Having a kid should not get in the way of your ability to enjoy the great outdoors, but the type of pack you use to carry your little one can make or break your experience. We’ve been hard at work over the last 5 years, testing the limits on some of the most popular backpacks and carriers, taking our tots across snow, high desert, and steep talus in the Sierra Nevada of California.
We’ve also boarded airplanes and trekked across sandy beaches of the Pacific and seashell-littered coasts of the Atlantic. We’ve carried newborns to 3-year-olds, and our testers range from 5’1″ to 6’2″ tall.
We have asked a lot from these carriers, and our kids.
A comfortable, capable carrier allows you to fulfill your outdoor objectives or realize your traveling dreams, all while making memories of a lifetime with your own little adventurer. The options on our list range from simple fabric carriers to full-frame backpacks.
While there isn’t a single best baby carrier for hiking to suit every hiking family, we are confident you’ll find the right fit for you here. We’ve listed a wide variety of options and organized the best baby hiking backpacks into practical categories to help you choose.
Editor’s Note: We updated this guide on September 19, 2023, adding more in-depth information based on long-term testing of each carrier and a detailed rundown of how we test baby carriers and determine our top picks.
The Best Baby Carriers of 2024
- Best Overall Baby Carrier for Hiking: Osprey Poco Plus
- Best Budget Baby Carrier: Kelty Journey PerfectFIT
- Runner-Up Baby Carrier: Deuter Kid Comfort
- Best Frameless Baby Carrier: Ergobaby 360 Cool Air
- Comfortable suspension system
- Integrated sunshade
- Lots of storage
- Includes mirror to easily see baby
- A bit big for shorter day hikes
- If using bottom storage, kickstand has to stay engaged
- Comfortable suspension system
- Dual grab handles assist in putting on and taking off
- Limited storage
- Sunshade not included
- No hydration bottle storage
- Great storage for day hikes
- Difficult to access hydration pocket while on the move
- Sunshade does not extend to the sides
- Mesh is breathable and durable
- Cool and quick-drying
- Packable sunshade fabric
- Grows with baby
- Front and back wearing compatibility
- No storage for small items like keys, phone and snack
- Less support for carrying larger toddlers during extended hikes
- Integrated sunshade
- Multiple storage options
- Well made design and storage compartments
- Very stiff until broken in
- Drool pad is not removable
- Very budget friendly
- Enough storage to pack items needed for the day
- Sunshade included
- Cheaply made and not durable for regular use
- Not comfortable for long days on the trail
- Lightweight, packable
- Breathable and cool
- Supports infant through toddlerhood
- Steep learning curve to learn how to use and adjust
- No storage for small items like keys, phone and spare diaper
- No sun shade cloth
Baby Carrier Comparison Chart
Osprey Poco Plus
7 lbs., 14.4 oz.
Kelty Journey PerfectFIT
|6 lbs., 6 oz.
Deuter Kid Comfort
|5 lbs., 13 oz.
|1 lb., 8.6 oz.
Osprey Poco LT
5 lbs., 1 oz.
Clevrplus Cross Country Baby Backpack
|5 lbs., 6.4 oz.
Baby Bjorn Carrier One
2 lbs., 3.3 oz.
How We Tested Baby Carriers
For over 5 years, we have been testing wraps, soft carriers, and backpacks, in search of the best ways to explore the outdoors with the kids in our lives. From 2018 to 2023, we used these packs on hikes in the Pacific Northwest and through many of the mountains in Georgia and Southern Colorado. After a winter of record snowpack in the Sierra Nevada of California, we knew we needed to get more miles on our old faithful and test out some new contenders in the baby-carrying arena.
We hauled our kids over snow fields and across creeks out of Mammoth, Calif., through flooded trails and boulder fields, dodging thick poison oak in Yosemite Valley, and up to dreamy alpine meadows out of the 20 Lakes Basin in the Inyo National Forest.
We traveled through busy cities and airports and put miles on our cars to get to outdoor meccas as close as Lake Tahoe and as far as Flagstaff, Ariz. We’ve gone up to 13,000 feet on Mt. Dana, and all the way down to sea level, testing a total of 15 carriers.
Primary testers in our most recent round of testing are PJ Solomon and Cameron King, who are Wilderness and Climbing Rangers for the National Park Service respectively. These two have decades-long experience carrying heavy loads out to remote destinations, often deep in the backcountry of the southwest, the Sierra Nevada, as well as the mountains in Colombia, crags in Italy, Spain, and Greece, and cities throughout the U.S.
They have made it their priority to continue to enjoy the outdoors with their daughter since day one, first using fabric wraps and soft carriers and eventually graduating to a backpack when their child could sit up independently.
But don’t just take their word for it. For this recent several-month-long test, they enlisted their neighbors and friends from the foothills of Yosemite National Park. Parents of children ranging from 3 months old to 3 years old. Most of these other parent testers work in Yosemite National Park as guides, educators, and rangers.
We wanted non-parent testers to try out these packs as well, so we asked a few neighbors who had young nieces and nephews to give the carriers a whirl. It is important to be able to see these packs through the eyes of someone who has never carried a kid in a carrier or pack before to shine light on our biases and give us real perspective into the usability and ease of learning these sometimes complex harness systems.
Each pack was tested by at least two separate families and was given a minimum of 5 miles with each test. We evaluated products based on their construction quality, ease of use, comfort for both caregiver and kid and most importantly, safety.
We consulted our local pediatricians in Mariposa and Fresno and checked in with the International Hip Dysplasia Institute to ensure these carriers could be adjusted to optimize the hip and leg health of our kids. We took time to carefully pick apart each product to ensure we could share accurately, how they each work so you can make the best decision for your little, or big, family.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Baby Carrier for Hiking
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 when trying on a few can really help shape your decision.
If you have friends with their own carriers, ask to test it out or head over to your local REI or secondhand gear shop to try on a few before buying.
Types of Child Carriers
These are basically long pieces of fabric. Many first-time parents are intimidated by having to tie the wrap on, but it becomes a simple process with practice. Wraps can be worn on hikes but tend to need to be tightened if worn for many hours or during semi-strenuous exercise.
They also don’t allow for much breathability for carrier and infant and are usually best utilized during walks around the neighborhood or while traveling, but a wrap isn’t the best choice for older children or longer hikes.
Also called ring slings, these carriers comprise 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 and Ergobaby 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.
While these types of carriers are more structured and sturdy than a simple fabric wrap, they are still versatile and packable. These types of carriers can be a necessary item for hiking, airplane travel, and backpacking trips, especially if you or your little one prefers a contact nap.
Backpack Child Carriers
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 your best option for hiking and backpacking with most kids.
Comfort for Long Distance vs. Lightweight Packs
It’s important to consider the comfort of the adult doing the carrying and the kiddo riding along, especially for longer day hikes and multiday trips. Packs designed for long-distance comfort will usually include a steel frame and lots of pockets for storage. There are also more features in these packs, allowing for wider adjustment ranges on the torso and hip to accommodate heavier loads on various body sizes.
The cockpit for the child will also be designed with longer sitting times in mind, and comfortability for afternoon naps. Comfort is key in these designs, so you will see thicker padding in shoulder straps and hip belts. Because of these extra features and more durable materials used, packs designed for long-distance hiking will be heavier, even without a kid or gear inside.
Lightweight packs are built for packability and low-mileage travel. These packs will not offer feature-rich designs and often have less padding in shoulders and hip belts. But, what they lack in bells and whistles, they deliver in ease of use and versatility.
The Ergobaby 360 and other soft carriers can be stuffed in a carry-on and allow you to strap in children from infancy through toddlerhood. Framed lightweight packs can offer enough storage and comfort to carry your child for a few hours on the trail and pack well in your car for a road trip through your favorite outdoor destinations.
Adjustability and Ease of Use
Do you want a pack that just fits you or one that can switch between parents, grandparents, and hiking friends? If you and your partner want to use the pack interchangeably, it’s worth it for each of you to try on a few before committing. If multiple people will be on carrying duty, look for a pack that offers adjustability in the torso length and hip belt to fit everyone.
Most packs also offer a wide range of size adjustability for the cockpit or seat for the child. Read the manual and make initial adjustments to the pack before putting your kiddo inside.
If you plan to do most trips solo, make sure you are getting a carrier or pack that is easy to use and adjust on your own. We like the stability and low center of gravity of the Osprey for framed packs and the clipless strap systems of the frameless BabyBjorn.
Suspension, Padding, and Breathability
Carrying a 40-pound pack is no joke — especially when that weight comes in the form of a wiggling, giggling (or screaming) toddler. A well-fitting pack is what you need to find first, then look to other comfort or convenience features before you buy. Anytime you are shopping for a pack, look to the hip belt first.
The padding on the hip belt should feel good on your hips and should not rub or put pressure in any one place. The torso and shoulder straps should adjust enough to bring weight ranging from 10 pounds to 40 pounds comfortably on your hips and the pack panel should rest lightly across the length of your back.
If you live in a warm climate or plan to use your carrier or pack during the summer months, consider the breathability of the fabric. Look for mesh and/or suspended panels or packs made from lightweight, breathable materials to prevent excessive sweating and discomfort for both you and your passenger. If breathability is high on your list, something like the Ergobaby 360 Cool Air or the Deuter Kid Comfort would be a good choice.
Child Comfort, Stirrups, and Safety
Babies and toddlers will let you know when they are not comfortable. If possible, try on a few packs with your little one so you can gauge how their bodies feel about the harness, seat, and drool pads. Find a harness that clips comfortably and doesn’t rub or pinch. Osprey Poco Plus and Poco LT have easy-to-use harness systems that get kids locked in quickly and without fuss. The Kelty Journey has a more complex harness but is still incredibly supportive and structured.
The cockpit, the space surrounding where the child sits, should have high walls and a well-cushioned pad in the front, allowing them to be secure in their seat, and have a soft landing for their heads if they fall asleep. A low-sitting, cushioned seat will keep your kiddo comfortable while keeping a low center of gravity, helping you stay steady when taking off and putting on your loaded pack.
Safety should be your top priority when baby wearing and carrying. Buckles should lock securely and stitching should be durable. Straps should be adjustable for both your comfort and for the comfort and safety of your child. In framed packs, stirrups are employed to help bigger babies and tots adjust themselves to stay comfortable. They also help keep hips in a stable and healthy position and they help keep the legs from falling asleep or getting uncomfortable.
Children under the age of 1 should sit with legs in the “M” position, with knees slightly higher than hip level, to help prevent hip dysplasia. Take a picture or bring in your carrier to your next pediatrician visit to ensure you are carrying your infant in a hip-healthy way.
Size and Storage
If you plan to take half-day hikes or neighborhood jaunts, then something lightweight and on the lower end of the price and feature spectrum could serve you well, like the Clevr Plus. But if you plan to regularly hit the trail on long day hikes or multiday backpacking trips, you’ll need a pack with extra accessories like a sunshade, rain cover, and extra pockets. Also, look for large storage compartments at the bottom of the pack to allow you to carry heavy gear while still keeping your center of gravity low.
The other useful features to consider include a hydration system, easy-to-access water bottle holders, toy clips, and toddler-accessible snack pockets. For these extra features, we love the Osprey Poco LT and Poco Plus.
Sunshade and Rain Covers
Keeping our tots protected from the sun is paramount on the trail. You can forgo a sunshade and instead rely on a hat and sunscreen. But after years of being in the mountains with our kids, we thoroughly recommend a sun cover. Not only will it protect your child’s skin from sunburns, but it will also keep the temperature much lower in the cockpit on hot days. Shade flaps on the side are especially helpful when kids decide to take a snooze mid-trail.
Premium packs like the Osprey Poco Plus include an integrated sunshade with side protection. It packs into the carrier easily, so you never have to worry about forgetting it. Deuter Kid Comfort also comes with a detachable and stashable sun shade.
We’ve also found the sunshade is useful for protecting against light rain. But you’ll need a true rain cover to stay dry in heavy or sustained rainfall. Rain covers are sold separately for Osprey and Deuter but can come in handy if you hike in areas where afternoon storms and precipitation are common. Keep in mind that rain protection of any kind is not well ventilated so may not be helpful in hot and humid climates.
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 with head and neck support like the Tula or Ergobaby. Work with your pediatrician to prevent hip dysplasia and ensure you are carrying your under-1-year-old in the proper position to support their hip development and leg comfort.
Don’t Give Up
What kids complain or cry about one day could be their favorite thing next week. If you are a parent or caregiver, you know nothing is linear. The first time one of our testers placed her daughter in a backpack carrier, she shrieked unhappily. But she was completely content the following week. By 8 months old, she gets excited any time she sees it and will joyfully spend hours outdoors.
Some of our 2-year-old testers were begging to go hiking when they saw new packs they could ride. Hang in there, and if it’s important to you, keep trying.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best child carrier backpack depends on a few things. You’ll need to answer a few questions:
First, how far are you hiking and how often? If you’re going longer distances or plan to regularly use your baby carrier, it’s worth investing more in a higher-quality pack. Second, what’s your size, and how big is your kiddo?
We found the Kelty Journey PerfectFit, Deuter Kid Comfort, and Osprey Poco LT, and Poco Plus fit a wide range of parents and delivered excellent comfort for kids. These packs also had high-functioning storage systems that can support carrying a child and some camping gear.
The big thing to look for is full head control. Babies weighing in at 16-plus pounds (about 6 months old) who can sit independently are good candidates. Keeping knees slightly higher than hips in an “M” position, especially before the age of 1 is also important according to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute. We recommend consulting your pediatrician to find out what is best for your baby.
And if you want to hit the trail earlier, consider a soft carrier like the Ergobaby 360 with infant insert or BabyBjörn.
You don’t need any piece of gear to enjoy being outdoors. But having the right gear can make it a better experience.
If you plan to only occasionally hit the trail with your kid, then a dedicated hiking backpack may not be necessary. In that case, a versatile soft pack like the Ergobaby 360 Cool Air Mesh with the infant insert can easily transition from newborn to toddler. It can be worn front or back and is great for travel, too.
But if you want to hike (or even backpack) with your baby, a hiking baby carrier is recommended. It offers superior support for heavy loads and has adequate gear storage for a day on the trail
It’s all about layers. For cool mornings, we like starting with a lightweight wool top and then layering a fleece on top. And of course, you don’t want to forget a hat (or two). For more help, check out some of our favorite kids’ clothes. From sunhats to jackets, you’ll find everything you need to get outside.