Too big to be a kangaroo joey for much longer ...
February 5, 2010 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Which baby-carrying backpack should I get? I have a bouncing 8-month-old, and he's about to outgrow his Baby Bjorn front-pack. I'd like to get a backpack carrier by spring, but I don't know what's good or what to get.

Use: We take not-too-strenuous hikes on Saturday mornings, on local trails or at state parks, or we go orienteering, or sometimes to a zoo or wildlife park, with the baby in the Bjorn. This would be the primary use, although we'd also sometimes backpack-carry him to festivals or when I tour non-ADA-compliant buildings. When we do indoor-type things, he's usually carried or in his stroller.

Baby's attitude: We do have a sling (most of my friends use slings, which is why I have no backpacks to compare!), but he only tolerates it for short periods of time, and my husband isn't comfortable using it. The baby vastly prefers the Bjorn, and particularly likes being able to see where we're going and "talk" to people we meet.

The adults: My husband is 6'4" and I am 5'2"; a carrier that can be adjusted for both of us is preferred. We both find the BabyBjorn usable.

Other criteria: Easy in-and-out for the baby would be good, especially as he starts to walk so he could combine walking and riding. Since we're not serious outdoorsmen, it doesn't have to be the uberbackpack ... comfortable and lightweight is better. It doesn't matter if the backpack has integrated storage (although it might matter later on when we have more than one kid -- right now one of us carries the kid, and the other carries a small backpack with diapers and the adult waterbottles and so on -- so I'd be interested in hearing about those options too). I am willing to pay what it costs to get the RIGHT backpack, since these outings are important to us as a family and I don't want to wreck any backs, but I don't want to pay a lot of money for something of uncertain quality.

Ideally I'd like this backpack carrier to take us well into the toddler years so Junior can trot along the first half mile of a hike and then hop into the carrier, and to be sturdy enough to survive to future children.

If there is something other than a backpack for this type of use, we're open to hearing about that too. (The baby HATES the mobywrap and, as noted above, only tolerates the sling for short periods.) Some of the past questions have been helpful, but I'm concerned about things like whether Mini McGee will be able to see enough.

I'd also like to know how HOT the backpack makes you!
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I would recommend the Ergo. My kid is almost 3 and still fits fine in the back. It's soft, lightweight, and can be used (for babies) in a front or side carry as well.
posted by mattbucher at 9:52 AM on February 5, 2010

This is a Canadian-only product, but maybe there would be something similar at REI. Mountain Equipment Co-Op makes this backpack, which I have not used personally (not a parent), but I know other people who have and who love it. Really sturdy and the kid can use it for a long time.
posted by sabotagerabbit at 9:55 AM on February 5, 2010

There was this thread a while ago that I thought was helpful. It discusses both Ergo-style and frame-style carriers.

We ended up getting a Snugli based on reviews from friends and have been happy. I don't know if they make them anymore (we got our used on Craigslist) but they're basic bare-bones carriers. Heavier than some of the expensive ones but for our occasional use, it's just fine. Consumer Reports likes them too. We had used a front carry soft carrier (beco) prior to this. The Snugli does make you sweat but I can't say if that's just because you're carrying 25+ lbs on your back or whether any backpack would do that. She can see over the top just fine but my only complaint is that she can't rest her head on me when she gets sleepy since she's up a little bit too high and slightly away from my back. That makes it hard for her to nap when we're on the trail.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:55 AM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: We have one of the models from this Kelty line (they come with various attachments and therefore prices). It's supposed to be good up to 40 lbs and adjusts pretty easily for different kids/adults. I'm 6'3" and it's maybe not quite optimal in the waist band when fully extended, but I'm not sure there's a better option out there. Likewise, it does a good, but slightly suboptimal, job of distributing weight to the waist from the shoulders, but again I've yet to see something better.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 9:56 AM on February 5, 2010

Oh right, I forgot to mention that I'm 5'2" and my husband is 5'11" and the Snugli works fine for both of us. Not quite as much range as you might need but I think it would be fine for both of you.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:01 AM on February 5, 2010

Response by poster: otherworldlyglow, that was a helpful thread, although I still had more questions after it. But it at least got me started!

Checking some of the links from you guys now ...
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:05 AM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: We had a Kelty child carrier that we bought at REI. It was great -- solidly built, full sunshade, detachable daypack (so one parent could take the baby while the other carried diapers and snacks), adjustable six ways to Sunday, etc. We got a lot of good use out of it, and used it with two kids before the younger one outgrew it a couple of years ago (she's now 5). Like you, we mostly used it for day hikes on trails -- nothing too rugged, but we put some miles on it on treks through our foothills.

For a brief time, we also had a much cheaper one we got from a coworker who didn't need it any more. It sucked. This is definitely a case where spending the extra money bought us a much better and more functional unit.

I think you are considering the right things. What I liked about the Kelty was that it was very well constructed and very well padded! It also had a great hip belt and strap/suspension system, so the child was well supported and my back was never really stressed. It also had a kickstand that folded out when we set the backpack down -- not that you could leave a squirming child in that position, but it made it easier to get the thing on and off.

Some warnings: if your child is a screamer, this will put their mouth inches from your ear. If they are grabby, avoid tempting earrings and necklaces. Finally, if they kick, say goodbye to your kidneys. Otherwise, we found ours to be great and it really increased our options for getting out of the house.
posted by mosk at 10:10 AM on February 5, 2010

Mountain Equipment Co-Op makes this backpack, which I have not used personally (not a parent), but I know other people who have and who love it.

We had the MEC backpack for our first son, and loved it. We got rid of it (there's a gap between him and our youngest), and recently picked up a second-hand Kelty.

The Kelty is okay, but is a little too complicated and is not as easy to adjust as the MEC carrier. I'm considering selling the Kelty on Craigslist or whatever and picking up the MEC backpack.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:17 AM on February 5, 2010

I have a backpack carrier with the tags still on it, because I have an Ergo. "Don't buy a backpack carrier," said other Ergo owners. "You'll never use it." And they were right.

If they had not been right -- the $$$ tags-on frame carrier is collecting dust; nary a nibble on Craigslist. But the Ergo will sell on eBay for not that much less than what I paid for it; the demand for slightly discounted Ergos is huge. You can basically rent them for $20 given the resale value.
posted by kmennie at 10:23 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ergo for sure. I could fill pages with all my carrier history and drama but I'll spare you. The Ergo is amazing!! Hiked the Rockies last summer and it was perfect. Love it!!
posted by pearlybob at 10:28 AM on February 5, 2010

another vote for ergo.
posted by rabidsegue at 10:39 AM on February 5, 2010

Response by poster: How well can the baby see in the Ergo? How long can we use it? Can he sleep in it? Is it easy to carry supplies with you with the Ergo?

People always tell me they love the Ergo but they never tell me why!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:44 AM on February 5, 2010

We bought a $30 used Chicco frame at the consignment shop (Once Upon a Child) and it works great. We've used it on mountains and in airports. Wife is 5'4", I'm 6'. Our guy loves to be up at or above eye level. We also have a much-more-expensive BabyHawk that we rarely use; the frame is much more practical.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:45 AM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: The size of your child matters a great deal. We have a frame Kelty, which I've used quite a bit, but is a real pain to adjust for my much taller husband, so I end up doing all the carrying. I also have an Ergo, which was nice when they were little little, but my 2 Amazons basically outgrew at 12 months. Strictly for the 25-lbs and under crowd.
posted by libraryhead at 10:48 AM on February 5, 2010

We have Kelty KIDS frame carrier.
I am 5'4" and my husband is 6'2", and we can adjust it quickly. Yes, you do get hot. But I think that probably happens any time you have a child strapped to you and you are, essentially, exercising.

We like the zip-off backpack. One of us zips off the backpack to wear and the other person wears the child. The frame stands up by itself so you can put kiddo in first. I do find it to be lightweight, for a frame carrier. Also, it was one of the few I could find that didn't have recalls.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:58 AM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: I have both an Ergo and a Kelty and without a doubt I vote Ergo. It is far more comfortable than the Kelty, packs small and is more versatile (front/side/back vs back only). My son is 2 and we still use it regularly, he isn't up high like he is in the Kelty but I think he still can see fine. In addition it is far easier for him to sleep in because my back supports his head (in the Kelty he rests his head on part of the frame when he sleeps - I can't imagine it being very comfortable). Ergo sells a backpack that attaches to the carrier if you need more space.

Go for the original Ergo - not the "Sport" I've seen many poor reviews on that line.
posted by a22lamia at 11:19 AM on February 5, 2010

we like our Ergo. i use it everyday for dog walks with the baby.
posted by gnutron at 11:56 AM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: Our Ergo Sport was still in daily use, with our then-18-month-old, until I started showing with my third and couldn't have weight on my waist. Our Kelty is ... in the attic? the basement? Not sure.

Okay, so why do I love the Ergo?

1. Take it anywhere. It is soft and folds down to nothing. Fits in my purse or in the bottom of the stroller.

2. Ease of on-off. Snap it around your waist, center the baby, and snap it around your chest. Takes 5 seconds.

3. Comfortable. I used to do some backpacking, and the Ergo distributes the weight to my hips just like a good backpack. It's like gaining 30 pounds, no big deal for my back. The first few wears, I felt the burn in my leg muscles from the extra work being done by them, but that's it -- no joint pain.

4. Versatility of carries. My daughter liked being carried on my chest, where she could hide her face or look to the sides, as she chose, but my friends' children preferred being carried on their backs, where they could see out more.

The one drawback to the Ergo, in comparison to the Bjorn (which I used for both my kids until they hit 20 pounds, when my neck started aching in it), is that as far as I know, there's no way for the child to be on your chest, completely facing out, with a full range of vision. But that said, they do have quite a range of vision, especially when on your back, looking over your shoulder.
posted by palliser at 12:36 PM on February 5, 2010

That said, it's also true that my husband has never worn the Ergo. I think it's got a little more of that Earth Mother vibe to it than the frame pack, which puts some folks off.
posted by palliser at 12:38 PM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: We bought a Beco for our son when he was about 8 months old. He's now 26 months old, 95 cm and 14 kilos and we're still using it regularly. The Becos come in a variety of pretty fabrics and we've found ours to be quite durable, as in it's in exactly the same shape as it was when we bought it although it needs a wash!

We use the Beco for daily dog walks, but also for going hiking in the country side. I've done a few 2-3 hour steepish hikes with it and it was fine. I wouldn't recommend it for a full day of hiking...oh your aching shoulders! But it sounds like it would work fine for your purposes.

Our little guy has always seemed quite happy/comfortable in the Beco and has plenty of freedom to move his head to see the world around him. I can look down into his face when I look over my shoulder too. There is a hood that comes with it that you can put up to protect them a bit from the sun and give them a bit of head support when they are napping. We haven't really used it, because we're pretty scrupulous about always having him in his bed for his nap, but it is there if we needed it.

Both my husband (6'2") and I (5'5") use the carrier and it isn't a hassle to adjust it back and forth. As far as getting them into it, the carrier comes with an instructional video that shows you ways to put the pack on you and then the kid into the pack, but we tend to put the kid into the pack on the couch, or passenger seat of the car, or a trailside rock, and then put the pack on us. It's a one person job and isn't a big deal. It's even easier now that he's bigger and knows what's going on.

Of all the various baby related crap we've collected, the Beco is one of the few things that's been absolutely essential. I wish we'd bought one much sooner than we did!
posted by toodles at 3:04 PM on February 5, 2010

PS. The 'Butterfly 2' is the model we have. There aren't a lot of pictures on the Beco site of them being used as back here's a link with a few to give you an idea of how it fits, etc.
posted by toodles at 3:19 PM on February 5, 2010

Ergo or Beko for sure. We use an Ergo, but I hear that Beko is better for taller people.

Please go to your local baby store and test 'em out though. You may find that you prefer one to another. Also remember that if it doesn't work out, you can sell on Craigslist for 70% of the original cost.

Just a word of warning, once kiddo can walk, (at least in our case), he may be less happy in the carrier.

Congrats that you kept using a Bjorn for so long. The lack of lumbar support made it useless for us after 3 months.
posted by k8t at 3:59 PM on February 5, 2010

Keltys are nice if you're doing MASSIVE hiking, FWIW.
posted by k8t at 4:00 PM on February 5, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help -- based on the recommendations here we were able to try out a few both from friends and in stores. He HATED the Ergo -- just didn't like where it put him and how it held him, I guess -- but the Kelty TC 2.0 turned out to be just about perfect. I think it's slightly overkill for the kind of hiking we do, but maybe we'll get more outdoorsy with time. The baby loves where he sits in it and how he can hang out, and it fits both my husband and I, and it carries the right amount of extra stuff. Thanks so much for all the help, it really helped me narrow it down and figure out what to look for!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:52 PM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

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