Our baby daughter turns one-year-old next month, and in the ongoing challenge to keep active with the little one backpack child carriers have been a godsend. In the past six months, my wife and I have hiked in Sweden, trotted along in local orienteering races, walked unencumbered with the dog on a leash through our neighborhood, and even shoveled snow with a content baby in the carriers weâ€™ve been using.
The Piggyback, a $165 carrier made by REI (www.rei.com), is the most full-featured model our baby has had the pleasure of riding in. It is a comfortable design for both baby and parent, and it includes everything from an integrated hydration sleeve to moisture-wicking padded shoulder straps.
A contoured back panel matched with the cushy shoulder straps make the Piggyback a comfortable carry. Its harness system is similar to those found on beefy backpacking-oriented packs. The child’s seat and harness can be adjusted for size to fit little babies on up to toddlers.
When empty, the Piggyback weighs about 7 pounds, which is a burden. Add a 20-pound baby and the load can feel substantial. But the pack distributes the weight well, and with all its adjustments, pockets and features, the Piggyback also alleviates some of the hassle of taking a child on a gear-intensive adventure such as a backpacking trip.
For example, REI includes a small mirror tethered to a string for peeking up at baby without having to remove the pack. There’s a fold-out kickstand for stabilizing the pack on the ground, and the carrier has a zip-off daypack with an insulated baby milk bottle pocket.
On the other extreme, the Tour, a $100 carrier model made by Kelty (www.kelty.com), has few bells and whistles. Kelty calls the Tour one of the lightest frame-equipped child carriers on the market, though it still weighs 4 pounds 9 ounces when empty, which would be considered heavy in backpacking circles.
But the Tour’s design, which is less encumbered by pockets, zippers and straps than the REI Piggyback, was appealing to me. Dealing with our wriggling baby girl, I preferred the simplicity of the Kelty design, especially for day hikes and tromps around the neighborhood.
Like the REI model, the Tour carries well, and it has padded shoulder straps and a waist belt. A mesh back panel provides good airflow and ventilation. A kickstand lets you set the pack upright on the ground with baby sitting inside.
Overall, both carriers performed similarly well. If long treks with baby in the wilderness are one your radar, the REI Piggyback, with its abundant storage pockets, is the best option. For day hikes, I’d recommend going with the Kelty Tour for its simplicity, lighter weight and cheaper price tag.