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.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Backpack
Phil and Teds Escape
Read Full Review: Phil and Teds Escape
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:
Criteria for Evaluation
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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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