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Getting outside and into nature opens up the best playground in the world for children, and having a great toddler carrier makes it so much easier. Sometimes getting outdoors with kids in tow can be a challenge. Little legs may not be able to keep up during hiking excursions and piggyback rides may not be the easiest on either the parents or the child. So we did a LOT of research to come up with the best toddler backpack carrier for hiking and travel and we’ve laid out all of our findings here to help you out!
What Makes For The Best Toddler Backpack Carrier?
The best hiking baby carriers need to be comfortable for both the parents and the child. They need to be functional, ergonomic, lightweight, feature-packed, and of course, durable. Below we pack 7-years of family travel knowledge into breaking down what the best child carrier is for the needs of outdoor families. Toddler backpack carriers come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, and not all the models are perfect for every lifestyle. There are a number of hiking kid carrier backpacks that didn’t make our list as well. Some of them we have extensive reviews on, such as the Freeloader Child carrier.
Whether you’re looking for the best baby carrier for Dad or Mom, the features need to be able to accommodate everyone. And of course, the child’s needs and comfort have to be part of the equation. We have used the following criteria to rank our favorite kid carrier backpack:
- Sitting Position
- Storage capacity
All of the best baby hiking backpacks performed very well. There were of course advantages and disadvantages to each one, and we’ll list those a little more in-depth further down in the article. But through all of our tests, one toddler hiking carrier consistently stood above the rest. With that in mind:
Our top baby carrier is:
Deuter Kid Comfort III Child Carrier
The Deuter Kid Comfort 3 wins our vote for the best baby backpack carrier in the market. This model has been around for a number of years already and it has stood the test of time. It has become the benchmark child carrier hiking backpack for families.
We’ll get deeper into what makes the Deuter Kid Comfort III the best toddler carrier later, or you can read our full review of the Deuter Kid Comfort III child carrier here. But if you want to check the best prices on the Deuter Kid Comfort III, you can find those here:
Ranking The Best Child Carrier for Outdoor Families
Now that the winner has been announced, let’s sort out our ranking for the best baby carrier backpack for hiking and travel. Because every family has different needs, different budgets, and their own unique travel style, it’s good to understand what makes each hiking baby carrier unique in order to determine which one is perfect for you.
Max. Passenger Weight
Deuter Kid Comfort III
Osprey Poco AG Plus
Kelty Pathfinder 3.0
Thule Sapling Elite
Phil & Ted Escape
Deuter Kid Comfort Air
1. Deuter Kid Comfort III
We spoke earlier about how the Deuter Kid Comfort 3 is our top rated carrier. But what makes it the best toddler backpack carrier? The Deuter Kid Comfort III is neither the cheapest nor the lightest option among the child carriers listed. But while it is isn’t light, the way the child carrier backpack is designed to sit on your body makes it feel fantastic. The Deuter Varifit system creates a cushion of comfort for the wearer, and the space for the child is roomy, upright, and high-up, giving the child an unprecedented view of the amazing world around them.
The Deuter child carrier compares very closely with the Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 and the Thule Sapling Elite for features. However, the Deuter baby carrier beats both competitors out for both build quality and price, which lifted it to the top of the pack. You can read more about why we think this is the best baby carrier for travel in our Deuter Kid Comfort III review here.
What we love about the Deuter Kid Comfort III
- Comfort – This was the most comfortable unit for both adults and children
- High Ride Height – The Deuter was the best child carrier for ride height. Views for the child were nearly unobstructed when set up correctly.
- Durable – The Deuter is well-built and is designed to handle anything an adventurous family throws at it.
- Included Sun Shade and Rain Cover – The Deuter Kid Comfort III include both a built-in sunshade and a pullover rain cover.
Where we think the Deuter Kid Comfort III can improve
- Storage – Although we never felt the Deuter Kid Comfort was lacking in space, it does have the lowest capacity among the premium kid carriers
- Hydration Pack not Included – The Deuter is compatible with hydration packs. But for the price of the unit, it would be nice to have the hydration pack included.
- Weight – The Kid Comfort child carrier is among the heaviest units we reviewed. While it is the most comfortable baby carrier, it would be nice if the next model shed a pound.
2. Osprey Poco AG Plus
Osprey is one of the top names in travel backpacks. There is absolutely no denying the quality of build in Osprey backpacks, and the Osprey Poco AG Plus is no exception. It is built to last the toughest family activities and the wildest children. I really appreciate that the main storage compartment can be detached and used as a separate travel bag. It increases the general purpose usability of the Osprey Poco kid carrier a great deal.
As far as toddler backpack carriers go, the Osprey Poco AG Plus is a high-quality unit. And the Osprey adjustable fitting system makes it very quick to fit different body types when you’re on-the-go.
What we love about the Osprey Poco AG Plus
- Well-Built– The Osprey child carrier is built with the high-quality materials and attention to detail that you would expect of an Osprey pack
- Built-in-Changing Pad – It’s a little thing, but having a diaper changing pad included in the pack is a great thing for changing babies on the trail.
- Storage – At 26L, the Osprey kid carrier has a lot of room for gear. And the convenient under-seat location helps keep the weight down low.
Where we think the Osprey Poco AG Plus can improve
- Comfort – There is no doubt that the Osprey baby carrier is comfortable, but it falls short of the Deuter Kid Comfort levels.
- Ride Height – We found that the seating height of the Osprey Poco makes visibility difficult for younger children.
- Hip Belt– The Hip Belt is the main weakness of the Osprey child carrier. It does not seem to be designed with all body types in mind.
3. Kelty Pathfinder 3.0
The Kelty Pathfinder is a premium hiking kid carrier that sits at the top of the Kelty product line. This kid carrier is designed with adjustable straps to help fit most body types and does a great job of distributing the weight of the pack and it’s passenger to the hips rather than the shoulder.
At 7lbs 10oz, this unit comes out near the top for overall pack weight, and with it being recently released, I would have hoped that they were able to reduce the weight rather than increase it.
What we love about the Kelty Pathfinder 3.0
- Comfort – Next to the Deuter Kid Comfort III, the Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 offers the most comfortable cockpit for children.
- Storage – The Kelty backpack child carrier finds a good balance between storage and weight balance.
- Fit – The Kelty kid carrier fits great. And all but the smallest body frames would be very comfortable carrying it.
Where we think the Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 can improve
- No Stirrups – As comfortable as the cockpit of the Kelty Pathfinder is, it has no stirrups for children to place their legs. This means long hikes could make for tired or uncomfortable legs.
- Price – The Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 is matched only with the Thule Sapling Elite for the price.
- Setup – The manual for the Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 is a bit confusing.
4. Thule Sapling Elite
The Thule Sapling Elite is a premium toddler carrier from a company that understands precious cargo. Thule built a very sturdy, rugged, and durable hiking backpack carrier. And for its size, the Thule Sapling Elite comes out the lightest of the premium models.
The Thule child carrier also looks great. It’s bulky, but the design and color range is attractive and neat, making it a nice addition to those who value aesthetics on the hiking trail.
What we love about the Thule Sapling Elite
- Build Quality – The Thule Sapling Elite is built for heavy use. The stitching is fantastic and the unit can withstand a beating.
- Storage – The Thule child carrier has a lot of storage. However, we have been unable to determine that exact capacity and have reached out to Thule for confirmation.
- Stomp Pad – This is a nice addition that comes out of the bottom of the back panel. Placing your foot on it adds extra stability when putting your child in the hiking backpack or taking them out.
Where we think the Thule Sapling Elite can improve
- Size – The Thule Sapling Elite is a big unit. While this is great for storage and functionality, the size adds weight, and makes it less compatible for those with smaller frames.
- Price – The Thule Sapling Elite is tied only with the Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 as the highest priced child carrying hiking backpack in the list. Because of the price, the Thule Sapling Elite is marketed almost entirely to parents who are on the trails a lot.
- No Rain Cover – The rain cover for the Thule Sapling Elite is not included. For this price range, we don’t think it should be an optional accessory.
4. Deuter Kid Comfort Air
Another release from Deuter is the Kid Comfort Air. Built similar to the Kid Comfort III, but with lighter material and less storage. As the name suggests, this helps keep the weight down, making this lightweight baby carrier ring in at a shocking 1.5 lbs less than its big brother.
The lightweight material does not impact the durability of this product. In fact, the material is similar to those used in our Deuter Kikki backpacks, and those can take a beating. The Deuter Kid Comfort Air, in our opinion, is the best toddler carrier for hiking on short trails or in cities.
What we love about the Deuter Kid Comfort Air
- Lightweight – The lightweight material and small storage make this the best infant carrier for short hikes and city exploring.
- Footrests – The height adjustable footrests are well placed and, unlike some models, might actually be used by children.
- Great looks – The Deuter Kid Comfort Air looks less bulky and more streamlined than its big brother.
Where we think the Deuter Kid Comfort Air can improve.
- Storage – At 14L, this Deuter kid carrier has the smallest available storage.
- No Sun Shade or Rain Cover – I understand that this is designed to help keep the weight down, but available sun and rain covers would be nice.
- No Hydration Compartment – This was a big surprise of the unit. The Deuter Kid Comfort Air was the only model not to have a hydration compartment.
5. Phil and Ted Escape
The Phil and Ted Escape child carrier is a well-built tool for families on-the-go. We love how it sits in the lower range for weight, beaten only by the Deuter Kid Comfort Air. However, for the price of the unit, we would expect more features from a premium kid carrier.
The Phil and Ted Escape is, in our opinion, the most attractive child back carrier that we reviewed. Its design is sleek and functional. And the color selection is very attractive. While this may not be the best baby carrier for hiking overall, it is still a great product.
What we love about the Phil and Ted Escape
- Stylish Design – The Phil and Ted child carrier looks fantastic. And the build quality matches the look.
- Great Kickstand – The Phil and Ted Escape kickstand was one of the easiest to use among all the units we tested.
- Huge Storage – The Phil and Ted Escape fits a whopping 30L of storage room. You could almost fit another child inside it (but don’t, that would be a bad thing to do!)
Where we think the Phil and Ted Escape can improve
- Difficult to Adjust – The Phil and Ted kid carrier fits most body sizes, but all that adjustment requires a lot of fiddling around.
- Low Top Weight – At 39 lbs, the Phil and Ted Escape has the lowest top end child-weight by a huge margin.
- Small Rain Cover – The Rain cover for the Phil and Ted Escape only covers the top of the pack. This means that the child’s legs would get wet during heavy rain or a long hike in the mist.
What To Consider When Buying a Baby Carrier Backpack
From the baby harness to the hip belt to the shoulder straps, every piece of a baby hiking backpack should be comfortable. A hiking baby carrier should be able to be worn for long periods of time with minimal strain on either the child or the person carrying them.
Because of how much engineering goes into building a toddler back carrier, they can get heavy. But there needs to be a balance between durability, weight, and storage capacity.
Cockpit for the Child
The area where a child sits in a baby hiking backpack is normally called the cockpit. They should include padded areas that breathe well to keep the child from overheating on hot days. Cockpits should also include a 5-point harness that is easily accessed by the parent but can’t be unlatched by the child.
Sun and Rain Protection
Although often sold as extra accessories, having included sun shade and rain covers is a good feature to look for in a baby carrier hiking backpack. Having to purchase these items separately can quickly boost a child carrier price beyond the competition.
Adjustable Straps and Harness
Having adjustable harnesses is important if more than one person will be carrying the hiking backpack carrier. The most comfortable baby carrier should fit all body types.
This is also important for the child in the cockpit. Seats, stirrups, and straps need to be able to be adjusted to fit the child as they grow.
Keeping weight down is important, but having enough room to store your gear when on the trail or in the city is important too. You don’t want to have to carry multiple packs around with you, so having enough storage to fit clothes, snacks, and gear can make a big difference.
Other features to look for in the top baby carriers
Water Storage/Hydration Packs
These are great for keeping hydrated when using a hiking child carrier on-the-go. The best child carriers should have hydration slots accessible for both the child and parent to access should they get thirsty.
Stirrups in a toddler baby carrier offer children a spot to rest their legs while they are in the cockpit. A lack of stirrups could mean that the child’s legs dangle unnecessarily. This can cause lack of blood-flow, causing the child’s legs to fall asleep.
Size and Weight Limits
Make sure your child fits between the size and weight limitations listed by the manufacturer. The top baby carriers should be very clear about what those limitations are.
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With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that travelling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.
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