After months of use, and extensive testing, we have all the information you need to determine which umbrella or lightweight stroller is the right one for you. In this article, we will share what we learned and give you a better idea of what you might consider before purchasing your own.
Why Buy a Lightweight/Umbrella Stroller?
This type of stroller is normally a secondary product in addition to a standard or jogging stroller. Most parents look to an umbrella stroller when they need a simple, compact stroller for travel or commuting when a standard stroller's size and weight just won't work. These products are smaller than other strollers, easier to fold and carry, and relatively lightweight. Most of these products collapse in on themselves like an umbrella, hence the moniker, but a few fold in half or thirds, which often made a more compact package for easier storage in smaller spaces.
In general, this kind of stroller lacks the features of a standard model, which results in a lighter, more compact stroller that is not off-road friendly. Alternatively, they are intended primarily for flat surfaces without many obstacles. Most parents purchase this kind of stroller for travel, grandparents, or quick day trip commuting.
The new generation of lightweight strollers has come a long way from the umbrellas of old. Some offer enough features that you might be able to get by using one as a primary stroller. This is especially true if you use an infant carrier and practice babywearing when children are too small to ride in most lightweight strollers. With their storage bins, reclining seats, sun shades, and leg rest, many of the strollers we reviewed can potentially do double duty for parents looking to pare down their purchases, retain space in their homes, or simply save money.
Types of Lightweight Strollers
There are two types of strollers in this category. There is the basic umbrella, which is what most parents have in mind when they look for a compact stroller for travel. Then there are also lightweight models that are smaller than a traditional stroller but bigger than an umbrella.
An umbrella stroller is small, easy to fold, compact, and easy to transport. These strollers usually have no special features or convenience items, and their main nod to comfort is a canopy. The upside to this type is that they are easy to use and transport virtually anywhere with ease. The BabyZen Yoyo+ is a great example of this type. It has a smaller sunshade, limited storage, and it folds simply into a compact package that can be easily carried. However, many umbrella style options lack features which makes them less versatile than those with more conveniences. It could be difficult to take longer trips without the storage and comfort that a larger version usually comes with.
The lightweight version is usually lighter than a full-size stroller but offers more than the umbrella style for convenience and comfort. Many of these products include under-seat storage bins, larger canopies with peek-a-boo windows, reclining back pads, adjustable leg rests, and cup holders. These strollers offer more features for comfort and convenience, and some might even be good candidates for an only stroller in a household. These products continue to retain the simplicity of a basic umbrella because they still offer a compact fold, lightweight design, and are easier to transport than their larger standard cousins. Some also offer self-standing and auto-locking features that allow a one-hand fold and easy commuting. These products can provide the best of both worlds riding the fine line between a simple umbrella and a standard-sized product. The downside is they are heavier than the basic umbrella, and they do take up more space, which makes them harder to transport and store.
In this review, we also include two standard strollers, the Britax B-Lively and the Baby Jogger City Mini 2, as both are relatively lightweight and fold small. While not technically a lightweight stroller, they could do double duty depending on your needs.
We tested and ranked the products in our full review, but it makes sense to say a little about the performance considerations of how these strollers work and what you should look for when making a selection. Our review and tests are designed to illuminate the differences between options, and this information can be used as a tool for sorting and narrowing the field.
The performance of each product and its features vary. Still, we found consistencies and commonalities that you'll want to think about when purchasing a product of this type, even if it is one not specifically covered in our review.
Size doesn't always matter, but when it comes to umbrella strollers, it is an essential factor for performance and a primary goal for this type of gear. This kind of stroller was originally created because of a size issue. Parents were looking for a small, lightweight, compact stroller that can easily fold, carry, store, and lift. Size can influence the overall experience of the user and passenger. If a lightweight stroller is too big, it fails to meet the user's needs, and you won't want to use it for travel. If a model is too small, the passenger might find it uncomfortable.
The products we considered range in size from 8.6 to just over 19 lbs. This is a large range. Ten plus extra pounds can be a lot of weight, and if you are carrying a child or other items in addition to the stroller, it could be a deal-breaker. If the stroller is not small enough, it doesn't fill the need; if it is too small, it may not be convenient. Much like Goldilocks and the three bears, the real issue is finding the model that is just the right size for you.
How Many Wheels?
One thing most of the strollers in this category have in common is the dual front wheels design. This design has two front wheels on each front leg. Most of the models that share this design performed poorly in our maneuverability tests. The dual front wheel design has trouble with terrain changes, veering off-course for random bumps, and getting stuck in deeper gravel or grass. The products that performed the best in maneuverability did not have this design, so we are at a loss as to why it seems to be so common.
Interestingly enough, several strollers in our review did not have the dual front design; instead, they have single wheels on each leg. A clear indication that the dual wheel design is one you should think twice about.
The BabyZen Yoyo+, Editors' Choice winner, has only two wheels and rolled better than most of the competition. In the top products, only the Britax B-Lively and the Baby Jogger City Mini 2 sport the dual wheel design on the front, but they have a trike design instead of two legs in front, they only have one. This helps them manage smaller spaces easier and improves their overall maneuverability. In general, it appears as though performance increases when the number of wheels decreases. While it may not be true of each model, it is true for this kind of gear as a whole, so it is worth some consideration when looking at options.
Each stroller has some kind of braking mechanism, and many of them are similar in design. Weeding out which is which or what to look for can be difficult. We discussed factors like ease of use and foot friendliness. However, given the importance of this topic, it still merits a mention in the performance consideration section when sorting through strollers and deciding what to buy.
The single-action brakes of the BabyZen Yoyo+ are the easiest brakes to use, and the double-action brakes of Kolcraft Cloud Plus (above) are one of the most difficult to use in our tests.
In general, strollers that have a single action are the easiest to use. Models that require setting two different pedals, or double action, might suffer from user error over time, as parents become complacent and fail to engage both brakes. The products with one pedal to engage and one to disengage, sometimes with a color code or illustration to differentiate one from the other, are simpler and easier to use.
While we would all like to believe that everyone will religiously set brakes on any stroller their child is a passenger in, we also can't argue with the notion that if something is difficult to use, people may refrain from using it. If it is easier to use, the bottom line is you will be more likely to use it and use it correctly. All the brakes in our tests worked, however, the method for using them is different, and thus the resulting compliance is also likely to be different. Pressing one pedal is easier than two, pressing a different pedal to disengage is easier than lifting a pedal with the top of your foot, and so on. The brakes that get used are the ones that are simple and straightforward that can be operated quickly. It doesn't matter how fantastic a brake system is; if it doesn't get used, it can't do its job.
Whether or not the stroller you purchase is easy to use and meets your needs is a big performance consideration. Just because a stroller has the features you are looking for doesn't mean it does them well. Every model in our review came with a sunshade, but not all the shades are SPF rated or even big enough to protect smaller riders. Some attach to the backrest and give side protection, like the Maclaren Techno XT (below left), while others are more or less an overhead feature letting the sun in the sides like the GB Pockit (below right). Features must work the way the maker and user intend; otherwise, there is little point in having them except to check the box in a comparison chart.
Many features can impact the versatility of the item. Having multiple features can be a plus;if the features work well and are thoughtfully designed. It isn't enough to count the number of features or the types of features; instead, you should consider if the feature works as it should, adds versatility, and is done well. If these things don't hold true, then the feature is something that may look good on paper but will frustrate you in real life.
Narrowing the Field
When you decide it is time to add a lightweight stroller to your baby gear, we suggest you narrow the options by first looking at the following considerations.
Location, Location, Location
First, consider where you plan to use your lightweight stroller. Will it be a city dweller used primarily in the concrete jungle? Or will you be pushing it across a greenbelt taking it to the park? Are you looking for a stroller to get through the airport, or will you be trying to survive the Sunday rush at the zoo? How you intend to use the stroller, what locations you will frequent, and the kind of ground you will cover should influence which stroller you decide to buy.
If you live in the city and need an agile stroller for getting places quickly and convenient folding for utilizing public transport, then a more compact stroller with fewer features is the right fit. The Inglesina Net or BabyZen Yoyo+ can be carried hands-free, are light enough to lug for miles, and folds easily. However, if you envision using your new stroller for a day at the park, followed by a quick trip to the farmers market on the way home, then the Net is unlikely to offer enough features or comfort to shine, and the Yoyo+ might be a better fit.
Knowing how you will use the stroller can be the difference between finding a really cool product that fails to meet your needs and buying a "just the right size" fit. There is no one perfect answer to this question, just a personal answer. Don't be taken in or wooed by a flashy design or awesome engineering; if the stroller doesn't meet your needs, you'll be unhappy. Instead, be honest about how you will use the product; this will drive which stroller you look for and narrow the field significantly early in the shopping process. You may find you fall somewhere in the middle of the extremes of a minimalist user looking for a quick trip through the airport, and the all-day user who needs every feature under the sun to make it through a long day; do not despair, there is a stroller out there for you as well. Luckily there are so many to choose from that no matter what you want or your budget, there is something that will work for you.
The next thing to think about is how long you will be using this product each time you leave your house. Will you be taking quick trips or all-day treks to run errands? Many of the products we reviewed have features and nods to comfort that become increasingly important depending on the length of your average trip.
If you expect little passengers to sit calmly in a stroller for hours, it is a good idea to consider a stroller with an adjustable back and leg rest so they can nap or at least get cozy. The Mountain Buggy Nano has both features and a large enough canopy to offer coverage to sleeping passengers. Looking for even more? The Baby Jogger City Mini has large under-seat storage and pockets on the back of the canopy. Essentially, the further you plan to go, or the longer you plan to be out, the more features you want to look for, and the more conveniences you will need to make the trip easy for both parent and child. However, if you plan to be back in a jiffy, then the City Mini might feel like a cumbersome stroller with too much going on and overkill for that kind of journey.
Luckily, there are great options no matter what your intended journey looks like. If you are making a quick trip and are on a budget, the Inglesina Net might be right for you. With no recline or other nods to comfort, and limited storage, it gets the job of strolling done at minimum weight for a friendly price. If you need more features to last the duration, then the Baby Jogger City Mini 2 or Britax B-Lively have the comfort adjustments and storage that can get the job done in a way the Inglesina never could.
Once you determine what kind of travel you'll do and the duration of the trips you'll take, it is important to look at how often you will use the product before you outgrow it. You might be looking for a stroller to use multiple times a week, or you might be making a purchase just for one trip or use at Grandma's house. How often you plan to use your new stroller should influence your decision and further narrow the field.
For some parents, it can be hard to justify all the bells and whistles, or even an inflated price tag, if the product is only going to be used a few times. The inconvenience of not having storage or a reclining seat might be justifiable if you only plan to use the product once at Disney World. But if you plan to use it regularly, it may be worth investing in something with more features or a better quality product to get the longest possible use without frustration. Either way, it is hard to ignore the truth behind how often a stroller will be used when you think about which product to buy.
If you are only going to use the stroller once, then getting a cheaper model that scored well might be all you need. Purchasing the cheapest stroller, no matter how poorly it scored, is probably not the best approach because poor performance and frustration will still be a problem even in a one-time use. On the other hand, getting the top-of-the-line rig, with every convenience known to man, would certainly be overkill and an unnecessary strain on your wallet.
Your budget might be your first consideration, or it may not be a consideration at all. But it should be something you consider when narrowing the field of options to find your right fit in lightweight strollers. Once you know where you will use it, how long your passenger will be in it, and how often it will come out of the closet, you will likely be looking at 2 or 3 possibilities for purchase. The remaining products in your list might have similar prices, or the prices might swing from one extreme to another.
Luckily, this category of products has a budget for just about every parent. It even offers some potential strollers that can save you even more money by doing double duty between buying a standard stroller and a true umbrella. If budget is a real concern, you might look at some of these products to save even more. Choosing to make do with one product instead of two might also change the allotted budget you set aside for this kind of stroller, which might allow you to make a more expensive purchase knowing you are still saving overall by reducing the number of items you buy.
Finding an umbrella stroller may seem daunting when all the options look so similar, but it is worth your time and effort to investigate them in detail to ensure you are happy with your final purchase. The subtleties between the different models may seem minor, but the impact on everyday ease of use or versatility is great and you may find yourself wishing you'd taken a closer look at this buyer's guide and related review.After you take everything into consideration you'll find there is a stroller that is just right for you. If you stay focused on what is important, decide what really matters, and look for the top stroller that meets your needs, you can't go wrong. We feel our award winners include an option for just about every kind of user, plan, and budget.