Trying to determine which backpack for carrying older babies and kids is the best for your family? We were too! We purchased 9 popular and highly regarded backpacks to test side-by-side over a few months to find out which products are the best overall. 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 the right decision for your family. We analyzed each backpack and compared them to each other for Parent Comfort, Child Comfort, Storage, and Ease-of-Use. Continue reading to find out which packs earned awards.
The Best Backpacks for Carrying Babies and Kids
This review has been updated in its entirety to include two new Kelty packs that replace the old Kelty options that have been discontinued. We also researched the remaining packs to ensure they are still available and no updates have been made to their designs or prices.
Best Overall Backpack
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 three product costing more), we think the quality and thoughtful design of the Thule makes it a real contender most families will love for years to come making the slightly higher price worth every penny.
Read review: Thule Sapling
Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite
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 the highest price 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 budget is not a concern.
Read review: Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite
Most Comfortable for Baby
Osprey Poco AG Plus
Maximum Pack Load: 48.5 lbs | Hydration Bladder Capable: Yes
The Osprey Poco AG 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, 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 AG Plus
Best Bang for the Buck
Kelty Journey PerfectFit
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 which is a high-ranking option under $200, 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
Analysis and Test Results
We purchased, tested, and compared 9 popular baby backpacks over several months to determine which products are the best and why. Our on-the-trail hiking and in-house side-by-side comparisons are designed to help discover the detailed information parents need to make the right buying decision for their families. Each pack is ranked based on its overall performance in-house and tester feedback from real-world use. Individual metric scores determine the overall scores with an emphasis on parent and child comfort.
Award-winning backpacks provide a structured comfortable fit for parents of different sizes, cozy and secure cockpits with adjustment features that offer superior padded support for passengers, and easy to use products with versatile storage. In this review, we tested each pack for these traits and others to give you the details you need to make the best buying decision for your child. If a pack didn't impress testers on the trail, it didn't score well.
A backpack carrier provides hands-free freedom to go on unique adventures with your little one. From shopping trips and casual strolls to hikes on the open trail and visiting the zoo, a backpack provides a safe perch for your baby with a great view and a cozy napping. Most parents agree that owning a pack isn't a necessity, but it can be a great way to increase your adventures with your baby, add outdoor experiences to their life, and get around without a bulky stroller in tow.
Not sure what kind of backpack carriers are out there or where to start in your search? Take a look at our article on baby backpack carriers and how to narrow the field to find the right one for you.
We consider a baby backpack to be a long-term investment you can use for multiple children up to around 40 lbs. With price tags usually over $200, it's a purchase you ideally want to make only once, so doing your homework is crucial.
While a baby backpack is an investment choice, we think these products are valuable for getting out with your baby. With the Kelty Journey PerfectFit sporting a $200 list price, most families can own a quality, comfortable pack with useful storage and added features for comfort. Even the top-scoring Thule Sapling has a price $20 under $300. While the less expensive packs might be tempting, we caution parents that you get what you pay for when it comes to baby backpacks and these cheaper options are far more uncomfortable to wear often with poor-quality features.
Being able to comfortably support your baby's weight will be the difference between a fun long trip and a short uncomfortable jaunt. We tested each backpack for parent comfort considering shoulder straps, load lifters, waistbands, torso adjustment, back padding, and breathability. Like with ordinary hiking backpacks, the ability to adjust on-the-fly can be key to ensuring overall comfort. Backpacks lost points if they didn't offer enough padding or structure, were difficult to adjust, or if we were unable to find a fit that didn't result in discomfort or rubbing for the wearer.
The Thule Sapling earned a top score for parent's comfort with a 10 of 10. This pack has a variety of features for comfort including additional waistband structure, smooth strap adjustments, padded shoulder straps, torso range of 6 inches, and breathable back mesh.
The Kelty Journey PerfectFit (above left) earned a 9 and has easy to adjust shoulder straps with load lifters that help take the weight off weary shoulders and a waist belt with a forward pull adjustment that sits nicely on the hips for great support. The Osprey Poco AG Plus, Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite, and the Deuter Comfort 3 both earned 8s. The lowest scoring options were the Phil and Teds Parade with a 1 (above right) lacking 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.
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 can make being in a backpack 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.
The Osprey Poco AG 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 and easy to adjust stirrups to avoid dangling legs.
The Thule Sapling and the Deuter Comfort 3 (above left) both earned 9s with features for comfort like a secure cockpit on the Thule Sapling and a removable, soft face rest that slants out and curves up on the sides on the Deuter Comfort 3. 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 backpack is the Phil and Teds Parade (above right) which has a cockpit that doesn't feel secure and limited adjustability with no napping face rest.
Ease of Use
An easy to use pack impacts your experience every time you use the pack. Easy to use features and functionality can be the difference between a quick preparation and a squirming frustrated baby. Our ease-of-use rating ranks each baby backpack on its adjustability, on-the-go alterations, canopy use, manual, and hydration bladder accessibility.
The high score for this metric is only 7 of 10, earned by the Thule Sapling, Kelty Journey PerfectFit, Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite, and the Osprey Poco AG Plus. Each pack has easy adjustments you can do on the fly, and you can make most child cockpit adjustments with little ones in the pack.
The second place pack is the Deuter Comfort 3 with a 6. The hardest to use packs earned 4s in a three-way tie that includes the Clevr Cross Country, Kiddy Adventure Pack, and Phil and Teds Escape. Each lower ranking pack has hard to use adjustments and features that caused us frustration during testing.
There's no doubt that kids = supplies and this stuff is going to need somewhere to go when you take your baby out on the trail. Backpacks that perform best on storage are ones that offer plenty of space for baby essentials like diapers, wipes, extra clothes, and hiking essentials like hydration, canopies, sunscreen, and rain gear. Backpacks with multiple pockets and internal organization earned higher scores than those with open pockets, even if the pocket is large. Those with useful waist pockets and pockets within reach of the wearer also earned extra points.
The Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite earned a 10 of 10 for storage with more pockets than the competition that includes space for a hydration bladder with the only water bottle holder the wearer can reach and a large waterproof pocket to store dirty or wet items. This pack has two waistband pockets with zippers. One will fit an average sized smartphone, while the other can be extended with a mesh pouch for water bottle storage.
The Thule Sapling (above left) also scored well for storage with a 9 and waistband pockets that will fit a larger mobile phone and wide opening in the main pockets. The lowest score for storage is the Kiddy Adventure Pack with a 2 (above right). This pack has fewer pockets than the competition with fabric flaps over the zippers making them ridiculously difficult to open.
With so many possible backpack carriers on the market, it can be difficult to tell why one is better than another just by looking at their specs. With several of the products we tested failing to meet expectations or executing their features poorly, we found a large disparity between packs. Luckily, we have spent time wearing and packing little ones about to determine which carriers are the most comfortable for passengers and parents, and we've condensed our observations into useful information you can use to make the best buying decision for you and your family.
If you still have questions on the differences between pack types or why some features are more important than others, take a peek at our How to article for all the details to help you finalize your choice.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.