Child in carrier pointing

There is a wealth of products on the baby/child backpack carrier market. We put the best of the best through their paces to help you select the right one for your lifestyle.

Child backpack carriers are great when a buggy simply just won’t do. If you want to navigate urban areas with a child on your back rather than at your feet, then a backpack carrier could be for you. Alternatively, if you yearn to escape the hubbub of city life and fill your lungs with some much-needed fresh air, this piece of kit can allow you to take your young child off-road to explore the great outdoors.

Trying to choose the right child backpack carrier for your family can be a bit mind-boggling. Do you really need a £300 piece of kit to navigate the local shop and stroll around town? The answer is probably not. Our buyer's guide should help you understand the market a bit better. But you might also want to find out exactly how we tested the products themselves.

Firstly, we scoured the Mumsnet Talk boards, and the rest of the internet, for the most popular products on the market and looked at which ones parents were most regularly rating highly. We also looked at some of the very newest products on the market so no stone was left unturned. From there we came up with a list of nine carriers we wanted to test.

We recruited a very active family to research and test these best-selling and highly-rated carriers. After months of testing, five models were named as the best for most families. Read on to find out which ones went home with the medals.

Which backpack carriers did you test?

Phil & Teds Parade – Best Overall
Littlelife Ranger 2 – Best Budget
Osprey Poco AG Premium – Best Luxury
Deuter Kid Comfort Air – Best for Toddlers
Littlelife Cross Adventurer S2 – Best Mid-range
Deuter Kid Comfort
Littlelife Cross Country S4
Thule Sapling Elite
Kiddy Adventure Pack

Who tested the carriers?

Our tester is the father of an outdoorsy family of five (six including the labrador). After living in the city, the family relocated to an area 10 miles south of the Lake District to get more space, a bigger garden and more access to nature.

The family knows a thing or two about the great outdoors – they even run a side business that’s all about trying to encourage people from the city to pack up their road bikes and get on a train for a few hours to visit the north-west.

At the weekends, our tester family like to be outdoors rather than cooped up inside. They cycle a lot and walk the dog for hours – plenty of opportunities to put a child backpack carrier through its paces. The couple and their three boys – aged 10, 7 and 2 – were well-placed to head out into the different terrains the North West has to offer.

Our tester classes himself as a very active (he’s currently training for the Land's End to John o' Groats cycle race) – but stocky 6ft. His wife is a quite active and slender 5'8.

Tester's son reacting to the baby carrier backpacks

What did you test for?

All the carriers were tested on the following criteria: day-to-day usage, safety and stability, assembly, cleanliness, aesthetics and value for money.

How did you test the carriers for day-to-day use?

Each carrier was used on a number of walks with our tester family – a shorter 30-40 minute walk to the shops and back, and then a much longer one of between three and five miles.

First and foremost, the carriers were tested for their purpose (lightweight carriers on shorter walks and public transport, for example). We then took them out of their comfort zones and pushed them to their limits. What was our reason for doing this? We wanted to see what these carriers could really do. Could the lightweight ones go the distance on longer treks and would an all-singing-all-dancing carrier work in urban areas? Some families understandably don’t want to/simply can't shell out hundreds of pounds on a frills-and-whistles carrier, especially when cheaper options will do the job. We used all the carriers on all the same length journeys in the same locations to reduce the number of variables.

If you plan on using a carrier in the UK, then weather-proofing is a consideration. All the products were tested in all weather conditions (real or simulated) and scored on how well the sunshade and rain cover worked. The carriers were penalised if it took a long time to attach a sunshade or rain cover – the last thing you want when it’s tipping it down is to get drenched while putting the blasted thing on.

Carriers must also be portable and easy to store. Lots of parents have limited space in their homes and want a carrier that can be folded away, taking up minimal space. A lot of families will want a carrier that can be used on public transport or taken on a plane, so we assessed how easily they could be transported and just how much space (and stress) was required to do so.

Comfort for the child and parent are major factors, so each carrier was scored for padding and smoothness of the ride. Did the straps dig in from the get-go or after a short distance? Do you have to keep adjusting the buckles to get the carrier to fit comfortably and or to perform a Houdini-style manoeuvre to get the carrier off? We also commented on whether our testers could get the carriers on without assistance. Points were deducted if it required two adults to get the backpack carrier on your back with the child in place.

Osprey baby backpack carrier labels

How did you test for safety?

All the carriers tested had a base level of safety – this was a requirement when choosing the final shortlist to test. Still, it was important that we assessed how secure the carrier was when his child was in it.

We looked at all the straps and harnesses and tried with all our might to break them. We also looked at the padding and knocked off points if the carrier sat in an odd position or didn’t provide enough comfort.

We pushed and pulled the cockpit, sunshade and rain cover to see if they would loosen in inclement weather or falter if a parent took a tumble. We also looked at how well the carriers stood up when placed on the ground and scored the sturdiness of foot stands.

Assembly

Backpack carriers come in various weights, shapes and sizes. Most of them are made from a lightweight aluminium frame (thank goodness, because any parent knows even the smallest child gets heavier with every passing second) and are covered with synthetic waterproof material.

Most are really quick and easy to assemble, but not all. We watched online videos and read the instructions of each model cover to cover. In all our reviews we comment on the assembly of each carrier and how long it took (and how many people were needed) to put the thing together. Often, a carrier that requires time and effort to assemble also requires time and effort to pack away, so we tested that out and marked accordingly.

Cleanliness

Children are messy – even before you finally get them out the house. For that reason, it’s important a backpack carrier doesn’t show all the mess and can be easily cleaned. Darker colours are normally better at hiding the daily muck. Generally, a waterproof washable material gets the thumbs up from us. We think removable dribble pads should come as standard too.

Aesthetics

Probably not the biggest consideration, but we tend to like nice things and some of these carriers are pretty darn ugly. Our best luxury carrier is a beauty to behold but its price tag is a bit unattractive to some. There is a happy medium though: simple dark colours, sleek and easy-foldaway designs scored highly.

Value for money

After safety, this is probably the most important factor. Our carriers ranged anywhere from £99 to £320 but we ensured they were good value for money for most parents. We asked ourselves – will they hold up in the British summer (and long winter)? Will they be comfortable for both parent and child? Will the capacity give the model a long shelf life? While they might not be your biggest baby purchase but they’re no small fry either, so we wanted to ensure that our selection of recommended carriers covered the best purchase options for a range of different families.

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