The Best Baby Carriers
Best Overall Baby Carrier
Nalakai Ring Sling
The Nalakai Ring Sling is a comfy sling that is easy to use and cozy for passengers. The fabric on the Nalakai is a soft bamboo and linen blend that offers some stretch for comfort and quick-drying properties to speed up cleaning. We liked the ability to make adjustments on the go to increase comfort for little ones and wearers. Being able to pull the fabric up for head support or tighten the sling to bring baby's face closer to yours can make a huge difference in comforting your baby and providing physical comfort. There isn't much to dislike about this budget-friendly straightforward sling.
The Nalakai is line dry only, which is the only real downside to this sling. This detail means it takes longer for it to dry than options that go in the dryer, so you'll be sans sling at some point. However, the fabric is reasonably quick to dry, and drying times are significantly lower than padded or structural carriers. Overall, the Nalakai has a reasonable price, is easy to use, comfortable for parents and babies making it tough to beat and our favorite carrier in the lineup.
Read review: Nalakai Ring Sling
Best Comfort Sling
Maya Wrap ComfortFit Sling
The Maya Wrap ComfortFit Sling is a ring sling with a similar design to other slings, but the Maya has slightly rougher fabric and a zippered pocket on the tail end. The Maya is easy to use with only one adjustment point. It is comfortable to wear and cozy to sit in. We like that this carrier is intuitive, has a few hold positions, and works for babies from 8-35 lbs. The shoulder portion of the sling is lightly padded and includes more material for a more comfortable fit, so you can keep the adventure going for as long as you like without discomfort. This design makes the Maya more comfortable than some competitors.
If your little one has sensitive skin, the Maya is probably not the best choice given the rougher fabric. In contrast, the Nalakai Ring Sling fabric is softer and gentler on sensitive skin. However, the Maya pocket is zippered and lightly padded, providing something not found on other slings. Overall, the thicker sling fabric is comfy and for winter use or with children without sensitive skin, the comfort makes up for the missing softness.
Read review: Maya Wrap ComfortFit Sling
Best Traditional Carrier
The BabyBjorn Carrier One is a soft structured carrier with three positions for little ones between 8-33 lbs. This carrier is a quality option with multiple adjustment points to give different sized parents and babies a custom fit for comfort and security. This BabyBjorn has safety buckles that work well and forward pull adjustment straps for quick on-the-go changes, and the seat width is adjustable depending on baby's age or size. The One is easy to put on, and you can attach it before you pick up your baby, making it significantly more straightforward (and potentially safer) than the wrap carriers we tested that can necessitate a helper.
This carrier is more expensive than some of the competitors, which puts it lower on the list for those with a tighter budget. However, for a soft structured carrier, it is closer to the average price. It is also hang-to-dry, which causes downtime sans carrier depending on your climate (humidity is not your friend). Despite the unfortunate washing instructions (haven't they experienced a baby blowout?!), we think most families will find the One can be the potential "one" for them.
Read review: BabyBjorn One
Easy to Use Wrap
Baby K'tan Original
The Baby K'tan Original is a wrap "like" carrier without the traditional wrap design that is often challenging to master without help. This "special" wrap is two loops of fabric joined together, which makes it easy to put on without holding your baby and easy to put the baby in once the carrier is securely in place. We love this unique design, the soft, somewhat stretchy, fabric, and the use of 100% cotton for little ones from 8-35 lbs. The price is reasonable and great for families on a budget, and the easy to use design makes it worth the small price bump over traditional wraps, which are nothing more than large swaths of fabric with complicated wrapping designs.
The K'tan's only potential downside is the design is not as versatile as a regular wrap, and it could be harder to make this wrap fit parents who are vastly different in size (think petite and linebacker); it can be challenging to make small adjustments for fit or comfort as there are no adjustment points. However, if you are average size and you and your mate aren't the odd pair, then the K'tan is an easy to use carrier solution we think you'll love.
Read review: Baby K'tan Original
Great Wrap on a Budget
The Boba Wrap is a wrap style product that looks like a broad swath of material that you wrap around your body in various configurations depending on the position or age of your baby. Wraps can be challenging to use because they require a higher learning curve and often holding your baby while you put it on. However, the Boba wrap is super duper soft and made of stretchy fabric that helps tuck your little one securely to your body with more freedom of movement with a snuggly feel. We love that this carrier is budget-friendly, versatile, and works for babies from 7-35 lbs. The Boba is machine washable and goes in the dryer, which keeps your cleaning downtime down to a minimum (potentially during nap time), so you can go on more adventures without waiting for your carrier to line dry. It is also useful for parents of different sizes and growing little ones because you can make adjustments on-the-go for a personalized fit for comfort or size and the fabric is long enough to work with almost any size adult.
The Boba is just a wrap that could cause trouble as your baby grows and becomes more interested in the world around them. While it has positions that let little ones look out and explore, it can be limiting because the fabric gives and some babies won't want to be so snuggly pressed against their parents. However, if budget is a concern, or you want a comfy, easy to care for option that may not last until 35 lbs, then the Boba Wrap is a great choice your wallet will love.
Read review: Boba Wrap
Lifetime Carrier for Infants to Toddlers
The Tula Free-to-Grow is a soft structured carrier with a variety of possible adjustments, so it grows with your baby and works for the life of your babywearing years, potentially translating to a "one and done" buying decision. This carrier is super comfortable for parents to wear even on prolonged adventures, and the strap style means you can make small adjustments on-the-go for comfort or fit. The more structured design gives little ones a little more space to wiggle than wrap style carriers.
This carrier may not be a good choice for families on a budget or parents who want a larger variety of positions for baby to ride in. This Tula is one of the most expensive in the review and only has two position options. However, this carrier is a quality choice that works well, feels good, and will work for several years without worry. Depending on your wearing goals, it could be the right fit for you and your family.
Read review: Tula Free-to-Grow
Why You Should Trust Us
BabyGearLab has been testing baby carriers for over 5 years with a variety of styles and types under our belt. Founder and board-certified pediatrician, Dr. Juliet Spurrier uses her background as a mother of two and a pediatric doctor to help her during product selection and test development to choose products that are safe for developing hips and convenient for parents.
Senior Review Editor, Wendy Schmitz began her carrier love after having her first child 10 years ago. With a closet containing over 10 carriers, she's tried every style and brand with her own two children, as well as almost every carrier tested at BabyGearLab. The team also includes Senior Analyst Bob Wofford, father of 7, for the male perspective on child wearing. Bob has been professionally testing baby gear since 2014 and has a vast knowledge of baby carriers and their recent rise in popularity. Senior Review Editor, Abriah Wofford a BabyGearLab contributor since 2015, rounds out the team.
Jump to: How We Tested Baby Carriers
Analysis and Test Results
Babywearing has been around for centuries, and today's technology and advances in design present safer wearing choices than ever before. Carriers continue to evolve in their designs to meet the needs of modern parents and busy families looking for safe, hands-free alternatives for carrying little ones. We tested each carrier for parent and child comfort, ease of use, and ease of cleaning so you can find the option that best suits your needs.
Jump to: Buying Advice for Baby Carriers
Avoid the frustration and hassle of a stroller by using a baby carrier! Not only is it quick and easy, but it doesn't take up any more space than you do, and most babies find the experience soothing, which decreases crying and meltdowns in public.
Potentially one of the best things about buying a carrier is the variety of price ranges you'll find, which means most families can find a good product that meets their budget and needs. Also, should your carrier of choice be outside your budget, you might consider putting it on your registry or skipping a stroller until your baby is older to postpone the investment to a time when you aren't buying as much gear. The Boba Wrap is a straightforward wrap with a lower price and a variety of wrapping methods that works with little ones up to 35 lbs. The Baby K'tan Original is in the same price range but is easier to use with almost 10 more points for its overall score. The Nalakai Ring Sling is also fairly inexpensive and offers a lot for the price. Want a structured carrier? High-quality soft structured carriers (SSC) can last for years through multiple children which can justify a larger initial investment. Some parents skip buying a stroller and choose something like the Tula Free-to-Grow with a higher list price for a carrier but small compared to a quality stroller. While structured options typically come with higher price tags, you can usually use them for longer, and if it translates into forgoing a stroller, it can save you even more money.
Wearing your baby not only adds ease and convenience to your daily routine, but the practice also contributes positively to the baby's social, emotional, and physical development.
Wearing your baby isn't pleasant if your baby isn't comfortable. We paid attention to which positions baby favored, and if they fell asleep, were they able to stay asleep comfortably?
The material also has a significant impact on comfort, so we considered which materials were hot or caused chafing, or which didn't offer enough support or the right kind of support. We looked for proper head and neck support, a nice deep and wide seat, soft fabric, stretchy materials, and an overall sense of security.
We urge those interested in babywearing to read our safety guidelines article entitled Best Practice Tips for Baby Wearing.
Some carriers are inherently more comfortable for babies than others, and some are better for newborns but can grow uncomfortable as little ones grow. In our tests, little testers were most content in products that were more adjustable for size and those with softer and somewhat stretchy materials that allow natural body postures with a supported feeling. These preferences means the slings have an advantage over the structured carriers with the Nalakai Ring Sling and the Maya Wrap ComfortFit Ring Sling both earning an 8 of 10 for baby's comfort (the high in the group). The most uncomfortable products have rougher fabrics, less adjustability, or designs that limit movement or growth, several carriers earned a low score of 5, and all were soft-structured products, including the Infantino Flip Advanced.
As with baby, if the person wearing the carrier is uncomfortable, using it regularly isn't going to happen. The chief complaints are shoulder and back strain, so we test for how long we could wear the products before experiencing discomfort.
Things that make a difference for us are padding (especially in the shoulders), strap width, lumbar support, and waist strap adjustability. Being able to wear your baby in a variety of positions is also crucial to comfort, including quickly and easily switching from front to back, etc. when desired.
While most parents can wear any of the carriers in this review for a short time without significant discomfort, we feel they should be as comfy as possible so you can get the most from your babywearing and bonding time. The BabyBjorn One is the most comfortable carrier for parents with nicely padded shoulder straps and a supportive waistband that helps distribute your baby's weight evenly for a comfortable fit. This carrier earned a perfect 10 of 10, something unrivaled by any competitor in our tests. The Maya Wrap ComfortFit Sling (above left), Nalakai Ring Sling, and the Tula Free-to-Grow all earned 9s making them almost as comfortable as the One. So whether you prefer a structured pack style carrier or a shoulder sling, there is a carrier that works for you. The most uncomfortable option is the Infantino Flip Advanced (above right) with a 3 of 10 and less padding in the shoulders with a supportless waistband. While you can wear this product for short durations, it won't work for long adventures or frequent use.
Ease of Use
Carrier ease of use on a day-to-day basis can make or break whether you choose to use it more than a couple of times. We started our ease of use testing by taking the products out of the packaging to ensure a complete experience.
We prefer user manuals with clear illustrations and directions. We consider how straightforward a carrier is to grab and go or to use without assistance. Does it fit inside a diaper bag? How quickly can you get it on? Once on, we compare how easy the carriers are to adjust, both for fit and if your baby needs to move or shift.
Simple carriers are easier to use, both out of the box and on-the-go. The slings have only one ring adjustment point and one end to pull or loosen, which makes them the easiest to put on, use, and fit. Both the Nalakai Ring Sling and the Maya Wrap ComfortFit Sling (above left) earned 9 in this metric. The wraps are complicated with a giant swath of fabric that requires significant wrapping skills all while holding your baby as you put it on. The learning curve is high including remembering how to perform the wraps, and holding the baby while you do it. Both the Moby Wrap Classic and the Boba Wrap earned 4s and function the same way with the same challenges. The Storchenwiege Woven Wrap (above right) earns the lowest score with a 3 of 10 thanks to more positions and wrap options and material that doesn't "give" as much as the competition wraps. The soft structured carries vary for ease of use between 4 and 7 depending on the number of straps and adjustment points and how hard they were to use when wearing the carrier with a baby inside.
Ease of Cleaning
Cleaning is a crucial factor as you can predict significant wear and tear with a well-loved carrier. Carriers are often grabbed, stuffed, dragged, chewed, drooled on, covered in spit-up, or victims of accidental blow-outs.
To put it simply, your carrier will require regular cleaning, making it essential to know ahead of time how easy or difficult this process will be to complete. The options that score highest for ease of cleaning are machine washable and can go in the dryer. The second best include those that are okay in the washer but are hang dry only. Unfortunately, when dealing with babies, sometimes only a good machine wash will do.
Air-drying your carrier means more downtime between uses. If you reside in a humid climate, this time could equal more than a day for a padded soft structured carrier to completely dry. This extended drying time means you and your baby will have to wait to use your carrier longer than if it could be tumble dried. Several carriers earned 9 of 10 for ease of cleaning. The Baby K'tan Original (above left), Boba Wrap, Moby Wrap Classic, and Tula Free-to-Grow are all machine washable and dryable. These contenders are also easy to spot clean on-the-go. Several options, including the Nalakai Ring Sling, can go in the washer but need to hang dry. Slings dry quicker than structured carriers like the Tula Explore that have thicker padding that increases drying time. The hardest to keep clean are those with the longest possible downtime for hang drying earned 4s and include the Beco Gemini (above right) and the Infantino Flip Advanced.
After several months of extensive testing of top-rated baby carriers, we learned a few things about their functionality and which features matter for parents on the go. With babywearing rising in popularity, the number of competing products has grown giving the modern parent a myriad of styles and choices to consider. In this article, we'll share the lessons we learned so you can narrow your options down to a few carriers that will work best for your baby and your budget.
Why Purchase a Baby Carrier?
Babywearing is a great practice for keeping your baby happy and building a stronger bond. Carriers allow you to keep your baby close and content while leaving your hands free to perform other tasks. The ability to hold and bond with baby while still getting things done almost makes a great baby carrier a must-have piece of baby gear.
Types of Baby Carriers
Although babywearing has been around for centuries, today's technology and techniques present more choices than ever before. Today's carriers are evolved modern-takes on the historic wraps, papooses, backpacks, and slings used in the past. There are five basic types of carriers: wrap, sling, mei-tai, soft-structured carrier, and frame backpacks. Below is a brief description of each.
Wearing Baby Safely
It is important to follow safe use practices when wearing your baby at any age in any carrier. Very small infants are particularly susceptible to airway compromise while being held in a carrier as they have less head and neck control. The UK based School of Babywearing has a very handy babywearing safety acronym called T.I.C.K.S. shown below.
Also, we encourage you to read our Best Practice Tips for Baby Wearing for further information on safe babywearing. While babywearing can be very convenient and fulfilling, it isn't without inherent risks and the more you know, the safer you can be.
If you are considering using a sling carrier, we also encourage you to take 3 minutes out of your day to watch the video below from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) urging parents to use extra caution when using an infant sling.In the past, poorly designed slings and a lack of knowledge led to unfortunate and largely preventable infant deaths. While several of our award winners are slings, and slings can be very safe when you use them properly, we still believe you should know and understand how to use slings safely to avoid complications.
Carrying Positions and Holds
Not only are there several types of carriers, but most carriers offer a few different carry positions and holds. Versatility in carrying positions is an important factor when selecting a product because as the baby grows, the most comfortable position to wear your baby will change. The most common carry positions are riding on the front of the parent, facing either in (front carry facing in) or out (front carry facing out), or riding piggy-back on parent's back (back carry). Riding on a parent's side (hip carry) is another popular option, but that position can restrict or limit the use of one of your hands depending on the carrier.
The carriers in this review range from 1 to 5 possible carry positions. Most of the competition offers three or four positions with manufacturers counting forward front carry and facing parent front carry as two different options. Also, some carriers, particularly the wrap style, are capable of different types of "holds." For example with the Baby K'tan suggests a Kangaroo hold or the Hug hold, both performed while wearing your baby in the front carry facing in position.
How to Find the Best Carrier for You
After testing multiple carriers in this review and years past, we find that the market is full of many quality choices. Many of which offer as many compelling and innovative designs and fabric choices as there are new babies to fill them. However, those options leave many parents more perplexed than ever about which carrier to buy and why. Even determining which style of carrier is right for you can be difficult, not to mention which option within that style is the best.
Our testing left us feeling that two factors are more important than any other: comfort and ease of use. Why? First, if a carrier isn't comfortable, you won't use it. Whether it has you or your baby squirming and wincing, an uncomfortable carrier is more likely to end up sitting in a closet somewhere than out and about on adventures. Second, the last thing sleep-deprived parents is another complicated piece of baby gear that goes unused because of the time and effort involved. A simple but comfortable baby carrier is a winning combination.
How long will you wear your baby?
Some parents believe the "holy grail" of baby carriers is a product that can work from newborn to toddler, by allowing seamless carry positions changes while retaining comfort in each stage. A carrier that works well in the first few months may not perform well as your baby reaches a year and beyond. However, if you only plan to use your carrier until your baby is a specific weight or age, and can't imagine carrying a toddler off your front side, then this fantasy carrier is unlikely to impress you, and a simpler more infant suited option may be what is best for your family and budget.
Determining how long you plan to carry your little one can save you time, money, and frustration down the road. While it is true that many new parents may be unable to answer this question before the baby arrives, others will already know that they have limitations in desire or physical prowess that may limit how much weight they can/want to carry. A great economical wrap may be all you need if you plan to stop carrying your little one after they can sit up on their own. But a wrap will be a little harder to use with a 30 lb squirming toddler and the stretchy fabric and lack of structure may have you gritting your teeth and wishing you'd invested in a soft structured carrier with more support for you and your little monster.
The fact is that when your baby is a young infant (birth to 4 months), they weigh a wonderfully light (7 to 15 lbs). During those first months, a front carry position is ideal, with baby facing inward toward the parent, and combined with ample neck support. This weight zone is the BabyBjorn Original sweet spot and a big part of why this quality carrier has been a best seller for many years. The wrap style products also shine in this age range. But, once the baby gets older and heavier, the virtues of competing designs become more than evident. For example, in the 6-12 months age range when your baby can be over 20 lbs on average, many parents feel the BabyBjorn Original is uncomfortable for extended wearing and may cause neck/shoulder or back pain because it lacks a waistband link the BabyBjorn One which is far easier for carrying children up to 33 lbs. The One's weight limit is a full 8 lbs over the limit of the Original.
Wearing baby on your back is another great way to get longevity out of a carrier as your baby grows. However, many of the options do not work in this position including most of the wraps and slings. So if you plan to wear your child as long as possible and can't imagine their feet ever touching the ground, then you'll want a carrier with a wide weight range and multiple carry positions for the long haul. The Tula Free-to-Grow is good for carrying children from 7-45 lbs, the largest range in this review, on your front or your back.
Is it comfortable?
Wearing your baby should keep baby happy and make your life easier. But, if your baby isn't comfortable, neither of these things will happen. Babies need to feel secure to feel comfortable and safe. Carriers that hold baby close to your body and up high enough for you to kiss the top of their heads are ideal (and safe!). The baby's head and back should be supported properly as well. Soft-structured carriers do an outstanding job at this. Wrap style carriers also keep baby in a close, almost womb-like swaddle but the fabric gives to allow freedom of movement and a natural curved back body posture. Wider seat bottoms or larger "pockets" for baby's tushie also make a carrier more comfortable for little ones, so they aren't dangling from their crotch (ouch!).
The most comfortable babywearing position will change as baby grows. Young infants in their "fourth trimester" (0-3 months) feel comfort tightly swaddled or snuggled up close to their parents in front carry facing in position. Around four months of age, babies typically become more social and enjoy the front carry facing out position which allows them to begin exploring and interacting with the world around them. And, as older babies become more active and progress through the toddler years, riding in the back carry position provides the opportunity to take in their surroundings comfortably for both parent and child. None of the slings have a back carry position, and the Storchenwiege Woven Wrap is the only wrap with a back carry option. However, most have a hip carry position that allows for both forward and back visibility.
Your comfort needs will change over time as your little one gets bigger and more mobile. Newborns and smaller infants are relatively easy to carry, and most parents can do so for more extended periods of time. As your baby starts to grow, you'll soon see the advantages of padded shoulder straps and the additional support of a waistband to help distribute your baby's weight to keep greater adventures comfortable. Being able to change positions or make minor adjustments on the go is also important to staying comfortable as the day passes. Carriers with multiple positions or easy adjustments are the best choices. Slings allow for quick, small changes for fit or comfort and work for parents and little ones of various sizes for a custom fit. Soft-structured carriers with ample shoulder padding, great waistband support and the ability to tighten or loosen straps as needed to shift baby's weight or to find a more comfortable position are comfy with older or larger babies.
How much effort does it take?
With all kinds of straps, buckles, snaps, pouches, and zippers, some of these products can be pretty complicated to use. For the most part, once you've used one a few times it becomes more fluid, but some have more of a learning curve than others. Wraps are far more difficult to learn and use, but they are budget-friendly and super easy to keep clean. Soft-structured carriers have lots of buckles and straps, but their increased adjustability means more comfort and most of them let you put the carrier on before you pick up your baby. You'll want to consider how much effort and time you are willing to put into using the carrier and the type you choose will be based on the time and method you think will work best for you and your family. How difficult is it to put on the carrier? Do you need to hold the baby while you put it on? Are there methods you'll need to memorize? Is it adjustable for size, so it can be interchanged between parents easily? Slings are super easy, they slip right on have a single adjustment point, and are easily sized for parents and babies, even on the go.
To determine the absolute best in baby carriers, we researched the top-rated and most popular models on the market. From those, we selected the top options to test and compare side-by-side. Over several months, we used the carriers in all types of situations from walking the dog, roaming the grocery store, and doing chores around the house. We used each option in all of the carry positions they offer with little ones of different sizes and ages and wearers of both sexes and sizes. We stowed them in diaper bags and stuff sacks in the same way most families use them in the real world.
When it comes to baby carriers, there are some common complaints that can really put a damper on your babywearing experience. We focused our testing on the main trouble spots a carrier can present, such as comfort and ease of use, and then gave each a score of one to ten based on their performance. Using the carriers interchangeably and comparing them side-by-side gives a clear perspective on the performance of each.
An uncomfortable baby equals an unpleasant experience for both baby and wearer. A tell-tale sign of baby's comfort is whether he or she falls asleep and stays asleep in a carrier or is fussing and hard to settle. We considered this, along with additional features such as support, softness, and breathability of the fabric when assessing how comfortable each carrier is for babies.
One of the biggest complaints when wearing a baby is shoulder and back strain. We considered how the carriers distributed baby's weight and the type of support they provide for comfort. We also compared the materials for features like breathability, softness, and padding. Some carriers were uncomfortable from the get-go while others were comfortable enough for long outings and repeated use. The main differences were insufficient padding in the shoulders, back, and waistband, or a poor design that didn't distribute the baby's weight over a wide enough area.
Ease of Use
How easy a carrier is to put on, take off, and adjust on a regular basis can play a big part in your babywearing experience. Being able to put the carrier on and adjust before putting baby inside is also a factor, as it is far easier than those you put on while holding the baby in place. We like instruction manuals with clear pictures and simple instructions. Carriers that offer more carry positions that are easy to change are better than products with complicated buckles or those that had a steep learning curve. Other factors in ease of use are out of the box use, hoods and pockets, and whether or not you can use the carrier in all positions without the help of another person.
Ease of Cleaning
The products that are machine washable and can be thrown in the dryer afterward rated the highest in this category. On the opposite end of the spectrum, carriers that can only be spot cleaned or must be hung to dry scored lower. Excessive downtime, while a carrier air dries, impacts its score in ease of cleaning.
Finding the right baby carrier for you and your baby can be a challenging task full of strange styles, types, and fabrics. Our review provides a detailed analysis of the competition, using our extensive testing process, so you can narrow the field to find the best carrier for your family and wallet. While there arguably isn't one carrier that is perfect for every person or every need, we do feel that there is a baby carrier right for you.
— Wendy Schmitz & Juliet Spurrier, MD