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.
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.
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.
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.
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.