Our favorite packs to carry kids on the trail

Finding a comfortable way to carry your baby or toddler on hikes can be overwhelming. There are so many options, and the needs and size of little ones are always changing and growing. Our collection of packs and carriers came to be after combing through blogs, watching video reviews, testing, and even stopping random parents on the trail. We’ve got you covered from the first few days and weeks of infancy all the way up to toddler carriers. While no carrier is perfect, we found each of these options was a nice solution to meet our needs as an active family hiking everything from local parks to overnight adventures in the Sierras.

Baby wrap

Baby wraps are basically a really long piece of fabric that you wrap around your body, including your shoulders and hips, to create a pouch for the baby. Baby wraps are great for the first few months to do everything from walking, short hikes, and even chores around the house. There’s nothing better than having a baby snuggled up on your chest and this carrier maximizes the snuggle effect! Plus, it’s gentle, doesn’t dig in anywhere, and can be adjusted to rest the baby in a variety of positions. The wrap doesn’t add excess bulk when worn, and it stores as a compact roll to easily pack in a diaper bag, car, or carry-on. Some cons include that it takes some practice to learn how to put it on, it can get steamy on hot days hiking with all of the fabric wrapping, and it takes some time to put it back on if you take it off mid-hike. Also, while it’s great for smaller babies, we liked a more structured carrier for longer treks as the child gets heavier.

All-in-one carrier

When we transitioned away from the the baby wrap, we switched to an all-in-one baby carrier. This carrier has a more structure than a baby wrap, and we found it did a better job distributing the baby’s weight to our hips. It’s advertised to carry little ones from just 7 pounds up to 45! We used an infant insert when she was smaller to help keep her in an ergonomic position, and to support her head and neck when she was at her smallest. We found this carrier was easier to take on and off during hikes than the wrap, since it has buckles to quickly secure the straps. It’s also easy to nurse in this style of carrier while you hike, and has a small pocket up front which is helpful for keys/small devices. One con of this carrier is that, just like wraps, it can get warm hiking since there is no airflow between you and the baby. Even if you switch the child to the rear, they are still directly on your back so this is something to keep in mind.

Structured Carriers

As our daughter grew, we also wanted to start doing longer hikes and even some overnight backpacking trips. This inspired us to jump to two different types of structured carriers. The first is a backpacking-style carrier and the second a shoulder-top seat carrier.

Backpacking-Style Carrier

We love hiking with our backpacking-style carrier because it has a frame that distributes her weight like a dream. Plus, it has a special stand so we can place the pack, with her in it, on the ground and it won’t tip over. The stand comes in super handy for quick hot spring soaks or lunch breaks during nap time! Oh and the gear storage capacity is one of the best on the market, and it can hold up to about 49 pounds with gear, child, and pack. We’ve taken her on several backpacking trips with this carrier and she stays comfortable for the long treks with the sunshade, and the rain cover keeps her cozy and dry in pop-up showers. (If you don’t need as much storage, this is their other version). There isn’t much we don’t like about it, but if we had to pick something, it would be the size of the pack.

Once our kids started walking some parts of the trail and we wanted to reclaim some back storage space (the Osprey Poco Plus has only 17L available in the largest pocket, 26 L total), we switched to using the Trail Magik carrier. This carrier is a fantastic solution because it still allows us to carry kids comfortably, hardly takes up any pack space or weight when we aren’t using it, clips on to our current backpacking packs, and allows us to accomplish carrying but without the loss of liters of storage. It’s a TOTAL game changer. Use code SOWEWENT10 to save 10% everyday, even on top of sales!

Trail Magik

If you are doing shorter hikes or want to carry your child around town, we have started using the carrier below.

Shoulder-top carrier

This shoulder-top carrier is a fantastic compact travel carrier for around town and short hikes. It’s lightweight and compact style is what inspired us to try it out. Weighing in at just over 3 pounds compared to the 7 pounds 14 ounce backpacking style carrier we described above, it’s really easy to carry around on the sling carry strap and quickly pop the pack up on our shoulders when our daughter get tired of walking. Plus our daughter loves being up high for the bird’s-eye view. The weight limit for kiddos is 39 pounds, so we plan to use this carrier for quite a few years. Some cons include that it places the weight of the child into the shoulders instead of a hip belt, so we opt to use it on shorter hikes and around town for this reason. In addition, we need to be mindful of clearance since the child is sitting higher. Finally, it’s not recommended to have kids sleep in the pack, so if your little one tends to fall asleep every time you hike/walk, this might not be the pack for you.

If you’d like to comb through our full listing of travel and van favorites, head over to our gear lists.

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