Home Garden & Outdoor The Best Baby Carriers for Hiking in 2021 | GearJunkie

The Best Baby Carriers for Hiking in 2021 | GearJunkie

105
0

Make hiking fun for the whole family — even toddlers and babies! These are the best baby and child carriers for maximum comfort, value, and safety.

Just because you have kids doesn’t mean you want to stop getting outside. In fact, hitting the trails is one of our favorite family activities. And finding the right carrier pack ensures that you can hike more miles efficiently and happily with a baby or toddler. The options range from simple fabric packs to full-frame backpacks.

We’ve spent 2 years testing the gamut of packs while hiking in the north Georgia mountains, exploring the Pacific Northwest, marking miles in Southern Colorado, and traveling overseas. We’ve carried newborns to 3-year-olds, and our testers range from 5’1″ to 6’2″ tall.

Suffice it to say, we’ve really put these carriers through their paces.

While there isn’t a single best baby carrier to best suit every hiking family, we’ve listed a wide variety of options and organized the best baby carriers of 2021 into practical categories. For more information on finding the right fit, look at the end of this article for our buyer’s guide and tips for hiking with kids.

Feel free to scroll through to see all of our recommended buys, or jump to the category you’re looking for:

For more information on baby carriers for hiking, check out our buyer’s guide and FAQ at the end of this article. Need some tips for hiking with babies and kids? We’ve got that covered too.

The Best Baby Carriers for Hiking in 2021

Best Overall Baby Carrier: Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite

kelty journey perfectfit elite

There’s a lot to like about this pack ($299). First off is the storage space. With nine pockets and a 26L capacity, you can easily stash everything you need for a day on the trails.

We especially like the “dirty” compartment that keeps wet or soiled clothes separate and easily wipes clean. The suspension system makes carrying heavy loads comfortable and allows the pack to fit a variety of people.

Our tiny testers also found this pack especially comfortable. The drool pad provides a comfortable place for baby to rest their face and can be removed for cleaning. And the stirrups keep legs in a supported position.

We also like that the kickstand can be deployed or tucked away while wearing the pack. And the multiple grab handles make it easier to get the pack on and off.

With the integrated sunshade (which easily slides into a zippered compartment), hydration sleeve, and generous storage pockets, this pack is built for regular use and big adventures.

Pros:
  • Comfortable suspension system
  • Integrated sunshade
  • Lots of storage
  • Includes a “wipe clean” pocket
Cons:

Check Price at REICheck Price at Moosejaw

Runner-Up: Osprey Poco Plus

osprey poco plus

Osprey knows backpacking packs. Our love for this pack ($330) and the above Kelty Elite are equal. Our testers are split on which is best, but everyone agrees these are the top picks.

The many adjustment points allow for a perfect fit and can easily be customized for a variety of users. From a 6’2″ tester to a 5’1″ mom, we found this pack could easily adjust to fit them all.

One of our favorite new features is the backpack-style harness system in the child’s cockpit. Gone are the days of having to pull something over the kiddo’s head or dig around searching for straps. Simply slide their arms in and clip.

And kids love it too. As our contributor explained, “Not only does our 16-month-old love it (he actually runs toward it and tries to climb in), it’s a favorite for parents too. It’s easy to take on and off, has a built-in sunshade, and is comfortable — even loaded up with kiddo and gear.”

The large sunshade protects baby from UV rays and easily stows in a zippered compartment. And there’s also a rain cover available. With a 48.5-pound capacity and seven stash pockets, you can rest assured knowing you’ll have everything you need for a day on the trail.

Pros:
  • Ventilated suspension system
  • Integrated sunshade
  • Lots of storage
Cons:

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at REI

Best Women’s-Specific Baby Carrier: Deuter Kid Comfort Active SL Child Carrier for Women

deuter kid comfort active sl child carrier

This pack ($250) was designed specifically for women and was built for hiking moms. The back suspension system keeps the weight closer to the body for more stability and comfort. And we like that the mesh on the side of the cockpit keeps kids cool.

Weighing in at less than 6 pounds, this pack won’t weigh you down. But it’s still strong enough to handle a 48-pound load. The only thing we don’t love is the lack of a hydration pocket.

Otherwise, this is a solid option, especially for moms looking for a pack with a shorter torso length and a narrower fit. Compatible accessories include a large chin pad, sun and rain roof, and deluxe rain cover (each sold separately).

If you’re looking for more storage, the Deuter Kid Comfort Pro is an option worth considering. It offers an extra-comfortable child cockpit and even comes with a removable daypack.

Pros:
  • Designed for women
  • Lightweight
Cons:
  • Sunshade sold separately
  • No hydration pocket

Check Price at Deuter

Best Frameless Baby Carrier: BabyBjörn One Air

babybjörn one air

Anyone who runs hot or hikes in warm weather will appreciate this carrier ($220). The soft mesh construction is extra breathable and cool for both you and baby. And it dries extremely quickly. We dropped it in the ocean one day while testing and were happy it was dry within 20 minutes.

If you have a baby who insists on facing out, this carrier is a great option. And with the ability to wear baby in multiple positions, it will grow with you from newborn to 3 years old.

Pros:
  • Mesh is breathable
  • Cool and quick-drying
Cons:
  • No storage like backpack carriers

Check Price at Amazon

Best Infant Fabric Wrap Carrier: Solly Baby Wrap

SollyBabyFabricWrapCarrier

This soft, silky wrap ($65) feels great against your skin and holds baby snugly against the body. Baby can be up to 25 pounds in this one, but I like it best for those first few months. The Lenzing modal fabric is made from Austrian beechwood trees and is manufactured in the USA.

This isn’t the best choice for epic hikes, but it can’t be beat for mellow outings during the fourth trimester.

  • Weight: Info not available
Pros:
  • Comfortable
  • Soft
  • Lightweight
Cons:
  • No storage
  • 25-pound max weight

Check Price at Solly Baby

Best of the Rest

Deuter Kid Comfort Pro

deuter kid comfort pro

This pack marks the highest-end option in the Deuter Kid Comfort Baby Carrier line. It offers a large storage capacity. And with dual water bottle pockets and a spot for a hydration bladder, it’s ready for a long day on the trail.

We also appreciated the removable daypack and large storage compartment. It has two hip pockets, which can fit a phone with some careful finagling.

This pack shines in child comfort. The drool pad is large and plush, making it ideal for on-trail napping. And we especially appreciate that it’s easily removable and washable.

We found the stirrups good for smaller children, but they tend to extend when larger toddlers put full force on them. The included sunshade keeps heads protected and stores easily in the pocket.

As for parent comfort, we found the Kid Comfort Pro ($340) varied widely across testers. Some ranked it at the top and never had any concerns. The torso adjustment suited these testers perfectly, and they raved about the breathable and comfortable back panel.

But several testers found the hip pads rubbed uncomfortably. Despite numerous adjustments, we were never able to get a comfortable fit, especially with heavier loads.

Pros:
  • Removable daypack included
  • Plush child cockpit
  • Sunshade included
Cons:
  • Some parents experienced hip discomfort

Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at Amazon

Thule Sapling Elite

thule elite sapling child carrier

This is the Swiss Army knife of child carriers ($350). From a rearview mirror for checking on your kiddo to an integrated (yet removable) daypack, this carrier has it all.

We like that the large hip pockets can fit a phone, chapstick, and plenty of snacks. And it has an easy-to-use hydration pocket and port for trailside sipping.

The fully adjustable back panel allows it to easily fit both parents. And the cockpit design means the kid can load up from the top or side, an option that independent toddlers love.

This is the most expensive child carrier on the list, but it’s full of features. If you plan to use it regularly or will be taking multiday backpacking trips, this versatile pack is for you.

Pros:
  • Comfortable suspension system
  • Integrated sunshade
  • Lots of storage
  • Includes a “wipe clean” pocket
Cons:
  • Support legs aren’t as secure

Check Price at Thule

Phil&Teds Escape Child Carrier

phil&teds escape child carrier

This New Zealand-based brand knows a thing or two about getting outdoors with kids. The Escape ($250) has all sorts of extras, like a removable daypack, changing pad, and rearview mirror. The quality is great, and the headrest is super comfy for kiddos.

That said, it’s not our favorite pack. Despite adjusting it, we could never find a perfectly balanced fit. The cockpit rides too far away from the body, making the weight of your child hang away from your back.

We wanted to love this pack, as we’re fans of the phil&teds travel crib and like the quality of this pack. But the fit was just never quite right for us.

Pros:
  • Removable daypack
  • Comfortable headrest for child
Cons:
  • Hangs too far away from the back
  • Not as stable as other packs

Check Price at Phil&Teds

Tula Free to Grow

tula free to grow

This pack ($159) really grows with your child. It works from newborn to 3 years old (or 45 pounds) and is very intuitive to use. The waistband buckle is off to the side and can be a bit of a pain to clasp until you get the hang of it.

The padded shoulder straps provide all-day comfort, and the coordinating hood protects against the sun. This pack doesn’t work for front, outward-facing carry, but this is a must-have for babies who ride inward-facing.

Pros:
  • Comfortable
  • Fits newborn to 3 years old
Cons:

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Baby Tula

LuvdBaby Backpack Carrier

luvdbaby backpack carrier

Popular on Amazon, this carrier ($179) will get the job done but lacks some refinement. We like that it includes a rain cover and sunshade. And the zippered and mesh pockets hold a decent amount of gear.

But it doesn’t have a hydration pocket, which isn’t great on longer hikes. And the kickstand is rather difficult to deploy when it’s on your back. Sure, you could save a few bucks here, but if you plan to hike a lot, it may be worth going with a proven child carrier.

  • Shipping Weight: 6 lbs. 8 oz.
Pros:
  • Sunshade included
  • Lower price than other options
Cons:
  • No hydration pocket
  • Kickstand challenging to deploy

Check Price at Amazon

Testing the Best Hiking Baby Carriers _MalloryPaige
The capacity and design of hiking baby carriers vary widely, so consider your use and size for the best fit

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Baby Carrier for Hiking

Choosing the best carrier depends on a variety of factors and is as personal as each hiking family is unique. This is one of those instances when trying a few on can really help.

If you have friends with a carrier, ask to test it out or head over to your local REI or secondhand gear shop to try on a few before buying.

Types of Baby Carriers

Wraps

These are basically long pieces of fabric. Many first-time parents are intimidated by having to tie the wrap on, but it becomes a simple process with practice.

We’ve included the Solly Baby Wrap above as a great option for young infants, but a wrap isn’t the best choice for older children or longer hikes.

Slings

Also called ring slings, these carriers comprise a long piece of fabric with two rings at one end. It’s worn across the body and is suitable for infants and older children alike.

These are great for traveling and running errands, as you can quickly move the baby in and out. But it’s not the best choice for hiking. The entire weight is on one shoulder, and there’s no way to carry any extra gear.

Frameless, Soft-Structured Carriers

These are very common and include the BabyBjörn, Ergobaby, and Tula carriers. They have padded straps and easily adjust similarly to a backpack. Depending on the particular carrier, baby can be worn on the front facing in or out and on the back facing in.

These carriers are also a great option for older toddlers who want to walk much of the hike but may need to be carried at some point. They can easily ride on the back, and the carrier is light enough to take along just in case.

Backpack Child Carriers

Backpack carriers have many of the same design features as backpacking packs. They’re built for long days outside and make hauling more weight and gear possible.

With an adjustable torso length, padded waist belt, and plenty of storage, these are a great option for hiking and backpacking with kids.

Comfort

It’s important to consider the comfort of the adult doing the carrying and the kiddo riding along. For the adult, things like hip padding and an adjustable torso length are important.

For the child, foot stirrups let older children adjust their position. Plus, a softly padded front section allows for comfortable napping on the go.

Length & Location

Where do you plan to hike? How far will you go? Breathability may be a huge concern if you plan to hike in hot, humid areas. In which case, something like the BabyBjörn Air One or the Deuter Air would be a good choice.

If you only plan to take short half-day hikes or neighborhood jaunts, then something on the lower end of the price and feature spectrum could serve you well. But if you plan to regularly hit the trail or want to head out on a backpacking trip, you’ll need a pack with extras like a sunshade and storage (like the Thule Sapling Elite).

Adjustability

Do you want a pack that just fits you or one that can switch between both parents, grandparents, and hiking friends? If you and your partner want to use the pack interchangeably, it’s worth it to both try a few on before committing.

We’ve had great success with the Osprey Poco AG Plus and Kelty Elite fitting parents, grandparents, and friends interchangeably.

Suspension & Padding

Carrying a 40-pound pack is no joke — especially when that weight comes in the form of a wiggling, giggling toddler. A comfortable, adjustable back panel is key.

Storage

The other useful features to consider include a hydration system, water bottle holders, and extra pockets.

Sunshade

Keeping littles protected from the sun is paramount on the trail. You can certainly forgo a sunshade and instead rely on a hat and sunscreen. But after years of testing, we thoroughly recommend a sun cover.

Premium packs like the Osprey Poco Plus include an integrated sunshade. It packs into the carrier easily, so you never have to worry about forgetting it.

We’ve also found the sunshade is useful for protecting against light rain. But you’ll need a true rain cover to stay dry in heavy rainfall.

Baby Backpack for Hiking
The sunshade is a necessary accessory for protecting your baby while hiking

FAQ

What Is the Best Baby Carrier for Hiking?

The best child carrier backpack depends on a few things. First, how far are you hiking and how often? If you’re going longer distances or plan to regularly use your baby carrier, it’s worth investing more in a higher quality pack.

Second, what’s your size, and how big is your kiddo? We found the Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite and Osprey Poco Plus fit a wide range of parents and delivered excellent comfort for kids.

At What Age Can a Baby Go in a Hiking Backpack?

The big thing to look for is full head control. Babies weighing in at 16-plus pounds (about 6 months old) who can sit independently are good candidates. When in doubt, consult your pediatrician.

And if you want to hit the trail earlier, consider a wrap or soft carrier like the BabyBjörn.

Do I Need a Hiking Baby Carrier?

You don’t need any piece of gear to enjoy being outdoors. But having the right gear can make it a better experience.

If you plan to only occasionally hit the trail with your kid, then a dedicated hiking backpack may not be necessary. In that case, a versatile soft pack like the Tula Free to Grow can easily transition from newborn to toddler. It can be worn front or back and is great for travel, too.

But if you want to hike (or even backpack) with your baby, a hiking baby carrier is recommended. It offers superior support for heavy loads and has adequate gear storage for a day on the trail.

How Should I Dress My Baby for Hiking?

It’s all about layers. For cool mornings, we like starting with a lightweight wool top and then layering a fleece on top. And of course, you don’t want to forget a hat (or two).

For more help, check out some of our favorite kids’ clothes. From sunhats to jackets, you’ll find everything you need to get outside.

Testing the Thule Baby Carrier
Testing the Thule Sapling Elite while hiking in Georgia

Tips for Hiking With Babies & Kids

Safety First

For young babies, remember they need to have full head control before it’s safe to ride in a backpack carrier. If they can’t yet sit up, consider using a soft carrier like the Tula or Ergobaby.

Try Again

And what they don’t like one day could be their favorite thing next week. The first time I placed my daughter in a backpack carrier, she shrieked unhappily. But she was completely content the following week. And now, at 8 months old, she gets excited any time she sees it and will joyfully spend hours outdoors.

Remember the Main Objective

Don’t forget: The entire point is to enjoy being outside together. Set aside the need to make it to the top and enjoy whatever comes of the day.

Maybe you end up sitting under a tree for a nap, maybe you dangle a few toys on the pack for entertainment, or maybe you take it a bit slower. And, most importantly, always pack extra snacks.

At the end of the day, the main goal is to foster a love of the outdoors in our kids. Make these outings fun from the get-go and you’ll soon have a pint-size trail buddy. So grab your friends, buckle the baby into the pack, and get outside.


Best Hiking Pants for Women - Fjallraven Abisko Trail Tight
The Best Hiking Pants for Women in 2021

After months on the trail, we found the best hiking pants for women. Pick a pair and get ready for adventure. Read more…

Testing trekking poles while hiking near Moab.
The Best Trekking Poles of 2021

See our guide to the best trekking poles of 2019, with reviews of top aluminum and carbon options from Black Diamond, LEKI, REI, and more. Read more…