There is no reason you can’t take an everyday carrier hiking, but can you take a hiking carrier and use it every day?
We will answer this, and more, as we run through a detailed comparison of a baby carrier vs a hiking backpack on 9 different points of comparison.
If you are just after a quick answer to help you decide which carrier will suit you best then:
- Buy a baby carrier if you want one carrier for daily use that is also durable and versatile enough to use for longer day trips and lighter hiking.
- Buy a hiking carrier if you want a heavy-duty carrier that allows you to take longer hiking trips by carrying your child, food, water, and supplies all in one bag.
Baby Carrier Style Definition
For the purposes of this article, we have completed the comparisons based on a soft structured baby carrier. Hip seat carriers are very similar in form and the same will apply in all cases.
The following design categories have not been considered in the comparison. However, they are similar in function if not in form and most of the comparisons would hold up vs a hiking carrier:
- Baby Wraps
- Ring Slings
- Mei Tais
Baby Carrier vs Hiking Carrier
We have scored each style of carrier on 9 different performance elements. Most of these are black and white and based on manufacturer specifications.
However, not each performance element will be relevant for what you want to use it for.
So, to achieve a practical outcome you will need to cross out the lines that are not important and add up the remaining points (if you agree with our assessment).
A large framed carrier is completely impractical for most everyday tasks. They are bulky, do not fold up, and are more difficult to take on and off frequently.
Most baby carriers are light and can easily be folded up to fit in a diaper bag. Plus you can whip your child in and out of the seat in no time at all!
You can take a baby carrier hiking, but you cannot take a large backpack carrier to the mall… Well, you can, but we don’t recommend it.
Newborns to Infants
Another limitation of a framed backpack carrier is that your child required more advanced head and neck control.
The seat in the cockpit has less support around your child, and the ride is much bumpier compared to the relative safety of your chest.
The minimum recommended ages are as follows:
- Backpack carriers – 6+ months
- Structured carriers – 4+ months (or from birth with an infant insert)
However, even six months could be premature for some hiking baby carriers. So you will have to use your judgment there.
Some baby carriers can be used with a newborn if compatible with an infant insert. This is a huge plus for those who want to start babywearing earlier.
Carrier Position Versatility
Most soft structured carriers will accommodate at least four carry positions:
- Front inward carry
- Front outward carry
- Hip carry
- Back carry
A framed backpack carrier only has one option. This is why the minimum age required is higher for this style of carrier.
The hard-framed backpack is designed to cope with heavy loads and carry multiple items in addition to your child. Maximum weight ranges are generally within the following range:
- Backpack carrier – 40lbs to 55lbs
- Child carrier – 30lbs to 45lbs
The importance of this feature will depend on two questions you can ask yourself:
- Will I carry extra items in addition to my child
- Can I carry a child that is close to 40lbs
If you answer no to both of these then the extra weight capacity will be of little value to you. However, on a strict comparison basis, the framed backpack wins this one.
In order to safely carry these higher weights, the high-end baby carriers for hiking have exceptional ergonomics built-in.
There are multiple elements that contribute to how the carrier distributes weight across your frame, providing an advanced level of support:
- Ventilated back padding designed for fitted, yet breathable, back support
- Sliding back panels to adjust the height of the carrier
- Extra padding on shoulder straps and hip belt
- Chest strap to minimize movement of straps
Each high-end brand has its own version of these design features. If you are interested in learning more about the best backpack carriers on the market then click here for our full market comparison.
Some soft carrier brands also have exceptional ergonomics features. However, the weight demands are less and the length of use is usually shorter.
The better models will include padded shoulder straps, a fully adjustable waistband, and a snug fit around your child to minimize shifting of the carrier and optimal weight distribution.
A backpack carrier is often designed with multiple larger storage pockets compared to any standard child carrier.
We did a detailed comparison of the Deuter and Osprey carriers – two of the most popular hiking child carriers on the market – and found the following total storage:
- Deuter Kid Comfort – 14L
- Osprey Poco AG – 26L
If we compare this to some of the more popular child carriers on the market it really is a no contest.
It is expected that when using a soft carrier you will also have a diaper bag or handbag to carry some of the extra essentials you require for a day out with your baby.
There is just too much to fit into the minimal storage pockets. You may get one or two smaller p0ckets that are designed to hold your phone, keys, and not much else.
The included accessories can be one of the biggest differentiators of individual products when choosing your baby carrier. However, at a high level, there is a huge difference between the range of accessories for each style of carrier.
Soft carrier accessories are mostly focused on your baby and their comfort and include:
- Headcover for sun protection
- Teething pads
- Infant insert
You may also find useful design features such as removable panels to improve ventilation to prevent your baby from overheating from the excess body heat in a closed environment.
The only convenience included for parents is usually an accessible storage pocket that we discussed earlier.
When we compare this to a framed backpack that is intended to be an all-in-one solution for a big day out you will find there is plenty more in it for the parents.
Some common accessories include:
- Adjustable back panels and advanced lumbar support
- Huge storage pockets
- Cooler compartments for food storage
- Accessible key chain
- Water bottle holders
- Removable carry bag
- Attached mirror so you can see your baby’s face in the back
- Rain cover to protest the whole carrier in bad weather
- Side exits so you don’t have to lift your child out
- Kickstand to hold the carrier upright when not in use
There is still plenty for your baby with a bigger sun canopy for child protection, and chin rests for a sleepy bub.
Both you and your baby are well taken care of!
All of the advanced features that are built into good backpack carriers come at a premium price. Both the Deuter and Osprey models mentioned earlier retail for upwards of $300.
Even the most expensive soft carrier will not reach the $200 mark. You can find the most popular models for less than $160, and some offer great value carriers for less than $100.
For example, the Boba 4G – which topped our list of the best soft structured carriers – can usually be found in the $90-$100 range. Which is a bargain for the level of performance.
A hiking carrier is a much more serious investment and is only worth the investment if you will be taking longer hikes regularly with your child.
If you buy a high-end carrier then both styles will perform as well as the other. You will have a hard time wearing them out due to the high quality of the products.
The tie-breaker that we will use to decide this one is the frequency of use.
Unless you have a lot of free time on your hands then you will not be out hiking every day with your child. So you may never really test the limits of a backpack carrier in terms of durability (although you may still go high-end for comfort reasons).
The multi-use nature of a soft structured carrier will mean many more hours of babywearing time over the life of your carrier.
We have tested a lot of baby carriers over the years and all of the higher-end brands and most can stand up to this heavy use without major deterioration.
Why Buy a Soft Structured Carrier
We can summarize the comparison above into a set of criteria for parents who would be better off buying a soft structured carrier:
- Your budget is less than $200
- You want to use your carrier every day
- You rarely hike for more than an hour
- You often have both parents together (one can carry the diaper bag!)
- Your child is less than two years old
Why Buy a Hiking Carrier
Here is the opposing set of criteria for a backpack carrier based on what we have learned so far:
- Your budget is more than $200
- You don’t mind buying a second carrier
- You love the outdoors and hike regularly
- You want the option of a solo day out with your child (so only one bag is coming!)
- You plan to carry your child until they are 3 or 4 years old
In a perfect world, you could buy both a soft carrier and a hiking carrier so you could use each style when it is most appropriate.
But kids are expensive and this is a luxury that not everyone needs.
The good news is that if you are on a budget you are not excluded from outdoor activities with soft carriers. There are some limitations, yes, but they will do a great job as long as you don’t need a lot of extra items for your day out.
But if you can afford a baby carrier and a hiking carrier then go for it!