Make hiking fun for the whole family — even toddlers and babies! These are the best baby and child carriers for maximum comfort, value, and safety.
Just because you have kids doesn’t mean you want to stop getting outside. In fact, hitting the trails is one of our favorite family activities. And finding the right carrier pack will ensure you can hike more miles efficiently and happily with a baby or toddler. The options range from simple fabric packs to full-frame backpacks.
We’ve spent two years testing the gamut of packs while hiking in the north Georgia mountains, exploring the Pacific Northwest, marking miles around our neighborhoods, and traveling overseas. We’ve carried newborns to 3-year-olds, and our testers range from 5’1″ to 6′ tall.
Suffice it to say, we’ve really put these through their paces.
Best Baby Carriers for Hiking
While there isn’t a single best baby carrier to best suit every hiking family, we’ve listed a wide variety of options and organized the best baby carriers of 2020 into practical categories. For more information on finding the right fit, look at the end of this article for our buyer’s guide and tips for hiking with kids.
Best Overall Baby Carrier
Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite ($300)
There’s a lot to like about this pack. First off is the storage space. With nine pockets and a 26L capacity, you can easily stash everything you need for a day on the trails. We especially like the “dirty” compartment that keeps wet or soiled clothes separate and easily wipes clean. The suspension system makes carrying heavy loads comfortable and allows the pack to fit a variety of people.
Our tiny testers also found this pack especially comfortable. The drool pad provides a comfortable place for baby to rest their face and can be removed for cleaning. And the stirrups keep legs in a supported position. We also like that the kickstand can be deployed or tucked away while wearing the pack. And the multiple grab handles make it easier to get the pack on and off.
With the integrated sunshade (which easily slides into a zippered compartment), hydration sleeve, and generous storage pockets, this pack is built for regular use and big adventures.
Weight: 7 lbs. 4 oz.
Pros: Comfortable suspension system, integrated sunshade,
and lots of storage, including a “wipe clean” pocket
Cons: No rain cover
Osprey Poco Plus ($330)
Osprey knows backpacking packs. Our love for this pack and the above Kelty Elite are equal. Our testers are split on which is best, but everyone agrees these are the top picks.
The many adjustment points allow for a perfect fit and can easily be customized for a variety of users. From a 6’2″ tester to a 5′ mom, we found this pack could easily adjust to fit them all.
One of our favorite new features is the backpack-style harness straps in the child’s cockpit. Gone are the days of having to pull something over the kiddo’s head or dig around searching for straps. Simply slide their arms in and clip.
And kids love it too. As our contributor explained, “Not only does our 16-month-old love it (he actually runs towards it and tries to climb in), it’s a favorite for parents too. It’s easy to take on and off, has a built-in sunshade, and is comfortable — even loaded up with kiddo and gear.”
The large sunshade protects baby from UV rays and easily stows in a zippered compartment. And there’s also a rain cover available. With a 48.5-pound capacity and seven stash pockets, you can rest assured knowing you’ll have everything you need for a day on the trail.
Weight: 7 lbs. 11 oz.
Pros: Ventilated suspension system, integrated sunshade, lots of storage
Cons: Small hydration pocket
Best Women’s-Specific-Fit Baby Carrier
Deuter Kid Comfort Active SL Child Carrier for Women ($240)
This pack was designed specifically for women and built for hiking moms. The back suspension system keeps the weight closer to the body for more stability and comfort. And we like that the mesh on the side of the cockpit keeps kids cool.
Weighing in at less than 6 pounds, this pack won’t weigh you down. But it’s still strong enough to handle a 48-pound load. The only thing we don’t love is the lack of a hydration pocket.
Otherwise, though, this is a solid option, especially for moms looking for a pack with a shorter torso length and a narrower fit. Compatible accessories include a large chin pad, sun and rain roof, and deluxe rain cover (each sold separately).
If you’re looking for more storage, the Deuter Kid Comfort Pro is a great pick. It offers an extra-comfortable child cockpit and even comes with a removable daypack.
Weight: 5 lbs. 13 oz.
Pros: Designed for women, lightweight
Cons: Sunshade sold separately, no hydration pocket
Most Versatile Baby Carrier
Thule Elite Sapling Child Carrier ($350)
This is the Swiss Army knife of child carriers. From a “rearview” mirror for checking on your kiddo to an integrated (yet removable) daypack, this carrier has it all. We like that the large hip pockets can fit a phone, chapstick, and plenty of snacks. And it has an easy-to-use hydration pocket and port for trailside sipping.
The fully adjustable back panel allows it to easily fit both parents. And the cockpit design means the kid can load up from the top or side, an option independent toddlers love. This is the most expensive child carrier on the list, but it’s full of features. If you plan to use it regularly or will be taking multiday backpacking trips, this versatile pack is for you.
Weight: 7 lbs. 14.4 oz.
Pros: Comfortable suspension system, integrated sunshade,
and lots of storage, including a “wipe clean” pocket
Cons: Support legs aren’t as secure
Best Frameless Baby Carrier
BABYBJÖRN One Air ($220)
Anyone who runs hot or hikes in warm weather will appreciate this carrier. The soft mesh construction is extra breathable and cool for both you and baby. And it dries extremely quickly. We dropped it in the ocean one day while testing and were happy it was dry within 20 minutes.
If you have a baby who insists on facing out, this carrier is a great option. And with the ability to wear baby in multiple positions, it will grow with you from newborn to 3 years old.
Weight: 2 lbs. 13 oz.
Pros: Mesh is breathable, cool, and quick-drying
Cons: No storage like backpack carriers
Best Infant Fabric Wrap Carrier
Solly Baby Wrap ($65)
This silky, soft wrap feels great against your skin and holds baby snugly against the body. Baby can be up to 25 pounds in this one, but I like it best for those first few months. The Lenzing modal fabric is made from Austrian beechwood trees and manufactured in the USA.
This isn’t the best choice for epic hikes, but it can’t be beat for mellow outings during the fourth trimester.
Weight: Info not available
Pros: Comfortable, soft, lightweight,
Cons: No storage, 25-pound max weight
Best of the Rest
phil&teds Escape Child Carrier ($200)
This New Zealand-based brand knows a thing or two about getting outdoors with kids. It has all sorts of extras, like a removable daypack, changing pad, and rearview mirror. The quality is great, and the headrest is super comfy for kiddos.
That said, it’s not our favorite pack. Despite adjusting it, we could never find a perfectly balanced fit. The cockpit rides too far away from the body, making the weight of your child hang away from your back. We wanted to love this pack, as we’re fans of phil&teds travel crib and like the quality of this pack. But the fit was just never quite right for us.
Weight: 6 lbs. 9.6 oz.
Pros: Removable daypack, comfortable headrest for child
Cons: Hangs too far away from back, not as stable as other packs
Tula Free to Grow ($120)
This pack really grows with your child. It works from newborn to 3 years old (or 45 pounds) and is very intuitive to use. The waistband buckle is off to the side and can be a bit of a pain to clasp until you get the hang of it. The padded shoulder straps provide all-day comfort, and the coordinating hood provides protection from the sun.
This pack doesn’t work for front, outward-facing carry, but this is a must-have for babies who ride inward-facing.
Weight: 1 lb. 7 oz.
Pros: Comfortable, fits newborn to 3 years old
Cons: No storage
LuvdBaby Backpack Carrier ($185)
Popular on Amazon, this carrier will get the job done but lacks some refinement. We like that it includes a rain cover and sunshade. And the zippered and mesh pockets hold a decent amount of gear.
But it doesn’t have a hydration pocket, which isn’t great on longer hikes. And the kickstand is rather difficult to deploy when it’s on your back. Sure, you could save a few bucks here, but if you plan to hike a lot, it may be worth going with a proven child carrier.
Shipping weight: 6 lbs. 8 oz.
Pros: Sunshade included, lower price than other options
Cons: No hydration pocket, kickstand challenging to deploy
Ergobaby 360 ($160)
This popular carrier will grow with your baby from the first week to 48 months old. The large, padded, lumbar-support waistband makes carrying even heavier children comfortable. And the hood provides sun protection.
Choosing between this pack and other soft carriers is largely a matter of personal preference. We know moms and dads who love each one or claim their kiddo prefers one over the other. It’s worth trying on a few to decide what fits best.
Weight: 1 lb. 11.2 oz.
Pros: Newborn to 3 years, durable, comfortable
Cons: No storage
Boba Classic 4GS Carrier ($120)
We’ve been testing and loving the Boba Kid Carrier since 2010. We like that this soft carrier is simple to use and made of organic cotton. It’s a favorite among our dad testers.
GearJunkie founder and father of five, Stephen Regenold explained, “When my 2-year-old is secured on back, the carrier’s tight fit and low center of gravity keeps him close. He doesn’t bounce too much. He is comfortable for an hour or more, and after a few minutes the pack carries so well that I can forget my 25-pound kid is on back.”
Weight: 2 lbs. 2 oz.
Pros: Light and intuitive
Cons: No way to carry extra gear
Types of Baby Carriers
These are basically a long piece of fabric. Many first-time parents are intimidated by having to tie the wrap on, but it becomes a simple process with practice. We’ve included the Solly Wrap above as a great option for young infants, but a wrap isn’t the best choice for older children or longer hikes.
Also called ring slings, these carriers are comprised of a long piece of fabric with two rings at one end. It’s worn across the body and is suitable for infants and older children alike. These are great for traveling and running errands, as you can quickly move the baby in and out. But it’s not the best choice for hiking. The entire weight is on one shoulder, and there’s no way to carry any extra gear.
Frameless, Soft-Structured Carriers
These are very common and include the BABYBJÖRN, Ergobaby, and Tula carriers. They have padded straps and easily adjust similarly to a backpack. Depending on the particular carrier, baby can be worn on the front facing in or out and on the back facing in.
These carriers are also a great option for older toddlers who want to walk much of the hike but may need to be carried at some point. They can easily ride on the back, and the carrier is light enough to take along just in case.
Backpack Child Carrier
Backpack carriers have many of the same design features as backpacking packs. They’re built for long days outside and make hauling more weight and gear possible. With an adjustable torso length, padded waist belt, and plenty of storage, these are a great option for hiking and backpacking with kids.
How to Choose a Baby Carrier
Choosing the best carrier depends on a variety of factors and is as personal as each hiking family is unique. This is one of those instances where trying a few on can really help. If you have friends with a carrier, ask to test it out or head over to your local REI or secondhand gear shop to try on a few before buying.
It’s important to consider the comfort of the adult doing the carrying and the kiddo riding along. For the adult, things like hip padding and an adjustable torso length are important. For the child, feet stirrups let older children adjust their position, and a softly padded front section allows for comfortable napping on the go.
Length & Location
Where do you plan to hike? How far will you go? Breathability may be a huge concern if you plan to hike in hot, humid areas. In which case, something like the BABYBJÖRN Air One or the Deuter Air would be a good choice.
If you only plan to take short half-day hikes or neighborhood jaunts, then something on the lower end of the price and feature spectrum could serve you well. But if you plan to regularly hit the trail or want to head out on a backpacking trip, you’ll need a pack with extras like a sunshade and storage (like the Thule Elite Sapling).
Who Will Use the Carrier?
Do you want a pack that just fits you or one that can switch between both parents, grandparents, and hiking friends? If you and your partner want to use the pack interchangeably, it’s worth it to both try a few on before committing. We’ve had great success with the Osprey Poco AG Plus and Kelty Elite fitting parents, grandparents, and friends interchangeably.
One of the most important features is a sunshade. If you plan to get outside regularly, it’s worth considering a pack like the Thule Elite Sapling and phil&teds Escape Pack, which include a sunshade. Other useful features to consider include a hydration system, water bottle holders, and extra pockets.
Tips for Hiking With Babies & Kids
For young babies, remember they need to have full head control before it’s safe to ride in a backpack carrier. If they can’t yet sit up, consider using a soft carrier like the Tula or Ergobaby.
And what they don’t like one day could be their favorite thing next week. The first time I placed my daughter in a backpack carrier, she shrieked unhappily. But she was completely content the following week. And now, at 8 months old, she gets excited any time she sees it and will joyfully spend hours outdoors.
Remember the Main Objective
Don’t forget: The entire point is to enjoy being outside together. Set aside the need to make it to the top and enjoy whatever comes of the day. Maybe you end up sitting under a tree for a nap, maybe you dangle a few toys on the pack for entertainment, or maybe you take it a bit slower. And, most importantly, always pack extra snacks.
At the end of the day, the main goal is to foster a love of the outdoors in our kids. Make these outings fun from the get-go and you’ll soon have a pint-size trail buddy. So grab your friends, buckle the baby into the pack, and get outside.
Have a favorite hiking baby carrier we missed? Let us know in the comments for future updates to this article.