The Deuter Kid Comfort 2 let us head out on multiple 5-plus-mile hikes with a 15-month-old in South Carolina’s Table Rock State Park and North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest without pause. That’s because the pack was the most comfortable of our tester packs, with straps that made getting a great fit ergonomically across the hips and around our shoulders easy, meaning we were shy of complaints five hours in.
So was our little 15-month-old tester, who consistently fell asleep 30 to 60 minutes into every hike in this pack and, when awake, was comfortably shaded with his feet in stirrups and puffs in the pockets close at hand. The pack’s adjustability was paramount compared with other packs here. “It works both for me at 5′3″ and my husband at 6′5″,” said Addy Lord, our Colorado-based tester, “Plus, I love that the sun roof/rain cover is great for cold-weather hiking, snowshoeing or Nordic skiing because it insulates really well like a tent, so your kid stays toasty inside.”
Osprey’s Poco AG Premium comes fully loaded. From its innovative Anti-Gravity suspension—which first found success in Osprey’s backpacking line—to the fact that it’s equipped with practically every available extra, like a sunshade, hydration pocket, cell phone pocket on the hip belt, extra-large main storage pocket, and more, the Poco AG Premium spoke loudly to our organization-obsessed testers. “I like to have a place for everything,” said Lyndsey Vaillancourt, our New Hampshire-based tester, “I especially like pockets I can easily access when the pack is on, like hip belt pockets for small items like tissues, Chapstick, a multi-tool, small snacks, etc. This pack has 10 pockets plus a hydration sleeve, which is more than double the competition. And there are two mesh side pockets that are easy to stash a hat or an empty snack wrapper with the pack on.” It’s this intuitive design that translates clearly on the trail that convinced us that the Poco AG Premium—delineated from the less-expensive Poco AG Plus by its removable day pack—was the top-of-the-line pack if cost is not an issue. The day pack is the cherry on top: “Carrying a 27-pound toddler on my back is heavy enough,” said, Tim Carr, our Southern California-based tester. “Having my wife carry the packed daypack helped ease my load so we could hike for longer.”
At less than half the price of most of the carriers in this review, and with many of the same capabilities—holds your kid comfortably, buckles in all the same places around your torso, has a storage pocket—this pack piqued our interest. Not to mention the Clevr is the lightest pack we tested, at a svelte 5 pounds, and rode just as light on rolling hills in New York’s Catskill Mountains. But because this pack shows the manufacturer’s preference for cost savings over comfort, we wouldn’t take this out for more than an hour or two a few times per year. For many people, that’s exactly how often they hike, which makes this affordable bare-bones pack a smart choice.
Table of contents
- Why you should trust us
- How we picked and tested
- Who this is for
- Our pick
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- Upgrade pick
- A low-cost option for infrequent hikers
- The competition
- Comfort and usage tips
- Buying secondhand
- For newborns, infants, and traveling
- Tips for keeping bigger little ones happy on the trail
Why you should trust us
Ali Carr Troxell, formerly a gear editor at Outside magazine, has analyzed straps, buckles, and pockets, among other outdoor gear design features, for a decade. In addition to editing the bi-yearly Outside Buyer’s Guide and the magazine’s monthly gear section, she has written about outdoor gear and adventures for Men’s Journal, Sunset magazine, GearPatrol.com, Fatherly.com, and more, and has appeared on the Travel Channel and Outside Television as an expert in the field. Carr Troxell is dedicated to raising a child who loves the outdoors, and is actively involved in Hike It Baby, a nationwide nonprofit that encourages families to get out on the trails with their little ones (full disclosure: Hike It Baby accepts some funding and gear donations from several of the major manufacturers of carriers. We worked with the group’s local chapter organizers and members, who don’t participate in that general sponsorship.) The Seattle branch she launched two years ago now has nearly 4,000 members and she is working on growing a new branch to get more babies outside in her new hometown in the Catskill Mountains of New York.
We polled Hike It Baby’s 510 branch leads—who lead hikes at least weekly with their kids across the country—on which packs they use and what they love and dislike about them. By pinpointing the most opinionated, passionate, and articulate responses, we were able to identify and enlist our test crew. Our testers were made up of six gear-obsessed women and men, each in a different state—California, Colorado, Kentucky, South Carolina, New York, and New Hampshire—which gave us access to many, many types of weather, terrain, and tester priorities.
How we picked and tested
The pool of available baby-carrying backpacks is rather small. Search REI or Amazon’s inventory or another retailer’s and you’re likely to find a similar grouping of packs. That’s because the handful of players bring solid offerings that are hard to contend with. To come up with our testing lineup, we scoured Amazon feedback and ratings and searched the Internet for online reviews (of which there were only a few and most were outdated). We interviewed pack designers at the two largest baby-carrying backpack manufacturers to get their take on the best-selling packs in their lineups. We also listened to the initial feedback from Hike It Baby’s branch leads about the packs they already owned. Of 510 branch leads we polled, dealbreakers were pretty unanimous; packs had to have water storage, foot stirrups for their kids, weather protection, and storage space. And we charted out pros, cons, ratings, weights, and additional notes about each of the packs we came across. Most important, we rejected most packs that cost over $250—we think that’s the limit of affordability for a product you won’t use for more than a couple of years, and we didn’t find in our screening discussions that any of the super-pricey packs were better than our top picks. We also rejected super-inexpensive packs, which were almost universally reported to be disqualifyingly uncomfortable.
Once we had the packs in our hands, we started with safety and comfort. Were our little ones securely strapped in their carriers? And what were their carriers like—fuzzy, rough, well-padded? How did the packs feel on our torsos? Just like a backpacking pack, it’s important for the weight in a baby carrying backpacking to load-bear on the adult’s hips in order to carry the load efficiently. One of the things we took note of was the variety in kickstand design and how confidence-inspiring (or not) each one was. If we couldn’t get a solid click when we extended it, we didn’t feel great about setting our packs on the ground with kids in ’em.
Then we focused on adjustability: Can the pack be adjusted to varying torso heights, and how easy is it to do that? Did it feel secure once adjusted? We also looked at adjustability for our kids: Could stirrups be shortened and lengthened? Could harnesses stretch and shrink based on each child’s size? Once we had a fully loaded pack on, we paid attention to strap adjustability in order to get the load sitting just right to keep us comfortable for miles upon miles.
Moving on to storage, we took note of how much space each pack had as well as where the storage was placed. Was it available in a removable day pack that a hiking buddy could wear to spread the load? Were cell phone pockets large enough for today’s phones and easily accessible? Most important: Where do we carry our water?
Last, and certainly not least, we weighed the variable features like sun and rain shades, foot stirrups, drool pads, and side-entry access into the child’s seat. Many of our testers agreed that these things are as necessary as a waist belt or a storage pocket, and without them they wouldn’t buy the pack.
Our six detail-obsessed testers took the 12 different pack styles on hikes that represent the new-parent set well—from nightly flat rail trail dog walks in Kentucky to multi-peak summits in New Hampshire. One three-toddler hike through Woodstock, New York’s Comeau Property—an in-town trail system that follows a creek—proved the kids were too curious to stay up for very long with rocks, bark, and the creek beckoning them right below. Our New Hampshire tester reminded us of her rough testing terrain (“They don’t call us the Granite State for nothing!”) after taking her packs on trails where rock ledges and scrambling are par for the course. And because these packs are useful beyond the trail, many did double-duty at music festivals, zoos, farms, nature sanctuaries, traipsing around New York City on a weekend trip and even a walking commute to preschool in Los Angeles.
Who this is for
Choosing a baby carrier for hiking with your child is an overwhelming task for most new parents. Like many things in raising a baby, it’s hard to know what you’ll actually need until you are in the thick of it. So most of us go in overprepared, buying things we’ll never use. But, when you plan to be a few miles from your car, far from easy-to-grab creature comforts, overprepared may be your smartest strategy. After all, both your and your baby’s comfort are key to making the whole experience a joy. That doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive hiking backpack with every extra available; it’s easy to determine which carrier will best suit your goals.
First, think about your baby’s age and size. Newborns and infants under 20 pounds are often most comfortable in soft-structured carriers or woven wraps for both the baby and the person carrying them—even for lengthy full-day hikes. Just make sure your hiking partner carries a daypack for diaper storage or, if you are hiking alone, couple your carrier with a good old fanny pack.
Once your little one is able to sit up on his or her own—usually around six months—he or she is ready to ride in a backpack. Because baby-toting backpacks are built to carry the weight of your gear plus a child (pretty much the equivalent of a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and other gear), they’re built similarly to backpacking packs, making them stable, comfortable for longer periods than soft-structured carriers, and strong. Bonus: Their harnesses are easily adjustable so Mom, Dad, the nanny, and Grandma can all use the same pack no matter their height differences.
Next step in deciding between a soft-structured carrier or a pack is to think about what type of hikes you like to do. Consensus among our testers is that anything over two miles denotes breaking out the backpack. Once your kid hits around 25 to 35 pounds, he or she will likely be keen on doing a bit more on his or her own two feet—and you’ll probably be more than willing to let him or her down. Backpacks with easy access to your child’s seat—like a side opening—will come in handy here.
Also keep in mind that you might use your baby backpack for more than just hitting the trails. Our testers used these packs for zoo-going, roaming New York City by foot and subway, running errands, doing yard work, airport traversing and neighborhood dog-walking. Versatility, adjustability, comfort (for parent and child), durability, and, yes, cute extras like an included stuffed bear (thanks Deuter!) all matter.
For hikes shorter than two miles, or if your child weighs less than about 20 pounds or can’t sit up on his or her own, a soft-structured carrier (or SSC), like the OnyaBaby’s Pure Carrier, is the way to go. In an SSC, active toddlers can get up and down more easily and infants can nurse on the go.
No other pack checked as many boxes as the Deuter Kid Comfort 2. Its lightweight frame (at 7 pounds 3 ounces) was so comfortable our tester reported that it still felt great after five plus hours on the trail, even with a wiggly 15-month-old in it. Uneven terrain and elevation gain and descent across the Blue Ridge Mountains and other rocky hikes in North and South Carolina were met with unfaltering stability. And none of our dealbreakers were met: The storage-happy pack is equipped with foot stirrups to keep your child’s hips comfortable, a hydration-bladder-compatible pocket, and an optional sun and rain protection accessory is available.
One tester loved the “side door” entrance for her child because she could easily get him in and out even with the sunshade overhead. Though we might have nicked this pack’s points for the fact that weather-protection isn’t included—as it is in the similarly priced and equipped Osprey Poco AG—the harness, which slides easily between a whopping seven torso-length adjustment levels, was so spot-on fitwise that we decided an additional $29 on accessories was worth it. If we turn to just one detail for the win, though, it’s this: No other pack induced a nap like this one did, thanks to an extra-plush and soft pillow. “My son fell asleep within the first 15 minutes of the hike,” said Michelle Bullard of her test hike up Sam’s Knob Summit off Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, “So I got to enjoy the views.”
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Though testers loved pretty much everything about the Deuter Kid Comfort 2, they had one gripe: the placement of the child’s harness buckle. Between the three clasps, two of them are inconveniently at the child’s belly button, which means it’s hard to confirm the child is buckled in completely, especially if the child is decked out in a puffy jacket.
The Osprey Poco AG Premium rings the bell as the top-of-the-line carrier among hiking backpacks for babes. Not only does it nail fit for mom and dad—Osprey’s Anti-Gravity system suspends the pack away from your back to maximize airflow—but the Premium also comes equipped with every detail out there. Built-in sun protection? Check. Dual handles up top for easy, spill-free handling? Yes. And a kickstand that leaves you confident it’s fully extended. And side-door access. The list goes on.
The real addition here is the removable day pack, which our testers appreciated for extra storage space and as a backpack that can be used on its own for shorter hikes. On a 5-mile hike along the perimeter of Seattle’s Discovery park, with every type of terrain from steep hillside stairs to a paved oceanfront path to bluff-top sand to winding singletrack, we found the day pack most useful when hiking with a partner who could carry it. We found that if we stuffed it with most of the day’s necessities (e.g., diapers, wipes, snacks, sunglasses, sun hats), it eliminated an ample amount of storage weight out of the kid carrier.
Though the Poco AG Premium comes at a premium price, and weighs a touch more (at 8.31 pounds) thanks to the additional backpack, it’s truly the Land Rover of baby-carrying backpacks.
Bonus: Osprey’s new children’s harness leaves very little room for error—a child’s arms are encircled in straps even before you buckle them in, and the snap is at chest level, making it easy to confirm that your kid is A-OK to hike on. Poco hiking baby carriers made between January 2012 and December 2014 had yet to add a seat-pad insert to prevent a child from slipping through the leg openings in the carrier, so in April 2017 Osprey recalled packs with those production dates due to that falling hazard. At the time we tested these packs and published this guide, Osprey was selling only packs with this pad installed, so our readers are likely not affected by the recall. But we do think it’s worthwhile to check your carrier’s production date, and it’s important to contact Osprey for a free seat pad if necessary.
Some users don’t find the removable daypack useful, in which case the less expensive Osprey Poco AG Plus is the best option. It comes with everything the Premium has—sans day pack—at about $40 less. On our second test of the Poco AG Premium, our built-in sunshade—which is awesomely included in all of Osprey’s models—caught on something and the shade fabric ripped in the bottom corner. Overall, quality is very high on Osprey’s packs, but the sunshade fabric could use reinforcement.
A low-cost option for infrequent hikers
At only 5 pounds (and with a name like this), it’s hard to ignore the affordable Clevr Baby/Child Back Pack Cross Country Carrier Stand with Sun Shade Visor Shield. Testers were surprised by how comfortable this featherweight carrier was, even with a 25-pound toddler in it.
A quick 2½-mile hike in upstate New York along rooty rolling hills felt unencumbered. But don’t get too doe-eyed; it’s quickly obvious how low-quality every ingredient is, and if you’re looking for long-lasting (or good resale value), look elsewhere. If you plan to hike only two or three times per year and can live with a pack on a par with an economy rental car—it’s built well enough to get you there, but without any frills—this is for you.
Included weather-protection is surely a bonus at this price, but the sun/rain protector with Velcro attachments had trouble withstanding curious toddler hands, and, though removable, it doesn’t fold down, so if you decide not to bring it, it stays in the car (instead of in the pack, where it might come in handy should a storm roll in). Another ding: The harness doesn’t move on the frame for varying torso sizes, but is adjustable using straps to a point.
Quality on the Clevr was our biggest concern. Upon first inspection, the pack feels incredibly cheap and thrown together without much thought, and Amazon’s hike-heavy reviewers agreed: Packs arrived with broken buckles, fabric chafed skin, and the kickstand instilled little to no confidence. All of these flaws were reasons we’re suggesting this for infrequent hikers who hit the trails only two or three times per year for shorter hikes and don’t need to make a larger investment. Our testers’ biggest gnaw was the lack of adjustability in torso length, meaning the pack had trouble fitting comfortably beyond the 5 foot 5 to 5 foot 11 range. The other packs in our lineup easily adjust anywhere from 4 foot 11 to 6 foot 6 and probably beyond.
After rejecting both super-pricey and supercheap packs, we were left with fairly small initial pool of products to test. Runners-up included the Phil & Teds Escape, which also comes tricked out with extras like a changing pad, a rain shield, and a mirror, but the design often left us baffled (“I find the neck support hilarious,” said our Colorado tester, “I’ve never seen any child nap with his head back.”) and testers were uncomfortable on the trail because of the distance between them and their children in this pack.
The Thule Sapling also won big marks from us for clever design and a comfortable fit, which easily adjusted between a 6-month-old baby and his 35-pound 3-year-old brother. The product designers at the renowned car-rack company engineered it all right—adjustable foot stirrups, side-door access, hydration-compatible, an easy-to-slide pack harness, and ultra-breathability throughout—but the kickstand took some forcing, which didn’t inspire confidence, and we had trouble widening the seat area enough to keep our 2-year-old from feeling sandwiched.
The lack of hydration storage on the Deuter Kid Comfort Air was our testers’ biggest complaint. “How can a large backpack company overlook this and think it’s not necessary?” asked our New Hampshire-based tester, where hikes are often 1,000 feet of elevation per mile (read: water necessary!). It also lacked pockets for stashing a water bottle, leaving us dumbfounded. Small gripe: The pockets weren’t large enough to hold today’s phones.
Kelty’s Junction 2.0 never sized up to the rest of our hiking packs because it lacks adequate storage—hydration and regular—and foot stirrups, which allow a child to shift his or her weight on longer hikes and remain comfortable. But, because we found it useful for other shorter stints—keeping a baby up during a vet appointment, traveling, at the zoo—and it squeezed nicely into an airplane’s overhead compartment, we kept it on the list. There is one thing we’d like to see redesigned: the child’s seat. Multiple testers found it noticeably narrow, which probably gets uncomfortable for our babies and toddlers after too long (although they couldn’t quite articulate that). Foot stirrups would also help here.
The most plush pack in Deuter’s Kid Comfort series, the Deuter Kid Comfort III comes with a few more accessories than the Kid Comfort II, our main pick, such as an integrated sunshade and a retractable mirror. We eschewed the large price tag for the brand’s middle-of-the-line pack because it has all of the same riding comfort—for parent and child—but its accessories can be customized based on the user’s climate.
The Osprey Packs Poco AG Plus Child Carrier is exactly the same as the Osprey Poco AG Premium but without the removable day pack, a nice-to-have feature that lets couples split the weight load. If you plan to hit the trail without an adult counterpart, opt for this version.
We love that Osprey integrates a removable sun shade into all of its kid carriers, no matter the price, including the baseline Osprey Packs Poco AG. This no-frills pack is the most affordable of their lineup but is missing a few extra pockets and some adjustability that its bigger siblings have. And, in our search for packs south of $250, this one hits our max price without feature-matching its competition.
In our hunt for best-sellers and popular kid carriers, we often turned to REI and other popular retailers to see what they stock shelves with. Kelty was often missing in action and received remarks of regret from our tester base. “I bought a Kelty because it was affordable but we never use it because it’s not comfortable,” said one. Though the Kelty Journey 2.0 falls within our price boundaries and comes kitted out with features, we think an extra $50 to guarantee ergonomic comfort is worth it.
The Kelty Pathfinder 3.0, the brand’s top-of-the line pack didn’t make our test squadron because we think its torso design is best suited for short trips, which is why the Junction 2.0 stuck out to us for its unique, travel-friendly design.
The biggest complaint we read about the Kelty Tour 1.0 was its lack of comfort. The design is so angled that the metal frame dug into users’ backsides, making it uncomfortable to keep hiking.
The thing we liked about Kelty’s Transit series (e.g., the Kelty Transit 3.0) was its unique, minimalist design, making it perfect for shorter jaunts. And because the harness was comfortable only for shorter trips, spending extra to have a lot of accessories seemed like overkill. That’s why we opted for the Transit 2.0 over the 3.0.
We dismissed the Phil & Teds Parade Backpack Carrier because it was built for city exploration. It doesn’t have the features we’d want for hitting the trails.
The Kelty Mijo seems optimal for for travel, especially at 3 pounds 9 ounces. But like the Phil & Teds Parade Backpack Carrier, it’s lacking pockets, weather protection, and a harness built for hiking.
BabyBjorn is the Kleenex of baby carriers in terms of name recognition. But the brand has also received flak in the past for its Original design being less than supportive of a baby’s hips. In 2016 BabyBjorn introduced the Carrier One Outdoors, a carrier constructed from quick-drying, breathable materials with a hip-happy design (as recognized by the International Hip Dysplasia Institute) that is built for hiking. Testers didn’t find it quite as comfortable and breathable as the OnyaBaby Pure, but it still remained a popular option for some parents.
Comfort and usage tips
Ideally, because fit is often variable—and you’ve got several variables in this category, including who you’ll carry in the pack, and who will be wearing it—you’d try on a few different models at retail to get your best fit. But if that’s not possible, make sure you ask around; there may be locals who’ve got your candidate packs who are willing to let you try them, and if you mail order, make sure that you’ve got unconditional return privileges (even if the pack gets a few days of rugged use). Consumer Reports has a good “how to buy” guide. In our testing, we noticed some definite fit differences between manufacturers and models. Some packs, like the Deuter Comfort Air, fit a long torso best, and others, like the Osprey Poco AG Premium, conflicted with our taller testers, who felt the sun shade behind their heads while hiking. Here’s a hint: Like in backpacking, you’ll want to tighten at the waist first; your hips are where you should carry the load for maximum comfort.
Weight savings is important when you’re already starting with a 16- to 30-pound load. For longer day hikes, read up on tips from thru-hikers who are often carrying the same amount of weight as those hauling children. Do they carry a full two liters of water or do they bring a filter? Do they wear different shoes? What food do they bring? Making lightweight choices will make a more enjoyable experience. Also consider items with a dual purpose: Ditch the changing pad and use a jacket or a lightweight MonkeyMat, which can also be used as a tarp in passing rain.
Entertainment matters. And as charming as we found Deuter’s little surprise bear, it’s best played with at home. To save on weight, pick up pinecones, rocks, and leaves instead. Or opt for lightweight items like So Awesome’s cards on a ring. A retractable mirror, like this one from Chums is fun for little ones and handy for keeping an eye on things back there.
Trekking poles can also add some balance if you have a particularly wiggly toddler or are heading out over uneven ground. Check out our guide to those here.
As you should with a new one, it’s important to try on a secondhand pack—with your kid in it—before buying. Stick with a carrier that is less than five years old to benefit from the most modern features.
Is the pack covered in dirt and stains? That’s a good sign! It means it was well-loved and used. Used only a few times? Ask the sellers if they are hikers and have experience baby-wearing. If they say yes, ask some careful questions about whether they’re selling the pack because they didn’t find it comfortable. If they aren’t hikers, they may not have taken the time to learn how to use it properly or didn’t need it in the first place. It could be a good deal for you.
Take a good look at seams and weight-bearing portions of the pack for wear and tear, including in the child’s harness. You want to make sure you aren’t putting your child at risk for a fall.
Check for recalls. Though top-of-the-line carriers often have a lifetime warranty, different rules apply. For instance, Kelty’s warranty applies only to the original owner, whereas Osprey’s applies to the product itself (it is illegal to resell a recalled product.)
For newborns, infants, and traveling
OnyaBaby’s Pure carrier is a good soft-structured carrier option that can be used for both hiking and traveling. Made of quick-dry nylon and mesh, our testers adored it for hot summer days when breathability was a priority. But the main reason such a wide range of testers loved this carrier was its versatility and lifespan. Unlike many other carriers that are sized either for infants or toddlers, the Pure can carry everyone from newborn (with an insert) to toddler. It’s also a no-brainer travel accessory: It’s just one pound and is easily wiped off when it gets dirty. Plus, it’s supportive: The straps can criss-cross and it has built-in lumbar support.
Some parents use the Moby, a soft, stretchy woven wrap that snugs babies less than 11 pounds neatly against their mom or dad’s chest. But, you have to master tying it while under sleep deprivation and the fabric can be a bit stifling in warm weather. Others carry newborns in a ring sling, which similarly requires a bit of practice tightening the various parts of the fabric. The Baby K’tan takes the best of both styles in a pre-looped stretchy fabric wrap that’s easy to use and available in a variety of fabrics, including a perforated, breathable sport fabric known as the K’tan Active. It wicks moisture and sweat, blocks UVA and UVB rays and keeps baby cozy (yet cool) against mom or dad’s chest.
With newborns and infants, it’s important to keep diapering, feeding, and other supplies at hand. Most soft-structured carriers and wraps don’t come equipped with storage. One solution is to wear a backpack while carrying your little one on your front, which can create uncomfortable pressure points where the two sets of straps meet on your shoulders. To avoid this, try a waist pack, which also gives you a place to stash (and easily grab) water bottles.
Tips for keeping bigger little ones happy on the trail
At a certain point, toddlers and kids don’t want to be carried, but also don’t want to hike for long distances. To get them excited to hike on their own, take them to trails that have varied terrain like bridges, boulders, waterfalls, and streams to splash in or sculpture parks where there is always something new right up ahead. These small goals get kids excited to keep exploring.
As a parent, it’s important to be flexible with starts and stops and practice patience. This will let your little one discover his or her love for hiking and work up to longer distances in time.
And if you really need a workout, make some time for an adult-only hike between toddler-led strolls.
(Photos by Ian Troxell.)