Who says having a baby means you can’t continue to explore the great outdoors? Most children love spending a morning on the trail with mom or dad. With a little preparation and a few extra pieces of equipment, you can enjoy adventuring as a family with the little one in tow. A hiking pack with a spot to carry a child is one piece of outdoor equipment you will not regret investing in when camping or hiking with children. A good baby carrier allows the youngest hikers to ride comfortably without straining your back or arms – letting you go further and longer than you would otherwise. Even with children old enough to walk most of the way, a hiking carrier is a much more comfortable option than carrying a toddler preschooler the last mile in your arms or on your shoulders.
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|Osprey POCO AG Plus Child Carrier||Comfortable and good storage||48lb||$$$|
|Kelty Transit 3.0 Child Carrier||Folds down small||40lb||$$|
|Deuter Kid Comfort 3 Framed Child Carrier||Easily adjustable||48.5lb||$$$$|
|Clevr Baby Back Pack Cross Country Carrier||Lightweight and good value||40lb||$|
|Thule Sapling Child Carrier||Lightweight with high seat||40lb||$$$$|
|Phil & Teds Parade Lightweight Backpack Carrier||Lightweight and inexpensive||40lb||$|
What to look for in the best baby carriers for hiking
Here are the three areas to consider when it’s time to pick the best baby carrier for your next hike:
Most hiking carriers are built to carry a child between 15 and 40 pounds. Some carriers are specifically designed to support younger and smaller babies while others can hold children up to 45 pounds. Whether you have a very small baby or a child approaching school age, be sure to look for a carrier that meets your needs.
Another part of carrier size that varies from brand to brand is how much room the pack will take to store. The lightest and thinnest carriers, like Thule’s Sapling Child Carrier, fold flat for easy storage and are small enough to qualify as carry-on luggage on most airlines. Deluxe options like the Kid Comfort 3 from Deuter are heavier and take more room to store, but the extra features and padding might be worth the extra space if you have the room or plan to use your carrier on long, multi-day trips.
A proper fit is crucial to a successful hiking experience. Even the best carriers can strain your shoulders and back if not fit correctly. Most baby hiking backpacks are adjustable, but some offer more adjustable points than others. Deuter’s Kid Comfort 3 is easy to adjust on the trail, which is a nice feature if more than one parent plans to take a turn carrying the baby.
How to fit a baby carrier for hiking
- The first time you fit your carrier, it may take longer than you expect. For the best fit, follow these steps:
- Load your pack with something heavy enough to mimic the weight of your gear and child.
- Loosen all of the straps and put the backpack on.
- Fasten the waist belt and adjust the strap so that the belt fits snugly around your hips. The top of the waist belt should hit you just above the top of your hipbone.
- Adjust the shoulder straps so that there is no gap between your shoulder and the back of the strap. Empty space between your back and the carrier will strain your neck, shoulders, and back as you hike. If there is still too much space between the shoulder strap and your back, the frame of the carrier may be too long for your torso.
- Fasten the chest buckle and adjust the straps so that they are snug without pinching.
- Test the fit by walking around for a few minutes, including up and down the stairs. You should feel most of the weight on your hips.
Once you get the right initial fit, small adjustments on the trail will be fast and easy to make. If you plan to switch the carrier between adults, have each person practice adjusting the pack before your trip.
Accessories and storage
Most of the carriers on this list come with an integrated sunshade, ample exterior pockets, and a separate sleeve for a hydration bladder. Extra accessories or storage might make your trip more enjoyable or just add unwanted weight. Consider your personal preferences and needs when comparing accessories.
The Osprey POCO Anti Gravity Plus Child Carrier comes with small accessory loops near the child’s seat for attaching toys or a pacifier. Phil & Teds Parade Lightweight Backpack Carrier features a small, detachable backpack for little hikers to carry when they are not riding in the pack. While quite a few of the carriers on our list include foot stirrups to make the ride more comfortable for your child, the straps on Thule’s Sapling Child Carrier are both adjustable and removable, giving you total control.
The 6 best baby carriers for hiking
In response to the back and shoulder pain that accompanies long hikes with a heavy pack, the folks at Osprey developed the POCO Anti Gravity Plus Child Carrier. The specialized design gets pressure off your back and joints to make for a more comfortable carrying experience. But it’s not just comfort that Osprey have developed excellently: the fully-adjustable carrier portion is lined with fleece and includes a removable, washable drool cover, and the foot loops below the leg holes offer your child a place to rest his feet, preventing uncomfortable loss of circulation from dangling legs. Other thoughtful details include small loops inside the carrier for attaching toys or a pacifier, a separate sleeve for a hydration bladder, and an integrated sunshade.
- Suitable for children up to 48 pounds
- Comfortable for child and parent
- Plenty of pockets
- Costs more than most carriers on this list
If you are looking for a child carrier compact enough to qualify as carry-on luggage, Kelty’s Transit 3.0 Child Carrier may be your best option because it folds down smaller than most carriers on the market. In addition to foot loops below the child carrier, the child’s seat height is fully adjustable – any hike is more fun for a child who can see what is going on. Kelty’s carrier is a great option for shorter parents because the hip strap is adjustable for adults of different heights and builds. The smaller size does mean the carrier only fits children up to 40 pounds.
- Pockets on the hip belt and exterior
- Folds down to carryon size
- Adjustable child seat height
- Sunshade is too small to cover all angles
- Only fits children up to 40 pounds
While most hiking carriers are adjustable, the Kid Comfort 3 from Deuter is easy enough to adjust – even with a child strapped in – that you can take turns carrying the pack on the trail without having to stop and unload in order to get the perfect fit. This carrier is also a great option if you plan to hike with an older child; the Comfort 3 can support 48.5 pounds of total weight. Even fully loaded, special fabric and design elements force air to flow around your back, keeping you up to 15% cooler than with other carriers.
- Designed to keep you cool on the trail
- Carrier opens on the side to make it easy to get kids in and out
- 5-point safety harness built into the carrier
- Most expensive carrier on the list
- Rain cover is not included
The Baby Back Pack Cross Country Carrier from Clevr is a top pick for hiking in hot weather. The carrier is well ventilated and breathable, keeping you and your passenger as cool as possible. If you are looking for a less expensive or lighter carrier for occasional trips or a first foray into hiking with a baby, this carrier may be the perfect fit: it costs just half the price of some of the carriers on our list and only weighs 5.1 pounds unloaded. Although there is no separate sleeve for a hydration bladder, each side does include a deep water bottle pocket.
- Good value
- Extremely lightweight
- Folds flat for storage
- Hip belt is only lightly padded
- No foot rests or straps for the child
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Another carrier with dual side and top-loading options is Thule’s Sapling Child Carrier. Adjustable foot stirrups are also removable if your child prefers to ride without them altogether. A higher seat than many other carriers means your child is easier to hear and can enjoy more of the view. Just being able to look around is often enough to soothe a fussy passenger. Although the Sapling includes a separate sleeve for the hydration bladder of your choice, the hose runs right past the child seat without any protection from curious fingers.
- Dual loading options
- Child sits higher in the carrier
- Hip pockets can be difficult to reach
- Hydration hose not protected
The least expensive carrier on our list is also the lightest: Phil & Teds Parade Lightweight Backpack Carrier weighs just over 4 pounds when empty. In addition to being lightweight, it also folds flat for storage or travel. When collapsed for storage, the carrier meets more airline carry-on requirements and can easily fit in the trunk of a car. This is a fantastic carrier for older children because the seating area is spacious and open. Older children will enjoy seeing and interacting more on the trail, but the wider design may not be ideal for younger babies.
- Streamlined design
- Least expensive carrier on our list
- Easy to transport and store
- No integrated sunshade
- Puts more pressure on shoulders than larger carriers
Whether you want the lightest carrier on the market for quick trips or a hiking backpack with all the bells and whistles, one of the carriers on our list is sure to fit your needs and empower you to get out on the trail with the whole family!