Ranging in price from $119 to $239, six Kelty baby backpack carriers and one convertible carrier round out this company’s baby wearing line-up. My review focuses on the three with external light-weight aluminum frames.
What is an External Frame Carrier?
Kelty offers three easy-to-differentiate models, which I will briefly describe. But other manufacturers like Sherpani, Deuter, and REI have multiple backpack carriers to offer families who love the outdoors.
The Kelty nomenclature is easy to follow. There’s FC 1.0, FC 2.0, and FC 3.0. FC stands for Frame Carrier. 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. This should help you if you’re deciding whether to fork over the extra dough for the 3.0. I’ll tell you how our family figured out which one to get.
One word of caution: Kelty doesn’t offer the kind of development milestones and wearing tips many company websites do. Perhaps because babygear is not their exclusive domain. Although they say their backpack carriers are for babies 5 pounds and up, you really can’t put your baby in a backpack carrier until he has some head control and can sit up without toppling over.
Frame Carrier 1.0: Around $150. Weight range: 5-50 pounds. Storage: Under seat. Sunshade: No. Cellphone strap pocket: No. Removable for washing: No. Said to be for shorter strolls or shopping, though I’ve never seen anyone use an external frame carrier in a store or mall. They’re too bulky for shopping trips, especially when more compact and streamlined carriers are plentiful.
Frame Carrier 2.0: Around $200. Weigh range: 7-50 pounds. Storage: waist pouch, under seat, and removable diaper bag. Sunshade: No. Cellphone strap pocket: No. Removable for washing: Yes. This one is also marketed by Kelty as suitable for shopping, strolls, and hiking adventures. A sort of all-around. However, I can’t imagine using it in a shopping setting, unless it was an outdoor festival or farmers market.
Frame Carrier 3.0: Around $230. Weight range: 7-50 pounds. Storage: waist pouch, under seat, removable diaper bag, and changing pad. Sunshade: Yes. Cellphone strap pocket: Yes. Removable for washing: Yes.
This is the one my husband and I ended up buying. Mostly, because the hood was included and to buy it separately with another model amounted to the same purchase price. Would we have purchased this model if we had to pay full price? I’ll never know. But our REI dividend made our purchase price around $30. We even used our REI one-time 20% off coupon to defray the cost even more. You can sign up at their website with the link above to become a REI member. Alternatively, you can also buy any Kelty child carriers at Amazon.
Is an External Frame Carrier for You?
We’ve used our external frame Kelty 3.0 about twenty times in three years. We’re lucky to live in an an area that, albeit urban, is surrounded by a multitude of wilderness preserves, parks, and trails.
Some people would say that 20 times in 3 years doesn’t justify the $230 price tag. But even if we had paid full retail price, I’d argue it was still worth it. In our circle of friends who have kids, we’ve lent them our Kelty, they’ve lent us their snow suits, we’ve lent them our Kelty, and they’ve lent us their inflatable travel bed.
Even though my husband would laugh to hear me say it, I really do believe less baby gear is better. If you connect with several other parents when your child is an infant, you can make a loose agreement about making big purchases. It’s a great way to be an eco-parent too.
And speaking of the environment, this is precisely what the Kelty is for. Hikes of 2-4 miles are a good start. Before that, even, take your child around the block in the Kelty. REI allows you to test out its bikes in the parking lot and you can test out the Kelty and Sherpani baby backpacks there too. But don’t be put off if your baby is fussy the first time. Check the leg openings and all five points of the harness to make sure baby is comfortable and not too snug.
Tips For Hiking with Baby
- Always slather your kid in sunscreen, even if the sunshade is up the whole time. Get the legs and feet sunscreened too, or keep them covered.
- Buy the inexpensive mirror that hooks onto the shoulder strap and features a retractable cord. You can view baby at any time.
- For older babies, you can situate the sippy cup in one of the mesh holders for baby to stay hydrated.
- For younger babies, you may want to carefully wedge a snuggly animal or breathable blanket between her chest and the carrier. Even better, use a small c-shaped travel pillow to support your baby’s neck when she falls asleep in the carrier.
- If your hike involves elevation change (baby’s sensitive ears), uneven footpaths, or low-slung branches, use extreme caution and be peripherally aware when carrying baby.
When A Soft Framed Carrier Just Won’t Do
There is no substitute for an external carrier on a long hike, even though short hikes are the initial test for your family’s nature outings. Once, we went to Muir Woods, north of San Francisco. Using the Kelty for an all-day hike, we were able to let our son, Nolan, out of it a number of times.
The easy off-on handles make it safe and simple for the wearer to put on or take off the pack, keeping baby upright the whole time. The auto-deployed kick stand was secure and stood solidly on soft ground. It was easy to take our son out of the carrier and put him back in. He was sixteen months old and wanted to toddle around for a while, but also enjoyed the mountain-top feeling of being hoisted up in the carrier.
A day trip to the zoo, hiking in the local hills near our home, and a trip to the beach were also events that made me grateful we had the Kelty. Our friends borrowed it to day hike around Mount Shasta.
You know yourself, you know how your family spends its downtime. If you are an outdoorsy family and you take a chance on the Kelty, you’ll wonder how you ever hiked without it.