Petite Adult Hikers: Try This Kids’ Gear
If you’re small-framed, you could be in for some serious savings
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
At five feet tall, I face the same struggles as many petite outdoor enthusiasts: I’m swallowed whole by sleeping bags, and constantly on the hunt for a backpack with a frame short enough for my torso and shoes that will fit my size seven feet. So instead of searching for miniature adult sizes, I’ve turned to kids’ gear—especially items marketed for “big kids” or teens—which often costs much less than adult gear and does the job just as well.
Below, in six categories, are petite-friendly and budget-conscious additions to any vertically-challenged hiker’s gear collection. Plus, they all come in respectable adult colors and designs, so your gear won’t be mistaken for an actual child’s.
While descending Mount San Gorgonio, the tallest peak in Southern California, one of my husband’s poles crumpled after a fall—while my kids’ Black Diamond First Strike poles ($69.95) stayed intact. The First Strikes and the REI kids’ Tarn poles ($54.95) are both great choices, as they’re sturdy, have a comfortable rubber grip that fits my (albeit small) adult hands, and extend to 43 inches. By comparison, the REI Traverse adult poles are $109.95 and the Black Diamond Trail women’s set is $109.95.
Designed for shorter people, youth sleeping bags are a tremendous three-season alternative to adult bags without sacrificing warmth. All the youth mummy-style sleeping bags in the REI brand line are rated to 25 degrees Fahrenheit; the Kindercone ($69.95) fits people up to 5’0” and the Zephyr ($129) accommodates heights of up to 5’6” (the women’s version, which also fits people up to 5’6”, is $159. Though we should note that women’s bags often get extra insulation in certain spots—if you run cold, you might find a kids’ bag less warm). The Kelty Mistral Kids’ 20 bag ($54.95) fits people up to 5 feet tall and is rated to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s also nearly identical to the adult version ($69.95) in features and materials: a comfy hood, ample foot box, and offset stitching to keep chilly air out.
Naturally, a shorter sleeping pad deserves a petite sleeping pad. Petite people up to 5 feet tall, or those wanting a shorter pad, can look into the REI Kindercamp pad ($49.95), which measures 60 inches long—longer than most kids’ pads. At 1.5 inches thick and 1 pound 13 ounces, it’s thinner and lighter than the 2.5-inch-thick REI Camp Bed adult pad ($125), which weighs 3 pounds 10 ounces and measures 72 inches long—great for backpackers who are watching the weight of their packs. (However, we’d recommend testing it before buying to see if the thickness of the pad is compatible with your weight, as kids’ pads may be more suitable for lighter-weight adults.) With an R-value of 4.5, the self-inflating kids’ pad can withstand cold nights.
Many companies sell youth versions of adult hiking boots in sizes up to a women’s 8 for significantly less than the adult price. The key is to look for “big kids” rather than “little kids” or “toddler” sizing categories. To translate big kids’ into adult sizes, go down one size for women and add one size for men: a big kids’ size 7 is a women’s 8 or a men’s 6.
Brands selling youth versions of trail-tested adult favorites include Keen, which caters to wider feet and high arches, and Merrell. Keen’s Targhee boots come in big kids’ ankle-height ($80) and low-cut ($75) styles; the Merrell big kids’ Moab Mid 3 Waterproof boots are $70 and the low-cut pair is $50. In contrast, the basic model of the women’s Moab Mid 3 boots is $120 and the low-cut version is $135; the women’s Keen Targhee III mid-shaft boot is $175 and the low-cut pair is $165.
Adults with short torsos—not necessarily even petite people—would benefit from a kids’ backpacking pack (for me, adult small and even extra-small packs are sometimes too long). Like adult packs, kids’ versions include all the bells and whistles: cushioned hip belts, adjustable frames, and plenty of pockets. To find your best fit, measure your torso from the top of your hip bone to the base of your neck.
The Osprey kids’ Ace 50L ($180) and Ace 75L ($200), as well as the Gregory youth Wander 50L ($179.95) and 70L ($199.95), accommodate torsos between 13 and 19 inches. My torso is 15 inches long, and I prefer the Osprey pack. The REI Tarn pack line combines both quality and lower prices, coming in a youth 40L ($99.95; torso length 12 to 16 inches) and 65L ($165; torso length 14 to 19 inches).
However, all of these prices reflect a steep discount from adult packs: The Osprey women’s Ariel 55L pack is $295, the REI Flash 55L women’s pack is $199, and the women’s Gregory Amber 55L is $199.95.
Similarly to backpacking packs, youth daypacks are perfect for adults with short torsos and for minimalists out for a quick trek on short trails. The North Face offers the 19.5L Mini Recon daypack ($50, as opposed to $99 for the adult Recon 30L) for kids—though without a chest strap or hip belt. If you’re looking for more support, REI’s Tarn 12L daypack ($39.95, the same price as the adult Flash 18L) includes a chest and hip belt, and Osprey’s much-loved Daylite pack comes in a youth 10L version ($40, compared to the unisex adult Daylite 13L at $65) with a chest strap. Before you purchase one, make sure you can get your arms and shoulders through the straps on these pint-sized packs (though once I’ve adjusted the straps, I haven’t had an issue with this).