How to Choose a Baby Carrier for Hiking

If you’re hitting the trail this summer with little ones in tow, chances are you may need a baby carrier. Baby carriers for hiking, also known as “baby backpacks,” are a major asset for parents who want to continue hiking and backpacking. Particularly with little ones who can’t walk quite yet. Not to mention, it sure beats having to carry your baby the entire hike.

If you’re wondering how to choose the best baby carrier for hiking, you’re in the right place. I’ve hiked around the world, from the Balkans to the South Pacific and back, many times with little ones in tow.

hiking with baby in backcountry wilderness

I’ll break down the main components of the modern baby backpack below. Undoubtedly, these factors will be important to you and your baby; comfort, weight, ventilation, adjustability, protection, storage, and accessories.

We assume that since you’re reading this article, you have plans to tote your tot into REI for research errands in order to make miles in the backcountry, we saved you some time with our top picks list of the Best Baby Carriers for Hiking in 2021.


The Types of Hiking Baby Carriers

Lightweight Baby Backpacks

Lightweight packs are the first main kind of baby carrier you’ll find on the market. Like the Ergobaby 360, these packs sport a minimalist, streamlined design and generally include fewer accessory options.

For instance, they lack bladder sleeves and removable daypacks, with less focus on storage pouches. However, many are designed for you to carry your baby front or backpack style, and potentially 6 different ways.

By the same token, soft baby carriers have expandable side panels, are usually machine washable and wide padded waistbands for to evenly distribute your child’s weight.

front carry hiking baby carrier

These packs are great for short day hikes and also work well for errands around town. While these can brave the wild of Costco, they aren’t tough enough for a dayhike in the backcountry.

Still, if you’re planning a moderate hike or overnight trip, think comfort carrier is needed in order for you to go the distance.

Comfort Baby Carriers

baby carrier for  hiking

Comfort focused is the goal for if you taking your baby carrier backpack hiking in the wilderness. For instance, these packs have an arsenal of storage space for food, water bottle, clothes, and other essentials.

Our overall top-rated baby carrier, the Osprey Poco LT, can hold 21L and weighs just a hair over 5 pounds. Still, some comfort packs can accommodate more. Such as, the Kelty PerfectFIT Elite, which holds 26L and quite possibly our favorite high capacity carrier,

Basically, these baby carriers are designed to hold more weight. The Osprey Poco Child Carrier, for example, can carry over 48 pounds, allowing you to hike long distances. Notably, these suspensions systems will have straps and are easily adjusted to customize the fit.

Baby hiking carriers may include or purchased separately accessories, such as sunshades, rain covers, drool pads, pillows, and foot stirrups.

Downsides typically include a higher price tag than lightweight carriers. Coupled with a heavier base pack, this can be overkill for a 1-mile stroll through your local state park.

However, if nature’s calling for you to take your little one hiking and camping deep into the backcountry, outfit yourself with comfort carrier tough enough for the wild.

What to Consider When Buying a Baby Carrier for Hiking

hiking baby carrier cockpit comfort
“Cockpit comfort” with access to water, snacks and toys are important features for hiking with babies

Cockpit Comfort

There are two types of “comfort” as far as baby carriers are concerned. Basically, two people are using the carrier: your baby is riding in it and you’re wearing it. So the best baby carriers for hiking are comfortable for both you and your baby.

For starters, the carrier needs to be comfortable for your little one. That’s “Cockpit Comfort.” A harness and seat that are secure is a must, of course.

baby sleeping hiking baby carrier

Also, look for a carrier that has soft contact surfaces, adjustable child seat height, and safety leg stirrups for your child. Equally important are comfortable padding around the shoulder straps and legs, where straps tend to wear.

By the same token, the cockpit itself (the space surrounding your baby) should always feature a significant amount of padding. Especially since your little one will likely be jostled a bit as you walk, particularly on rugged trails.

Indeed, side and rear padding with extra cushioning in front are essential. After all, your child will need a place to rest their head for naps.

Carrying Comfort

Undoubtedly, your little one must stay comfy, but it’s important that you do, too! After all, you’re carrying all the weight, after all.

Ventilation and adjustability (which we’ll cover below) play a role in comfort. Still, you’ll find the most comfortable packs have robust suspensions strong, well-padded hipbelts that mold to your hips. Certainly, you’ll want padded hipbelts that offer firm support.

The Deuter Kid Comfort Pro tops our best child hiking carrier list, for comfort. But if this is not for you, there are plenty of other comfy packs for you to choose from.

Weight

Weight can mean two things, so let’s talk about them both here.

First, look for a pack with a high maximum load. The best child carriers for hiking should handle somewhere between 35 and 50 pounds. Less than that, you won’t get much use out of your pack.

Secondly, consider pack weight (i.e. the weight of the pack itself). Naturally, a heavier pack is… well, heavier. But that’s not all you should think about.

Sturdier baby carrier packs are designed to handle heavier loads and have added features and accessories. So it’s a tradeoff between support and features versus base pack weight.

mom hiking baby carrier

Most comfort focused packs weigh between six and eight pounds. By comparison, minimalist packs, such as Ergobaby 360, weighs less than two pounds, but has no storage pockets. Certainly, you’ll need to carry an extra daypack for your DAY HIKE essentials.

Minimalist packs like this work well for short trips. However, the benefits become negatives on longer hikes.

Ventilation

baby carrier for hiking

Ventilation, both for you and your baby, is another essential part of the best baby carriers. For the wearer, there should be ventilation along the back panel. Baby backpacks with a full mesh panel, like the Osprey Poco, typically offer excellent ventilation.

Generally, baby cockpits have openings in front and sides. In brief, these do a great job of keeping your little one cool. It’s rare to find a baby backpack with poor cockpit ventilation. Still, it’s a feature to keep an eye on before buying your pack.

Adjustability

Suppose you and your partner want to share the baby hiking carrier. In this case, you want an adjustable harness system, in order to personalize the pack to fit to your body. Of course, if you’re the only one wearing the carrier, focus on a frame that fits you.

However, an adjustable pack is still more comfortable because you can fine-tune the fit on any given day of hiking.

The primary difference between wearers is torso length. So an ideal baby backpack should be adjustable enough to accommodate a range of torso lengths.

baby carrier hiking adjustable size
Sharing baby carrier backpack means the pack needs to be adjustable to fit petite to tall people

Standout child hiking carriers will also sport comfort padding with adjustable straps and panels. Adjustability in key areas like the hipbelt, sternum strap, and mesh back panel helps customize the fit for your personalized comfort.

For instance, the Osprey Poco Plus, is a great example of a one-size-fits all approach. Due to their unique adjustable harness system, this child hiking carrier can fit petite to taller frames. It also has padded spacer mesh hip wings, and the Fit-on-the-Fly adjustable hipbelt,

Osprey Poco Plus hiking child carrier
Osprey Poco Plus features front-facing arm loops for easier way to load your child and buckle them in

Equally comparable is the Thule Sapling Elite, with its adjustable back panel, hipbelt and removable daypack. Additionally, this hiking carrier has a notable feature that allows you to load your child from the top or side of the baby carrier.

Budget packs tend to fall short here. Rather, check your body measurements against the pack’s sizing guide, before buying a cheaper version. Otherwise, your hiking carrier backpack won’t fit well.

Sun and Rain Protection

Protection from the elements is critical both for you and your child. As a result, look for a pack with adequate weather protection. Of particular importance are sunshades.

Riding around in your baby carrier exposes your little one to a lot of sunlight. So, most importantly, find a pack with a sunshade (some brands also offer them extra cost).

sunhood baby carrier

Protection from rain is a bit less critical. Hopefully, you won’t be out hiking with your baby in rainstorms.

Still, most sunshades double as rain covers in a pinch. In addition, many major brands like Osprey and Deuter offer dedicated rain covers. sun roofs, and carrying cases that you can buy separately.

Storage

Storage among baby hiking carriers varies widely. Some, like the LÍLLÉbaby and the Ergobaby 360, offer no storage whatsoever. Others have minimal storage capabilities (think 5 to 10L). In contrast, others, like the Kelty PerfectFIT Elite (26L), can fit almost as much as traditional hiking backpacks.

In order to cover the distance and terrain, with baby in tow, you’ll need to figure how much supplies to bring. Certainly, you’ll need water, food, extra clothes, baby toiletries, First Aid kit, sunscreen, and other supplies.

Don’t forget, overall storage space is one part of a baby carrier. The number of pockets and layout is also as important. For example, a 30-liter pack with a single compartment is less functionality than a 25-liter pack with multiple pockets.

What’s more, it’s helpful to have extra zippered compartments in the hip belt, side pockets, top, and bottom, for overnight backpacking trips. Essentials like water bladders for on-the-go hydration, SPF lip protection, cash and phone can easily tuck in so you won’t have to waken your baby to have a sip of water.

It’s important to keep yourself organized, since your packing for two and with frequent diaper changing missions.

Hipbelt slash pockets, in particular, are a must for fast-access to keys, snacks, or personal items on the fly. Because who wants to unload your pack in order to grab snacks and water if you don’t have to?

Features

There’s no limit to the features and accessories you can find in baby carriers. Foot stirrups are always a nice and gives your toddler somewhere to secure their feet (and minimizes the kicking and squirming).  Especially important are sunshades, as mentioned earlier.

Some baby carriers offer an extra storage pouch for water bladders. While others feature detachable daypacks with extra pouches. Indeed, several brands conveniently added loops around the cockpit to attach toys and baby bottles.

Certainly create a list of needs & how you will use your child hiking carrier. If your plans are short trips to the farmers market, a Ergobaby 360 is a good choice. If you are going on a DAY HIKE, pick a carrier that has an built-in sunshade.

An especially nice feature is a carrier kickstand. This allows you to set your backpack securely down on the ground. Basically, this also means your pack won’t tip over with your little one inside.

Now that you know what to look for… Get out there and start your search!

(Hint: We have an article on the Best Baby Carriers for Hiking that’s a great place to start!)

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