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The Best Backpacks for Carrying Babies and Kids

The Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 is a high quality comfortable pack with versatile storage options.
By Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz
Monday November 20, 2017
Wondering which backpack is top-rated for carrying older babies and kids? So did we! We took 9 highly regarded and popular backpacks on the market and tested them side-by-side for two months to find out which options are the best. Whether you're hiking the Rocky Mountains, traveling abroad, or cheering at a football game, we have the information you need to make the best decision for your family. We evaluated each pack and scored them on Parent Comfort, Child Comfort, Storage, and Ease-of-Use. Read on to find out which backpacks earned awards and higher ranks.

Best Overall Backpack


Thule Sapling


Editors' Choice Award

$279.95
at Amazon
See It

Best parent comfort
Impressive child comfort
Ample storage, accessible water bottle holder
Price
Heavier
Maximum Pack Load: 48 lbs | Hydration Bladder Capable: Yes

The Thule Sapling is the highest ranking pack in the review with a perfect score for parent comfort thanks to width adjustable shoulder straps, a structured waistband, and a close-fitting cockpit. We liked the firm, stable seat pad and the angled, nap-able face rest. This pack has lots of storage with internal organization and a location for a hydration bladder. With adjustments you can do on the fly, it is difficult to go wrong with the Sapling. While the price of this pack may be higher than some budgets will allow, we think the quality and thoughtful design of the Thule makes it a real contender most families will love for years to come.

Read review: Thule Sapling

Best Storage


Kelty Pathfinder 3.0


Editors' Choice Award

$300.00
List Price
See It

Pockets with internal organization
Comfortable fit
Easier to use
Price
Hard to reach kickstand
Maximum Pack Load: 50 lbs | Hydration Bladder Capable: Yes

The Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 has more storage pockets than you can shake a stick at. It has a removable backpack for little ones to carry, internal pocket organization features, and the only water bottle holder you can reach while wearing the pack. In addition to excellent storage features, this pack is easy to adjust, comfortable for wearers and passengers, and easy to use. The Pathfinder is hydration bladder ready, provides a snug cockpit, and has color-coded adjustment features. This pack may not be an excellent choice for families on a budget, but it is an excellent option for those who need the extra space for supplies suitable for longer trips.

Read review: Kelty Pathfinder 3.0

Most Comfortable for Baby


Osprey Poco AG Plus


Editors' Choice Award

$275.00
(5% off)
at Amazon
See It

Secure cockpit
Supportive seat pad
Easy to use
Price
No cup holders
Maximum Pack Load: 48.5 lbs | Hydration Bladder Capable: Yes

The Osprey Poco AG Plus provides the most comfortable experience for little ones including a secure cockpit, padded seat pad, and harness, and an angled, removable, cozy drool pad/face rest. Little ones will enjoy the adjustable stirrups and canopy with side protection. This pack comes with toy loops for treasures and a mirror for keeping an eye on your passenger. Parents will appreciate the easy to use adjustments and features as well as the close fitting cockpit and breathable back pad with adjustable torso length. The osprey brings a lot to the table and while it costs more than some of the competition we think it is the best choice for parents who favor passenger comfort over other metrics.
Read review: Osprey Poco AG Plus

Best Bang for the Buck


Kelty Tour 1.0


Best Value Award

$113.97
(40% off)
at Amazon
See It

Budget-friendly
Limited storage
Comfy for kids
No canopy
Less supportive waistband
Maximum Pack Load: 50 lbs | Hydration Bladder Capable: No

The Kelty Tour 1.0 is a simplified Kelty option with fewer storage pockets and a lighter frame with less padding overall. Despite the simple design, however, the shoulder straps and waistband provide sufficient support for a comfortable fit. The seat pad supports little ones while they wear a soft lightly padded 5-point harness. This pack doesn't have a canopy or stirrups, and the lack of torso adjustment means it may not fit all users. However, it is a quality pack that works well with easy to use adjustment points. We think most families will appreciate this budget-friendly product which is the highest ranked option we reviewed under $200.

Read review: Kelty Tour 1.0

up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
88
Thule Sapling $280
Editors' Choice Award
Cozy cockpit and custom fit makes this easy to use option a great pick
82
Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 $300
Editors' Choice Award
Comfortable to wear and sit in carrier with ample storage
81
Osprey Poco AG Plus $290
Editors' Choice Award
Versatile storage combines with an adjustable fit for a comfortable carrier for kids and parents
78
Deuter Kid Comfort 3 $299
Comfortable and well-fitting pack with lots of storage
61
Kelty Tour 1.0 $190
Best Value Award
Inexpensive and comfortable for parent and child
41
Clevr Cross Country $125
Poor fitting pack with disappointing features and functionality
39
Kiddy Adventure Pack $209
Poorly functioning pack with limited storage and uncomfortable cockpit
39
Phil and Teds Escape $250
Unimpressive features and adjustment in a hard to wear pack
29
Phil and Teds Parade $140
Uncomfortable pack with larger cockpit leaves parents and kids wanting more

Analysis and Test Results


In this review, we tested and compared 9 of the most popular baby backpack carriers over several months to determine which options are the best and why. Our hiking use and in-house side-by-side comparisons were designed to help parse out the information parents need to make a great buying decision. Each backpack is scored based on its overall performance and tester feedback from real-world use. Individual metric scores determine the overall scores with an emphasis on parent and child comfort.

We tested popular baby backpack carriers side-by-side and on the trail to find the best options available.
We tested popular baby backpack carriers side-by-side and on the trail to find the best options available.

Award-winning backpacks are those that provide a structured comfortable fit for parents of different sizes, cozy and secure cockpits with adjustable features that offer superior support for passengers, and easier to use options with versatile storage. In this review, we tested each pack for these traits and more to give you the information you need to make your best buying decision. If a pack didn't meet the expectations of testers, it didn't score well.

A backpack carrier gives you the hands-free freedom to go on cool adventures with your little one. From trips to the grocery store or around the block to heading out on the open trail or visiting the zoo, a backpack can provide a safe perch for your baby with a great view and a cozy place to nap. Most parents agree that owning a pack isn't a necessity, but it can be a great way to expand your adventures with your baby and increase their outdoor experiences.

Need more information?
Not sure where to start or what kind of backpack carriers are out there? Take a quick read of our article about baby backpack carriers and how to choose the right one for you.

We consider a baby backpack to be a long-term investment you can use for multiple children up to around 40 lbs. With price tag often over $200, it's a purchase you ideally want to make only once.

A pack needs to be as comfortable as possible if you are going to wear it on a regular basis. The Thule Sapling is most comfortable pack for parents.
A pack needs to be as comfortable as possible if you are going to wear it on a regular basis. The Thule Sapling is most comfortable pack for parents.

Parent Comfort


Being able to comfortably support your baby's weight will be the difference between a fun long trip and a short, uncomfortable jaunt. We tested each backpack for Parent Comfort considering shoulder straps, waistbands, torso adjustment range, back padding, and breathability. Like with other hiking backpacks the ability to adjust on-the-fly is key is also useful for ensuring overall comfort. Backpacks lost points if they didn't offer enough padding, were difficult to adjust, or if we were unable to find a fit that didn't result in discomfort or rubbing for the wearer.


The Thule Sapling earned atop score for parents comfort with a 10 of 10. This pack has a variety of features for parent comfort including additional waistband structure, smooth strap adjustments, padded shoulder straps, torso range of 6 inches, and breathable back mesh.

No matter what the terrain a baby backpack  like the Pathfinder  can help get you and your baby out and about on grand adventures closer to nature.
The Parade has limited padding on the straps and an unsupportive waistband. The cockpit is also large which results in parents leaning forward to get baby closer to their body where it is more comfortable to carry them.

The Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 (above left) earned a 9 and has easy to adjust shoulder straps that help take the weight off weary shoulders and the waist belt has a forward pull adjustment and sits nicely on the hips for great support. The Osprey Poco AG Plus and the Deuter Comfort 3 both earned 8s. The lowest scoring options were the Phil and Teds Parade with a 1 (above right) lacking adjustability in the shoulder straps and torso and the Phil and Teds Escape with a 3 and shoulder straps that don't tighten enough and a saggy waist strap that isn't supportive.

The Osprey provides the most comfortable riding experience for little ones compared to the competition.
The Osprey provides the most comfortable riding experience for little ones compared to the competition.

Child Comfort


Keeping little ones cozy will create the ideal environment for longer adventures and fewer complaints. Little details like angled drool pads, stirrups, padded harnesses, supportive seats, and secure cockpits can make being in a backpack more enjoyable for your baby. Test results were influenced by our little testers and possible napping positions, signs of discomfort, and how secure we could make the cockpit through adjustments.


The Osprey Poco AG Plus earned a 10 of 10 for child comfort with a firm supportive face rest that curves out on the ends for additional napping support and easy to adjust stirrups to avoid dangling legs.

Little ones will enjoy the ride more in a cozy cockpit with features for comfort.
The Phil and Teds Parade did not perform well compared to the competition  and it was the most uncomfortable option for both parents and children.

The Thule Sapling and the Deuter Comfort 3 (above left) both earned 9s with features for comfort like a secure cockpit on the Thule Sapling and a removable, soft face rest that slants out and curves up on the sides on the Deuter Comfort 3. The lowest scoring backpack is the Phil and Teds Parade (above right) which has a cockpit that doesn't feel secure and limited adjustability with no napping face rest.

The Thule is easy to use including adjustments to the seat height.
The Thule is easy to use including adjustments to the seat height.

Ease of Use


An easy to use pack influences your experience every time you use the pack. Having easy to use features and functionality can be the difference between a quick preparation and a squirming frustrated baby. Our ease-of-use rating ranks each baby backpack on its ability to be adjusted, on the go adjustments, canopy use, manual, and hydration bladder accessibility.


The high score for this metric is only 7 of 10, earned by both the Thule Sapling and the Osprey Poco AG Plus. Both backpacks have easy adjustments you can do on the fly, and you can make most child cockpit adjustments with little ones still in the pack.

The Pathfinder earned a second place score for ease of use.
The chest clip on the Escape's harness is stiff but workable.

The second place packs were the Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 (above left) and the Deuter Comfort 3 with 6s. The hardest to use packs earned 4s in a three-way tie that includes the Clevr Cross Country, Kiddy Adventure Pack, and Phil and Teds Escape (above right). Each low ranking pack has hard to use adjustments and features that caused frustration during testing.

The Pathfinder earned a perfect score for storage in part thanks to the internal organization it features that we didn't see on the competition.
The Pathfinder earned a perfect score for storage in part thanks to the internal organization it features that we didn't see on the competition.

Storage


There's no doubt that kids = stuff, and this stuff is going to need somewhere to go when you take your pack out on the trail. Backpacks that performed best on storage were ones that offered plenty of space for baby essentials like diapers, wipes, and extra clothes, and hiking essentials like hydration, canopies, sunscreen, and rain gear. Backpacks with multiple pockets and internal organization earned higher scores than those with open pockets. Those with useful waist pockets and pockets within reach of the wearer also earned extra points.


The Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 earned a 10 of 10 for storage with more pockets than the competition and space for a hydration bladder with the only water bottle holder the wearer can reach.

The Thule is the only pack with a waistband pocket large enough to fit a smartphone.
The padded waistband has a zippered pocket with a fabric cover. The cover makes it hard to open and it doesn't fit even smaller mobile phones.

The Thule Sapling (above left) also scored well for storage with a 9 and waistband pockets that will fit a larger mobile phone and wide opening in the main pockets. The lowest score for storage is the Kiddy Adventure Pack with a 2 (above right). This pack has fewer pockets than the competition with fabric flaps over the zippers making them ridiculously difficult to open.

We've tested the most popular baby backpacks on the market to find the best options for every adventure.
We've tested the most popular baby backpacks on the market to find the best options for every adventure.

Conclusion


With so many possible backpack carriers on the market, it can be difficult to tell why one is better than another just by looking at their specs. With several of the products we tested failing to meet expectations or executing their features poorly, we found a large disparity between packs. Luckily, we have spent time wearing and packing little ones about to determine which carriers are the most comfortable for little ones and parents and we've condensed our observations into useful information you can use to make the best buying decision for you and your family.

If you still have questions on the differences between pack types or why some features are more important than others, take a peek at our How to article for all the details to help you finalize your choice.

Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz
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Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.

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