Staff Tested: 3 Child Carrier Backpacks
Our intrepid reporter field-tests three popular baby packs on actual mountains.
From Zack’s birth 10 months ago, I’ve had him in baby carriers. He craved that warm kangaroo closeness as much as I did. The first carrier I used was a long piece of stretchy material I tied around myself. It’s actually called a Kangaroo and worked great, and yes, it takes some getting used to. It was especially helpful when I watched Zack in the evenings during the witching hour-when he was über-cranky, and when he would cry if I put him down, and his mom, France, was out, or trying and failing to catch up on sleep. Zack would be tucked in against my front, allowing me to do dishes and even make dinner while he napped or watched my impressive chopping skills. The Kangaroo never quite worked for France, however. She’s under 5’2″ (though she’ll never admit it), and found it hurt her back.
At three months, we took Zack hiking in an Evenflo Snugli baby carrier, which I wore on my front. I had him facing forward on the way up, but when he got tired, I turned him face-in so he could sleep. The system worked fine, but was a little complicated as I also had a big backpack on to carry food, water and extra clothes. Being weighed down front and back is okay with a very young baby on an easy hike, but becomes cumbersome and awkward as the hike gets tougher. So, I decided to test three backpack-style baby carriers with Zack to find the one that best fit us both.
1. Mountain Equipment Co-op Happy Trails
We tried out this pack on Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak. It fit me well, and felt like the large hiking pack I use regularly. Boxy and utilitarian, it’s not the most stylish of the baby carriers, but it’s practical, rugged and dependable.
Likes: The removable rain/sun hood, which comes standard. In the woods, I don’t worry much about sun protection, but the hood kept the cold rain off Zack’s head and torso that day, and doubled as a branch-protector. I love the frame, which allows me to load/unload Zack on my own. Also, compared to the other packs, it has more cargo space for clothes, food, etc.
Dislikes: Zack feels farther behind me than with the other two packs, making a small but noticeable effect on balance. The pack also makes an annoying squeaking noise. And although the carrying space is pretty good compared with the other two packs, it’s somewhat impractical. The lower cargo bag, which can be removed as a daypack, has a big bend in it, making packing tricky, and the second, smaller bag higher up doesn’t have much room.
Overall Review: A solid baby carrier meant for real hiking, rain, mud, sweat and all.
Weighs 3 kg, $109, mec.ca
2. Vaude Jolly Comfort 1
When the Vaude arrived at the office, everyone commented on how cute it was, with its fleecy mouse-eared head support for Baby. (The MEC has a more industrial black padding.) Designed in Germany, the Vaude looks perfectly designed, and even comes with a changing pad and light rain/sun canopy. I was ready to be impressed. We tested it at Mont-Tremblant National Park for a three-hour hike on a warm day.
Likes: The Vaude looks really cool. It fits well, and I like the fact the baby harness is easier to do up than the other two (which involve fishing blindly for the bottom strap and then pulling it up to snap into the shoulder straps). I also like the way the bottom of the frame clicks out for placement on the ground, and clicks back in for travel.
Dislikes: As soon as Zack got sleepy, I noticed he hung out of the side of pack like the hippy woman’s kid in “Away We Go,” rather than against that cute head support. France and I were constantly checking to make sure Zack was okay. We gave up on straightening him up. I was also surprised the cargo bag underneath the baby seat hangs lower than the frame, even when it’s empty, making the pack wobbly when you try to load/unload Baby. It’s almost as if the manufacturer expects a second parent to help. (Encouragingly, the Vaude website offers a dozen child carriers, so there’s a good chance one of them has ironed out some of these glitches.)
Overall Review: I’d recommend the Vaude for very short hikes or for toddlers who can walk, but need to be carried on occasion.
Weighs 2.8 kg, 160 Euros (or about $210 CAD), vaude.com
3. LittleLife Cross Country S2 Child Carrier
During our two-hour hike at Rigaud mountain, France and I noticed Zack was sitting higher up in this pack than in the MEC. We expected him to hang out the side but for some reason, he put his arms up in front is his head and rested his head on his arms. The pack was comfortable and functional.
Likes: It has a great cargo bag underneath the baby seat. I also like the hidden vertical pocket that runs along the upper portion of the pack for smaller items. I like the built in hole at the base of the pack, for placing your foot into while you load/unload baby (although, with the other packs, you can simply step on the frame). And like the Vaude, it has a cute pillow for baby to lay his drooling cheek against, with a farm scene of a sun, tractor, pig, cow, sheep, and yellow rubber ducky in a pond.
Dislikes: Everything felt great at first, but a few problems quickly revealed themselves. Like the MEC, the harness buckles are hard to get at. And as with the Vaude, Zack sat too high. This gave him a great view, but his head bobbled a bit too much for France’s liking. I also don’t like the fact that although the pack comes with a flimsy sun/shower canopy, you have to pay extra if you want a real “rainy day cover” or “sunny day cover.” You can also pay extra for baby foot stirrups (though I doubt he’d know the difference), and a “fleece-covered inflatable neck pillow,” which I’m guessing they offer to counteract the worrisome head-bobble.
Overall Review: Despite its cool design, the LittleLife didn’t feel like a real hiker’s pack. Still, it scores higher than the Vaude. I can’t recommend buying it, but keep it if someone buys it for you as a gift. Or at least re-gift it.
Weighs 2.5 kg, $299, mec.ca