If you want to build up the idea that your kid can climb any metaphorical mountain, start by climbing a literal one. These fully-equipped hiking packs are just like the ones you took to Europe during your “semester abroad,” except these built to support toddlers up to 40ish pounds and hide away essential like blankies and binkies, not souvenirs from Amsterdam.
Probably the best feature of all is that they’re built to evenly distribute weight and keep your center of gravity stable. That means you will save a few vertebrae while you do the outdoorsy thing. Here are the 4 pack leaders.
Pros: It’s the godfather of hiking carriers, so show some respect. According to Outside‘s Erica Lineberry, the Pathfinder is great for “backpackers, climbers and day hikers that want plenty of storage space.” It also includes 1300 cubic inches of space across 4 zippered pockets, and one zip-off backpack. One Amazon customer touted the ease of adjustment, saying, “The placement of the buckles is a godsend. Not only is there a 5-point restraint, but the ability on the leg straps to [slide] down onto the thighs adds that much more security.”
Cons: Lineberry said your big kids might have a rough time, saying “Large children (or children with bulky layers) can be difficult to load into the pack.” And another reviewer says the pack is pretty big — maybe too big for a petite spouse. “The bag doesn’t quite fit my wife (5’4″), the frame is a bit long and so hangs below her tailbone area, this makes her feel like she’s having to constantly lean forward.”
Weight max: 40 lbs
Space: 1300 cubic inches
Extra features: Kickstand for the ground, mesh pockets
Pros: Kate Arnold of Outside says the Deuter is the “Suburban of child carriers, where size is no issue and bells and whistles come standard.” That means roomy compartments, padded head rests, a removable pillow in case your baby flops forward like a barfly at last call. It even comes with a rear-view mirror and built-in umbrella, that one reviewer says, “has saved our adventure a few times and made it fun while daddy got soaked!”
Cons: It’s not for the compact man or woman, weighing 7-pounds 10 ounces. The pack also sits 35-inches high, so you have to be mindful not to clothesline your kid. Arnold says “like driving a U-Haul into a parking garage, two words come to mind: low clearance.”
Weight max: 40 lbs
Space: 1100 cubic inches
Extra features: Umbrella, rear-view mirror, detachable pillow, hydration bladder
Pros: Little Trekkers likes the Poco because “It features a strong and lightweight framing system, and comes complete with a built in sunshade, detachable daypack and a padded lightweight changing pad.” And an REI mom digs the versatility, saying, “I can carry my 18-pound 16-month-old with ease, and I can also quickly adjust to my 38-pound 4-year-old if I need to!” And she goes on to rave about its even weight distribution “taking the stress off my shoulders. I love how it hugs me!” Better save this pack for when the kids go to college.
Cons: A curvy Amazon reviewer says the pack is really one-size-fits-most. “Try as we might, we could not get this comfortable on me. We finally realized it’s because the hip pads go straight down; they do not bend or flex to accommodate the female shape.” Hey Osprey, this is what a real hiker looks like.
Weight max: 48.5 lbs
Space: 2380 cubic inches
Extra features: Drool pad, grab handles, built-in sunshade, extra large mesh pocket, quick torso adjust
Pros: Vaude gives you what you need in a hiking pack: Sunshade, rain cover, neck support — soft froggy face pad. This one also happens to be an updated version of the one expedition photographer and pro climber Jimmy Chin uses. And as Little Trekkers points out, “The shuttle Premium is a free-standing child carrier, so [it] is stable when on the ground. which makes it perfect for pit stops and refuelling hungry tots.”
Cons: It’s not as spacious as some of the other packs on the list. LT says, “At 27 litres [about 1650 cubic inches] there is slightly less storage than other brands top of the range child carriers have.”
Weight max: 40 lbs
Space: 1650 cubic inches
Extra features: Froggy face pad, built-in sun/rain shade, Tergolight suspension system