Why Get a Baby Backpack?
As baby gets older and more alert, you may decide that you're ready for a new carrying option and/or more exciting and lengthy adventures away from home. While a regular wrap or sling will do for a while, once baby is over 16 pounds and able to hold themselves upright, you may want to consider a Baby Backpack.
Baby backpack has a sturdy, aluminum frame that is designed to comfortably carry baby for long periods of time in addition to all of the gear for a day on the go. It allows a parent to carry baby while being hands-free, much like a baby carrier. However, if you're still wondering how often, if ever, you might use a baby backpack, see if any of the following apply to you:
- 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 same activities that you did pre-baby, such as hiking, camping, or heck, even mowing the lawn, consider investing in a quality pack.
- Limited Storage — The six backpacks we tested fold fairly flat and are certainly easy enough to store in a closet or even under a bed. If you need to climb stairs to get to your apartment, have limited storage space, or even use the subway with baby on a regular basis, a backpack might be a great alternative to a stroller.
- Safety — Wearing your baby provides a safer environment for her, keeping her nice and close to your body. Add with an appropriately fitting 5-point harness, a sturdy aluminum frame, and a protective sunshade covering, baby is good to go.
- Light Shopping with Baby — For places like farmers markets, crowded stores, or even just busy sidewalks, strollers can sometimes prove to be awkward and cumbersome, taking up more space than is available. While storage is somewhat limited in a baby backpack, it can make quick errands that much easier if you have both hands free.
- Exercise — Staying in shape after having a baby is challenging in more ways than one. Babies can ride in a backpack style carrier as soon as they reach about 16 pounds and can hold their head up. Add that 16 pounds to the backpacks six-or-so pounds, along with whatever you pack in it, and you've got yourself a workout in and of itself! Quality time with baby plus a quality workout = win, win!
Once you decide that investing in a Baby Backpack might be for you, you'll want to take into consideration the following as you navigate your buying decision:
Most people look at purchasing a baby backpack with the intention of using it for extended periods of time. Therefore, we think it's imperative that you feel comfortable while wearing baby, especially considering the strain a backpack can put on your shoulders, neck and back. Given that these backpacks, on average, will hold upwards of 40 pounds, parent comfort was a rating we paid very close attention to during our tests. A backpack with wide, well-padded shoulder straps, torso adjustments, and an adjustable waist belt is typically the best bet. A good waist belt can make all the difference as it can support the majority of baby's weight so your shoulders don't have to. When it comes to shoulder padding, "the more the better" is a good motto to have.
If you are willing to sacrifice some lumbar padding for increased airflow, we urge you to check out backpacks like the Deuter Kid Comfort Air and the Osprey Poco Plus, which both offer mesh backing for increased ventilation.
However, please keep in mind that neither of these backpacks performed well in parent comfort for our reviewer, who is just under 5'3" tall. This was because the torso adjustment for these two packs is done by lowering the shoulder straps significantly, thus moving the child higher up, farther away from your center of gravity. This, in turn, caused a pretty significant comfort issue. Wearing the backpack this high meant that the child's chin area was hitting the back of the wearer's head which made it difficult to look up to get a drink of water or see where one is going, which gets very uncomfortable very quickly. We'd recommend taking the height of anyone who will be wearing the pack into serious consideration, and, if you have the opportunity, try before you buy. The Phil and Teds Escape did not cause this issue because it adjusted by moving the waist belt up or down rather than the shoulder straps so baby was much less likely to become top-heavy. Just another reason we awarded it our coveted Editors' Choice Award.
As seasoned parents ourselves, having adequate storage is something we have learned to take very seriously in a backpack. We have learned that being prepared (or not) for the unexpected can make or break any outing with baby. This is especially true when you begin to consider heading out into the wilderness with your little one. You'll want to bring along all your basic baby essentials including diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, water bottles, snacks, and maybe a favorite toy or lovey. On top of that, when exploring the great outdoors, you'll also want to include items like sunscreen, bug spray, hats and/or sunglasses, sun shades, first aid supplies, and the list goes on. The ability to not only carry all the supplies, but to also carry them in a somewhat organized, accessible fashion, is a fundamental aspect of any backpack carrier.
Important storage options we recommend:
- Water Carry — Expandable pockets for water bottles and posterior space to carry a water reservoir/bladder will come in handy during exercise or long outings with baby. The Phil and Teds Escape and the Kelty Journey 2.0 have hydration bladder storage, though bladder needs to be purchased as a separate accessory.
- Attachment Loops — For critical items like car and house keys to easy access items like sun hats, a carabiner can be easily attached to outer or inner loops of a pack to which any number of important items can be clicked on and retrieved with zero fuss.
- Zippered Pouches on Waist Belt — These come in handy for quick snacks, cell phone, sunscreen and the like that can be located and used without disrupting baby.
- Removable Day Pack — Many backpacks come with a smaller, removable day pack for shorter outings. When baby is older, he/she will enjoy having this extra matching pack to tote things around when not carried on parent's back.
- Specialized Storage Pockets — Some backpacks have handy spots to contain included accessories like sunshade and user manual for availability when needed. For a smaller-sized pack, the Kelty Junction 2.0 offers a great amount of storage space, though no designated spot for a water bladder.
Some carriers, like If you are not so much concerned with water storage, but would prefer more space to hold other items, check out
Now that we've addressed how important it is for you to be comfortable while carrying everything, let's not forget the most important cargo of all: baby! Wearing your baby in a backpack should be a fun and rewarding experience for everyone. But, if baby isn't comfortable, no one is going to have any fun.
Backpacks that offer special head-to-toe comfort for baby like footrests, soft fabrics, extra padding, wide seat, and footrests tend to lull babies asleep. Our baby tester fell asleep while riding in comfy backpacks Every. Single Time. We think the combination of repetitive walking movement and the fact that baby is being carried nice and close to you will put your baby to sleep, too.
Important comfort features for baby in a backpack are:
- Attention to Fabrics — Soft, wide shoulder straps, like those offered by the Phil and Teds Escape were a favorite of both baby and parent. Scratchy material being close to baby's face doesn't tend to go over well, and we must say that most of the backpacks we tested offered ultra-soft fleece fabrics inside the cockpit area, which was great.
- Wide Seat — A wider seat is more comfortable, especially as baby gets bigger. It distributes their weight so they're not just dangling by the crotch, and contributes to better hip ergonomics. More on this issue in our Safety section below.
In the end, we think you'll find that the simpler, the better when it comes to ease-of-use. Although we were impressed by some of the fancy adjustment features offered by packs like the Deuter Kid Comfort Air and the Osprey Poco Plus, our top two rated carriers, the Phil and Teds Escape and the Kelty Journey 2.0 won us over by keeping it simple and using the tried-and-true push/pull adjustment straps that we all know and are comfortable using from the get-go.
JPMA Certification, let's you know that the manufacturer meets the standard for the highest in quality, safety, and functionality of their product. Keep an eye out for it when purchasing any type of baby product. Additionally, reading and abiding by the manufacturer's instruction manual goes without saying in order to keep baby as safe as possible.
So with all these safety measures already in place, what else should you be looking for? Here are our recommendations:
- Restraint System — Look for a 5-point, padded harness. Babies need to feel secure in order to feel comfortable and safe. Parents need to feel confident knowing that baby is buckled in properly, especially given the fact that they will riding upwards of five feet off the ground! We liked harnesses that were easy to buckle and easy to tighten. Kelty took this one step further, making the most important adjustment straps bright yellow. Always take your time to make sure that baby is sitting properly in the cockpit, and that all adjustments are secured before lifting them onto your back.
- Balance — Backpacks that hold baby close to your center of gravity are ideal, creating the most balance for you, which is critical for safety especially when you are navigating uneven terrain. We found the Osprey Poco Plus to have a higher, more difficult carry, while the Chicco SmartSupport kept baby lower, creating a more balanced feel. Keep this in mind when shopping for a backpack.
- Good Hip Ergonomics — The way that baby is supported in the cockpit should also be a consideration for safety. A wider seat will not only provide a more comfortable seat for baby, it is a safer option. Although the risk of hip dysplasia decreases with age (infants having the highest risk), it is still a rating we held to a high standard. 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 baby to get out of the backpack and move around freely.
- Effective Sunshade — We appreciated the sunshades for more than just blocking the sun, which of course is the most important use for them. They are also useful for blocking the wind or any unwanted tree branches from scratching baby's face. Our favorite sunshades were not only those that were effective, but also those that were included with the purchase of the backpack and had their own storage place. With the proper sunshade and rain guard, you can be sure that your baby will be protected from the elements during each outing.
- Eco-Health — Your baby is probably going to be spending extended periods of time right up against the backpack material, so it's an important consideration. Many of the carriers we tested were made of polyester or a polyester blend fabric, and for the most part are not treated with any harsh chemicals. If you ever have specific questions about the chemicals used on a specific baby product, we urge you to email the manufacturer directly.
In conclusion, we say go for a comfortable backpack with features that will best fit your lifestyle. The backpacks we tested that best fit the criteria above offered the most padding for both parent and baby, easy torso adjustment for mom and dad, and had features like storage for hydration bladders, and a place to put our cell phones (sounds silly, maybe, but it's hard to dig out a phone for a picture when it's at the bottom of a backpack loaded with other items!). Our favorite, and Editors' Choice Award winner is the Phil and Teds Escape. In second place is the Kelty Journey 2.0 which offers slightly different features than the Editors' Choice winner, so be sure to check them both out. We think a baby backpack should be a one-time investment that not only suits your child well into toddler-hood, but could potentially be handed down to the next child, therefore making it a worth-while purchase. We hope our rating and review process has helped narrow down the best option(s) for you and your family.