For hitting the trail with a little one in tow, it’s hard to beat a baby carrier pack. Their supportive designs allow for a comfortable and safe ride, and we’ve spent countless hours hiking with both a happy child and adult. Because of their feature-rich builds, including quality harnesses, padding, and suspension systems, these backpacks can be pricey, but there are deals to be had. Below we break down the top baby carrier packs of 2021, which range from substantial packs that are strong enough for hauling a growing toddler to lightweight, frameless models for short trips. For more background information on baby carriers, see our comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Category: Comfort pack
Weight: 7 lbs. 2 oz.
What we like: Very comfortable for both baby and adult.
What we don’t: Pricey and the Osprey Poco below has better storage.
Deuter’s Kid Comfort is our top pick for 2021 by combining high levels of comfort and safety, premium build quality, and organization. Deuter packs are known for their quality suspension systems, and the latest model is a standout: it has a sturdy metal frame that easily handles a growing (and active) child, and the padded hipbelt and mesh backpanel mix support and ventilation very nicely. Further, we think Deuter has one of the best baby seat designs out there. The buckling process isn’t as simple as the Osprey Poco below, but the five-point harness is very secure and easy to adjust. Plus, the tall back, supportive sides, and plush, washable front pad make for great mid-hike naps (and easy cleanup after).
As the mid-range model in the Kid Comfort lineup, the pack comes well-appointed. The sunshade deploys quickly and has a dedicated pocket behind your back, there’s sufficient storage for most day trips (although it comes up short of the Osprey Poco Plus in this respect), and the side entry option is useful for toddlers that want to load and unload on their own. The main challenge is cost, and at $315, it’s a large investment for those who plan on occasional use. We also don’t love that the sunshade doesn’t offer very much protection along the sides, which can be a problem on windy days. But overall, the Kid Comfort is a great match for families who get outside a lot with durable, high-quality materials and class-leading comfort for both baby and adult.
See the Deuter Kid Comfort
Category: Comfort pack
Weight: 7 lbs. 14 oz.
What we like: High-quality build and great storage.
What we don’t: More expensive and less comfortable than the Deuter above.
From day hiking to backpacking, Osprey makes some of our favorite packs. Their popular Poco line has been a mainstay in this article for years, and they gave it a significant revamp last year. Most importantly, they addressed our primary complaint with the old model by increasing the padding on the hipbelt (the mesh-heavy design had a tendency to dig into our hips when fully loaded down, but no more). In addition, Osprey reworked the harness—it now buckles conveniently behind your child’s shoulders—and incorporated a bluesign-approved nylon on the pack body. There are two Pocos to choose from, but we prefer the high-end Plus for its more adjustable hipbelt and increased storage. At 26 liters, the Plus is a standout in the market and is well-equipped for everything from long day hikes to overnight treks with the family (if you can divvy up gear).
What keeps the Osprey from taking our top spot? In testing the pack, we’ve found it can’t match the Deuter in all-around comfort. In particular, there’s a large and stiff grab handle that occasionally pushes against the back of your neck when you look up the trail (it’s mostly an issue on inclines). Further, you need to leave the kickstand extended to utilize the bottom storage compartment, which makes the pack a bit large and unwieldy when loaded down. Finally, the Poco Plus is not a great value at full price: the Kid Comfort above costs $15 less, matches it in build quality, and includes extras like the toddler side entry. Unless you need the added storage capacity, we think the Deuter is the superior design... Read in-depth review
See the Osprey Poco Plus
Category: Lightweight/comfort pack
Weight: 5 lbs. 4 oz.
Sunshade: No (separate accessory)
What we like: Good price, lightweight, and well-designed child harness.
What we don’t: Low on features and not as comfortable as the packs above.
For shorter hikes or if you’re willing to compromise a little on comfort, Kelty’s Journey PerfectFIT is a great budget baby carrier. What immediately stuck out with the Journey is how well the child harness and interior compares to the more expensive models above. The seat is easily adjusted, nicely padded, and an all-around comfortable place to be. As a bonus, the Journey PerfectFIT saves you over 2 pounds compared with the packs above and has a similar maximum weight capacity.
As mentioned above, the biggest compromise with the Journey is felt on longer trails days. The padding is soft and supportive for short jaunts, but the longer you’re out—and the heavier your kids get—the pack becomes less and less enjoyable. The minimal features also can be an issue here, and we particularly miss having a hydration compatible sleeve, zippered hipbelt pockets (there is one mesh pocket), and better organization from the one main pocket on the pack body. But at $110 less than the Osprey above, it’s easy to forgive the Kelty for falling a little short, and it is a great option for families that won’t be out every weekend.
See the Kelty Journey PerfectFIT
Category: Lightweight pack
Weight: 1 lb. 8 oz.
What we like: Superlight and packable.
What we don’t: Frameless design is limited for hiking.
The models above are dedicated hiking packs, but for cold weather or with small children, a simple baby carrier can be ideal. The Ergobaby 360 is the classic choice with a comfortable waistband and a number of carrying options for a child. For hiking purposes—and when the baby is old enough to hold up their own head—the rear backpack-style position is what we’ve found to be most comfortable on the trail. Another plus of the Ergobaby is its compact size, which makes it much easier to haul around than a typical child carrier.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are a number of downsides with the Ergobaby 360. To start, the carrier doesn’t have any frame system, so it’s less comfortable over long distances and doesn’t have any exterior pockets. And by keeping the baby close to you, you aren’t able to move as freely, and it’s easy to get very sweaty when working hard (the mesh construction helps, but it still runs much warmer than the designs above). We’ve found the Ergobaby to be a nice complement to a true child carrier, but it’s not the single answer for most hiking families.
See the Ergobaby 360 Cool Air Mesh
Category: Comfort/lightweight pack
Weight: 5 lbs. 15 oz.
What we like: Well-ventilated, lightweight, and now offered in a women’s-specific version.
What we don’t: Not as comfortable as the Comfort above and doesn’t include a sunshade.
Like the Kid Comfort above, Deuter’s Active model (previously the Comfort Air) got a revamp last year. The lightweight and minimalist design hasn’t changed dramatically, and there’s still a strong emphasis on ventilation with extensive use of mesh around the backpanel and baby’s seating area. And Deuter didn’t skimp for the most part on the rest of the pack: the Active has the same side entry as the Comfort, a well-designed five-point harness system, and an easily adjustable suspension with a 48.5-pound rating. It’s also the first baby carrier to be offered in a women’s-specific “SL” version, which fits smaller torso sizes and includes narrower shoulder straps and an ergonomically shaped hipbelt.
The ventilated Comfort Active is a great choice for those who hike in warm environments, but we think the standard Comfort above is the better all-rounder. Considering the focus on staying cool, it’s odd that Deuter didn’t include a sunshade (it can be purchased as a $35 accessory). Moreover, you lose the extra-thick front drool pad and hydration reservoir compatibility, plus the trimmed-down suspension doesn’t carry a heavy load (or toddler) as well. Despite the complaints, if you need a women’s-specific fit or prioritize a lightweight and airy build, the Comfort Active remains a solid option.
See the Deuter Kid Comfort Active See the Women's Deuter Kid Comfort Active SL
Category: Comfort pack
Weight: 7 lbs. 4 oz.
What we like: Easily adjustable suspension, reasonable weight, and nice feature set.
What we don't: Can’t match the top-rated Deuter in carrying comfort.
In the past, Kelty has fallen short at the deluxe end of the kid carrier market, but they’re aiming to change that with the latest Journey series. Available in base, mid-range Signature, and high-end Elite options, the focus is on comfort for both adult and baby. The “PerfectFIT” in the name is for the torso adjustment system, which allows you to quickly dial in fit by pulling on two straps at the backpanel (the torso size range is pretty wide at 15.5 to 21 in.). And the interior has been upgraded from prior versions of the pack, with a wide child seat and nice touches like a removable drool pad and stirrups.
What differentiates the three Journey PerfectFIT kid carriers? The $220 base model above is pretty barebones, omitting a sunshade and organizational features like hipbelt pockets and a lower zippered compartment. Stepping up to the $260 Signature and $300 Elite gets you a build that stacks up well with the Osprey and Deuter packs above. Both Kelty carriers have large 26-liter capacities and lots of storage, and the Elite’s extras—including a hydration reservoir sleeve, mesh side pockets, and an easier-to-clean lining inside the lower compartment—are worth it for families that get out a lot. In the end, the Kelty still can’t match the premium cushioning and hauling comfort that you get with the top-rated Deuter, but its larger capacity (the Deuter is only 14L) is useful for full days on the trail.
See the Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite
Category: Comfort pack
Weight: 7 lbs. 0 oz.
What we like: Excellent storage; unique hanging child seat that’s also washable.
What we don’t: More velcro in the design than we’d like to see.
Thule is best known for their car rack systems, but they’ve made inroads in the pack market over the past few years. The new-for-2021 Sapling is their second effort at a baby carrier, and the latest version targets top-of-the-line options from Deuter, Osprey, and Kelty. Highlights of the thoroughly reworked Sapling include a hanging mesh child seat that’s washable (an uncommon feature in this space), simplified construction that keeps weight in check, and urban styling that sets it apart from the more hiking-focused competition. In use, the Sapling has proven to be user-friendly with lots of fit adjustments for both baby and adult, and its organization is among the best on the market with 22 liters of total space.
What’s keeping the Sapling from earning one of our top picks? For one, it’s new and we’re fairly early on into testing. And already, we do have some concerns about longevity. In particular, it strikes us that Thule is relying a bit too much on velcro in the design: the backpanel has long strips of the material for adjusting the torso height, and it’s the same story for securing the drool pad along the sides. For those spending time on dusty and dirty trails, you can expect grime to work its way into those spaces and the velcro to lose its stickiness over time (notably, Osprey, Kelty, and Deuter all utilize more reliable strap systems on the backpanels). That said, if you don’t plan to take your child carrier too far into the backcountry and instead prioritize storage, washability, and versatility—a Sapling Sling Pack ($50) is offered, which boosts capacity by 10L—Thule’s new Sapling is well worth a look.
See the Thule Sapling Child Carrier
Category: Comfort pack
Weight: 7 lbs. 11 oz.
What we like: Quality Osprey design at a cheaper price.
What we don’t: Less storage and not as adjustable as the Poco Plus.
Osprey’s Poco sits below the Poco Plus in their kid carrier lineup, but it’s arguably the better value for the feature set. The pack has the same excellent kid seat design and mesh backpanel that ventilates well and is easy to adjust. And unlike the Deuter Kid Comfort Active above, the $290 Osprey retains the built-in sunshade. It’s not our favorite design—the sunshade can get stuck inside the storage space and, when deployed, sits so high overhead that it doesn’t block low sunlight—but it’s still a nice inclusion for the price.
What do you sacrifice with the base Poco pack? First, you get a simplified hipbelt design that trades zippered pockets for much less practical mesh, and you aren’t able to adjust the padded portion of the hipbelt like you can with the Poco Plus. This base model also has less overall storage, although its 20-liter volume stacks up well with most packs on the market. As long as the diminished fit customization and features aren’t deal breakers, Osprey’s Poco is a really nice hiking option.
See the Osprey Poco Carrier
Category: Comfort pack
Weight: 8 lbs. 4 oz.
Capacity: 22L (w/removable pack)
What we like: Same proven Kid Comfort design but with a more protective sunshade.
What we don’t: Bottom compartment isn’t zippered; removable daypack has questionable value.
The third variation of Deuter’s popular Kid Comfort series to make our list is their top-of-the-line Pro model. Coming in at $375, you get the same high-quality carry system and padding as the standard Kid Comfort above along with upgrades like an integrated sunshade and removable daypack. We like the sunshade in particular, which is built into the back of the child seat (the standard Kid Comfort’s shade has to be removed and stored) so it deploys much faster and provides more coverage along the sides. For mid-summer hikes or when the sun is low, we’ve found the added protection to be extremely valuable.
What pushes the Pro down in our rankings—and below the other Kid Comfort options—are a few questionable design choices. For starters, we don’t like that the bottom storage compartment doesn’t include a zipper. The open-top design is far less secure for storing valuables and its plastic clip can be finicky to use. In addition, the removable daypack is quite simple and doesn’t carry a load very well, and unlike the Thule above, it can’t be attached to the pack. Instead, it’s designed to be worn separately, stored in the open-top compartment (which takes up valuable space), or secured at the front (which is awkward while hiking). It’s true that the Pro’s sunshade is more user-friendly and it’s hard to knock the quality and comfort, but we think you’re better off saving with the mid-range $315 model.
See the Deuter Kid Comfort Pro
Category: Lightweight pack
Weight: 1 lb. 14 oz.
What we like: Works with newborns up to 45 pounds without add-ons.
What we don’t: Runs warmer than the Ergobaby 360.
Like the Ergobaby 360 above, Lillebaby’s Complete All Seasons carrier is a lightweight, frameless pack intended for short family adventures. The versatile design includes a small pocket and zippered panel that allow you to adjust ventilation depending on the conditions—on warm days or if you and the baby are starting to overheat, you can unzip the solid fabric along the front to expose the mesh lining underneath. While it’s still not as cool as the Ergobaby, and we wouldn’t recommend it for strenuous summer hikes, the All Seasons excels in mild climates and when snowshoeing in winter.
How does the Lillebaby Complete compare with Ergobaby’s popular 360 Cool Air Mesh? Both include a sun cover and offer a variety of carrying positions (front, side, and back), but the Lillebaby has a wider size and weight range. Out of the box, the All Seasons is set up to accommodate newborns down to 7 pounds, while the 360 Cool Air requires a separate infant insert for babies younger than approximately four months. That said, as we touched on above, the Ergobaby has the clear edge in ventilation for summertime hiking, which is arguably its most important function. If you’ll be spending a lot of time in hot weather and like the Lillebaby Complete design, check out their all-mesh Airflow model.
See the Lillebaby Complete All Seasons
Weight: 5 lbs. 2 oz.
What we like: Lightweight, impressively packable, and includes a sunshade.
What we don’t: Not as great for hiking as it is for travel and everyday use.
Osprey and Deuter go head-to-head in the child carrier market, and for 2021, Osprey has released an answer to the Kid Comfort Active above with their all-new Poco LT. As the name indicates, this is the lightest-weight model in the Poco family, and it’s been built with packability and simplicity in mind. The thin frame and smaller profile allow it to fold nearly flat—a big plus for travel and around-town adventuring—and at just over 5 pounds, it’s among the lightest designs on the market (undercutting the Kid Comfort Active by around 13 oz.). We’re also happy to see that Osprey didn’t trim away key features like generous storage (21 liters total), hydration reservoir compatibility, and a deployable sunshade.
One sacrifice Osprey did make in simplifying the Poco pack is in carrying comfort for extended stretches on the trail. The LT’s AirScape backpanel, thin padding, and minimalist stainless-steel frame can’t match the rigidity and support of the standard Poco models (or the aforementioned Deuter Kid Comfort Active), especially when hauling a full load. You also miss out on extras like stirrups—a handy feature for older kids and longer hikes—and the exterior pocket layout is fairly basic. In the end, unless you will appreciate the lower-profile, lighter construction, we think there are more well-rounded carriers available.
See the Osprey Poco LT
Category: Comfort/lightweight pack
Weight: 6 lbs. 7 oz.
What we like: Lots of features at a good price.
What we don’t: Drop in comfort and build quality.
LuvdBaby’s Premium Baby Carrier is a budget-friendly design primarily sold through Amazon. On paper, this pack looks good with all the features that come with premium offerings from Deuter, Osprey, Thule, and Kelty. There’s an integrated sunshade, hipbelt pockets, and aluminum kickstand that locks for loading and unloading. Further, unlike the Clevr carrier below, the LuvdBaby doesn’t look or feel as cheap with sturdy ripstop polyester covering the body of the pack.
Not surprisingly, the LuvdBaby’s lower price tag does come with a few compromises. To start, the pack has lower-quality padding on the shoulder straps and hipbelt that become less comfortable as the day wears on (and as your baby grows). Additionally, the 40-pound weight capacity (including baby and gear) falls short of the 48- to 50-pound ratings of the premium designs above. But if you’ll be sticking to short day hikes or are willing to compromise a bit on overall quality, the LuvdBaby backpack offers a competitive feature set at a reasonable price.
See the LuvdBaby Premium Baby Backpack
Category: Comfort pack
Weight: 6 lbs. 10 oz.
What we like: Reasonably light but with a lot of storage.
What we don’t: Relatively low weight capacity; child’s cockpit is too far away from your back.
New Zealand-based Phil & Ted is a company dedicated to baby products, and the Escape pack is their premium hiking model. You can see their focus on keeping kids happy with a nice assortment of features including a sunshade with great protection, stirrups, and a mat for changing diapers. The Escape also comes with a small daypack that can be zipped off to distribute carrying duties. For transport, the Escape compresses smaller than most of the comfort packs above while staying right in line weight-wise at 6 pounds 10 ounces.
The Escape’s $250 price tag puts it head-to-head with our favorite packs, but unfortunately it falls short in a number of ways. Most importantly, the pack isn’t as comfortable when carrying older children or on longer hikes. It has a lower weight capacity than most (39 lbs.), and the child’s seat sits too far away from your back and can be a strain on your neck over time. Moreover, the pack’s fit adjustments aren’t as user-friendly as we’d expect for the price. The rest of the pieces are there—including an impressive 30 liters of total storage—but the Escape pack needs to improve on these all-important features to move up our list.
See the Phil & Teds Escape
Category: Lightweight/comfort pack
Weight: 5 lbs. 8 oz.
What we like: Budget price and includes extras like a sunshade.
What we don’t: Cheaply made with a noticeable drop in comfortable.
The name and generic styling may not make a strong first impression, but the ClevrPlus Cross Country Child Carrier is our favorite sub-$150 baby carrier pack. Most impressive is the number of extras you get at this price—it includes a sunshade that also provides decent rain protection with its clear plastic sides, a stable kickstand, and a good array of pockets. The pack won’t blow you away with the quality of the materials, but you’re not sacrificing as much as you’d think for a $130-ish (the price varies some on Amazon) baby carrier.
The drop in comfort and finicky sizing adjustments are what hurt the ClevrPlus Cross Country on our list. The padded hipbelt and shoulder straps are noticeably cheaper than our top-rated models, and the pack isn’t comfortable on anything more than a short hike. And for those that share carrying duties, the ClevrPlus doesn’t have the same level of fit customization and can feel unwieldy for shorter adults. The good news is that these complaints don’t matter very much if you’ll be on the trail for short stretches. For the occasional hour-or-two family hike, the ClevrPlus Cross Country is a nice budget option.
See the Clevr Baby Backpack Cross Country Carrier
Category: Lightweight pack
Weight: 4 lbs. 6 oz.
What we like: Simple build and folds down flat.
What we don’t: Low on features and comfort.
Phil & Teds’ lightweight Parade pack is a great option for travel or quick family adventures. Resembling a compact daypack, the Parade has an aluminum frame and adjustable harness system that provides sufficient support. It’s not something you want on your back for hours at a time, but the minimalist design is easy to carry and folds flat—small enough to fit as a carry on for most airlines. The Parade also is a fairly good value at $140.
In keeping things simple, however, the Parade is less appealing for hiking trips. There is hardly any storage, and the detachable mini backpack, while a fun idea for allowing kids to have a pack of their own, isn’t very functional. In addition, the hipbelt and shoulder straps aren’t comfortable for anything more than a short walk. But if you stick to the Parade pack’s around-town and travel intentions, it’s a decent option.
See the Phil & Teds Parade
Category: Lightweight pack
Weight: 3 lbs. 0 oz.
What we like: Unique, piggyback-like carrier.
What we don’t: Not very comfortable and limited uses.
For something completely different, Piggyback Rider’s SCOUT gives toddlers and young children the chance to stand and enjoy a unique perspective of the trail. The system works by connecting harnesses worn by both the child and adult and having the child step onto an aluminum bar. It’s surprisingly easy to set up and the on-off process doesn’t take long to get down. The price feels steep considering the simplistic design, but there’s nothing else like it on the market.
Piggyback’s Rider SCOUT is, however, less of an all-in-one pack compared to the other options on our list. To start, it’s recommended for children that are 2+ years of age, and at that stage they may only find standing in one place entertaining for short stretches. And for use while hiking, the SCOUT is not very comfortable for the adult because a lot of the weight is focused on the shoulders (you can purchase a hipbelt for about $30). Despite the limitations, the SCOUT is a fun product that serves as a lightweight and packable replacement for a stroller or baby carrier.
See the Piggyback Rider SCOUT
|Deuter Kid Comfort||$315||Comfort||7 lbs. 2 oz.||14L||Yes||48 lbs. 8 oz.|
|Osprey Poco Plus||$330||Comfort||7 lbs. 14 oz.||26L||Yes||48 lbs. 8 oz.|
|Kelty Journey PerfectFIT||$220||Lightweight/comfort||5 lbs. 4 oz.||17L||No||50 lbs.|
|Ergobaby 360 Cool Air||$119||Lightweight||1 lb. 8 oz.||0L||Yes||45 lbs.|
|Deuter Kid Comfort Active||$275||Comfort/lightweight||5 lbs. 15 oz.||12L||No||48 lbs. 8 oz.|
|Kelty Journey PerfectFIT||$300||Comfort||7 lbs. 4 oz.||26L||Yes||50 lbs.|
|Thule Sapling||$330||Comfort||7 lbs. 0 oz.||22L||Yes||48 lbs.|
|Osprey Poco||$290||Comfort||7 lbs. 11 oz.||20L||Yes||48 lbs. 8 oz.|
|Deuter Kid Comfort Pro||$375||Comfort||8 lbs. 4 oz.||22L||Yes||48 lbs. 8 oz.|
|Lillebaby Complete||$140||Lightweight||1 lb. 14 oz.||0L||Yes||45 lbs.|
|Osprey Poco LT||$260||Lightweight/comfort||5 lbs. 2 oz.||21L||Yes||48 lbs. 8 oz.|
|LuvdBaby Premium Carrier||$180||Comfort/lightweight||6 lbs. 7 oz.||Unavail.||Yes||40 lbs.|
|Phil & Teds Escape||$250||Comfort||6 lbs. 10 oz.||30L||Yes||39 lbs.|
|ClevrPlus Cross Country||$135||Lightweight/comfort||5 lbs. 8 oz.||Unavail.||Yes||40 lbs.|
|Phil & Teds Parade||$140||Lightweight||4 lbs. 6 oz.||Unavail.||No||40 lbs.|
|Piggyback Rider SCOUT||$115||Lightweight||3 lbs.||0L||No||60 lbs.|
- Baby Carrier Pack Categories
- Carrying Comfort and Padding
- Harness and Cockpit Comfort for the Child
- Sun and Rain Protection
- Pack Weight
- Pockets and Storage Capacity
- Child Age and Weight Recommendations
- Pack Safety: JPMA Certification
Packs that fall into our “comfort” category are just that: comfortable and feature-rich designs. Most follow a basic formula that resembles a backpacking pack with an open cockpit for a child to sit. Their strong metal frames provide excellent support for hauling a toddler (many are rated for up to 50 pounds total) and include a number of pockets for carrying multiple hours worth of essentials. These are heavy items, and even with their folding kickstands take up a noticeable portion of a trunk or closet. But for those that plan to get out hiking a lot with their little ones, a comfort pack like our top-rated Deuter Kid Comfort is what we recommend.
Lightweight packs trim bulk and features from comfort-oriented designs, and are a great option for short trips and use around town. The biggest upside is their significantly smaller size and lighter weight that’s easier to carry, store, and transport in a car. Lightweight pack options range from the Phil & Teds Parade, which resembles a shrunken down version of a comfort pack, to the frameless and minimalist Ergobaby. What you give up with a lightweight pack is storage and often carrying comfort. They’re great for quick jaunts, but for longer day hikes, we find it well worth the upgrade to a comfort pack.
Comfort is a big factor in how often you get out on the trail, so we’ve put a high value on it in our rankings. The packs that excel in this category have strong suspensions to handle anything from a 16-pound baby up to a 40-pound toddler. The hipbelt plays an important role in this, and we look for padding that molds to your hips and provides enough firm support (overly soft cushioning typically isn’t as comfortable over the long haul). You can certainly skimp on carrying comfort if you stick to short hikes, and in those cases, any of the packs that made our list will do the trick. But we like the flexibility to spend more than a couple hours on the trail, which is why we put Deuter’s very comfortable Kid Comfort at the top of our list.
A secure child harness and seat is a prerequisite to making our list, and all of the major players provide plenty of support, adjustability, and comfort around the arms, shoulders, and legs. More expensive baby carrier models make greater use of soft touch fabrics, but even long stretches of hiking with a budget-friendly pack like the Kelty Journey PerfectFIT hasn’t led to any complaints. In terms of ease of use, we’ve found that the high placement of Osprey’s harness is a standout, but we consider harness design to be a strong suit for all products featured above.
In the product descriptions above, we make a number of references to the child’s cockpit area. While it’s a bit of a funny term, this refers to the space surrounding the baby while they’re seated in the pack. A well-designed cockpit like Deuter’s Kid Comfort has a tall back and sides, and a large, cushioned pad in the front, which makes it a comfortable place for children if they fall asleep. This is one area where lightweight packs make some sacrifices, as children typically sit very high in the seat and end up in funny, contorted positions if they drift off for a nap.
Hiking and even walking around town can lead to a lot of sun exposure for a baby, so all major carriers either include or offer a sunshade with their packs. We find them to be absolutely mandatory for protecting that sensitive baby skin. The built-in designs typically store right behind the cockpit area and can be quickly deployed. And the accessory sunshades are just about as easy to connect and use (and some have dedicated storage pockets, like Deuter's Kid Comfort).
None of the packs listed above come with a dedicated rain cover—although all of the sunshades will provide a degree of protection against rain—but Osprey, Thule, and Deuter do offer separate covers for purchase. Rain covers are differentiated from sunshades by their water resistant coatings and greater side, back, and front protection. They do not ventilate very well, so they’re not as helpful in hot climates, but rain covers are nice backups to have in case of a surprise storm. Expect to pay $25 to $35 for a manufacturer-specific design.
The empty weight of a pack may not be the first thing you check on when researching baby carrier packs—it certainly wasn’t for us—but there are significant differences to be aware of. Packs in our lightweight category are usually around 4 to 5 pounds, while comfort-oriented models can reach 8 pounds and more. Tack on the child in the pack and anything else you’re carrying, and your total weight is equivalent to or even a more than a loaded backpacking pack. Unfortunately, this is mostly unavoidable as the most comfortable packs are by far and away the heaviest (Deuter’s 5-pound-15-ounce Kid Comfort Active is one exception, but it’s low on features). Consider it a nice way to get or stay in shape.
If multiple adults will wear the baby carrier, a highly adjustable fit system can be an important feature. In particular, your pack will need a wide enough torso range to be comfortable for all users. Premium, comfort packs like the top models from Deuter, Thule, Osprey, and Kelty are standouts in this respect, giving close fits for most people. Taking it a step further, Osprey’s Poco Plus also allows you to shorten or lengthen the padded portion of the hipbelt, which guarantees the cushioned areas are supporting you correctly. On the other end of the spectrum, budget-oriented packs don’t offer as high of levels of customization. This is one notable downside of the ClevrPlus Cross Country pack, for example, which doesn't allow for precise adjustments and is less comfortable as a result.
Outside of minimalist designs like the Piggyback Rider, Ergobaby, or Lillebaby, baby carrier packs include an array of pockets for organization and storage. The primary storage in most packs is at the front with one or two pockets along the top and a larger, zippered pocket at the bottom. We appreciate a range of pocket sizes to make it easy to distribute items we want close at hand, and large hipbelt pockets are great for storing snacks to keep your little one happy. As with most features, organization improves as price goes up, but most packs on our list have a functional pocket design.
Outside of the number and placement of pockets, overall capacity can be an important storage consideration. From our list above, packs that come with pockets range from 12 liters to 26 liters in volume. There are a number of factors that will decide your ideal capacity—including how long you’ll be out, time of year and weather, and if you’ll be sharing hauling duties—but we’ve found that 15 liters is often plenty for most hiking trips. For those that need to carry a lot of extras, Osprey’s Poco Plus and Kelty's Journey PerfectFIT Signature and Elite are class leaders with 26 liters of storage capacity.
A baby carrier pack’s ventilation is a two-part assessment: the ventilation along the backpanel for the adult and around the child’s seat. Ventilation for the baby usually is pretty good: the openings at the top and sides do a good job moving air, and there’s enough space that they don’t get too much of your body heat. But there are more substantial differences in backpanel design. The best back breathers are packs with a full mesh panel, including the Osprey Poco. Deuter’s Kid Comfort Active takes it a step further and uses mesh all around the child’s harness and cockpit. While these models offer impressive ventilation, unless you’re really particular about a sweaty back or live in a hot climate, we’ve found most packs are acceptable in almost all conditions.
As with any pack used for hiking, water storage is an important consideration for a baby carrier. Due to the space taken up by the child seat, you won’t find an array of mesh side pockets that will fit something as large as a Nalgene bottle. We often have to fit ours inside the pack, which can be a pain because you’ll need to either ask for help or completely remove the pack to access the water. Thankfully, many child carriers over $250 include a hydration sleeve, so you can slide in a water reservoir and drink tube for water on the go. For longer day hikes, this is our preferred hydration option.
At the upper echelon of the market are baby carrier packs that include zip-off daypacks. Thule and Deuter have this design feature on their top-tier models that cost $330 or more (note: Thule's Sapling Sling Pack is sold separately). The main benefits of a removable pack are a larger carrying capacity as well as the option to split up the hauling duties with another person (additionally, you can attach the daypack that comes with Deuter's Kid Comfort Pro to the shoulder straps for easy access). In some cases, we appreciate the all-in-one design, but many hikers will be just fine saving a few dollars and using one of their own daypacks instead. The zip in and out feature is nice, but the simplistic packs usually aren't anything special.
Stirrups (Foot Rests)
Another notable feature is stirrups on either side of the child seat. These are intended for toddlers or older babies to get them in a proper sitting position or take some of the pressure off resting in the child’s seat for hours at a time. While it’s certainly not an essential item and we’ve found the foot rests can be hit or miss depending on the child, it’s a nice thing to have if you’ll be out on longer trips. And in most cases, the stirrups are removable, so you can store them away until your child is old enough or interested in using them.
If you’re like a lot of outdoors-minded parents, you’re pretty excited about getting your baby out on a hike. You can certainly get started at a young age with an option like the Ergobaby 360 or similar product that provides sufficient neck and head support, but there are some specific recommendations for using a dedicated child carrier pack. Because children develop at different rates, most manufacturers stick to recommending a minimum weight of 16 pounds and that the child can support their head for extended stretches while in the pack. This will vary slightly, so be sure to check the specific instructions on your pack, and ensure the harness can cinch down small enough to safely hold your child. The maximum weight capacity also will vary depending on the design, but typically is around 30 to 50 pounds. And be sure to note the maximum weight factors in the pack itself as well as any gear stored inside.
All child carriers sold in the United States have to adhere to the Frame Child Carrier Standard from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which prohibits hazards like sharp edges, exposed springs, and unintentional folding. Taking it a step further, you’ll see some packs reference a JPMA safety certification, which means they have gone through a separate testing process through an independent 3rd party. These tests ensure the packs follow ASTM, state, and federal restrictions (for more information, see JPMA’s website). While getting a JPMA certification does not mean that a certain pack is safer than other packs on the market—and there are other global testing standards like TÜV for Deuter in Germany—it is nice to see that some are taking this voluntary step.
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