The Best Backpacks for Carrying Babies and Kids

Wondering which backpack is top-rated for carrying older babies and kids? We took six of the most highly regarded and most popular backpacks on the market today, and tested them side-by-side for two months to find out which is the very best. Whether you're hiking the Rocky Mountains, traveling abroad or cheering on your nephew at his Saturday morning football game, we have the information you need to make the best informed decision for your family. We carefully evaluated each pack and ranked them on five separate rating metrics: Parent Comfort, Storage, Child Comfort, Ease-of-Use, and Safety.Read on to find out which backpacks earned themselves a top spot, and why.

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Test Results and Ratings

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Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Jessica Stevenson
Review Editor
BabyGearLab

Last Updated:
Wednesday
December 10, 2014

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Best Overall Backpack


Phil and Teds Escape


The Phil and Teds Escape offers a simple design that offers maximum comfort for parent and baby. Editors' Choice Award

$249.99
at Amazon
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We selected the Phil and Teds Escape for our Editors' Choice Award. It is the baby backpack we would recommend to a friend who was looking for the very best product in this category. The Escape obtained the highest scores across our testing criteria and outperformed every other product we tested by merging superb comfort for both parent and baby with an incredibly sleek, yet functional design. Its familiar side-squeeze buckles allow even the most stubborn I-Won't-Read-The-Directions type of dad to figure out how to easily secure baby and adjust for their own comfort. We also loved all the comfort and safety features that will help keep baby happy during your hikes. Especially attractive is the middle of the road pricetag, with three other lower-scoring backpacks actually costing more than the Escape. Because of its versatility, price, quality and performance, we love the Phil and Teds Escape for all our outdoor adventures!

Read Full Review: Phil and Teds Escape

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Score Product Price Our Take
88
$250
Editors' Choice Award
This backpack is a fun, functional option made from quality materials that keeps both parent and baby comfortable while at the same time offering great storage options in an easy-to-use layout
78
$260
Heavy-duty carrier with great storage that will keep you and baby comfortable for extended wearing
73
$240
Although well-made, expensive compared to the others we tested, and lacked features like a hydration reservoir and included sunshade.
59
$190
Inexpensive compared to the others we tested, taking up very little space, it's great for running errands or going on a quick hike.
58
$260
Although well-made, this pack is expensive compared to the others we tested, and did not offer superior comfort or safety features.
30
$130
A bare-bones carrier that functions well for a quick errand or some cleaning around the house, as it does not offer any storage compartments for longer outings.

Analysis and Test Results


Thinking of going for a hike with your little one? Headed to the farmers market? Off to watch big brother's soccer game? As many parents quickly learn, just leaving the house with a baby in tow often requires extensive planning and packing. Add in an hours-long outdoor adventure where you may need to be hands-free, and you'll soon find that you'll need a reliable, comfortable, practical place to put baby and all your gear. Enter, the Baby Backpack.

We consider a baby backpack to be a long-term investment that you should be able to to rely on well into the toddler years, and possibly be able to re-use with younger siblings. With an average price around $200, it's an investment you may only want to make once. Finding that perfect baby backpack can be an intimidating process. With endless lists of features, how do you know which ones you'll really need? Here at BabyGearLab, our goal is to sort through the often overwhelming world of baby gear, and this time, we're talking backpacks. Read on to find out what we learned based on our extensive research and hands-on testing process. For even more information on how to navigate the buying process, be sure to check out our article, How to Choose the Best Baby Backpack.

First Things First


Although there are several important factors to consider when purchasing a baby backpack, the one we placed the most weight on was Parent Comfort. Because let's face it, if mom or dad isn't comfortable, then there's not going to be any babies in any backpacks! We found that there absolutely must be sufficient padding in the back, shoulder, and waist/hip area to help even out the load of a 20+ pound (or more) toddler, plus their gear. Our top scoring pack in this category was the Phil and Teds Escape, also our Editors' Choice Award winner. Read on to find out more about how we evaluated all of our baby backpacks, and find which one might be a good fit for you.

Types of Baby Backpacks


The baby backpacks we tested are all child carriers meant for children who weigh at least 16 pounds and can sit upright unassisted. If you are looking for something meant for a smaller child or infant, you'll want to stick to a baby carrier. For further information about these, check out our Best Baby Carrier Review. Among baby carriers, there are some that offer a specific 'back carry' position such as the Beco Baby Gemini to accommodate older babies better. Although they may seem similar to baby backpacks, a baby carrier with a back carry position is not a backpack, and their uses are quite different.

Key characteristics common to high-scoring baby backpacks we tested are:
  • All of the backpacks we tested  from left to right: Kelty Junction  Chicco SmartSupport  Phil and Teds Escape  Osprey Poco Plus  Kelty Journey 2.0  and Deuter Kid Comfort.
    All of the backpacks we tested, from left to right: Kelty Junction, Chicco SmartSupport, Phil and Teds Escape, Osprey Poco Plus, Kelty Journey 2.0, and Deuter Kid Comfort.
    Lightweight Frame — Made of either aluminum or steel, frames allow for the added support of carrying more weight. The Kelty Journey 2.0 can handle up to 50 pounds! Frames make for a more durable pack overall in the longterm.
  • Good Padding — With a child plus gear commonly held in a baby backpack, weight adds up quickly. Extra padding in high-pressure areas such as the shoulders and hips offer much needed comfort when out for lengthy adventures.
  • Cozy cockpit — Let's not forget that baby is spending quite a bit of time back there, too! Since the baby riding in here can sit up unassisted, they have more head control than younger babies that need to be carried in a Baby Carrier. These backpacks offered various types of padding and soft materials to make the ride for baby as smooth and comfortable as possible, as well as other features like drool-pads and footrests.
  • Robust Kickstand — A sturdy, well-placed kickstand allows you to put the pack down and standing upright before removing baby. When loading or unloading baby solo, this feature is critical.


Criteria for Evaluation



The Phil and Teds Escape offered mesh padding in the lumbar region  but not on the shoulder straps.  Regardless  our reviewer felt that the overall comfort of the Escape was excellent.
The Deuter Kid Comfort Air being worn by dad  who is 5'10" tall.  He had no complaints about the comfort level  but when worn by someone shorter than 5'5"  the edge of the backpack hits the back of the wearer's head  making it impossible to look up.
 

Parent Comfort


We rated each baby backpack for their performance in Parent Comfort. Most critical for this rating was the amount of strain on mom or dad's shoulders and back. The best baby backpacks are well-padded on the shoulder, waist, and lumbar region, and when weighted down, adjust easily. Like with other hiking backpacks the ability to adjust on-the-fly is key for optimal comfort. Backpacks lost points here if they did not offer enough padding, were too difficult to adjust, or if they required more effort to find the proper adjustment.


Two of the backpacks we tested offered superior parent comfort while hiking. They were the Kelty Journey 2.0 and the Phil and Teds Escape. Each pack is thoughtfully engineered to offer outstanding comfort for even the longest, most strenuous hikes. The author of this review, an avid hiker, found that these two packs were ideal for serious hiking due to sufficient padding, easy adjustment, and great weight distribution; all perfect for long hikes and extended wearing. The worst scoring backpack on this criteria was the Chicco SmartSupport, which offered minimal padding, no torso adjustment, and was more difficult to adjust once on.


We loved the backpacks that saved special storage space for hydration reservoirs  like the Kelty Journey 2.0 did.
We loved the backpacks that saved special storage space for hydration reservoirs, like the Kelty Journey 2.0 did.

Storage


There's no doubt that kids = stuff. And when you have stuff, you need a place to put it all. Backpacks that performed best on storage were ones that offered plenty of space for not only baby essentials like diapers, wipes, and extra clothes, but also hiking essentials like hydration reservoirs, sun shades, and rain gear. Backpacks that had separate zipped areas to compartmentalize earned extra points. Also, having a space to store a sunshade to keep baby protected earned our backpacks a higher rating.


Top ratings were earned by the Phil and Teds Escape, which impressed us with water bottle/reservoir storage, a small pocket for cell phones or keys, sun/rain canopy storage, and more than enough additional storage space for items like diapers, extra baby clothes, rain gear, etc. For the person who wants to take baby on longer hikes with a partner, or who has other children that require their own gear, the zip off backpack that the Phil and Teds Escape offers makes it a great choice due to the fact that the extra backpack could be loaded and then given to a partner (or older child) to carry. The worst performer on storage was the Chicco SmartSupport, which lacks storage of any kind. There wasn't even a place to store the owner's manual. The only thing this backpack can carry is a child.

The Phil and Teds Escape featured a moldable headrest in the baby cockpit  something our baby reviewer really appreciated (especially once they fell asleep).
The Phil and Teds Escape featured a moldable headrest in the baby cockpit, something our baby reviewer really appreciated (especially once they fell asleep).

Child Comfort


Little details like drool pads, footrests, soft materials, wide cockpit seats, and extra padding can make being in a backpack a much more enjoyable experience for baby. We scored each backpack 1-10 on child comfort based on these details, which are especially important when you use the backpack for extended periods of time (in our case, up to two hours in between breaks). Additionally, there is a very good possibility that your child will fall asleep during a hike or outdoor excursion, so the comfort of the child while sleeping was also a factor that was taken into consideration.


Top ratings on child comfort were given to the Deuter Kid Comfort Air, which scored 9 of 10. Deuter seems to have paid attention to many of the practical details that make a child's ride more comfortable, with a well-padded drool pad (that conveniently doubles as a child's pillow once they fall asleep), padded interior sides, low-sitting cockpit seat, and adjustable footrests. If baby didn't know any better, they may just think they were relaxing in a comfortably padded high chair!

Ease of Use


Our ease-of-use rating ranks each baby backpack on its ability to be easily set up (or assembled) right out of the box, ease of loading and unloading baby, ease of unbuckling and buckling baby securely, and positioning of "haul handles" to make taking the backpack on or off your back a breeze. An easy-to-use pack is essential for most situations, as often times you have exactly 30 seconds to figure everything out before baby begins to squirm and/or scream, thus making loading and buckling nearly impossible. Ease-of-use is to some degree a deal-breaker. If you can't get baby in the backpack, well, then, we have nothing to review!
The Deuter Kid Comfort Air has two harness buckles and a sternum strap for baby.  While we appreciate the secureness of the buckling system  it can be a tricky task to buckle a squirmy baby.
The Deuter Kid Comfort Air has two harness buckles and a sternum strap for baby. While we appreciate the secureness of the buckling system, it can be a tricky task to buckle a squirmy baby.

Again, the highest rating in this category went to the Phil and Teds Escape, which managed to use the familiar side-squeeze buckles for almost all of their adjustment points, while still offering the same feeling of security of some of the other more complicated buckling/adjustment systems.

Safety


This score considers sunshade effectiveness, as well as security/safety of the child while buckled in the pack. Hip dysplasia ergonomics were also a big consideration for this category, as it is important for children (especially younger and smaller children) to be not only comfortable, but safe and healthy! You can read more about this important topic in our article Best Practice Tips for Baby Wearing.
Once baby fell asleep in the Kelty Journey  her head rested against the aluminum "V-bar" frame  offering minimal head and neck support.  The sunshade was also less effective with baby's head resting on the side of the cockpit.
The Osprey's cockpit harness consisted of two buckles that were not protected by any fabric  potentially creating a situation where a squirmy baby could get badly pinched.  Also notice the narrow seat.  We prefer a wider-based seat to help with proper hip positioning.
 

We also considered the use of an effective sun canopy (or sunshade) to be of utmost importance. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, just one blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life. And as any parent knows, even if you win the Put-on-Your-Sunscreen battle, you often will lose the Keep-Your-Hat-on battle. Using a sun canopy not only crowns you the winner of the latter, but also doubles as one less thing that can be thrown out of the backpack and lost along the way. If that sunshade can be removed and stored within the backpack itself, the pack earned even more points on our ratings. Two backpacks, the Deuter Kid Comfort Air and Phil and Teds Escape each earned high scores of 9 in this rating, offering not only an effective sunshade, but also a place to put it. Additionally, the Escape offered secure harnesses to keep baby in place while hiking, as well as a deep, wide seat for superior hip ergonomics.


One more note on Safety; if you must bend over for any reason while wearing baby, always be mindful of the way you do so. You'll want to bend at the knees, NEVER at the hips. Always refer to your owner's manual for more on safe practices.

Conclusion


When it comes down to it, the level of comfort in a backpack is the feature that will determine how much use you get out of it. Sure pockets are nifty, but if you don't enjoy wearing the pack, you're likely not going to notice the number of pockets. After extensive testing are rating of 6 different packs, the Phil and Teds Escape scored the highest in parent comfort and second in child comfort, making it our favorite. We believe that a baby backpack should be a one-time purchase that suits your child well into their toddler years, but also has the potential to be handed down to little brother or sister. We hope our rating and review process has been helpful in finding the right baby backpack. Go to our article on How to Choose the Best Baby Backpack if you want more in depth info.
Jessica Stevenson

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