Two types of parents take their kids out to experience nature first-hand:
- Dyed in the wool hiking types: These are the REI-member parents, the couples who, before having kids, may have met in an outdoorsy setting.
- The newly converted nature buffs: These are the parents who want to show their kid the world, want to impress upon their baby the beauty, fragility, and importance of nature.
Whether you’re a 1 or a 2, you need the same type of baby backpack carrier, the kind for hiking with baby, the kind that will provide comfort for baby, shade from the sun, pockets for necessities, and external frames and waist-harnesses to support your lumbar region.
Big Name Backpack Carriers for the Big Outdoors
Well-known for its legacy of packs for outdoor lovers and backcountry hikers, Kelty makes several external framed and several soft-framed packs. The Kelty nomenclature is easy to follow. There’s FC 1.0, FC 2.0, and FC 3.0. Essentially, as the numbers get bigger, the features list gets longer and the price gets higher. All three have the standard safety features most hiking parents want:
- A sturdy aluminum frame
- A self-deploying kickstand
- An adjustable waist belt
- A sternum strap
- An adjustable five-point harness for baby
- Loops to attach toys
- Reflective tape for evening visibility
That said, here’s what makes them different.
- FC 1.0 – Food for up to 50 pounds, includes under the seat storage. A good all-around, but with no sun/rain shade. Said to be for shorter strolls or shopping, though I’ve never seen anyone use an external frame carrier in a store or mall.
- FC 2.0 – Separates itself from the 1.0 with its removable diaper bag and additional storage in the waist pouch.
- FC 3.0 – Their deluxe model, with everything in the 2.0, plus a changing pad, sunshade included (hallelujah!), and cellphone strap pocket. The thing I love most about this one is that its components are removable for washing.
This outdoors gear and travel bag company makes four packs for carrying baby and all baby’s needs for a day hike or daily hiking excursions from a well-appointed basecamp with restrooms and showers.
- KangaKid – Looks like a standard day pack, but expands to hold your little hiker when her legs are tired. Holds up to 33 pounds.
- Kid Comfort I – External framed carrier, with max capacity of 48 pounds. Has a padded headrest for your sleepy cargo and ample padding for your hips. Safety features include a padded five-point harness and kickstand, making it self-standing if you need to remove the pack with your mini-Muir still in it.
- Kid Comfort II
– This is Deuter’s best seller. Like the Comfort I, it holds a max of 48 pounds. It has a side-entry harness, and Vari-harness system, which is great for accommodating your growing child. It also has a height adjuster, so baby can be sure to see Half Dome instead of Dad’s dome. It’s more outfitted with features – like a reflector, more zipper storage pouches, and the feature I like best, an integrated hydration sleeve – like a camel back. The product specs say there’s room to store an optional rain/sun hood. Great, but I have a problem with all carrier makers, in general, not including the sun/rain hood. Who isn’t going to use it? I see the hood or shade as a necessity, not an accessory.
- Kid Comfort III – The fully-featured model, though I can see why it doesn’t sell quite as well as the Comfort II (verrrry expensive.) What I like about it is that it has a two-point lifting system. Most carriers have one handle, located where the nape of the wearer’s neck would be. This version has an optional hydration system, but includes the sun/rain hood as part of the integrated package. Two other standout features, perhaps worth the splurge are the 3-D mesh back and washable/removable chin pad. The first keeps your back dry. The second keeps baby’s chin dry.
The “She” in Sherpani is meant to imply that the company has women in mind when they design their array of purses, satches, work, fitness, and hiking bags. They make one baby carrier, called the Rumba, and if the person carrying your baby during hikes is most often going to be a woman, Sherpani’s Rumba is worth seeking out.
Sherpani Features Include
- Weight limit: 70 pounds for the Rumba (I can’t even imagine!) and 55 pounds for the Rumba Superlight model.
- Distinguishing Features (these apply to both models): Super comfortable hip belt. Not only a five point harness, but a chest-plate to help your little one’s posture (no slouching), lots of pouches for storing, and a modern look. This one doesn’t look as out of place in the mall as some of the other more rugged outdoor child carriers. And, I’ve saved the best for last: The sun shade/ rain hood is (gasp)included!
A Trip Planning Guide:
Always take baby to a place you’ve already been. Elevation deltas affect a hike’s overall difficulty, even if the miles are short. Check out the terrain too. Are there lots of loose rocks or gravel, tripping hazards such as tree roots? Understand what it’s going to feel like to be pulled backward by the extra weight of the pack and baby, especially when you start to wobble on the trail.
Pre-pack For Your First Few Hikes
I’ve had success in packing our kids’ items for a day hike first by throwing everything into a laundry basket that goes next to our empty external framed carrier in the trunk. I wait until we get there to load the carrier, as this usually gives me time on the drive to think about what’s really needed. And if the kids snack heavily in the car and upon arrival, I load fewer morsels into the pack. This also keeps us from packing three kinds of sweaters. Checking the weather upon arrival allows us to put only necessary outerwear in the pack.
Timing is Everything
When planning your trip, consider your child’s nap schedule. Hikers on moderate terrain average 2-3 miles an hour, with occasionally photo-op stops. Plan on lengthening this to add in down-time for your little explorer to get up close and personal with a leaf or pinecone.
Don’t Hesitate to Fail
I have a hiker friend who is loathe to turn back. But now he’s a father and all that’s changed. Stay highly tuned to your child’s reactions and behavior cues and pull the plug on a trip or walk that seems to be unraveling. If your child starts to get fussy, don’t forge ahead on the assumption that things will get better. Assume they will get worse.
Try, Try Again
But don’t give up! Try a new place, a new time, and a new purpose, perhaps apicnic or swimming hole.No matter which carrier you choose, your child will thank you for time outdoors…that is, as soon as he or she can talk.
Discuss having an active lifestyle and how you can fit this into having a baby – introduce baby backpacks such as Kelty, Deuter and Shirpani, pros and cons of each, and tips for day trips with baby