When you become a parent, you have to be prepared for lugging your little one around every day. That’s harder than you might think, and it can become a bicep-burning slog if you don’t have the right gear. One way to make things easier on yourself and take some of the strain off your body is to use a baby carrier for hiking. These carriers are intended for older babies and toddlers, and they’re the most convenient option where terrain is too tricky for buggies/strollers. They’ll also save your spine on long-haul hikes, of course, but they’re not just for people who want to take their children along on nature walks and wilderness trails. Many parents use these carriers for less exotic trips to the mall, the zoo, a museum – or even just to walk the dog.
Most baby carrier hiking backpacks are made for children old enough to sit up independently, with full head and neck control. That’s usually around 6 months of age. Although there are some carriers on the market that feature head and neck support for children as young as 3 months, we don’t recommend them, because they don’t really give the same level of support as a regular carrier or a sling. Baby carriers for hiking are designed to bear heavier loads, will free up your arms completely, and are a worthwhile investment when kids get too big for front carriers and swinging legs start to land in unwelcome places. This guide will show you the main characteristics of these products and how to choose the best baby carrier for hiking.
Table of Contents
- Best Baby Carrier for Hiking Reviews
- Why Choose Hiking Carriers Over Regular Baby Carriers and Slings?
- Types of Baby Carriers for Hiking
- Features of Baby Carriers for Hiking
- What Should You Consider when Buying a Baby Carrier for Hiking?
Best Baby Carrier for Hiking Reviews
1. Micro Plus
Micro Plus, a 1.7kg streamlined number from Bush Baby, hugs the back closely, which is reassuring if you’re worried about banging your baby into something every time you turn. The closeness means it can get a bit clammy, but its frame fits the curvature of the spine, plus there’s a padded lumbar area and six liters of storage room.
2. Ultralight S3
LittleLife’s Ultralight S3 model is a great solution when little legs get tired; it comes to the rescue with an amazingly spacious seat compartment. This baby carrier for hiking doesn’t skimp on features and carries children weighing up to 15kg. The Ultralight S3 is great for shorter walks and is carry-on size for airplanes.
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Escape is a New Zealand brand created by Phil and Teds that gives parents the cool factor, like this sleek pack complete with a carefully considered design for kiddies aged from three months to three years. What makes this model special is the head support, wider seat and soft fleece restraints.
4. Chicco Finder Backpack
The Chicco Finder Backpack is a framed baby carrier for hiking that is more basic in build quality but comes stacked with features. Loading baby will be a breeze thanks to a kick-stand and wide seating compartment. It has an integrated sun canopy and rain cover, but it doesn’t have the padding or storage options of more expensive models.
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When traveling light is important, a baby carrier you can unfurl from your pocket ticks that box. Phil and Teds Airlight is made from an ultra-lightweight, breathable mesh. The piggy-back design could not be easier to use, though the lack of padding makes it better for shorter strolls.
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BabyBjörn Carrier One, a convertible carrier, is a good solution for parents who want something that will work for newborns to three-year-olds. It includes a front-facing option for younger children, then it’s easily transformed to be worn as a backpack for older kids. BabyBjörn Baby Carrier One is light, well-made and offers sturdy support.
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The LittleLife Ranger has a minimalist frame design and is one of the slimmest and, at only 1.7kg, one of the lightest around. It sacrifices storage for a svelte profile, but it doesn’t compromise on comfort and has well-padded shoulder straps and a face pillow for dozing infants.
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This is another framed baby carrier for hiking produced by Osprey. It is large, but it’s a joy to wear over the bumpiest of trails. The carrier is comfortable thanks to an excellent weight-distributing design, back ventilation and an adjustable fit. The built-in kick-stand helps with loading, and an SPF 50 sunshade is another great feature.
9. Ecosusi Designer
Ecosusi Designer is a fresh change from plain designs, and this eye-catching, no-fuss solution is good value for short walks. It can be used in front and back positions and, unlike other budget models, it comes with hip straps to help spread the weight.
10. Deuter Kid Comfort III
This toddler hiking carrier is rich in padding and its secure five-point harness is very comfortable for kids. It’s no slouch for adults, either, thanks to a superb fit and stable ride. This carrier has a lot of the storage, but it also requires strong legs as it weighs 3.5kg.
Why Choose Hiking Carriers Over Regular Baby Carriers and Slings?
Ordinary slings and carriers are great lightweight solutions for baby wearing younger babies. Most of them are suitable for newborns to babies up to around 35 pounds. Baby slings are simple pieces of fabric that you tie over a shoulder; carriers have buckles to ensure a proper fit and most let you wear your baby in a variety of positions. Meanwhile, baby carrier hiking backpacks are heavier duty, more durable products, often with aluminum frames, that have plenty of padding to ensure comfort when you’re carrying a larger child. As noted, they’re best for babies who are already able to hold their heads up and sit unassisted. Child carrier hiking backpacks let your child ride on your back, and they also have extra storage compartments so you can carry supplies just as you would in a regular backpack.
Types of Baby Carriers for Hiking
Baby carriers for hiking fall into two categories: framed and unframed.
Framed carriers are bulkier, more expensive and make you feel like the Buckaroo mule, but they do a better job at distributing weight and are sturdier. They also feature a comfortable, elevated position for tots.
Unframed carriers are mainly fabric, so they’re much cheaper and much lighter, but without frame support the child sits lower and the weight can pull on you more. Also, you can’t count on getting all the fancy features like storage and carrier covers. They are far more space-efficient and budget-friendly, though, so it’s kind of a trade off.
Features of Baby Carriers for Hiking
How much you’ll use a carrier and how rugged it must be to satisfy your needs are not the only things you should consider when choosing your baby carrier hiking backpack. One other thing to think about is whether one adult will be using the carrier exclusively. If it will be shared, your toddler hiking carrier should be adjustable to fit all users comfortably and safely. Toddlers are pretty heavy, so parents who get a carrier that doesn’t fit well often have problems with back pain. And of course your baby’s comfort is just as important. Most carriers allow for some adjustment, but it’s important to know the weight limit and read the manufacturer’s user manual to learn how to position your baby properly. Many toddler hiking carriers feature a five-point adjustable harness that keeps a child safely secured. The seat for a baby inside the carrier is often called the “cockpit,” and in some carriers the cockpit’s fabric lining is easily removable for cleaning. What features are the most important depends on your babies and your needs. Read through the features below and make a list of the ones you consider must-haves. After that, we recommend you that you try on and compare different models with the features you want.
If you prefer framed or urban backpack carriers, don’t forget to look for an adjustable five-point harness (two straps over the shoulders, two for the thighs, and a crotch strap), also known as a “chest plate.” We don’t recommend that you purchase a carrier that relies on a lap belt that’s separate from the shoulder and crotch straps; this leaves openings at the side that could potentially be big enough for a child to slip through.
Higher-end backpack carriers have cockpits that offer a roomier ride for babies and might include stirrups so a baby’s feet won’t dangle. That support can help reduce the chances that your baby’s feet will fall asleep during your outing. The maximum weight capacity of such a carrier is typically 40 pounds. Thanks to the padding, your baby will feel more comfortable, and some parents say their children seem happier in a cushier ride. Some carriers make it easy to remove the cockpit’s fabric lining for cleaning.
If you’re one of those parents who can’t leave the house without lots of toys, snacks, and diapering supplies, or if you’ll be traveling with your baby on longer expeditions, you’ll need a carrier with ample storage. Some models have only a small pouch for a cell phone or bottle, but there are others loaded with pockets, pouches, and toy loops built into the waist belt. Zippered pouches, or those with a Velcro closure, are better because things can’t fall out. Plastic-lined pockets are convenient for toting damp items. There are also bottom storage compartments able accommodate enough stuff for a day’s outing. The Deuter Kid Comfort, for example, comes with a large pocket in the hip belt and two side mesh pockets near the cockpit that can hold toys, sippy cups, and more. For serious hiking, there are some heavy-duty carriers with removable pouches so you can choose what to add or remove. When packing, make sure not to exceed the maximum weight for your carrier.
Infant hiking carriers have a lot of different buckles and fasteners on the shoulders, as well as waist straps for adult and baby. Buckles for holding shoulder and waist straps should be easy to adjust and hold the straps tightly so that they can’t get loose when the carrier is in use. Snaps and buckles must be sturdy and difficult for babies to unfasten.
Toddler hiking carriers are usually made of durable nylon similar to that used in regular hiking backpacks. They can vary from lightweight to heavy duty. The Deuter Comfort Child Carrier has a ventilated area in the back to reduce perspiration, and lots of “air-mesh linings.” The carrier’s material must be sturdy, moisture resistant, and easy to clean by wiping with water and a mild detergent. We recommend you let the carrier air out for a few days if it gets wet. Light-reflecting piping or stripes can help drivers see you when it gets dark, but don’t rely on them; always keep a safe distance from traffic. In fact, you shouldn’t use a baby carrier after dark or anytime visibility is poor.
The kickstand must be able to lock firmly in the open position, and it should have hinges with spacers so that fingers won’t be pinched. When the baby carrier for hiking is on your back, the kickstand should close fully so that it doesn’t snag on objects as you walk. For example, the Deuter Kid Comfort described in our best baby carrier for hiking list has a kickstand that releases when you push a button. When the carrier is on the ground with the kickstand open, it should be hard to tip over. But even if it is, we don’t recommend you use a carrier with a kickstand as a baby seat. With some carriers you can open the kickstand while you’re still wearing the carrier, making it easier to take some of the load off when you’re alone with the baby and want to take a break.
Try to find a toddler hiking carrier with padding that covers the metal frame near your baby’s face. The padding should be firm rather than soft or mushy. As you would on any backpack you’re going to carry for a long period of time, you’ll want to have well-padded shoulder straps and hip belts. For example, there are some carriers with a fully padded “bucket seat” for the baby, a padded back area for the adult, and a padded hip belt.
The child’s seat should have leg openings that can be adjusted to be small enough to prevent your baby from slipping out. They should be fully adjustable in the other direction, too, so that they’ll continue to fit snugly around your baby’s legs as he grows.
Seats and Seat Belts
It is great to have a carrier with an adjustable seat so your child can sit high enough to see over your shoulder from the beginning (though not so high that she could fall out). The cockpit should be padded for comfort and have enough depth to support your baby’s back. It should also have a seat belt to prevent your child from tipping out. Don’t forget to check all buckles and other securing hardware, and be sure that seams won’t tear and straps won’t slip.
You can also attach a mirror to your carrier so you can see what your child is up to (like whether or not he’s fallen asleep). If your carrier doesn’t come with a mirror attachment, you can buy one from a retailer such as REI.
Shoulder, Waist, and Chest Straps
Choose a baby carrier for hiking with firm, wide shoulder-strap padding. It should be very easy to put your baby in and strap the carrier on. It’s best that shoulder straps have an adjustable chest buckle that keeps the straps on your shoulders while preventing chafing at the neck. Look for as much flexibility in the straps as possible. The waist belt and the chest strap (or sternum strap) should also be fully adjustable. Don’t judge padding by appearance alone, particularly on shoulder straps, which shouldn’t bear a lot of the load anyway. Shoulder-strap fit and the firmness of padding are more important than padding thickness, especially at the shoulders. You can also find well-made infant hiking carriers with a large pad to cushion your lower back. Thanks to the hip strap, it will be possible to distribute some of your baby’s weight from your shoulders to your hips and pelvic area, preventing strain on your lower back. It is definitely more comfortable carrying the weight lower on your body, and it is also better for you. When you try a carrier on in the store, fasten the belt to see that it’s long enough and neither too high nor low on your waist when the carrier is in place.
As you already know, baby’s eyes and skin are sensitive, so you should protect them from sun and bad weather. Most toddler carriers have a sun/weather shield or offer one as an accessory. In order to keep air flowing in and bugs out, some of them have mesh on the sides. If the carrier you select doesn’t come with a shield, it’s well worth it to buy one separately. You should know that not all sun/weather shields are created equal, though. The better shields are “hoods” that provide full coverage. And even if you do have a good shield, always make sure to dress your baby in protective clothing if you’re going to be outside for a while. It is ideal for a baby to have a hat with a 3-inch brim all the way around, or at least a hat with a bill facing forward, as well as a long-sleeved shirt and long pants made from tightly woven cotton. Apply sunscreen to the baby’s face and ears, and to any exposed areas on the arms and legs.
What Should You Consider when Buying a Baby Carrier for Hiking?
Take your baby
When your little one reaches the right age and weight for a backpack carrier, take him with you to shop for one so you can do a trial run in the store. If you expect to wear the backpack during cold weather, try it on over your coat.
Practice in the store and at home
Try to practice putting carriers on and taking them off with the help of knowledgeable sales staff. Your partner should do the same. Also try adjusting the straps to fit each person’s torso to see if it’s easy to do. In order to see if the frame hits the back of your head or digs into your lower back, walk around wearing the backpack for a few minutes. Make sure it’s not too long for your torso, and that the straps fit properly and don’t slip off your shoulders. Read the instructions and see whether they’re clear and easy to follow. During your first practice session, remember that you’re taking up more space with a child on your back. An older child’s head could be as high (or higher) than your own. It’s easy to forget you have another foot or so of carrier and child behind you, so be careful when moving through doorways or other tight spaces. Try not to whack your child into anyone or anything.
Look for a snug-fitting safety harness
The main characteristic of the safest backpack carriers is a five-point harness for the child that connects the shoulder straps with the crotch, torso, and hip restraints for a snug fit. Avoid buying a child carrier hiking backpack that relies on a lap belt that’s separate from the shoulder and crotch straps, leaving openings at the side that could be big enough for a child to slip through. This can happen when children pull their legs up and then put both legs into one opening. Several baby carriers for hiking have actually been recalled because of this issue.
Avoid buying secondhand equipment
It is worth the money to buy a new baby carrier hiking backpack so you can be sure that you’re not using a recalled model. Of course, new carriers might be subject to recalls in the future. As for any other baby product, you should send in the registration card for the backpack carrier you select so you’ll be alerted directly by the manufacturer if it’s recalled. It’s also a good idea to check the status of your carrier on the Consumer Product Safety Commission website periodically. If you have a hand-me-down carrier you used with a previous child, inspect it for excessive wear, which can weaken straps and seams, before carrying your new baby in it. Don’t forget to reread the instruction manual. If you no longer have the manual, you can always download a copy from the manufacturer’s website or call customer service to ask for another one. It is not recommended to use a carrier for which you have no instructions, no matter how simple it might seem. That can produce serious accidents.