In this article, we will break down each category and sub-category of baby carriers in a quick and easy-to-understand format.
This will help you figure out what type of baby carrier will best match your baby’s growth stage, your physical capacity, and your intended use.
We have not recommended any specific products in this post so that it is quick and easy to digest, but you will find links so you can find more information on the products that fit in with your desired baby carrier design.
Most Popular Types of Baby Carriers
For each type of baby carrier, we will follow the structure below so that you can get a quick snapshot of what each of them has to offer:
- Design characteristics – summary of what is unique to this style of baby carrier.
- Age and weight range – allows you to match up your carrier design with when it will be of most use.
- More information – we will provide links if you want to read more info on this design (we have plenty!)
A wrap carrier is a fairly broad term and we wanted to define some of the subcategories you will find:
- Stretchy Wrap – Usually a blended material with a small percentage of spandex that provides some stretch that improves how well the material molds to your frame and your baby.
- Woven Wrap – Often 100% cotton and is more rigid with breathable fabric and longer-lasting given the lack of stretch that can wear out over time.
- Hybrid Carrier – Elements of structure to minimize the reliance on a sound wrapping technique for safe use. An example of a hybrid is the Baby K’tan which is like a pre-formed wrap.
Mastering the wrapping technique is the biggest challenge for new parents. It can be a steep learning curve to achieve a fit that is safe, comfortable, and truly hands-free when supporting a child’s weight.
The upside is that the fit is fully customizable and safe to use with newborns. Especially with stretchy wraps.
There are up to 12 carrying positions you could try with a wrap, but most of the time moms will just use the standard hug hold. But if you can master multiple carrying positions then you will be able to use for longer as your baby wants more freedom of movement.
You will not find a better way to bond with an infant than to have them nestled into your chest sleeping or breastfeeding while in a wrap.
But they do take some patience at first!
Age and Weight Range (Birth to 35lbs)
You will find that most wraps cap out at 35lbs. This is 10 lbs less than the majority of soft structured carriers (which we will get to shortly).
Most moms will give up on babywearing and move to a stroller before they get to this point as the physical strain can become too much. Dad will usually be able to manage ok but after the first year, a wrap loses its allure for what it does.
So the weight limit may never be tested anyway.
Check out the following links to see how some of the most popular wraps on the market compare. Some of the patterns on offer will catch your eye!
Some older style ring slings are just a length of fabric that goes over one shoulder and holds your baby over your hips.
There are some obvious issues with this technique as it can create an imbalance in the weight distribution and cause you to walk around with your spine out of alignment to compensate.
This style of baby carrier is best used with smaller babies. However, some of the more modern (and very stylish) ring slings allow you to have your baby in a more central position that is similar to a wrap.
The main difference is that the cloth would still only go over one shoulder. Pictured is the Moby ring sling that demonstrates this nicely.
There are some variations to how a ring sling is designed with the following being the most common:
- Ring Slings – as pictured and described above.
- Pouch Slings – more of a cocoon type of shape that holds your baby in place.
Age and Weight Range (Birth and up to 35lbs)
Most ring slings will have a weight limit below 35lbs with 25lbs to 33lbs being more common for the most popular brands. A pouch sling would also fall in that lower range.
Similar to the baby wrap, you may not ever use a sling with a 30+lb baby. With more pressure on one shoulder and the hips, you may have a harder time managing the weight.
If you cannot keep a straight spine then you risk injury the more weight you take on. So again, you will get the best use out of your ring sling within that first year.
We take a detailed look at some of the more fashionable ring slings you can buy and compare them to the most functional in the post below:
Soft Structured Baby Carriers
An SSC, or buckle carrier, is the most broadly used type of baby carrier. They are the most user-friendly and can be taken on and off quickly.
Most importantly, the age range they can be used with is the broadest of all categories discussed (more on this below).
Here are the common variations to the buckle carrier design:
- Regular baby carrier – soft structured carrier frame with shoulder straps and buckles that clip everything in place.
- Hip seat carrier – same design but with a large baby seat built-in to the waist belt for extra support.
The best part is that they are intuitive to use and can often be worn straight out of the box with a few minor adjustments to get the right fit.
The lack of potential for human error when securing the buckles, or position your baby’s hips, me this style a very safe carrier option.
Age and Weight Range (3 months to 4 years+, 7-45 lbs)
There are some exceptions to the above age and weight guidelines. A Baby Tula will accommodate up to 60lbs, and some of the cheaper models with be far less than the 45lbs indicated above.
Some models can be used with newborns with an additional infant insert to keep them securely in place. This is an extra cost but can mean one baby carrier for up to four years of your child’s life.
The average cost of this design is higher than the wraps and slings. If you factor in the extended lifetime use then you may find the cost worth it.
Or you may opt for a wrap through infancy and switch to a SSC when your baby gets closer to their first birthday.
We have a lot of information on buckle carriers so check out the links below and our hub page for detailed info on the category most relevant to you:
These are heavy-duty baby carriers that have a hard frame, a seat that is placed higher than usual, and often includes a lot more storage space and convenient extra storage pockets.
Being designed for hiking trips you will also find advanced ergonomics and thicker padded shoulder straps, a padded waist belt, and extra support built into the back.
Most models will have a chest strap that helps provide some extra stability considering all the weight you will be carrying with this type of carrier.
You will only ever use this in the back carry position. It is not designed for anything else.
You often get a stack of extra features built-in such as water bottle holders, cooler bag compartments, and accessible pockets on the waist strap.
The side panels of the seat will often have ventilation built in to help keep baby cool in an enclosed space.
Age and Weight Range (6 months to 4 years+, 15-60 lbs)
These are serious pieces of babywearing equipment that can handle any baby’s weight, and are best used with an older child who has full neck control.
The weight is bound to outgrow you before your child outgrows the carrier as they get to the end of the toddler stage.
Most models will hold around 50lbs of weight but some go well beyond this.
The cost is also much higher again ($300-$500) and only a very outdoors’y family should bother with a hiking carrier like this.
Check out the following articles that look at specific backpack carriers:
Less Popular Types of Baby Carriers
Here we will look at some of the more obscure variations of a baby carrier that usually has a very specific purpose.
Waterproof Baby Carriers
When summertime rolls around and you want to go swimming with your baby you can add an extra layer of safety by using a baby carrier that is specially designed for water.
They operate in the same way but are made from quick-drying material that is s
Age and Weight Range (3 months to 3 years+, 8-30 lbs)
This type of quick-dry fabric is not as robust as your everyday carrier.
When in the water the weight will be supported by the buoyancy of the water but you still need to be weary of pushing the limits when you get out.
There are only a few options in this category but some high-quality options to choose from:
This design has been based on old asian style carriers and is a hybrid that uses characteristics of both a baby wrap and structured carriers.
You have two shoulder straps that criss-cross behind your back, and a generous sash to tie around your waist. Just like you would in the final stages of most wrapping techniques.
Age and Weight Range (3 months to 3 years+, 8-36 lbs)
The capacity sits in the middle of the ranges we have discussed and will be useful for the majority of the prime babywearing years.
While the sash gives you a flexible fit it will not get the same snugness as a wrap and shouldn’t be used with a newborn.
Unless you just really like the Mei Tai style it is not one that we would recommend unless you just love the style.
Standing Backpack Carriers
This is a relatively new and unusual style of baby carrier that really breaks the mold considering there is no seat for your child.
It is worn in a similar way to a backpack baby carrier, but with a platform instead of a seat where your child can stand up.
A safety harness looping over their shoulders is what holds them in place.
Age and Weight Range (2 years+, 50lbs)
Obviously, this is a far more advanced way to carry someone and is halfway between using a backpack carrier and just freestyling it with an old-school piggyback!
This is a convenient solution for shorter trips where they can jump on and off quickly. If you are going on a serious hike then the extra stability of a backpack carrier is likely to be a better option.
There are very few of these types of carriers on the market. We have done a more detailed review of the Piggyback Rider (pictured) in our list of hiking carriers linked in the previous section.
A baby carrier is an essential piece of baby gear that will play an important role in how you bond with your baby early on.
They can be just as important for dad as he may often feel left out in those first few months. By strapping your baby into a carrier they get to bond while also making the best use of what he is good at…. Carrying stuff!
You might go through a few types of carriers in your babywearing journey even after reading this article. The variety of experiences on offer with each is unique and the cost of most is manageable. I know I had more than a few carriers by the time my son had outgrown them!
Aside from the backpack carrier design, all others will fit easily in a diaper bag or closet so even if you do end up with a few they will be easy to store.