 to 2,800 cubic inches. An insulated external water-bottle pocket is a smart touch. JanSport has its own adjustable-frame pack, called, yep — the Scout ($90).
4. Preteens will love the high-tech features of the 2,400-cubic-inch JanSport Couloir ($100). It has a sleeve for a hydration system, three pockets, and a Hypalon crampon patch, and it's possible to add modular first-aid pockets or camera pouches. Or take a look at the Arc'Teryx Bora 40 ($199; 2,440 cubic inches), with its padded hipbelt and single-stay framesheet for greater support.
5. Teenagers can move into a sophisticated internal-frame pack with the Arc'Teryx Bora 60 ($289). The size small features a single-compartment, 3,840-cubic-inch main bag with a large rear pocket. A four-layer hipbelt and dual-density shoulder straps combine with dual frame stays and an HDPE (high-density polyethylene) framesheet to ensure comfort and stability.
6. Adult women can choose from two frame sizes in The North Face's Monte Rosa ($425), which benefits from the company's Alpha suspension system designed specifically for the female form. The 4,500-cubic-inch pack uses a flexible wand to transfer weight to the centerline of the hips.
7. The men's Lowe Alpine Crossbow 70+15 ($329) handles big loads with ease, thanks to an innovative combined compression/control system. And there's plenty of room in this 4,200-cubic-inch bag — which expands another 900 inches to accommodate huge carries. To help keep you hydrated, an internal pouch and drink container is included, with an external tube and valve so you can sip while under way.
Photograph by Eric Swanson