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The beginner's guide to buying a backpack

Many new parents dismiss baby backpacks as an accessory purely for 'outdoorsy' types. It's hard not to think of robust, red-cheeked parents striding up mountain peaks with baby peeping out of the top of the backpack. But the truth is they can be a very convenient way of getting baby from A to B, particularly if in between you've got to negotiate somewhere where pushchairs are off limits or a liability.

Backpacks are great for the beach, for walking in the snow, through woodlands or even on crowded streets. They enable you to carry your child hands-free, so are brilliant if you've other baggage to deal with at the airports or even at the shops. What's more, most toddlers love the experience of being carried on their parent's back (who doesn't remember the joy of piggy back rides?) And a backpack offers the bonus of a parent-sized view too.

They are also a potential alternative to the double buggy if you have an older child, perhaps even to use as a stop gap until the older child is ready for a buggy board, or simply to leave you 'hands free' to cope with a tricky toddler.

Most backpacks can be used from when the child can hold their own head up (usually around six months) and will take a child up to four years or approximately 20 kg, although the thought of carrying the average four year old any distance sounds pretty hellish to us, no matter how great the back support. Some models offer 'infant inserts' which mean they can be used for much younger babies. Although most carriers nowadays have various levels of adjustability, padded straps and support for the baby and you, some designs are more successful than others, so it's definitely worth checking the scores and nutshells carefully to see which design will suit you best. 

Things to look out for...

Comfort for you

- This is probably the biggest concern because if it cuts off the circulation from your arms or you're left feeling like you've been carrying a hod of bricks on your back, you simply won't use it. Lumbar support is vital for backpacks - by the time a child is big enough to sit in a backpack, the weight should be distributed with around 70% taken on the hips and the remaining 30% on the shoulder straps. Different models employ different systems to adjust the carrier. Look for the simpler ones, particularly if more than one person intends to use it. 

Comfort for the baby

- The child should have good back and neck support and also have adequate arm and legroom. Ideally the height of the seat should be adjustable so they can be held in the right position for them and you. Some models have cushions for extra comfort. With many, however, cushions come at an extra price and as one experience owner pointed out: "a rolled up jumper can do the trick just as well." Think also about the type of fabric the carrier is made from. If you're going to be using it in hot weather, you want to avoid something that will make both yourself and your child sweaty. 

Ease of use

- It's often just a case of getting used to a design, but it's worth thinking about whether you can get the carrier on and off without assistance if you intend to use it regularly. Some models have an extendable leg that acts as a stand when the carrier comes off your back, allowing for easier loading and unloading - particularly if you're on your own. Well that's the theory. Whether you two-year old is a willing participant is another matter entirely. 

The little extras

- The extras on a backpack are really important. Soother holders, zip pockets for nappies/snacks and mesh bottle holders can be really useful if you're out for the day and want to avoid carrying anything other than your baby. Weatherproofing - against rain or sun (or, if it's England, probably both at once) - is also important and not always included in the basic price.

Last updated: over 3 years ago