If you are looking to introduce your toddler to the great outdoors then taking them on a hiking trip will be a fun adventure. You know that they will need some assistance in making the journey and that you are going to have to carry them at least some of the way.
Whipping out your standard soft structured baby carrier might be the economical option in the short term, but could leave you feeling worse for wear after a long day trekking.
The limited storage capacity and droopy design can take its toll. It is not what they are designed for.
In comes the child hiking carrier!
This is a hard framed, light, but sturdy model that is specifically designed for these long hikes outdoors. The durability of the material, storage capacity in the design, and ergonomic straps will ensure that you have a comfortable day out.
These hiking backpacks are more complex compared to a standard carrier but remain fairly lightweight considering the features that are packed into most designs.
We have explored a number of different criteria to bring you a recommendation that will best suit your budget, physique and quality standards. All have been selected with safety as the top priority, but also you and our child’s comfort.
In this article we will review the following baby carriers for hiking:
- Deuter Kid Comfort III Carrier
- Thule Sapling Elite Child Carrier
- Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 Kid Carrier
- Baby Back Pack Cross Country Carrier
- Kelty Tour 1.0 Child Carrier
- Osprey Packs Poco AG Plus Carrier
- Phil & Teds Escape Lightweight Backpack
- Piggyback Rider Scout Model
Primary Assessment Criteria
Your hiking carrier will be a significant one-time investment that will get you many years of use if you choose wisely. Below are the core aspects that will help you select the most suitable design:
Hiking carriers are designed to be backpacks with most only having the single back carry position. Your little one will need to be strong enough to hold their neck up and body up confidently.
Until this point, they will need to be held in something that can tightly fit to the chest area.
The cockpit area is very supportive on the higher end backpacks and will be comfortable over a longer period of use.
You will need to pay attention to this if your baby is a bit larger so they do not reach a point where the straps are too tight, or the seat becomes a squeeze.
The weight limits for each design will be your best guide here.
If you are a hardcore hiker with good fitness levels then a larger backpack will give you the storage capacity, and advanced safety features required for you to head off the beaten track.
For the casual trek, a smaller lightweight model may be more suitable. Or if you have extra hands coming along that can help out carrying all the other stuff you need for your trip.
Being clear on how you will use your child carrier will allow you to ensure that you select a model with all the features that you need, and none that you don’t.
This will ensure you have no excess load to carry and should also save you money on fancy features that are no use to you.
We have detailed all of the common features further down in this post. It is up to you to consider which is most important for your intended use.
We have detailed all of the common features and accessories further down in this post. It is up to you to consider which is most important for your intended use.
Ease of Storage
There is no point buying a large carrier if you drive a hatchback. You might be up to your eyeballs in shoulder straps when on the road.
A little foresight into your lifestyle will go a long way when selecting the right child carrier for you.
Some designs have elements in the frame that can fold up or be removed. Allowing you to have the best of both worlds.
Best Baby Carrier for Hiking of 2024
With a maximum carrying capacity of 48.5 lb you will get plenty of use for your money with the carrier likely to accommodate your little one right up until four years of age, possible five.
You have plenty of bag space with the undercarriage deceptively deep. There are a number of other smaller compartments that allow you to eqiup yourself with all you need for a longer day out.
The Varifit adjustable shoulder harness lets you easily adjust the carrier for both mom and dad.
The aircontact back system, Veriflex padded hip-belt, adjustable shoulder, and head pads are some other great features for you and your child’s comfort.
The Kickstand holds securely for safe child loading and unloading. The Adjustable 5-point child safety harness and breathable seat cushions keep your child secure, safe and comfortable.
The seat is easy to adjust up and down enabling smaller babies and larger children to get the most comfortable position.
Another great feature for your child is the integrated sunshade. This folds out easily and creates a nice protective canopy for the cockpit.
Your baby will have no trouble falling asleep with the built-in head pad, and washable drool pad. The material is wonderfully soft and I found my boy resting his face on this even when we were in motion.
The complete design makes this our top pick as the best baby backpack.
- Very comfortable and safe
- Surprisingly lightweight for the size of the frame
- Great views even when the canopy is in place
- Generous storage space at the rear
- The strap between the cockpit shoulder straps doesn’t tighten and can slide down.
- Limited storage space within reach
Best Premium Hiking Carrier
Running a very close second to the Deuter Kid Carrier for our top pick is the Thule Sapling. The design of the frame and capacity of the storage pockets were very similar, but with a higher price tag.
You will find a few handy extras in there like the child viewing mirror, and the single-leg kickstand which we found to be more adaptive to uneven ground.
Outside of this we found a lot of the features to be shared and a comparable experience.
The Thule is an exceptionally built carrier and the only remaining test would be how it would stand up to years of use vs the Deuter. But this would be a long test, and we suspect that both would outlast our level of persistence!!
- High-quality fabric and stitching
- Child viewing mirror included
- Single-leg kickstand for stability
- Sunshade to be purchased separately
- Price tag to match
Best Value For Money Hiking Carrier
The integration of assorted features in Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 makes the hiking experience superb. To start with, the carrier features utmost comfort for both the child and the parent. This is facilitated by the evenly padded straps and interior part.
The adjustable suspension system provides a perfect fit for both mums and dads.
Inside the cockpit the carrier has a 5-point harness to ensure that your toddler is held in position comfortably. The leg-secure straps are an additional complement to the safety and comfort of your little one.
The design of the hood and canopy provides thorough protection from the harsh sun and wind while retaining good ventilation in the space. We keep saying the word comfort in reference to the Kelty 3.0, but they really have thought of everything to keep the little one happy.
It also comes with an under-seat storage which is large enough to accommodate all the necessary items required for a day out like diapers, liners, milk bottles etc.
Best Hiking Carrier For Tall Parent
The Baby Back Pack Cross Country comes with many favorable features that both the parents and toddlers enjoy.
First, the cockpit has a retractable canopy which is meant to bar harsh sun rays from hitting your baby directly.
Secondly, the padded straps and seat offer top-notch comfort for both parties (child and parent).
The aluminum frame is very light for easy carriage, yet very strong to withstand the weight of a toddler. It is possible to cover very long distances with the carrier without tiring or subjecting your child to any form of discomfort.
This is a great option for taller parents with the weight of the child sitting at the upper end of the frame. Your little one will get a great view up there, but watch out for any tree branches on the trail!!
Babies of age between 6 months to 4 years and maximum weight 40 pounds can be carried using it comfortably.
Entry Level Infant Backpack For Hiking
While this is not the cheapest model around, it is certainly the best quality carrier you can buy for those on a mid to lower range budget. There is a reason that Kelty brand carriers feature on this list twice – they make an excellent product!
The weight limit is just 40 pounds, compared to the 50 pounds of the 3.0 model. This compares favorably to most other options on the market though. So unless your baby is getting into late toddler stage you should be well short of the weight limit.
The other major difference is that the 1.0 does not have a sunshade. So your baby will not get the same protection from the sun, wind, and rain that they would otherwise get. If this is important to you then the Clevr Cross Country may be more suitable.
When you look at the quality of the fabric, and design you will find the same standard as the 3.0 model.
Most Comfortable Hiking Backpack
The Osprey Packs Poco is a combination of both fabric and nylon which makes this design very strong. It is designed in a manner that it can withstand heavy tension without ruining its form and shape yet light-weight.
The tension mesh back-panel allows for easy carriage of your baby. It also ensures proper ventilation hence offering your child the best air circulation when hiking.
The shoulder harness is easy to adjust ensuring the utmost comfort and a perfect fit with the carrier.
The harness can be adjusted to the length of 6 inches 15 cm hence offering ample room for your shoulders and belly.
Putting on this backpack is very simple and hassle-free. All you need is to clip the hook on the loop enclosures. Getting it off is as simple as undoing the hook and the loop enclosures.
Laden with an integrated sunshade, lots of compartments for all you will need; changing pad, detachable backpack, hydration sleeve, and a lifetime warranty.
Lightest Hiking Carrier/Backpack
Weighing in at only 6.6 pounds, this lightweight option will ensure the load is kept to the bare minimum. The detachable mini backpack allows you to lighten the load even further if you do not have much to carry with you on the trail.
Phil & Teds offer an even lighter version with the Parade model at just 4.4lbs. So if you want to go as light as possible this is an option, but we felt that for all the extra features you get with the Escape it was worth the extra 2.2lbs.
Still coming in lighter than all other hiking carriers in this post.
The cockpit has plenty of space in the frame for air to flow through.
So your child will not get too hot compared to other carriers with an enclosed space. The tradeoff though is you have less storage space, and no canopy to provide some cover from the elements for your kid.
A feature that is great for smaller kids, but not so great once they get to mid toddler stages is the shoulder padding that gets pulled over your baby’s head and clipped into the lower strap to hold in place.
This provides a very secure and comfortable space for a smaller child. Once their head is a certain size, or torso a certain length it just won’t fit any more.
In the product demo video you can see my three year old toddler unable to wear this properly. So it just flaps out the back when he is in the carrier – which was only done for the sake of the demonstration.
I wouldn’t use it for a full day hike as it is not safe. It does bring down that minimum age and size to start hiking though.
One of the main reasons for going with the heavier model is the storage space. The escape model has storage all the way up the back of the child carrier which is just more practical.
The gray outer pocket also has the option to disconnect from the main frame of the backpack.
This allows the inner pocket to expand out so you dont lose any space by doing this, and you then have a totally separate backpack if you need to share the load with your partner or if you have another child keen to help out!
I thought the kickstand was slightly more wobbly when compared to the Dueter.
So take care when loading your child in, and stick to a flat surface. On the plus side, the side panel opens right up so your baby can just step in.
A cool feature is a pocket for a water bladder that sits just in front of the cockpit area. You also have two pockets for a water bottle on either side of the same area.
So you will never be short of hydration options when on the trail!!
- Great for smaller babies!
- Pocket for water bottle and bladder
- Two pockets for water bottles
- Very lightweight
- Detachable backpack
- The shoulder strap is small and will be outgrown before other models
- Kickstand not as stable
Best Hiking Carrier For Stronger Toddlers
For the stronger and more self-sufficient you can turn the whole backpack carrier model on its head with the Piggyback Rider.
Instead of a hard framed backpack with cockpit area, you have a platform for the child to stand on rather than sit. There are safety straps in place to prevent the child from falling backward. This will not have the same strength and all-round protection of a framed carrier so you do have to be careful.
The bag itself is a hydration pack and the little one gets one to match. The storage space will be limited though without the frame. But for a shorter day on the trail, this is a unique, fun and lightweight option.
Hiking Baby Carrier Features
To make the best decision you should be clear on the features you must have before buy. That way you will not be paying extra for bells and whistles that you may never use.
Below is a range of common features that you will find on the various models of hiking carriers:
Shoulder And Waist Belt
When you combine the weight of the carrier and your child you are likely to be hauling around a significant load on your shoulders. The quality of the straps is what you will notice the most when you start to use your backpack.
An ergonomic design is important to ensure that the weight is spread evenly across your body so that it does not place any muscles under stress for long periods of time. This will inevitably lead to injury if you are careless here.
This can also be the first feature to start to show wear and tear. The strong fabric and stitching on the higher priced models will get you the longevity of use for your investment.
The sitting position of the baby is going to determine their comfort, and therefore the quality of your day. If the baby is not happy then it will not be a peaceful trip.
An adjustable seat will give you flexibility, and ensures that you get the longest possible use out of your backpack as your baby grows.
In addition, the seat should be properly padded to further enhance the comfort of your baby.
Your baby’s safety must come before anything else. When you are tracking unpredictable terrain there is a risk that you could slip, or jolt in a way that could move your baby around in their seat unexpectedly. The safety harness is, therefore, the most important feature to look at closely.
A multi-position harness will again allow you to keep the pressure tight enough to achieve a safe lock, while also given them enough room to move around as desired.
The kickstands that you can see in most models are made from the same material as the metal frame.
For such a large pack it is convenient to be able to have a stable platform. Especially when you are taking your child in and out of the carrier.
This is the biggest contributor to the overall weight of the pack. If you will struggle to handle a larger pack then look for the lightweight designs that minimize features that you will not use, and are clever with their use of space.
The aluminum frames are very durable and lightweight. Great for those who intend on moving larger toddlers in the backpack carrier.
Choose a carrier that has an all-weather fabric because it is going to be exposed to all the elements – sun, rain, wind and much more.
Make sure that the fabric doesn’t fade, tear or shear so that you get longevity out of your carrier.
Other accessories to check for when deciding on the carrier that will most suit your needs are:
- Sunshade/Rain Hood
- Hydration System
- Diaper changing pads
- Standing platform
- Rain cover
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has set manufacturing standard for hiking carriers.
The guidelines include:
- Proper leg openings.
- No sudden opening and closing for kickstands
- No lead content.
- Stability, especially when the carrier is standing on its own.
- Proper restraint for your child.
- Weight capacity and handling capacity. Carriers with CPSC certification are subjected to weight testing with a weight that’s almost thrice its maximum weight capacity.
Tips For Safe Use
Test Before Hitting The Trail
It is a must that you do this before putting your child inside the carrier.
Fit the waist belt and shoulder straps to your body size and height. Adjust all the necessary straps in the carrier in the shoulder straps and the hip belt area.
Try all the buckles to check if everything locks in place.
Pull the straps to make sure that it stays in place while your child is inside the cockpit.
You also need to test the cabin that’s designed for the child. Check the buckles and harnesses to make sure that everything locks properly. Check the back support, leg opening and the cushioned as well.
You might look a bit silly carrying your child around the front yard, but better to be comfortable now before heading out.
Practice Hoisting Your Hiking Backpack
Try hoisting an empty backpack. Lift the top handle first and then slip on the shoulder straps. Buckle the hip belt for safety.
Practice removing an empty carrier by unbuckling the hip belt and loosening the shoulder straps. Then grab the top handle again and try to bring the carrier in front of you.
Activate the kickstand and safely put the carrier on the ground. You can now get your child out of the carrier.
This will always be easier if you have a partner there to help you, but you should build some confidence in doing it yourself regardless.
Always Prioritize Safety
Always check for safety. Make sure that all the buckles and harnesses are working properly.
Check the position of your child occasionally. Some carriers come with a small peep mirror to allow you to check your child without putting your child down.
Avoid use when there is evidence of damage to the frame or straps.
Check for tears or any malfunction in locks, buckles, and harnesses. Read all the safety guidelines in the instruction manual of the carrier.
If you cannot hoist the carrier alone, it is best to have someone assist you to avoid any untoward incidents.
The process of selecting the right carrier for you can be a complicated task. At the end of the day they all; achieve the same result and will get your kid from point A to B. The quality of the journey in between will be determined by practicality and comfort.
All of the above-suggested baby carriers for hiking are great choices, and each will suit a specific type of person.
If you work through the design and features that each brand includes then you can be confident that you are making a good decision and your new carrier should serve you well.
Getting your little one exposed to the outdoors will be a fun experience for you both. By choosing the right model for you then you can enjoy these days out in comfort and with convenience.
This will make you and your baby’s trekking experience an enjoyable one!