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 a 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 the 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 regularly can play a big part in your babywearing experience. The ability to put the carrier on and adjust it before putting the 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 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 another person's help.
Ease of Cleaning
The products that are machine washable and can be thrown in the dryer afterward are 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.