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The Adventures Don’t Stop After Having Kids: Thule Sapling Review

The Thule Sapling is designed to keep you and your family comfortable in the wild.
(Photo/Andrew Craig)
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The adventures don’t stop just because you have kids, but they do change significantly. Some days, you can leave your kid behind and send the gnar. Other days, you might find yourself gearing up for a family adventure. Taking your little one out on big days in the wild can be intimidating. Babies and parents both have needs that don’t always align and can make for a stressful trip.

We all want to have fun with our kids outdoors. Finding a carrier that is comfortable for a variety of caregivers and your baby can be quite tricky, especially as your kid grows every day and caregivers can vary in size. The Thule Sapling is built to accommodate all these things and more. After trying out a wide range of carriers, I found this one to be the best suited for my kind of adventure, and my toddler loves it, too. 

In short: The Thule Sapling is a great choice for day hikes without support. It works great on longer hikes, overnight trips, cragging, or bouldering with support from a partner. 

To see how the Sapling stands up to the competition, check out GearJunkie’s complete guide to the best baby carriers for hiking.

Thule Sapling


  • Pack weight 7 lbs.
  • Max weight 48.5 lbs.
  • Adjustable torso length Yes


  • Ample padding
  • Dual zippered openings on vestibule
  • Removable and washable child seat and drool pad
  • Hydration pack compatible
  • Side panel buckles for easy loading and unloading
  • Even weight distribution


  • Hard to access vestibule zippers when wearing the pack
  • No water bottle pocket
  • Sunshade does not have an integrated pocket
  • Vestibule not quite big enough to support an overnight trip

Thule Sapling Review

What I Need Out of a Kid Carrier

I am a climber and climbing guide, but I enjoy hiking, skiing, bouldering, and fun time outside with my 22-month-old daughter. Most of our days out together are spent single-pitch climbing, bouldering, or day hiking in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. 

I often need to carry my climbing gear, snacks, water, layers for both of us, extra baby clothes, and a small diaper kit. With all this gear, I am always finding new and creative ways to fit as much as possible into the carrier. I often have multiple items clipped to the outside of the pack and a climbing rope lying over the top. 

Baby has it made with a sun shade and a free ride; (photo/Andrew Craig)

When climbing, we are out all day with lots of stops and time spent out of the carrier. We do lots of loading and unloading when we pack up everything to switch climbing areas. My carrier needs to be a pack for gear, a ride for my kid, and, with some luck, a place for her to nap. We have a variety of needs for our carrier, and overall, we are quite happy with the Sapling.

Creature Comforts

Since we spend so much time outside, keeping everyone comfortable is a top priority. That is one of the reasons I love the Thule Sapling. When I start packing up for a big adventure, baby girl gets so excited to go in the pack. Sometimes, she wants to hang out in it while it’s sitting on the floor of our home. 

The Sapling offers multiple adjustment points to keep your passenger comfortable on longer rides. The ErgoRide seat has extra leg support that keeps my little one happy on longer journeys. The seat adjusts easily to accommodate your kid’s ever-increasing size. These adjustment points on the kid’s seat also help tremendously for the mule, keeping the center of gravity close to your back for even weight distribution.

I’ve noticed that when totally loaded up, this carrier is less top-heavy than other packs. It also comes with a drool pad that doubles as a pillow for naptime and a sun shade that keeps the baby cool and less sunburned. 

Snacks and sunscreen are easily accessible, even with baby still inside; (photo/Andrew Craig)

I also enjoy wearing this pack. As a climbing guide, I am no stranger to carrying heavy packs. I have high expectations for padding and pack stability. The Sapling has a sturdy but light frame. When loaded up beyond its 48-pound capacity, the pack didn’t buckle. The back, shoulder, and waist straps are all equipped with ample padding.

The hip straps are stiff, wide, and thick with padding. I found it to be quite comfortable on longer hikes. One caregiver using the pack found that the wider hip straps began to dig into her ribcage after hiking over 6 miles. This may have been due to the stiffness of the waist straps but I think the stiffer straps are necessary when carrying more weight.


On big days with my whole family, we often take turns carrying the baby. My husband is a little taller and has a much longer torso than I do. I like to carry the weight on my hips while my husband likes the pack balanced between his hips and shoulders. 

The Thule Sapling has an easy adjustment point on the torso, making it possible to fit someone with an incredibly short torso and a very long one. The attachment point is Velcro and is easy to switch back and forth between carriers. The hip padding also has a Velcro adjustment point, allowing you to move the padding along the straps and making it comfortable for girthier users.

This carrier adjusts very easily, and it’s nice to be able to hand off the carrier to my taller partner; (photo/Andrew Craig)

In and Out

While hiking with your little one is usually fun, getting your kid in and out of the pack can be a pain and is often a two-person job. One of my favorite features of the Sapling is the opening side panels. Both sides of the child seat open and close with a buckle. When both sides are open, you can just plop your kid in there without worrying about getting squirming feet into the right holes. 

Both sides of the Sapling open completely, so you don’t need to guide your child’s legs through any holes; (photo/Andrew Craig)

The pack has a wide frame. When sitting on the ground, it is relatively sturdy. The back leg of the frame has a joint allowing it to go out and in. This way, you can hike with a lower profile pack, and when it’s time to set the pack down, you can pull the leg out so that the pack sits upright on the ground. This is super-handy for loading and unloading and just generally keeping your kiddo from tipping over when you set the pack down.


Another design feature I love is the double openings on the vestibule allowing access through each side. This makes it possible to reach that one toy your child wants without removing everything inside the pack. There is another pocket that’s meant to be for the sunshade.

While I like that there is a pocket designated for this purpose, I wish that there was an integrated pocket that I could slide the sunshade into, instead of having to take the sunshade completely off and put it into a separate pocket. The sunshade is low profile, easy to fold up, and doesn’t take up extra space in the pocket. I often find myself putting high-need items into that pocket (like the diaper kit). 

This carrier has ample space for snacks and water; (photo/Andrew Craig)

The pack has spacious hip pockets, which are great for small and commonly used items like a phone, chapstick, sunscreen, and emergency snacks. 

The Thule Sapling has a hydration pack compatibility system (bladder not included). There is a hole in the vestibule where you can thread your hose from your bladder. There are a couple more small straps along the outside of the pack where you thread the hose so that it sits nicely on the shoulder strap.

The carrier lacks a small pocket inside the vestibule for the hydration pack. It just floats freely and wants to come out when unloading the vestibule. Thule did not include a water bottle holder. On some days when I don’t use my hydration pack, a water bottle holder would be handy. 

Although I do appreciate the dual openings on the vestibule, it’s not easy to access the vestibule while hiking with the pack on. With effort, I could open the vestibule zipper and get stuff out but I could not zip the vestibule back up. But with smaller hip pockets and the hydration system, I generally find that I have access to everything I need while hiking. 

Carrying a hydration bladder keeps everybody hydrated and happy; (photo/Andrew Craig)

In Conclusion

Overall, my whole family is quite happy with the Thule Sapling. It is great for those longer day hike adventures and gets the job done when climbing or backpacking, as long as you have support from a partner. As with all kid carriers I’ve tested, I am always wishing for more space, more pockets, and a bit more weight capacity. The Thule Sapling gets the job done in comfort and style.

Family camping and adventure parenting; (photo/Chelsey Magness)

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