Child-carriers may be one of the most versatile pieces of parenting gear around. Yes, their intended purpose is to help take your kid on hikes without losing versatility — and they’re damn good at that — they’re also great for airport days and general moving around town. No, they won’t replace a stroller, but they have everything one needs for the trail and are a great way to help active parents keep up with their old habits while keeping kids safe and happy
All kid-carriers are not created equal. Most have a frame supported by a waist strap on an adjustable suspension system with an adjustable child harness, and a kickstand to keep the pack upright for loading. The main differences are in the features — such as the number of pockets and the inclusion of a removable pack. Other things to keep in mind: If you’re hiking with an infant, the carrier needs to fully support their head. Once your child reaches around six months and 16 lbs. and they’re able to hold up their melon, a more classic backpack-style carrier works best. We tested the latest models and came up with these five options for kids of all sizes.
Baby Bjorn Baby Carrier One Air
Newborns and infants are happiest snuggled against a parent’s chest, and that’s where this supportive cotton/polyester blend sling holds them. The child’s weight is supported by your hips via a broad waist belt, and padded, ergonomic shoulder straps make carrying your growing child comfortably in a variety of positions. Facing your chest, the newborn rides high so you can keep a close eye on your charge. When they hit their 4-month birthday you can move them lower on your body with adjustable leg openings. At five months, fold down the head support so your baby can face out to observe the world from their familiar perch. Then wear this carrier on your back once your child hits a year and use it until they top 33 lbs. or 39 inches. Best of all? It rolls up small enough to fit in a diaper bag.
Thule Sapling Elite Child Carrier
The Range Rover of child carriers, Thule’s 7.9 lb. Sapling Elite has every bell and whistle you can imagine in a compact package. The fully adjustable suspension — including torso length, waist belt, and shoulder straps — has breathable padding everywhere, as do your child’s seat and removable foot stirrups. For hiking, Thule built in a hydration reservoir sleeve, and a hip pocket big enough to stash your phone and sacks of Goldfish. Kid-focused features include a sunshade to keep your cargo cool, and a mirror to monitor your passenger’s mood. Stabilizer straps keep your child balanced in the pack if they take a nap. The pack, along with spacious mesh pockets in the detachable day pack, has room for water, diapers, clothes, rain gear, and food for your whole party.
Osprey Poco AG Plus Child Carrier
Most kid carriers are essentially external frame backpacks, this one has an internal frame that holds more gear inside, and your child’s weight closer to your back. The 7 lbs.. 11 oz. pack uses a suspension system and it’s incredibly comfortable and well-vented. A fully padded child cockpit cradles your kiddo, complete with adjustable seat height, safety leg loops, and removable stirrups. A fleece-lined butterfly harness keeps squirmy kids safely contained, and the pack has a removable drool pad that makes a great pillow for napping. Two big zippered storage areas, akin to dual sleeping bag compartments, hold most gear, while an always useful front stretch-mesh pocket and side stretch mesh pockets manage overflow. The amply padded hip belt has two pockets and a rear view mirror.
Kelty Tour 1.0 Child Carrier
Simple, streamlined, and relatively affordable, Kelty’s Tour 1.0 has the same rugged frame and flexible suspension of all the kid carrying packs here — but manages to shave off substantial weight. The adult harness fits a wide range of size, while a five-point padded harness secures your kiddo in an adjustable-height padded seat. An easy-access front pocket holds snacks and toys — and a toy loop keeps a special favorite toy in easy reach. Pinch-free hinges on the kickstand prevent little fingers from being pinched, while beefy haul handles make it easy to hoist this aluminum frame pack onto your back. It’s more streamlined than a lot of packs—with around 13-liter gear capacity and it only weighs 4 lbs., 10 oz.
Piggyback Rider Explore
The Explore is less of a traditional kid-carrier and more of a way for your child to get a dad’s eye view of the world without wrenching your back. To get on, the rider steps onto the non-skid bar attached to the back of the adult harness while you’re on one knee. Then, a wearer stands up to lift your load. It feels like you’re carrying a backpack instead of piggyback because the adult harness has shoulder straps and a hip belt like a high-quality pack. And even though he or she is actively standing, your child is attached via a six-point safety harness connected to your own. A 1.5L reservoir slides into the adult backpack, with plenty of room for snacks, extra clothing and more. For kids two and up who weigh up to 50 pounds.