If you want to get off the flat and up the hills with your wee one, a child carrier is called for. But which one? David Lintern and family take a look…
The adage ‘try before you buy’ is never more true than with child carriers – they are relatively expensive, have differing features, and a relatively small window of use before your little one isn’t so little anymore – so you want to get it right. And a bit like rucksacks – even if you find a retailer that stocks a variety of these to compare them properly in the flesh, it’s hard to know how they will feel fully loaded after an hour or so.
It’s also obvious from trialing these that designers are thinking about taller carers only – probably assuming that an adult male will always be carrying. This is a pretty impractical assumption even if you are a heterosexual outdoors couple (what if dad is hefting the rucksack with 3 people’s gear…?) and it means the choice for women carers is even smaller, unless they are over 5’8. If the unit is the wrong size for your back or adjusted incorrectly, it will hurt or worse, and ultimately won’t be used as often as you’d like. The child’s seatbelt is also worth close consideration. Less important is storage – all of those tested here have enough room for nappies and snacks, and your child is already heavy enough half way up that hill without loading the bag with other extras. Get ‘dad’ to carry it!
Very young children can’t support their necks too well, so wait to get one of these until the tiny terror is at least 6 months or older. Prior to this, we used a front sling which offers more contact and support. There’s no real upper limit for using child carriers, it’s more about what the parent is able to carry and whether the little one will want to walk or not. Somewhere between 2 and 3 is probably realistic, with 4 being the maximum. Most are designed to carry up to 15-20kgs, which is definitely too heavy once you add in the weight of the pack itself!
Recommended Price: £180
Child’s Seatbelt: The shoulder straps for the little one are simple and easy to use. They click together on top of the child’s shoulders – best in this roundup without a doubt. Child seat height is adjustable.
Carry comfort: Good weight transfer to a very comfortable hipbelt and a nice, easy carry initially. They’ve taken a lot of the design work from their rucksacks over to this carrier, including the ventilated back system. I find this really luxurious and non sweaty but perhaps a bit less stable than others here, in that the child’s weight is held further away from my centre of gravity. The adjustable back length is secure once adjusted, but for us vertically challenged types, the back was too long even at its shortest setting. This meant the pack became uncomfortable after prolonged use.
Storage: Well designed. Double hip belt pockets, phone pocket on the shoulder strap, stretchy side pockets and oodles of under seat storage. More than ample.
Other Features: Solid, wide based click rest for when the unit is stationed on the ground (warning: don’t leave your child unattended in any of these carriers – they do go over – where there is a will…) The best sun/shower cover on test – really well thought out and included in the price. The unit folds down fairly well when not in use. Not enough padding near the babies face in the cabin, so a nap for the little one was harder.
Overall: Great buy for parents over 5’8, feature rich, extremely well made and durable. Just make sure you are tall.
Recommended Price: £225
Child’s Seatbelt: Shoulder straps are split left and right and fasten at the child’s belly – fiddly to reach with the child in situ, but works well once the child is fastened in. Child seat height is adjustable.
Carry comfort: The heaviest carrier here, but does accommodate parents with a smaller back. The back length adjuster is a bit of a faff but once set is rock solid. Lumber support and hip belt are particularly good and mum (5’2 female) found this very nice to wear whilst I (5’8 male) found it a little bulky. The carry is strong on comfort and stability but that weight is noticeable compared with others here.
Storage: Loads of storage in the side pockets and under the child seat. A single hip pocket for the adult, but weirdly nowhere to hang your climbing rack on the other hip…
Other Features: Very wide and stable click rest, with a crafty little cable pull built into the hip belt pocket to enable a single parent to retract it. The neck support and child’s cabin pillow is the best on offer of all the carriers here – a fleecy frog’s face which can be removed for washing. The weather cover includes both sun and rain covers and operates a little like a pop up umbrella – it’s included in the price.
Overall: Comfortable, good for shorter parents, well featured – but heavy! Note we also test-drove the Vaude Wallaby (£145 1.9kg), which is lighter and cheaper but a lot less comfortable to wear. It still got us up Ben More and back, but I found the frame dug into my fleshy parts by the end of the day, and it was too long for mum.
Recommended Price: £200
Child’s Seatbelt: Baby is secured by an over the head strap arrangement, which fastens at the thigh – the straps dangle a bit when your child is small, but very easy to pass the child’s head through. Child seat height is adjustable.
Carry comfort: Easily adjustable length and well ventilated for the parent’s back, but mum found it a little too long to wear comfortably. Both parents found that the hip belt was positioned too high in relation to the base, which meant the base dug into our bottoms.
Storage: dual hip belt pockets, masses of storage both under seat and in a removable mini-rucksack, for when the wean gets a little bigger and wants to start pulling her weight.
Other Features: This carrier is designed a little differently to others, in that there’s no click rest and the base is ‘always there’. The idea is that you use your foot to stabilize the little one’s entry and exit. I liked this in theory but in practise it’s not always possible to station yourself in the right place if your charge is wriggly or ‘reluctant’! A good sun visor and full raincover included in the price. A high quality small mirror in the hipbelt pocket to see how she’s fairing up there, which is a nice touch – one of the things we noticed when using these on our own is that it’s harder to check on the little one, in that she’s behind you!
Overall: Because of the design, a little bulky to pack in a car and cupboard when not in use, and they really need to look at that hip belt position in relation to the base.
Recommended Price: £200
Child’s Seatbelt: The shoulder straps are like conventional rucksack straps (attached to the unit at both top and bottom), meaning it can be tricky to secure in front of her. Secure once in place. Child seat height is adjustable.
Carry comfort: This is the carrier we have ended up using most often for the hills, because it fits both of us well, the back length adjuster is easy to change but secure and doesn’t stretch, and the weight transfer to the hips is good. The back isn’t ventilated but the carry is stable.
Storage: stretchy side pockets for suncream, snacks and ample room in the base for changing gear. A single hip belt pocket, for mum and dad’s sweets.
Other Features: Good padding and neck support in the cabin for the napping little’un. Click rest is super stable and can be operated by a single parent wearing the pack. But the raincover/sunscreen is sold separately – marks deducted for that! The unit doesn’t really compress so well.
Overall: Over time, this has ended up being the best compromise overall for more serious outdoor use in terms of features, weight and comfort. That sounds like a backwards compliment, but it isn’t: For us, a carrier needed to fit both parents, be stable on the back and on the ground, and keep our little one safe and secure. This does all of those things extremely well.
Recommended price: £169
Child’s Seatbelt: The child’s shoulder strap is a circular, over-the-head stretchy foam circle, which clicks in on a big solid buckle at the chest. This can feel a little like squeezing her head though, although it is pretty stretchy. Extremely secure once in. Child seat height is adjustable.
Carry comfort: The lightest offering here, I found this very comfortable, but for mum it was still a shade too long in the back, even at it’s shortest setting. There’s less padding here, so for those of us who are used to stripped down rucksacks, that lightweight feeling is a real boon – others may prefer more lumber support.
Storage: Small stretchy side pockets and a small base unit mean there’s less volume available overall, although as I’ve explained earlier, I don’t see this as an issue. There’s still ample for the baby’s kit, and once she’s in your knees will thank you for not piling on the excess weight. There’s a small, detachable rucksack for the little one to carry when she’s willing and able, and a single hip belt pocket for the adult. The other side has a small mirror in a slip pocket.
Other Features: The click rest doesn’t look like much at all, but it’s actually very stable. The unit packs very well into a cupboard or car boot. It comes with a sun/rain cover, a mirror and a changing mat discretely tucked into a secret zipped compartment, well designed and included in the price. It does need more of a pillow for the little one to have a nap comfortably, but the child’s neck is well supported by adjustable side panels.
Overall: If the back length works for you, don’t be put off by of the ‘urban’ flavoured marketing in favour of something more ‘outdoorsy’ – this is an excellent unit: lightweight, bulk free and good value. It was my personal favourite of all those we tried, closely followed by the Deuter, but ultimately wasn’t the best choice for us as a family because of the back sizing.
Our ideal child carrier?
It would have the child’s shoulder straps, hip belt and weather roof of the Osprey, the bulk and weight of the Phil and Ted’s, the mirror and detachable rucksack from the Littlelife, the single-parent-operated retractable click rest and child’s head support from the Vaude, and the parent carry comfort of the Deuter. The fact that we ended up favouring the Deuter shows that features, whilst interesting, are ultimately less important than function and comfort.