In-depth reviews guided by a Pediatrician

The Best Child Carrier Backpack

The Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 is a high quality comfortable pack with versatile storage options.
Saturday July 11, 2020
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Looking for the right backpack carrier for older babies and kids for your family? We purchased 9 well-regarded packs for side-by-side testing over a few months to determine which products are the best. Whether you're an avid hiker trekking through the Rocky Mountains, traveling abroad for sightseeing adventures, or cheering on the home team, we have the details you need to make an informed decision for your family. We analyzed each backpack for parent comfort, child comfort, storage, and ease-of-use. Continue reading to find out which packs impressed.

Top 9 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 9
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Best Overall Backpack Carrier


Thule Sapling


Editors' Choice Award
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  • 5

$299.95
at Amazon
See It

88
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Parent Comfort 10
  • Storage 9
  • Child Comfort 9
  • Ease of Use 7
Best parent comfort
Impressive child comfort
Ample storage, accessible water bottle holder
Less supportive seat
Heavier

Maximum Pack Load: 48 lbs | Hydration Bladder Capable: Yes

The Thule Sapling is the highest-ranking pack in the review with a perfect score for parent comfort thanks to width adjustable shoulder straps, a structured waistband, and a close-fitting cockpit. We liked the firm, stable seat pad and the angled, nap-able face rest. This pack has lots of storage with internal organization and a location for a hydration bladder. With adjustments you can do on the fly, it is difficult to go wrong with the Sapling.

While the price of this pack may be higher than some budgets will allow (with only a few options costing more), we think the quality and thoughtful design of the Thule makes it a real contender most families will love for years making it worth the price of admission.

Read review: Thule Sapling

Best Pack Storage


Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite


Editors' Choice Award
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  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

$299.95
at Amazon
See It

84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Parent Comfort 8
  • Storage 10
  • Child Comfort 9
  • Ease of Use 7
Loads of storage
Comfortable fit
Easier to use
Higher price
Not a great fit for shorter torsos

Maximum Pack Load: 48.5 lbs | Hydration Bladder Capable: Yes

The Kelty Journey PefectFit Elite has more storage pockets than you can shake a stick at with internal pockets, zippered waistband pockets, a waterproof pocket for wet or dirty items, and the only water bottle holder you can reach while wearing the pack. This pack includes a canopy pocket and a hydration space for a lumbar bladder bag. In addition to pockets galore, this pack is very comfortable for children and the wearer with adjustable straps you can use on-the-go. The Elite provides a snug cockpit, breathable back pad, and load lifters for help with weight distribution.

This backpack is not a good choice if you are on a budget sporting one of the highest prices in this review. It also may be a bad choice for parents with shorter torsos as some testers had trouble finding a good fit. Despite these issues, it is an excellent option if you want a comfortable fit with lots of versatile storage if your budget allows.

Read review: Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite

Most Comfortable Pack for Baby


Osprey Poco Plus


Editors' Choice Award
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  • 5

$330.00
at Amazon
See It

81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Parent Comfort 8
  • Storage 7
  • Child Comfort 10
  • Ease of Use 7
Secure cockpit
Supportive seat pad
Easy to use
Price
No cup holders

Maximum Pack Load: 48.5 lbs | Hydration Bladder Capable: Yes

The Osprey Poco Plus provides the most comfortable riding experience for children including a secure cockpit, wide padded seat, and harness, and an angled, removable, cozy drool pad/face rest. Little ones will enjoy the added comfort features of adjustable stirrups and a canopy with side protection. This pack comes with toy loops to keep treasures secure and a side mirror for keeping an eye on your passenger. Parents will appreciate the easy to use adjustments and features, as well as the close-fitting cockpit and breathable back pad with adjustable torso length.

The Osprey has a higher price tag than most of the competition making it a poor choice for families on a budget or parents who only hike occasionally. However, it brings a lot to the table and we think it is the best choice for parents who favor passenger comfort over other metrics.

Read review: Osprey Poco Plus

Best Bang for the Buck


Kelty Journey PerfectFit


Best Value Award
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$219.95
at Amazon
See It

81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Parent Comfort 9
  • Storage 7
  • Child Comfort 9
  • Ease of Use 7
Budget-friendly
Easy to use
Comfy for kids and parents
No canopy or hydration pocket
Limited storage

Maximum Pack Load: 48.5 lbs | Hydration Bladder Capable: No

The Kelty Journey PerfectFit is a simplified Kelty pack with nicely padded shoulder straps with load lifters and a stiff enough thickly padded waistband. It has a removable drool pad that is angled for cozy napping, adjustable stirrups for passenger comfort, and a wide padded seat bottom you can raise or lower for fit and comfort. This pack also sports a torso adjustment and pull forward belt-tightening for on-the-go weight-bearing changes for comfort.

This pack doesn't have a canopy or pocket for a hydration bladder storage. It only has a single storage compartment and a mesh waistband pocket that doesn't close, so it may not be able to hold all the supplies you need for longer trips. However, this Kelty is a quality pack that works well with easy to use adjustment points. We think most families will appreciate this budget-friendly product, but we do recommend adding the Journey Sunshade to your purchase to protect little ones from the sun and other elements.

Read review: Kelty Journey PerfectFit


We tested popular baby backpack carriers side-by-side and on the trail to find the best options available.
We tested popular baby backpack carriers side-by-side and on the trail to find the best options available.

Why You Should Trust Us


Our baby backpack carrier review had so many contributors and testers it is hard to pay justice to them all. With a background in outdoor products from our sister company OutdoorGearLab, we were poised to create a testing process with the true outdoorsman in mind.

This review was led by our founder, Dr. Juliet Spurrier, a board-certified pediatrician. Bob Wofford, father of 7, outdoor adventurer, and Senior Review Analyst for the last 6 years, worked with the OutdoorGearLab founder to create testing processes and choose outdoor trails for testing the packs. Multiple testers and parents assisted in the testing process wearing the packs on trails with their littles. Senior Review Editor, Wendy Schmitz, wraps up the analysis with her 5-years experience in gear reviews and hiking with children literally on board.

We tested each pack with a variety of wearers and passengers to ensure a useful cross-section of shapes and sizes to help find the average for comfort and usability by identifying the differences between packs and which have the best features and functionality. We considered parent and child comfort, as well as storage and ease of use.

Jump to: How We Tested Baby Backpacks


Analysis and Test Results


We purchased, tested, and compared 9 popular baby backpacks for several months to determine which options are the best and why. Our on-the-trail hiking and in-house side-by-side comparisons are designed to help tease out the details you'll need to make the right purchasing decision for your family. We rank each pack on its overall performance and tester feedback from real-world use. Metric scores determine the pack's overall scores with an emphasis on parent and child comfort.

Jump to: Buying Advice for Baby Backpacks

Do Your Homework
We consider a baby backpack to be a long-term investment you can use for multiple children up to around 40 lbs depending on the pack guidelines and parent ability. The prices are high enough that ideally you only want to make this purchase once, so doing your homework is crucial.


Value


While a baby backpack is an investment, we think packs are valuable for helping families get out and about with their babies. The investment pays off in more ways than just the pack itself. With the Kelty Journey PerfectFit sporting a relatively affordable price, most families can purchase a quality, comfortable pack with adequate storage and important comfort features. Even the high-scoring Thule Sapling isn't significantly more expensive and is worth considering even if you're on a smaller budget. While cheaper packs can be tempting, we caution you that you get what you pay for when it comes to baby backpacks and the less expensive options are too uncomfortable to wear with poor-quality, hard to use features.

A pack needs to be as comfortable as possible if you are going to wear it on a regular basis. The Thule Sapling is most comfortable pack for parents.
A pack needs to be as comfortable as possible if you are going to wear it on a regular basis. The Thule Sapling is most comfortable pack for parents.

Parent Comfort


Comfortably supporting your baby's weight can make all the difference between a fun day adventure and a short uncomfortable jaunt. We test each backpack for parent comfort looking at shoulder straps, load lifters, waistbands, torso adjustment, back padding, and breathability. As with typical hiking backpacks, being able to adjust the pack on-the-fly can be critical for overall comfort. Backpacks aren't as useful if they don't offer adequate padding or structure, are challenging to adjust, or if we can't find a fit that doesn't result in discomfort or rubbing.


The Thule Sapling has the top score for parent's comfort with a 10 of 10. This comfy pack has a variety of features for comfort including stronger waistband structure, smooth strap movement for adjustments, padded shoulder straps, torso height range of 6 inches, and breathable back mesh (goodbye sweaty back!).

The PerfectFit lives up to its name with exceptional all-day comfort while hiking.
The Parade has limited padding on the straps and an unsupportive waistband. The cockpit is also large which results in parents leaning forward to get baby closer to their body where it is more comfortable to carry them.

The Kelty Journey PerfectFit (above left) earned a 9 and has easy to adjust shoulder straps with load lifters (you can use on the fly) that help take the weight off weary shoulders and a waist belt with a forward pull adjustment that sits nicely on the hips for square support. The Osprey Poco Plus, Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite, and the Deuter Kid Comfort Pro all earned 8s. The lowest scoring options were the Phil and Teds Parade with a 1 (above right) that lacks adjustability in the shoulder straps and torso and the Phil and Teds Escape with a 3 and shoulder straps that don't tighten enough and a saggy waist strap that isn't supportive.

The Osprey provides the most comfortable riding experience for little ones compared to the competition.
The Osprey provides the most comfortable riding experience for little ones compared to the competition.

Child Comfort


Keeping little ones cozy creates the ideal environment for longer adventures and fewer complaints. Little details like angled drool pads, stirrups, padded harnesses, supportive seats, and secure cockpits all make backpack riding more enjoyable for your little one. Test results were influenced by our little testers in pack reactions including napping positions, signs of discomfort, and how secure we could make the cockpit through adjustments without upsetting the passenger.


The Osprey Poco Plus earned a 10 of 10 for child comfort with a firm supportive face rest that curves out on the ends for additional napping support (less head lolling) and easy to adjust stirrups to avoid dangling legs.

The Phil and Teds Parade did not perform well compared to the competition  and it was the most uncomfortable option for both parents and children.
The Phil and Teds Parade did not perform well compared to the competition, and it was the most uncomfortable option for both parents and children.

The Thule Sapling and the Deuter Kid Comfort Pro each earned 9s with features for comfort like a secure cockpit on the Thule Sapling. Both Kelty PerfectFit packs also earned 9s with a wide seat with padded leg holes, seat height adjustments, and soft covered harness clips. The lowest scoring option is the Phil and Teds Parade (above) with a cockpit that doesn't feel secure and has limited adjustability with no napping face rest (hello floppy head).

The Thule is easy to use including adjustments to the seat height.
The Thule is easy to use including adjustments to the seat height.

Ease of Use


How easy or challenging a pack is to use impacts your overall experience with each use. Straightforward features and easy functionality can make the difference between a quick prep and an enjoyable journey versus a frustrated baby and parent. Our ease-of-use ratings rank each pack on its adjustability, on-the-go alterations, canopy, user manual, and hydration bladder capabilities.


The high score for ease of use is only 7 of 10, for the Thule Sapling, Kelty Journey PerfectFit, Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite, and the Osprey Poco Plus. Each pack has easy adjustments you can do on the fly, and you can adjust most child cockpit needs with kids in the pack.

The chest clip on the Escape's harness is stiff but workable.
The chest clip on the Escape's harness is stiff but workable.

The second-place product for ease of use is the Deuter Kid Comfort Pro with a 6. The most complicated or difficult to use packs earned 4s and include the Clevr Cross Country and Phil and Teds Escape. The lower-ranking options have challenging adjustments and features that can cause frustration during testing.

The Elite has two storage pockets on the back of the pack.
The Elite has two storage pockets on the back of the pack.

Storage


Taking children anywhere means you'll need supplies and these supplies will need to be packed somewhere when your fun adventures include little ones. Backpacks with useful storage are those with space for critical items like diapers, wipes, clothes, and hiking essentials such as water, snacks, canopy, sunscreen, and rain protection. Backpacks with a variety of pockets and internal organization features are more impressive than those with single open pouches, even if the pocket is large. Packs with larger waist pockets and storage within reach of the pack wearer are also an advantage.


The Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite has a 10 of 10 for storage features with more pockets than any competitor. Its storage includes a designated pocket for a hydration bladder and includes the only reachable water bottle holder in the group and a large waterproof pocket for dirty or wet supplies. The Elite has two zippered waistband pockets with one that holds an average-sized smartphone, and the other has a mesh pouch for a water bottle.

The Thule is the only pack with a waistband pocket large enough to fit a smartphone.
The Clevr waistband has a zippered pocket that may not be large enough for your smartphone. The zipper is covered by a flap of fabric that gets caught in the zipper teeth when you try to use it.

The Thule Sapling (above left) also offers impressive storage with a score of 9 and waistband pockets that fit a larger mobile phone and have a wide opening in the main pockets. The lowest storage result is the Clevr Cross Country with a 3 (above right). The Clevr has fewer pockets than the competitors with nuisance fabric flaps that make the pockets stupidly hard to use.

We've tested the most popular baby backpacks on the market to find the best options for every adventure.
We've tested the most popular baby backpacks on the market to find the best options for every adventure.

After years of extensive, hands-on testing the industry's leading baby backpacks, we learned what's important and which features and functions really matter when you're out on an adventure. With their lists of features, competing baby backpacks can be challenging to sort through. After putting each pack through the wringer, we've determined which qualities make some baby backpacks superior to others. In this section, we'll be sharing the lessons we learned.

Purchasing a baby backpack means you and your little one can head out on the open trail.
Purchasing a baby backpack means you and your little one can head out on the open trail.

Why Get a Baby Backpack?


In the early months of your baby's life, you'll find that they are happiest snuggled up to you in your arms or a baby carrier. As baby gets older and more alert, you may decide that you're ready for a new carrying option for more exciting adventures away from home. While a baby carrier works great for younger babies, you may want to consider a baby backpack as your little ones get older.

Baby backpacks have sturdy frames designed to support your baby for long periods of time. They allow you to carry your baby hands-free in comfort with designs that provide structure and support for both the passenger and the wearer. Wearing your baby provides a safer environment by keeping them contained in a 5-point harness away from possible hazards, and it promotes bonding by keeping them close for interaction and soothing. The packs have a variety of uses that make them an economical choice for outings with your baby:

  • Active Lifestyle — Pushing baby in a stroller through the woods is usually not an option (at least in our experience), so if you want to enjoy the great outdoors hiking, walking, or camping with baby consider investing in a quality pack.

  • Running Errands — A great pack can be useful for running errands like trips to the farmer's market, shopping, or grabbing a cup of coffee.

  • Playing the Tourist — Carriers are also great for visiting cool tourist traps like museums, aquariums, strolling through downtown, and the zoo.

  • Exercise — Staying in shape after having a baby is challenging in more ways than one. With weight capacities up to 40 lbs, you'll be getting a workout wearing baby no matter what the activity is. Quality time with baby plus a quality workout = win, win!

Safety Tips

Carrying your baby on your back is a great bonding activity, but you need to use common sense and check the following things for safety before heading out on the trail:

  • fit the pack correctly for both wearer and passenger
  • Attach all of the buckles and straps and double-check them before use including the clips for the 5-point harness and waist belt
  • Do not bend at the hips for any reason, always bend at the knees to keep baby upright and safely contained
  • Be aware of the environment around you to avoid bumping your baby into things
  • Stay away from areas with risky footing including loose gravel, slippy or wet rocks, and trail edges


The top scoring backpacks in this review offer something for everyone no matter what you feel is most important.
The top scoring backpacks in this review offer something for everyone no matter what you feel is most important.

Important Considerations


Once you decide that investing in a Baby Backpack is right for you, you'll want to consider a few things as you navigate your choices to make your best buying decision.

The Sapling straps can be adjusted easily by pulling forward to relieve some of the pressure from carrying the baby's weight.
The Sapling straps can be adjusted easily by pulling forward to relieve some of the pressure from carrying the baby's weight.

Parent Comfort


Most people look at purchasing a baby backpack with the intention of using it for extended periods of time. Therefore, we think it's important that you feel comfortable while wearing the pack with or without a baby on board. Given that the baby backpacks, on average, will hold around 40 lbs you'll want to choose an option with quality padding, firm internal structures, and versatile adjustment properties for a great fit. A backpack with wide, well-padded shoulder straps, torso adjustments, and an adjustable waist belt is typically the best bet.

  • Padding — Well distributed padding over contact points will increase overall comfort for parents by reducing the amount of direct weight resting on the pressure points.

  • Waistband — A thick solid waist belt can make all the difference in helping support the baby's weight and taking some of the burden off your shoulders.

  • Weight Distribution — Backpacks that hold baby close to your center of gravity are ideal, creating the most balance for you, which is critical for comfort and keeping your footing.

Child Comfort


Keeping little ones cozy and providing a great place to nap will be crucial in creating happy memories and having grand adventures with a baby on board.

  • Harness — Look for a 5-point, padded harness with quick and easy adjustment points.

  • Secure Cockpit — Finding a snug cockpit helps prevent floppy and sloppy movements in the pack that are uncomfortable for your baby and could potentially throw you off balance or makes the backpack hard to wear.

  • Canopy — A great canopy keeps your baby cozy by preventing overheating and sunburn while protecting little ones for other elements like rain and wind.

  • Seat Pad — A wider seat provides a stable and firm surface for little ones to sit on. The size, shape, and firmness of the seat impacts comfort and can influence the risk of hip dysplasia. While potential hip problems decrease with age (infants having the highest risk), it is still something to consider.

Hip Dysplasia Information
We'd urge you to read our article on Best Practice Tips for Baby Wearing for some great information on hip dysplasia, and of course, be sure to make time for breaks that allow passengers to get out of the backpack and move around freely.

Finding the right backpack in a sea of similar options can be daunting.
Finding the right backpack in a sea of similar options can be daunting.

Choosing Your Ideal Baby Backpack


Choosing a backpack carrier can be difficult if you aren't sure what is important or which features you should consider. Considering a few key questions can help you find the best pack for you.

The Thule has an adjustable torso which is one of the only ones in the group.
The Thule has an adjustable torso which is one of the only ones in the group.

First: Comfort


We believe that finding a pack that is comfortable for you and your baby should be a top priority. We encourage narrowing down your options to those packs that provide superior features for comfort for both the parent and the passengers. While it might be tempting to purchase an inexpensive backpack, you won't use an uncomfortable pack which means the money you did spend will be for nothing.

Second: Storage


Adventures require supplies and depending on the length or kind of adventures you plan to take you may need more or less storage. If you only plan to take short trips, then you can get away with fewer pockets or smaller pockets. However, if you plan to be gone all day or camp overnight, then you'll need additional storage and versatile pockets for different kinds of supplies from hydration bladders to smartphones.

The Kelty Journey PerfectFit is a great economical pack for parents on a budget. If you choose this product we highly recommend a sun hat or buying the canopy accessory.
The Kelty Journey PerfectFit is a great economical pack for parents on a budget. If you choose this product we highly recommend a sun hat or buying the canopy accessory.

Final: Price


A backpack carrier is not an essential piece of baby gear. But, it is a useful type of baby gear you can use for years and frequently for several different activities. If you have multiple children, you can use the pack even longer. Don't forget the ability to sell the pack once you are finished to recoup some of the cost. So, while the price of a quality pack may be over $200, we think the usefulness of the higher ranking products is worth the price of admission and we suggest you purchase the best option that meets your need and what your budget will allow.

We tested the baby backpack carriers over several months taking little testers on actual hiking adventures. Our passengers included a 1-year boy who was 29 inches and 20 lbs, and a 2-year-old girl who was 32 inches and 28 lbs at the time of testing. Our adult testers were both male and female of various sizes to take into consideration that some packs fit people differently. For each metric, we used information both from real-world use and in-house lab comparisons of the products to each other to determine scores and overall rank.

Finding a comfortable pack was paramount in our testing process.
Finding a comfortable pack was paramount in our testing process.

Testing Parent Comfort


Parent Comfort is very important. If the parent wearing the backpack isn't comfortable, the trips will be short and they may stop as baby gets larger. As with any heavy backpack, one of the biggest complaints is shoulder and back strain. We looked at how long we could comfortably carry baby and cargo considering the padding, adjustments and on the go tweaks to the fit.

Little ones will enjoy the ride more in a cozy cockpit with features for comfort.
Little ones will enjoy the ride more in a cozy cockpit with features for comfort.

Testing Child Comfort


An uncomfortable baby = an unpleasant hike. We really focused on which backpacks offer baby the most deluxe ride, ensuring not only their comfort but enjoyment. Our favorites included well-padded secure cockpits, soft but firm seat pads, angled and padded face rests, and padded harnesses. The more comfort features the backpack offered, the higher it scored.

The Escape has a stiff waist buckle that is difficult to squeeze than it should be and the straps are a struggle to pull unless it is positioned just right on your body.
The Escape has a stiff waist buckle that is difficult to squeeze than it should be and the straps are a struggle to pull unless it is positioned just right on your body.

Testing Ease-of-Use


How easy a backpack is to adjust and use on a regular basis can also weigh heavily on your decision-making process. We considered how the packs adjusted if they could be adjusted with a baby in the seat, on-the-fly, and how quickly from one parent to the other should you need to switch carriers. Backpacks with hard-to-reach or complicated buckling systems scored the lowest.

The bottom pocket of the Elite is a  waterproof lined pocket for wet storage or dirty items like muddy shoes or dirty diapers.
The bottom pocket of the Elite is a waterproof lined pocket for wet storage or dirty items like muddy shoes or dirty diapers.

Testing Storage


Storage is a key consideration given the supplies you'll need while out and about. We considered how many storage options the packs had if they were easy to open and access, if they offered internal storage organization and whether or not they could be accessed by the wearer. Packs with pockets that were hard to open or who lacked sufficient storage for a full day of supplies scored lower. Packs with waistband pockets that would hold smartphones and those with canopy storage options scored higher.

With a variety of backpacks available, it can be difficult to figure out why one carrier might be better than the next. Considering features and design might leave you thinking that many of them are very similar when in reality and during use, they are not. Several competitors in this review failed to meet our expectations indicating a fairly large disparity between products. Luckily for you, we've already done the fun and dirty work of wearing and packing little ones around in every pack, so we can provide the information you need on comfort, ease of use, and storage. We've compiled all of our observations and our award winners here so you can find the right pack for your family and budget.


Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz