Becoming a parent is one of the most deeply extraordinary things that you can experience as a human being. It’s wondrous, it’s miraculous, it’s truly life-changing. It’s also super flipping terrifying — doubly so if you’re a person who considers yourself a minimalist.
Because once that little bundle of joy arrives, so does a whole heap of clothes, shoes, books, blankets, toys, appliances, accouterments, gear capital-S Stuff that will junk up your house quicker than you can say “electronic bottle warmer.” The baby-gear industry is more than happy to pressure nervous new parents into buying whatever it takes to make sure their baby has the best in everything, but a great deal of what they’re selling is, sadly, useless junk.
However! There are some absolutely miraculous products available today that make life with a baby so much more enjoyable for everyone involved, and falling squarely in that column are the baby-carrying hiking backpacks. These beauties enable parents to bring their little ones along for a hike without sacrificing comfort or safety on anyone’s part, and we’re going to examine a handful of the current market’s top choices for the best baby hiking backpack available.
But before you lace up Junior’s (adorable-but-pointless) tiny hiking boots, let’s look a bit deeper into what qualities to look for when seeking our the best baby carrier for hiking.
What to look for before buying
Weight for it
One of the most important initial considerations in choosing the right carrier for you is the size and weight of your child. For newborns and small toddlers, you’ll want to start with frameless infant carriers that secure your baby to your chest and allow you to tote some gear up to a total of approximately 30 pounds.
Keep in mind, however, that your child will size out of this carrier pretty rapidly, so unless you plan on doing a lot of hiking during your babe’s first six months or so, you might want to wait until she can be comfortably and safely held by a larger child carrier that will be suited to take her trekking for at least a few years.
Child carriers, with their built-in frames, are appropriate for littles who are capable of sitting upright without assistance and who weigh more than 16-or-so pounds (weight obviously varies by carrier).
Most kids reach these benchmarks before they celebrate their first birthday, but, of course, you’re the best judge of your child’s carrier-readiness. Kids typically size out of child carriers at around 40 pounds, but hey, at that weight, it’s about time for junior to start carrying his own weight—literally and figuratively.
That frame mentioned above is a key component to a child carrier, giving structure and support for both you and your mini-me. Most carriers sport external aluminum or steel frames that enable the pack to carry more weight and add to the pack’s overall durability. Frameless carriers are best suited to smaller, lighter (and less fidgety) infants.
The Suspension is Killing Me
Despite that title crafted only for the (terrible) joke, a child carriers suspension system is actually designed to provide comfort, not the opposite. Many carriers feature a ladder system of adjustable suspension to allow you to choose what feels best.
You’ll need to be familiar with how to accurately measure your torso size, which will directly relate to how you adjust the suspension (the Internet can—of course—teach you how to size up your torso). Be wary of a carrier that offers a non-adjustable, fixed suspension. Fixed suspension may make for a lighter carrier overall, but you’re signing up for a carrier designed for one-size-fits-all torsos, and not many of us have one of those.
The Almighty Kickstand
Kickstands on child carriers work the same way as they do on bikes: they keep everything upright and stable without any help from you. Some packs feature fixed-position kickstands, others have ones that retract, but you don’t want to overlook this important element that makes life substantially easier when you’re loading and unloading the kiddo.
Everybody knows a kid’s prime directive is to do the exact opposite of what you want them to do, which is why you’d better believe your child carrier needs a superior harness system.
Just like a good car seat, a good child carrying backpack will come equipped with a safe and adjustable five-point harness. A good harness will keep your child comfortably in place for the duration of your adventure.
Take a Seat
Being able to sit in comfort while someone else does the grunt work on a hike sounds pretty amazing, you must admit, but “a seat” and “a good seat” are two different things when it comes to your kid’s cute little behind, so you’ll want to give this feature a bit of consideration before you buy. Look for a seat that offers both padding and adjustability.
Your kid’s comfort isn’t the only thing that matters, despite what you might be guilted to believe by the neighborhood SuperMom. But here’s the catch when it comes to choosing a pack with great shoulder straps: not only are good straps essential to your comfort, they’re also incredibly important to ensuring the safety of your child.
Strong, secure, well-constructed straps are key for keeping things safe while you’re maneuvering along the trail, and don’t forget to make sure there’s enough padding to keep you comfortable along the way.
Accessories! Accessories! Accessories!
The most exciting part of any purchase is the array of accessories available to customize your goods to your own preferences and needs. Child carrying backpacks come with some super-handy add-ons, including:
- diaper bags and changing pads
- day packs
- removable sun shades
- removable rain hoods
- removable bug netting
- additional pockets and sleeves for water bladders or bottles
Fine-Tuning the Fit
You try on shirts and shoes and pants to determine a good fit before wearing them, so it only makes sense that you’d do the same with a wearable child carrying backpack. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when adjusting your pack to you and your munchkins.
- Adjusting Your Fit
- The suspension system should be adjusted so that the hip belt rests on (what else?) your hip bones, and the shoulder straps rest on (you’ll never guess) your shoulders.
- The hip belt should be adjusted so that 80 per cent of the weight is being carried by your hips.
- The shoulder straps should be adjusted so that 20 per cent of the weight is being carried by your shoulders.
- The sternum strap across your chest should be snug—but not so snug that it impedes your breathing.
- Adjusting Your Child’s Fit
- Be sure to loosen all straps and employ the kickstand before placing your child in the carrier.
- After your little one is seated in the carrier and all feet and legs are in place through the proper openings, fasten and tighten all straps to be snug but not overly constrictive.
- Double check the shoulder straps and led straps (if your carrier has them) to ensure that they are secure but comfortable.
Because no parenting experience is complete without some insider tips from the experts, here are a few pointers to remember when it comes to using your child carrying hiking backpack.
- A fully loaded child carrying backpack can look quite daunting when it comes time to hoist your little guy and all your gear upon your shoulders. Consult the internet for some helpful videos on how to properly lift your loaded pack, but the basic procedure entails:
- lifting the pack by the top handles
- sliding the shoulder straps in place
- buckling the hip belt
- To remove the backpack, you’ll want to carefully:
- loosen up your shoulder straps
- unfasten the hip belt
- take hold of the handle behind your head and bring the pack around to face you
- grab the pack securely and set the carrier on the ground with the kickstand out
- Never place the carrier on an elevated surface. A carrier isn’t a chair and shouldn’t be expected to function like one.
- If your carrier has a busted frame, strap, or buckle, don’t use it. A cancelled hike is better than an unfortunate accident that could have been prevented.
- Don’t leave your child alone while he is fastened into the carrier.
- If your little one falls asleep while in the carrier, be sure to periodically check up on his comfort and protection from the sun and other elements.
- Child carrying experts agree: you might want to wear a hat to protect your hair from being grabbed by chubby little fingers while the pack is on your back.
While baby and child carriers are great, it should be noted that they are best for hiking and urban exploring, NOT for climbing, skiing, biking, or hikes on loose or dangerous terrain. Carrying another person around on your back seriously messes with your balance, so you don’t want to tempt fate by being too adventurous.
Top Products on The Market
Now, the good stuff: let’s take a closer look at some of the best baby hiking backpacks on the market today.
phil&teds Escape Baby Carrier
Dimensions: 27.6 x 12.6 x 17.7 inches
Specific features: This lightweight, compact carrier has a five-point safety harness, adjustable head support, foot stirrups, zip-off day pack, built in water pouch, change pad, sun hood, and rain cover.
Best use: The phil&teds Escape Baby Carrier is perfect for day-long hikes as well as urban adventures.
Phil&teds Escape Baby Carrier is a great choice for parents who are looking to get the next generation out on the trail as soon as possible. Thought the phil&teds Escape Baby Carrier has a lightweight aluminum frame, it’s suitable for children aged three months (or five pounds) to three years (or 45 pounds).
Outfitted with washable fabric—a must for parents of small children—this carrier also keeps the hiker in mind: the Ergo Fit Lumbar Control belt comes with extra padding to provide cushioned support for mom and dad’s back and hips, and the Body Tech Fit and Slide Adjust Harness back and shoulder straps are both sturdy and breathable.
Your baby will be safe and sound with the five-point safety harness, foot stirrups, and moldable head and neck support, and the included diaper changing mat, convenient dual access pockets, and H2O sleeve will make your family outing enjoyable for adventurers of all ages.
Related: The phil&teds Metro Child Carrier is another good option as it is a light and compact carrier. The quick fold system is also a nice touch.
Kelty Journey 2.0 Kid Carrier
Dimensions: 19 x 15 x 30 inches
Specific features: The Kelty Journey 2.0 comes complete with kickstand, five-point harness, pinch-proof hinges, sun hood, toy loops, adjustable seat, aluminum frame, under-seat storage, and heavily padded straps and belts for the wearer.
Best use: The Kelty Journey 2.0 comes highly recommended by users as a thoughtfully designed hiking carrier.
The Kelty Journey 2.0 Carrier is better suited to an older baby, with the minimum child weight coming in at 16 pounds and capping off at 40 pounds. But the pack itself is designed to carry a total of 50 pounds (child, gear, and pack), which is no small sum.
Luckily for the adult tasked with toting this backpack, the Kelty Journey 2.0 comes with an adjustable suspension system, padded back panel, curved and padded shoulder straps, padded and contoured waist belt with torso-length adjustment, sternum strap, and load-lifter straps to ensure maximum load bearing and comfort.
A parent clearly weighed in on the design of this carrier, with it’s clever under-seat storage, loops for carrying toys (undroppable toys! What a revelation!), removable and washable chin pad (drool, begone!), and front storage pocket. The Kelty has proved itself to be a favorite among outdoor-loving parents who want to take their children along on adventures without abandoning the marvels of modern baby gear.
Deuter Kid Comfort Air Pack
Dimensions: 13 x 28 x 17 inches
Specific features: The Deuter Kid Comfort Air Pack has the AIRCOMFORT back system, VARIFIT adjustable shoulder harness, adjustable five-point safety harness, height adjustable seat, easily foldable capability for travel or storage, and side entry child access.
Best use: The lightweight Deuter Kid Comfort Air Pack is great for all outdoor activities from hiking to cross-country skiing.
Years of expertise and research have gone into the Deuter Kid Comfort Air Pack, and “comfort” is indeed a priority with this carrier. The Aircomfort back system provides ultimate ventilation to prevent against the dreaded sweaty back on long hikes, and mesh material on both sides of the child seat ensure a substantial flow of air to keep your little traveler feeling cool and calm.
This pack offers a wealth of adjustable options: the shoulder harness, five-point safety harness, child seat, foot rest, Vari Fit back piece, and hip belt are all fully adjustable to fit each hiker perfectly.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable features of the Deuter Kid Comfort Air Pack is the side access entry which allows your little one to climb in and out of the (adjustable) seat independently and with ease—why shouldn’t the kids shoulder some of the labor after mom and dad spend all day doing the legwork?
Kelty Junction 2.0 Child Carrier
Dimensions: 24 x 15 x 13 inches
Specific features: The Kelty Junction has a foot-stabilizer kickstand, padded and adjustable seat, toy loops, organizer and storage pockets, hip belt water pocket, and removable/washable chin pad.
Best use: The Kelty Junction 2.0 Child Carrier is best suited for shorter hikes in moderate temperatures.
Like its cousin the Kelty Journey 2.0, the Kelty Junction 2.0 is a smaller, scaled-down version of that maintains all the features parents love while providing a simpler version of Kelty’s other carrier options.
Parents can still take advantage of the Junction’s torso length adjustment system to customize the pack to the wearer (this pack fits torsos between 14 and 18 inches in length), and kids will ride along in comfort in its padded seat and adjustable five-point harness.
With all its convenient pockets, toy loops, and water sleeve, this carrier is a great choice for short, casual hikes or urban adventures at the zoo, park, or museum. Users report that the Junction is not as breathable a carrier as some other packs on the market, so you might want to consider another option if you’re headed out on a long summer hike or outing in desert heat or high humidity. The Kelty Junction 2.0 has a 40 pound total weight limit (child + gear + pack).
Osprey POCO AG Plus Child Carrier
Dimensions: 15 x 29 x 17 inches
Specific features: The Osprey POCO AG Plus has a strong, lightweight aluminum frame, six inches of torso adjustment for the wearer, adjustable double halo child harness, framed and padded seat, washable drool pad, retractable sunshade, adjustable ventilated hip belt, and 210D nylon Double Diamond Ripstop.
Best use: The Osprey POCO AG Plus is a backpack built to withstand long days on the trail with you and your little co-pilot.
The “AG” in the Osprey POCO AG Plus’s name impressively stands for “Anti-Gravity,” and the manufacturers of this carrier back up the claim with a lightweight aluminum suspension system and mesh shoulder harness and back panel. The “Fit-on-the-Fly” hip belt is easily adjusted to fit whoever is hauling the kiddo, and a removable day pack can be given to another member of the hike to lighten the load.
The Osprey POCO AG Plus prides itself on being exceptionally safe and comfortable for your little hiker; the fully framed child seat is padded and features a fleece-covered butterfly harness and built-in safety leg loops. A locking foot bar kickstand provides extra stability to the wide base when the pack is on the ground, and there are also two reinforced grab handles to ensure a solid grip when lifting or lowering your precious cargo. The Osprey POCO AG Plus has a maximum total load of 48.5 pounds.
Related: The Osprey POCO AG Premium Child Carrier is a good alternative with its double halo harness and child seat. There’s also a built-in sunshade for protecting your child from the sun.
Chicco Smart Support Backpack
Dimensions: 18.1 x 18.9 x 30.7 inches
Specific features: The Chicco Smart Support offers a lightweight aluminum frame, adjustable seat, lumbar padding in breathable mesh, water-resistant canopy with sun visor and rain cover, and a kickstand for stable loading and unloading.
Best use: Use the Chicco Smart Support for short hikes and day trips to the zoo or urban destinations.
The Chicco Smart Support has loads of desirable features when it comes to choosing baby hiking backpack. From the aluminum frame and kickstand to the water-resistant canopy and sun visor/rain cover, this carrier has all the basics covered to keep your baby comfortable and happy.
However, user reviews stress that this pack is not a good first choice for demanding hikes or long-term wear. The Chicco Smart Support is lacking an adjustable torso feature and users report that it feels as though all the weight is carried in the shoulders (instead of being distributed between the shoulders and the hips).
Additionally, the fabric of the Chicco Smart Support is not washable; stains must be spot-cleaned with cold water, which might be challenging in those messier diaper-fail or upset tummy situations.
That being said, this pack does with a removable fanny pack and cell phone case that can be detached and taken on the go whenever the little one is let out and about to stretch her legs. The Chicco Smart Support has a 40 pound total weight limit.
Being a parent can be intimidating in more ways than one, but there’s no reason why you should hesitate to share your love of the outdoors with your little sprout. Baby hiking backpacks are here to help you comfortably and safely introduce the smallest members of your family to the wonders of the wilderness.
Are you a parent who has taken to the trail with one of the backpacks featured in this article? Do you have a favorite carrier that was left out of the short list? Or are you a soon-to-be parent looking for more advice on purchasing your first hiking-friendly baby carrier? Let us know all about it in the comments!