Child carrier backpacks are great when you need to get your child out and about and don’t want to fight with a buggy. But what actually are they? How much do they cost? And will you get enough use out of one for it to be worth investing in it? We answer all these questions and more in our Buyer’s Guide.
What is a child carrier backpack?
Not to be confused with a baby carrier or sling, the child carrier backpack sits on your shoulders while your child sits in the cockpit and peers out at shoulder/head level. Backpack carriers come in many forms, and prices also vary considerably. Depending on the model, these products are suitable for use once your child can sit up independently (at around six months) until two to three years.
Which brands are best?
If you're an outdoorsy person, then you'll likely recognise many of the child backpack carrier brands: Deuter, Osprey, Thule etc. Some brands cater exclusively for children, while others have products for all ages in their range.
What do I need from a child backpack carrier?
There are a number of considerations when buying a child backpack carrier. Firstly, we'd suggest asking yourself what you really need it for. Will you be using it every day to pop to the shops or local market? Will you need to be getting on and off public transport while wearing it or do you always use a car and therefore need a model that can be quickly slung in the boot? Do you want to take it abroad and need it to fit in an overhead cabin? Or are you planning on going for long treks on challenging terrain regularly? After you've answered these questions, you can then have a think about the extra features you might require.
Do you want a child carrier backpack that has a rain cover and sunshade included? A number of carriers come without these features but you have to pay a little bit extra for them so do have a think about whether it's something you need.
If you already know you want to take the carrier on longer journeys in the UK, perhaps it's wise to get a rain cover – just saying.
Conversely, you must remember your child will be more exposed to the sun from their higher vantage point than you are used to, and it's potentially beneficial to shell out for a sunshade if you’ll be outdoors for long periods.
It might seem like an expensive outlay to get a carrier with these extras as standard but it’s worth thinking about because if you discover you need them later, you’ll have to pay to buy them as add-ons.
It’s of the utmost importance your child carrier backpack has all the necessary safety features. All the products we tested have a base level of safety, but always check the one you buy is safe.
It’s always advisable you try on the carrier backpack before purchasing. Most of the products can be adapted to fit different heights and weights but it’s worth making sure you and whoever else might be wearing it are happy with the way it sits and that you can put it on single-handed. It’s not a great idea to buy one that requires a helping hand at all really, because chances are you won’t always have a second adult present.
Check the maximum weight on the carrier and that you will get the best possible wear out of it.
How easy are they to clean?
Most carriers are made using an aluminium frame encased in nylon. These models can be wiped clean and most have removable, washable elements. We recommend getting a darker colour carrier because you’ll need to rest it on the ground and children are mucky creatures at the best of times.
If you’re going to be taking your backpack carrier to a hot country or going on long hikes, then we recommend buying one that’s made from a breathable material. Even the lightweight carriers weigh you down when your child is in them and it doesn’t take long to get hot and sweaty when you have a child on your back; they’re like mini hot-water bottles.
How big are they?
We advise looking at how portable and storable they are when folded, too. Most are easy to fold away but some take up more space than others and this is important to consider if you have limited space in your home and car.
Also have a think about how the models will work on public transport if you use it. A child will add even more height to a carrier, remember, so if you’re going to be on and off trains or buses you need to know your child isn’t going to smack their head on the top of every door you encounter, and look for one that sits a little lower.
Can I wear it in urban areas?
Certain backpacks are designed for more urban areas. The Littlelife Ranger 2, for example, is great in cities, because it’s lightweight and isn’t too cumbersome. Larger backpack carriers with in-built weather defenses (like the Osprey) aren’t going to suit larger town or city jaunts so well.
How much do they cost?
Child backpack carriers can be priced anywhere from £79 to £320. It’s not necessarily a case of buy cheap, buy twice – you can get some really good value backpack carriers that won’t cost the earth and conversely you can pay a lot more for something that is still excellent value for money, as it comes with so many bells and whistles. For instance, our choice for best luxury carrier costs £320 but we’d consider that good value for money because of all the storage and in-built extras.
There are other carriers on the market that cost a similar amount but you don’t get as much bang for your buck. On the other hand, you can get a tremendous amount of value from a cheaper carrier. The Littlelife Adventurer S2 is considered mid-range but you get an awful lot for your £119.99. If you’re after a little runaround that will last you on shorter treks, then you can’t go wrong with something like the Littlelife Ranger 2. At £99, it’s affordable, reliable and should grow with your family.
And don’t forget, if they stay in good condition, as well as being used for subsequent children, baby backpack carriers have a pretty good resale value, too, so you may get some money back there when you’re finished with it.