An Expert Guide to the 3 Best Baby Carriers for HikingPublished on 08/22/2022 · 11 min readBaby and Toddler Expert Alex K. explains all you'd need to know about baby carrier backpacks and lists a few of the best baby carriers to hit the hiking trails with!
Photo by Josh Willink
Just imagine it: dirt and rocks beneath your feet and the smell of crisp mountain air. Not a car in sight and no man made noise whatsoever except your heavy breathing from the miles you logged and the elevation you gained to get to the top. There’s hardly another soul in sight, except for that one on your back. You glance behind you, and your baby is fast asleep—all tuckered out from the rhythmic rocking of the backpack you carried them in for the hike.
Even though they’re not awake, you can relish this moment with them. They won’t be little forever, and you just made memories along the trail that you’ll remember forever.
Truth be told, not every outing with a kid in a child carrier backpack goes so smoothly. Kids are kids; they whine, get hungry, get antsy, and get tired. But getting outdoors is one of the best things you can do with your children, and what better way to start them young than with a backpack child carrier?
A quality hiking pack designed to carry babies and toddlers can go a long way to keep them happy. Our favorites have lots of storage, padding, breathability, and features that can be quickly deployed, like a sun canopy or rain fly.
What Is a Baby Carrier Backpack?
While most baby carriers are soft-structured or unstructured fabric packs, wraps, or slings worn on one’s front, back, or hip to carry a child hands-free, a baby/child carrier backpack has a metal frame that provides more back and shoulder support for the wearer. A hiking-specific child carrier pack is designed to keep both the child and their sherpa comfortable for hours on end and can carry heavier children than a less-supportive carrier.
These hiking carriers tend to be more expensive, much larger, and less compact than other baby carriers, but they’re worth the investment and storage space if you plan on hiking with your child. They look similar to a regular hiking backpack, but instead of a large main compartment for gear, child carrier packs have designated spots for snacks, water, diapers, wipes, extra clothes, and of course, a kid. They’re usually built with an adjustable “cockpit” for growing children (the seat can be raised for babies and lowered for toddlers) and a “kickstand” for holding both the child and the carrier upright when placed on the ground.
They also tend to last longer than a typical backpack. A single hiking carrier can be passed down from one child to the next (even after three to four years of use) or given to others once you’re done with it. These packs are made of durable, high-quality materials that withstand elements—including rain, sweat, and spit-up—and can handle over 50lb loads (a kid plus the necessary gear).
When Can I Go Hiking with My Baby?
Since a hiking child carrier doesn’t support a baby’s head (they have to hold it up on their own), a child should have strong head and neck control before being placed in one. This is usually around six months of age. With proper adjustments to keep them positioned comfortably in the cockpit—not too high and not too low—a child can be carried until they’re about 48 lbs, depending on the carrier. Be sure to follow manufacturer guidelines regarding a child’s weight, height, and age.
For babies younger than six months who need head support, a soft front carrier can be used for light hikes. We highly recommend the Ergobaby 360 Omni Cool Air Mesh. It’s frameless but great for small babies and is super light and packable. Once a baby can hold their own head up, they can be carried backpack-style in the Ergobaby 360 until they’re 45lbs. Note: soft carriers are suited for shorter walks while hard-frame carriers are best for longer hikes with a child on back.
How Should It Fit?
When it comes to correct fit and positioning with a hard-frame child carrier, start with your kid by ensuring that they can sit comfortably in the cockpit. Their chin should be near level with the top of the chin-rest pad to support their head during naps. They should also have an unobstructed view of their surroundings without being positioned too high in the carrier. In most carriers, the seat height can be easily adjusted by tightening or loosening the cockpit strap.
For you, the adult wearing the pack, adjust the backpack’s torso length to fit your torso by measuring from the base of your neck to the top of your hip bone. Most packs can be adjusted to fit adults ranging from 5-feet to 6-feet-4-inches tall.
Make sure there are no gaps between your shoulders and the shoulder straps, which would cause the pack to bounce while you walk. The straps should be snug without digging into your shoulders and loose enough to put a finger underneath. The hip belt should be tightened so that it sits on your hips, not your waist. The pack should feel comfortable and load well-distributed, not uncomfortable or uneven.
Best Hiking Baby Carriers
Now that you know a little about rigid-frame child carriers, you’re probably wondering which are the best. Here at Curated, we live and breathe outdoor recreation, and us Baby & Toddler Experts tested quite a few of the best hiking carrier backpacks with our children. To determine the top recommendations in this category, we factored in our personal experience while sifting through various reviews by other leading backpacking and hiking resources.
These carriers all have the following in common: they’re supportive, comfortable for both the child and the wearer, equipped with a quality harness and suspension system, and are strong enough to carry a growing toddler. They’re made for families who spend lots of time outside. As another option, non-hiking backpack carriers are lighter, frameless, and more budget-friendly for shorter trips, air travel, or use around town.
It’s worth considering how you plan to use a backpack carrier. They can be a welcome alternative to a stroller for casual strolls, errands, trips to a park, or walks on the beach. In this case, you may want to opt for a less robust, non-hiking-specific carrier. But if the mountains are calling your name, we highly recommend packs designed by revered outdoor brands, such as Osprey, Deuter, and Thule.
Our Top Three We had a hard time choosing the best of our three favorite hiking child carriers since these packs are all thoughtfully designed and equally adept at keeping kids and their accompanying adults happy on the trails. So instead of naming one better than the others, we wanted to break down whom each hiking baby carrier is suitable for.
Each of these three packs has an easily adjustable torso and hip belt for a secure and comfortable fit on any parent, which can be changed on the fly. They all have sunshades, and custom-fit rain covers can be purchased separately.
These hiking baby carriers are listed from least to most expensive.
Like everything else, the price of child carrier backpacks has increased over the years, and a quality pack like the Deuter Kid Comfort is now over $300. The good news is that this pack is one of the highest-rated hiking carriers on the market by parents who love its comfort, functionality, and durability. It’s also less expensive than comparable packs, like the Osprey Poco Plus and Thule Sapling (see below).
Weighing in at 7lbs 2oz, the Kid Comfort can carry one child weighing up to 48lbs 8oz while holding an extra 14L of gear in its storage compartments. That’s not as much as the 26L Osprey Poco, but it should be plenty for shorter day hikes—which is typically what a baby or toddler can handle when they’re getting used to being carried in a hiking pack.
It’s constructed with a sturdy metal frame, padded hip belt, and mesh back panel for plenty of support for growing children, comfort, and breathability. The child seat design is one of the best, with an adjustable five-point harness, tall back, supportive sides, and washable, removable drool pad/front pillow. It also has a side-entry option that comes in handy with toddlers who want to get in and out of it themselves. For sunny days, this carrier comes with a sunshade that can be popped open or tucked away instantly.
Deuter has an unmatched warranty policy and will repair any of its packs free of charge, regardless of how old it is or how it was damaged. If it has seen too many miles and is beyond repair, Deuter will replace it with the closest comparable pack.
For those who plan to hike more regularly or take their little one on bigger adventures in the wilderness, the Osprey Poco Plus is a hiking carrier that boasts both high quality and lots of storage for everything you might need for a day or overnight trip.
It retails for about $50 more than the Deuter Kid Comfort, but with 12 extra liters of storage in conveniently placed pockets—including a spacious main compartment—it’s worth it for serious hikers.
At 7lbs 14oz, with the same weight limit (48lbs 8oz), the Poco Plus is built similarly to the Deuter, with a stable aluminum frame and supportive, well-ventilated back panel and suspension system. Since 2021, Osprey has also made the Poco Plus more comfortable, with more padding on the hip belt, and easier to use, with a harness that buckles behind the child’s shoulders. The nylon fabric on the pack body is also now bluesign approved, which means it’s safe for the environment, workers, and customers.
Both the Poco Plus and Poco have a highly breathable mesh back panel, UPF 50+ sunshade with side coverage for UV protection, and foot stirrups to support longer legs. The Poco is a little lighter than the Plus (about 3oz), has less storage (20L), and is about $40 cheaper. This mid-range model is better suited for festivals, farmer’s markets, or short hikes.
The LT is even lighter (2lb lighter than the Poco), less expensive (under $300), and folds flat for better packability. It has 1 liter more storage than the Poco, with a 21L capacity, but it’s less comfortable for the child and the adult, making it better for sidewalk strolling than mountain climbing. Unlike the Plus or Poco, the LT has a less-breathable back panel made of foam and no stirrups. Its UPF 50 sunshade is smaller and provides less coverage.
The Poco and LT can carry kids weighing up to 48.8lbs, but the Poco scores higher in comfort, durability, and sun protection. The Poco Plus is the premium version of all three.
Osprey offers a seven-year All Mighty Guarantee on its Poco child carriers and accessories, and will repair any damages or defects free of charge or replace a carrier as long as it’s within seven years from the date of manufacture.
While they’re known for their car rack systems, Thule has made a name for itself in backpacks and other baby products, such as strollers, bike seats, and trailers. The Thule Sapling is a relative newcomer to the baby-carrier game, but it’s a big contender loaded with useful features for families who spend a lot of time on trails.
For starters, it boasts a cool and comfortable ErgoRide child seat with superior ventilation and under-leg support. This allows the baby or toddler to sit comfortably with their legs bent instead of dangling. The seat is fully removable, machine washable, and has a drool pad that cleans up easily. It can be loaded from the top or side, similar to the Deuter Kid Comfort.
Weighing 7lbs, the Sapling is lighter than the Kid Comfort and the Poco Plus and has a similar weight maximum (48lbs). It can hold 22L of gear, which can be accessed via side zippers while wearing the pack, and is compatible with hydration systems for drinking on the go (reservoir not included). It also has a fully ventilated back panel and waist belt. For complete peace of mind, it comes with a deployable UPF 50 sunshade and is made with PFC-free fabrics and recycled polyester.
Thule is a Swedish brand that makes its North American products in the U.S. and stands by them with a limited lifetime warranty.
Picking a Baby Carrier Backpack
While many hiking baby carriers offer a variety of attractive features, it’s worth considering where and how often you plan to hike with your child. If it’s a “let’s see how it goes” type of thing, it may be worth starting with a more budget-friendly carrier, like the Osprey Poco LT or the Chicco SmartSupport Backpack Baby Carrier as an entry-level backpack.
Metal-frame carriers like the Poco LT and Chicco SmartSupport are lightweight, stripped-down versions of more robust backpack carriers. They aren’t designed with enough support or padding to lug kids up Everest (note: no child should be brought up Mt. Everest!), but they fold flat for packing and casual excursions.
A child carrier backpack can be quite an investment, and you likely have questions about what you need and what you can do without. Our Baby & Toddler Experts at Curated are here to help guide you through the buying process so you can get the ideal backpack for you and your little one! Reach out to start a pressure-free conversation with one of us today!