Please recommend a diaper bag based on our lifestyle
July 8, 2015 11:04 AM   Subscribe

rockindata and I are reproducing, and while we’ve done pretty well at accumulating baby crap so far, we’re sort of stuck on a diaper bag. Please just tell us what to buy. Here are the considerations:

-Bag will be used regularly by both parents, neither of whom cares one bit about styling.

-One kid. Ever needing to accommodate a second kid is extremely unlikely.

-Starting at about 12 weeks, baby will go to day care full time. This trip will be by car until spring, when it (and most other trips) will be largely by bike. For this reason, we think a backpack or messenger bag is preferable to a satchel or shoulder bag style. A diaper pannier that was also comfortable to carry would be amazing, but I'm fairly certain it doesn't exist.

-We plan to cloth diaper and breastfeed, so ample supplies of those things will need to make the trip to day care each day.

-That said, we’d rather not schlep more than we need. We are experienced enough backpackers to know that the bigger bag you buy, the more heavy junk you will decide you should haul around with you.

-We’re not attached to the idea of a bag that was actually designed to be a diaper bag. If you think we’d be better off with something else, we’ll do that.

-We’re also not attached to finding the one true diaper bag that will be perfect for the next 3 years. We would happily transition from bag to bag as the kid’s needs change, especially if those bags can be repurposed as we’re done with them.

-For simplicity’s sake, we would rather not have more than one bag in use at a time. We have a hard enough time getting out of the house with all the right stuff even without a baby involved.

-This is probably impossible, but we’d love to find something that wasn’t made in a sweatshop.

posted by juliapangolin to Shopping (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"-We’re not attached to the idea of a bag that was actually designed to be a diaper bag. If you think we’d be better off with something else, we’ll do that. "

In that case, pick a backpack or a messenger bag that you really like and will use in the future and just buy it. You can get insulated bottle carriers and toss in your own changing pad with supply storage for on-the-go. Make-up bags make really good "baby accessories" storage for things that need padding or waterproofing and can be easily tossed in the bag. Ziploc bags for everything else that might get messy and shove a couple extra in the bottom.

Insulated bottle storage and waterproof pockets were the primary things I used that made my diaper bag different from "just a bag," and eventually I just started carrying a ziploc baggie in my purse along with two diapers, a travel pack of wipes, and then I'd stick a bottle in the cell phone pocket.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:21 AM on July 8, 2015 [7 favorites]

Truth be told, we rarely use our diaper bag (a secondhand Skip Hop Duo that I bought after reading a whole bunch of online recommendations). I bring it if we're traveling or if he's going to be out with me for more than two or three hours, but that's it. For daycare, we use a no-frills totebag. I know that wouldn't work for a bike commute, but my point is you probably don't need anything fancy or super-organizey unless you're really into that sort of thing. If you already have a trusty backpack or messenger bag that you use for other stuff, you can probably repurpose that.

If I had to buy a new bag, I'd get the Tom Bihn Parental Unit. In my experience Tom Bihn bags are awesomely durable and very thoughtfully designed. Plus they're made in Seattle!
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:23 AM on July 8, 2015

First thing: I’d advise one bag for daycare and a separate diaper bag. For daycare, all the baby needs is food (milk) for the day and a change of clothes. They will likely want you to bring a pack of diapers and wipes and leave it there, so that’ll be maybe once or twice a month. You could easily get a small bag that would fit in a pannier. We have this Dabawalla bag and like it. It’s neoprene and does some minor insulation. If I had a drive longer than 20 minutes I might want a small insulated bag for bottles.

I have a Skip Hop Duo diaper bag (got mine second hand as well). It’s fine. I don’t love it, and I won’t recommend it to fulfill your requirements, but I use it entirely differently than the daycare bag. It is stuffed with diapers, wipes, a light blanket, a change of clothes, ziploc bags for dirty clothes storage, my manual pump, sun screen, a hat, snacks, and several books and toys for distraction. We use it for outings with the baby; no need to schlep all that to daycare (nor would they thank us for doing so), and I’d hate to have to unpack and repack it to switch from outing mode to daycare mode.
posted by Kriesa at 11:24 AM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Our 'diaper bag' is a Lowe Alpine backpack (day) that I've had since 1999 or so. We also used cloth diapers. It worked great, maybe not as finely optimized as a bag with specialized compartments. We had a 'wet bag' for dirty stuff, never once had a problem with leaks into main bag.

I am not sure about Lowe Alpine's manufacturing practices, but I recently did some reading about Patagonia and I was impressed.
posted by stowaway at 11:25 AM on July 8, 2015

When my son was an infant, my wife and I shared a Bailey Works Super Pro. That had pockets enough to handle most of the regular stuff, and then we had a little insulated lunch bag for milk, and a portable changing pad for…changing the kid on. It would hold his entire daycare requirements day-to-day, and in a pinch was just 'his' bag for going out of town.

We both now use them as our daily backpacks for bike commuting and doing everything else in. They also happen to be made by single mothers, who get to work from home and take care of their kids. The exact opposite of sweatshop made.

Based on your description, you could easily get yourself any backpack or pannier you want, and throw all the stuff in them…diaper bags are just…bags. Bags decorated in an obnoxious manner; i've never found one that does the job any better than other bags…and if you need one specifically for bike commuting, you're best off focusing your efforts there. You can get 'specialized' bags for a bunch of stuff, but really, we ended up pitching most of the 'baby' gear in lieu of gallon zip top bags, and the aforementioned changing pad and insulated lunch bag.

I would suggest getting something waterproof and/or lined with vinyl on the inside at least; you're gonna get shit in there, and you're gonna want to hose it out and disinfect it.

BRB having a poop-in-backpack-flashback.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:29 AM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I know you say you don't want more than one bag, but I think you'll end up wanting a separate one for daycare vs. going out with the kid. For daycare you'll always need a day's worth of diapers, milk, ice pack, and extra clothes. They'll probably have their own storage for wipes, disposable diapers if you choose, and things like sunscreen. For outings you'll need toys, maybe a book or two, eventually snacks - all things that will probably be discouraged or even banned at daycare. Big things like a bottle warmer or breastfeeding pillow you might take going out but not to daycare.

[E]ventually I just started carrying a ziploc baggie in my purse along with two diapers, a travel pack of wipes, and then I'd stick a bottle in the cell phone pocket.

That is eerily identical to what I do now. A Ziploc baggie with a half dozen wipes in it, a couple of diapers, something to eat and we're out the door. The super-needy-baby phase is not really that long all in all.
posted by pocams at 11:34 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

My advice is about color: we started with a very unisex black bag, and found that it was just disappearing into the house. Not that our decor is black, but something about that color is just too neutral, and we'd forever be looking around going "Where's the diaper bag?!?" Switched to a red bag and it never happened again.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:39 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

We have two bags because for us, the bag o'stuff for daycare needs to fit different things than the bag o'stuff for out-n-abouting.

We cloth diaper, too. For daycare, we bring home the dirty diapers every day and the next day replace them with clean diapers. For the daycare bag, I just used a draw-string closing bag that I got with my motorcycle helmet. Completely unstructured black thing like this. It fits 8+ clean diapers, a clean wet bag, extra set of clothes, and the small cooler bag that had his bottles for the day, and replacement wipes when they needed them. At almost 2 years, we still use this thing, with mostly 2 - 4 diapers in it, the clean wet bag, extra clothes, and instead of the bottle cooler, his breakfast, lunch and snack containers. Cheap. We already had it. No purpose other than to carry stuff to and from daycare. And it fits in the back of our bike trailer (it has a back flap behind the seat that I use as the "trunk").

For out-n-abouting, we have an actual diaper bag. Whether or not that is really necessary is a toss up. Having something with a changing pad is good, but you can also get a compact kit like this and throw it in the bag you prefer. In our experience, our diaper bag (similar to this one) is OK. If you are breastfeeding, you don't really need to bring a bottle or those supplies at all, as long as Mom is along. At almost 2 now, the bottle pockets are handy for water bottles. Having the outside pockets where I can keep a small purse (that fits only my phone, wallet and lip gloss) is handy so I don't need a second purse. Having an outside pocket with a key fob is great for when wrangling baby so the keys don't get lost or fall out. The stroller clips are nice, too, although having a kid who will sit in the stroller would be nicer. This bag has bibs, changing pad, wipes, diapers, small wet bag, change of clothes, sunscreen, bug spray, our baby wrap, a teether or toy, and all of those necessary items to bring along on an outing with the baby. (Daycare doesn't need this stuff and it will just be more stuff for them to lose track of if you bring it.)

TLDR: I know you don't want multiple bags, but the purpose and use between daycare and out-n-abouting would say to have two bags, with the daycare bag being minimalistic and not much more complex than a trash bag, and the out-n-abouting bag to be more specialized.
posted by jillithd at 11:44 AM on July 8, 2015

Best answer: When we had our first, I celebrated by ordering a new Timbuk2 classic messenger bag and making my current one a diaper bag. I had the large size, but the medium would have been fine as well - I found it to be a perfect diaper bag - changing pad, wipes, a few books, extra clothes, bottles and snacks, etc. all fit with ease and had ready-made homes within all the pockets and compartments - It also seemed more durable than some of the diaper specific bags friends had. In fact I still use it as a "going out with the kids" bag to carry snacks and water bottles (they're 8 and 12 now) when I don't feel like emptying my work one.

I notice they now have a diaper-specific version, but the only notable difference seems to be the top grab handle in addition to the strap.
posted by jalexei at 11:56 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Get a separate bag for daycare. We use just a regular backpack for that, it needs to contain completely different stuff than an out and about bag (extra supplies, clothes, forms, lunch and snack and bottles and sippy cup and sheets and whatever). It stays at daycare with the kid.

That said, I don't even remember the last time we grabbed our (perfectly sensible) diaper bag, we just toss two diapers and some wipes plus her lunch/snack/whatever is applicable in her bee backpack and we're good to go.
posted by lydhre at 11:58 AM on July 8, 2015

I have a newborn at home and we really like our FIsher-Price diaper backpack. It has side compartments for things and everything's labeled. It's comfortable to wear and not too big (we also have a Skip Hop but we haven't used it yet, it's huge), and pretty cheap compared to some of the others.
posted by cabingirl at 12:01 PM on July 8, 2015

I was at Patagonia picking up the latest version of their lightweight travel tote pack, and the salesperson waxed rhapsodic about how she used hers as a baby bag.
posted by evoque at 12:05 PM on July 8, 2015

Our diaper bag was just a canvas tote bag. It held: wipes, dipes, several plastic shopping bags for packaging smelly dirty dipes for disposal, flannelized rubber changing mat, baby tylenol, , ziplock bag of paper towels, a couple onesies, baby socks, baby hoodie or similar, and, as baby turned into toddler, appropriate snacks. Probably usually a book for me. It would have been pleasant to have interior and/ or exterior pockets and maybe a divider inside. Not having those was no big deal. The canvas bag was fairly lightweight and easily washed. It was a promo from Penguin Books, and had Make Way for Ducklings on it, which was very nice.

The commercialization of everything means that marketers want you to buy special-purpose everything. You may find that some special-purpose things for baby are worthwhile, but baby bag wasn't, for us. The one thing I wish we'd had was a nicer stroller.
posted by theora55 at 12:14 PM on July 8, 2015

My advice is about color: we started with a very unisex black bag, and found that it was just disappearing into the house.

Seconded. I've left the diaper bag behind in our house, at friend's houses, at restaurants, all because it is black, so I just don't notice it when my eyes skim over to see if I forgot anything, especially when I am wrangling a squirming toddler and trying to leave somewhere quickly. I have an bright orange bag for trips to the park that is impossible to leave behind.

Get whatever bag you want, and just get a wetbag and maybe something like this for wipes/diapers/portable changing pad if you prefer to have a specialized organizer. FWIW the changing pad that came with my LeSportSac diaper bag was absolutely awful and didn't even fold up nicely or attach into the bag. I may as well have just bought the travel kit and any old cheap pocketed duffel bag I liked rather than the stupid specially marketed bag.
posted by gatorae at 12:19 PM on July 8, 2015

I sold my Skip Hop pretty early on and just started using the large tote bag that came with my pump. For #2 I went and bought what turned out to be a laptop tote bag because it had a divider in the middle of the main compartment (to keep stuff for #1 separate and therefore more easily findable with one hand from stuff for #2) but I took it back because for #1 we rarely need his stuff right there with us, we just leave it in the car. So back to the regular old tote bag.

If you want real-world advice - don't spend a bunch on a shiny new bag right now. Use whatever bags you've already got for a couple of months and then decide if you really need another one. Honestly, you won't use it for long.
posted by vignettist at 12:24 PM on July 8, 2015

Check out Moop. Not diaper bags per se but there are water-resistant options and they're just all around great no-nonsense bags that should last a long time. I am exquisitely pleased with my Moop messenger bag.

I would recommend that for any bag question though. Like people are saying, diaper bags are just bags. This one is good at holding diapers and stuff though. And, having been through the baby-having and bag-using process, I would recommend getting out without tons of stupid pockets, since your needs are likely to evolve over time. Just get a simple bag with a couple pockets and use ziplocs or wetbags or whatever to keep stuff separated.
posted by adiabatic at 12:46 PM on July 8, 2015

We used a pretty generic lightweight backpack. One with a separate front pocket is nice, as is one with side pockets to hold drinks for you or baby. You'll want a wet bag for the dirty cloth diapers.

This is a more general traveling-light-with-baby set of tips: Since you'll be car commuting at first you'll have some time to figure out how food and diaper supplies can get coordinated in a relatively seamless, lightweight way. We had a good system with a mostly-bus-based commute that involved leaving the pump at work 98% of the time and dropping milk off at end of the day when I picked the baby up, rather than carrying it home and back.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:53 PM on July 8, 2015

I never figured out the dedicated diaper-bag thing: does it have to fit both of you? If you use a diaper pannier for biking, do you also have to have a diaper-backpack for walking, and move all the baby stuff between the two evey day? When one of you goes out with the baby, how do you carry all the usual non-diaper stuff? Don't you each already have backpacks or bags with all your random daily stuff in it? Do you have to carry both your personal bag over one shoulder and the diaper bag over the other, or do you move stuff back and forth between bags whenever you need to?

We ended up instead using some simple lightweight drawstring bag we already had lying around, that we could carry alone or stick inside whatever else we were already carrying.
posted by bfields at 1:06 PM on July 8, 2015

We really liked our Eddie Bauer duffle diaper bag -- it had tons of pockets and fit a lot of stuff. It seems like they may have stopped making it, but it looked almost the same as this EB bag at Target.
posted by trillian at 1:08 PM on July 8, 2015

Use an existing bag, but give it more pockets.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:29 PM on July 8, 2015

At some point, whatever perfect bag that you buy will be covered in breast milk, pee, or poop. Take advantage of the back to school sales and buy a comfortable backpack that will accommodate a cold bag for the milk. Plan on getting a new one often. Babies are messy. Choose one with a cute design on it, since baby will be riding behind you on the bike, staring at the bag. Remember that if the backpack has a front pouch, baby will access it while you are peddling and start throwing things out. It's just what they do.
posted by myselfasme at 1:51 PM on July 8, 2015

Baby #1 - Research, Research, Research, Buy, Buy, Buy.
Baby #2 - "Remember all that planning and buying we did when we had Baby #1. What were we thinking?"

Just get what you need when you need it. A bag is a bag. My wife and I tended to just shove the various bits and pieces in whatever bag we were carrying our usual stuff in. It'll take you less than a week before you know every single item you need to meet your baby's needs - and it's really not a lot of stuff at all.
posted by pipeski at 2:39 PM on July 8, 2015

I asked a question about a nappy (diaper) bag a while ago and got a lot of the 'you don't need a special bag' commentary. Just for contrast, I have found that the Skip Hop that I ended up purchasing was very much worth it-- it has clips that attach easily to the pram and it has multiple pockets (magnetted and zipped and open-- each option useful). It was handy for those reasons.

I am with the people who think that you want two bags. The one for day care does not need to have any of those functions.

FWIW, I am still using the 'diaper' bag and my child is 18 mo. So I think that is a decent whack of use.
posted by jojobobo at 3:58 PM on July 8, 2015

We just received the Tom Bihn Parenthood. It isn't a backpack, but is comfortable, spacious, super easy to find things in, and will easily be used once we are past the diaper bag stage. Two caveats--it has no cup holder and depending on how you configure it, it may be hard to get large picture books into.
posted by avocado_of_merriment at 4:43 PM on July 8, 2015

We were given this when we left the hospital. It is everything we have ever needed or will ever need. It is ugly as sin. Enjoy!
posted by Toddles at 8:24 PM on July 8, 2015

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