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In-depth reviews guided by a Pediatrician

The Best Backpacks for Carrying Babies and Kids

The Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 is a high quality comfortable pack with versatile storage options.
Monday December 23, 2019
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Are you trying to determine which backpack for carrying older babies and kids is the best for your family? We purchased 10 popular and well-regarded backpacks to test side-by-side over a few months to find out which products are the best. Whether you're an avid hiker trekking through the Rocky Mountains, traveling abroad for sightseeing adventures, or cheering on the home team, we have the details you need to make the right decision for your family. We analyzed each backpack and compared them to each other for parent comfort, child comfort, storage, and ease-of-use. Continue reading to find out which packs earned awards.


Top 10 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 10
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Best Value Award Editors' Choice Award  
Price $300.00 List
$299.95 at Amazon
$300.00 List
$284.69 at Amazon - 5% off
$200.00 List
$259.95 at Amazon
$290.00 List
$289.95 at Amazon
$330.00 List
$330.00 at Amazon
Overall Score Sort Icon
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88
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84
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81
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81
100
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78
Star Rating
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Pros Comfortable for wearer and passenger, useful storage, easy to useComfy to wear and ride in, lots of storage, canopy and hydration pocketComfortable for parents and kids, easy to useBest child comfort, custom fit possibilities, loads of storageVari-flex waistband, day pack, comfy for baby
Cons Less supportive seatHigher price, hard to adjust seat, may be too long for shorter torsosLimited storage and no organizer, no canopy or hydration optionDoesn't fit all usersExpensive, harder to use
Bottom Line Cozy cockpit and custom fit makes this easy to use option a great pickEasy to use, comfortable pack with a canopy, hydration pocket, and ample storageBudget-friendly comfortable pack with less storage and no canopyVersatile storage combines with an adjustable fit for a comfortable carrier for kids and parentsHarder to use and spendy price can't be overcome with a comfy cockpit
Rating Categories Thule Sapling Journey PerfectFIT... Kelty Journey... Osprey Poco AG Plus Deuter Kid Comfort...
Parent Comfort (30%)
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
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9
10
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8
10
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8
Storage (20%)
10
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9
10
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10
10
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7
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8
Child Comfort (25%)
10
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9
10
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9
10
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9
10
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10
10
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9
Ease Of Use (25%)
10
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7
10
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7
10
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7
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6
Specs Thule Sapling Journey PerfectFIT... Kelty Journey... Osprey Poco AG Plus Deuter Kid Comfort...
Usage Ranges Weight: 16 lbs - 40 lbs Weight: 16 lbs - 40 lbs Weight: 16 lbs - 40 lbs Weight: 16 lbs - 40 lbs Weight: 16 lbs - 40 lbs
Max Pack Load 48 lbs 48.5 lbs 48.5 lbs 48.5 lbs 48 lbs
Weight 7.6 lbs 7.4 lbs 5.5 lbs 7.9 lbs 8.5 lbs
BGL Folded/Flat Dimensions 14" W x 14" H x 31" L 16" W x 10" H x 31" L 16" W x 9" H x 31" L 15" W x 11" H x 30" L 16.4" W x 9.5" H x 34.8" L
Frame Aluminum Aluminum Aluminum Aluminum Aluminum
Fabric 210d Cordura Nylon, 420d Nylon Body: Poly 420D Small Back Stafford
Interior: 75D Poly x 140D Nylon Blend
Body: Poly 420D Small Back Stafford
Interior: 75D Poly x 140D Nylon Blend
Main: 210D Nylon Shadow Box
Accent: 400HD Nylon Packcloth
Bottom: 400HD Nylon Packcloth
10 denier polyamide fabric with strong ripstop threads and PU coating.
Stirrups Yes, adjustable straps Yes, adjustable Yes, adjustable Yes, adjustable Yes
Canopy Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Hydration Bladder Compatible Yes Yes No Yes No
Included Accessories Journey Sunshade Mirror Daypack, Mirror
Care Instructions Hand Wash Spot Clean Spot Clean Hand Wash Hand Wash

Best Overall Backpack


Thule Sapling


Editors' Choice Award
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$299.95
at Amazon
See It

88
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Parent Comfort 10
  • Storage 9
  • Child Comfort 9
  • Ease of Use 7
Best parent comfort
Impressive child comfort
Ample storage, accessible water bottle holder
Less supportive seat
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 (with only a few options costing more), we think the quality and thoughtful design of the Thule makes it a real contender most families will love for years making it worth the price of admission.

Read review: Thule Sapling

Best Storage


Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite


Editors' Choice Award
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$284.69
(5% off)
at Amazon
See It

84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Parent Comfort 8
  • Storage 10
  • Child Comfort 9
  • Ease of Use 7
Loads of storage
Comfortable fit
Easier to use
Higher price
Not a great fit for shorter torsos

Maximum Pack Load: 48.5 lbs | Hydration Bladder Capable: Yes

The Kelty Journey PefectFit Elite has more storage pockets than you can shake a stick at with internal pockets, zippered waistband pockets, a waterproof pocket for wet or dirty items, and the only water bottle holder you can reach while wearing the pack. This pack includes a canopy pocket and a hydration space for a lumbar bladder bag. In addition to pockets galore, this pack is very comfortable for children and the wearer with adjustable straps you can use on-the-go. The Elite provides a snug cockpit, breathable back pad, and load lifters for help with weight distribution.

This backpack is not a good choice if you are on a budget sporting one of the highest prices in this review. It also may be a bad choice for parents with shorter torsos as some testers had trouble finding a good fit. Despite these issues, it is an excellent option if you want a comfortable fit with lots of versatile storage if your budget allows.

Read review: Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite

Most Comfortable for Baby


Osprey Poco AG Plus


Editors' Choice Award
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$289.95
at Amazon
See It

81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Parent Comfort 8
  • Storage 7
  • Child Comfort 10
  • Ease of Use 7
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 riding experience for children including a secure cockpit, wide padded seat, and harness, and an angled, removable, cozy drool pad/face rest. Little ones will enjoy the added comfort features of adjustable stirrups and a canopy with side protection. This pack comes with toy loops to keep treasures secure and a side 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 has a higher price tag than most of the competition making it a poor choice for families on a budget or parents who only hike occasionally. However, it brings a lot to the table and 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 Journey PerfectFit


Best Value Award
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$259.95
at Amazon
See It

81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Parent Comfort 9
  • Storage 7
  • Child Comfort 9
  • Ease of Use 7
Budget-friendly
Easy to use
Comfy for kids and parents
No canopy or hydration pocket
Limited storage

Maximum Pack Load: 48.5 lbs | Hydration Bladder Capable: No

The Kelty Journey PerfectFit is a simplified Kelty pack with nicely padded shoulder straps with load lifters and a stiff enough thickly padded waistband. It has a removable drool pad that is angled for cozy napping, adjustable stirrups for passenger comfort, and a wide padded seat bottom you can raise or lower for fit and comfort. This pack also sports a torso adjustment and pull forward belt-tightening for on-the-go weight-bearing changes for comfort.

This pack doesn't have a canopy or pocket for a hydration bladder storage. It only has a single storage compartment and a mesh waistband pocket that doesn't close, so it may not be able to hold all the supplies you need for longer trips. However, this Kelty is a quality pack that works well with easy to use adjustment points. We think most families will appreciate this budget-friendly product, but we do recommend adding the Journey Sunshade to your purchase to protect little ones from the sun and other elements.

Read review: Kelty Journey PerfectFit


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.

Why You Should Trust Us


Our baby backpack carrier review had so many contributors and testers it is hard to pay justice to them all. With a background in outdoor products from our sister company OutdoorGearLab, we were poised to create a testing process with the true outdoorsman in mind.

This review was led by our founder, Dr. Juliet Spurrier, a board-certified pediatrician. Bob Wofford, father of 7, outdoor adventurer, and Senior Review Analyst for the last 6 years, worked with the OutdoorGearLab founder to create testing processes and choose outdoor trails for testing the packs. Multiple testers and parents assisted in the testing process wearing the packs on trails with their littles. Senior Review Editor, Wendy Schmitz, wraps up the analysis with her 5-years experience in gear reviews and hiking experience with kids in tow.

We tested each pack with a variety of wearers and passengers to ensure a useful cross-section of shapes and sizes to help find the average for comfort and usability ranks by identifying the differences between packs and which have the best features and functionality. We considered parent and child comfort, as well as storage and ease of use.

Related: How We Tested Baby Backpacks


Analysis and Test Results


We purchased, tested, and compared 10 top baby backpacks over several months to determine which products are the best and why. Our on-the-trail hiking and in-house side-by-side comparisons are designed to help discover the detailed information parents need to make the right buying decision for their families. Each pack is ranked based on its overall performance in-house and tester feedback from real-world use. Individual metric scores determine the overall scores with an emphasis on parent and child comfort.

Related: Buying Advice for Baby Backpacks

Do Your Homework
We consider a baby backpack to be a long-term investment you can use for multiple children up to around 40 lbs. The prices are high enough that this is a purchase you ideally want to make only once, so doing your homework is crucial.


Value


While a baby backpack is an investment choice, we think these products are valuable for getting out with your baby. With the Kelty Journey PerfectFit sporting a relatively affordable price, most families can own a quality, comfortable pack with useful storage and added features for comfort. Even the top-scoring Thule Sapling is not dramatically more expensive and worth considering even if you are on a budget. While the less expensive packs might be tempting, we caution parents that you get what you pay for when it comes to baby backpacks and these cheaper options are far more uncomfortable to wear with poor-quality features.

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, load lifters, waistbands, torso adjustment, back padding, and breathability. Like with ordinary hiking backpacks, the ability to adjust on-the-fly can be key to ensuring overall comfort. Backpacks lost points if they didn't offer enough padding or structure, 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 has the top score for parent's comfort with a 10 of 10. This comfy pack has a variety of features for comfort including additional waistband structure, smooth strap adjustments, padded shoulder straps, torso height range of 6 inches, and breathable back mesh (goodbye sweaty back!).

The PerfectFit lives up to its name with exceptional all-day comfort while hiking.
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 Journey PerfectFit (above left) earned a 9 and has easy to adjust shoulder straps with load lifters (you can use on the fly) that help take the weight off weary shoulders and a waist belt with a forward pull adjustment that sits nicely on the hips for square support. The Osprey Poco AG Plus, Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite, Deuter Kid Comfort Pro, and the Deuter Comfort 3 all earned 8s. The lowest scoring options were the Phil and Teds Parade with a 1 (above right) that lacks 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 creates the ideal environment for longer adventures and fewer complaints. Little details like angled drool pads, stirrups, padded harnesses, supportive seats, and secure cockpits all make backpack riding more enjoyable for your little one. Test results were influenced by our little testers in pack reactions including napping positions, signs of discomfort, and how secure we could make the cockpit through adjustments without upsetting the passenger.


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 (less head lolling) 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, Deuter Kid Comfort Pro, and the Deuter Comfort 3 (above left) all 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. Both Kelty PerfectFit packs also earned 9s with a wide seat with padded leg holes, seat height adjustments, and soft covered harness clips. The lowest scoring option is the Phil and Teds Parade (above right) with a cockpit that doesn't feel secure and has limited adjustability with no napping face rest (hello floppy head).

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 impacts your experience every time you use it. Easy features and functionality is the difference between a quick preparation and enjoyable journey versus a squirming, frustrated baby. Our ease-of-use rating ranks each backpack on its adjustability, on-the-go alterations, canopy use, manual, and hydration bladder potential.


The high score for this metric is only 7 of 10, earned by the Thule Sapling, Kelty Journey PerfectFit, Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite, and the Osprey Poco AG Plus. Each pack has easy adjustments you can do on the fly, and you can make most child cockpit adjustments with little ones in the pack.

The chest clip on the Escape's harness is stiff but workable.
The chest clip on the Escape's harness is stiff but workable.

The second-place packs for ease of use are the Deuter Comfort Pro and the Deuter Comfort 3 with 6s. The hardest to use packs earned 4s and include the Clevr Cross Country and Phil and Teds Escape. Each lower-ranking pack has challenging adjustments and features that cause frustration during testing.

The Elite has two storage pockets on the back of the pack.
The Elite has two storage pockets on the back of the pack.

Storage


There's no doubt that kids = supplies and their stuff needs to go somewhere when you take your baby out on adventures. Backpacks with the best storage are those that offer ample space for essentials like diapers, wipes, extra clothes, and hiking gear such as hydration, canopies, sunscreen, and rain gear. Backpacks with multiple pockets and internal organization features earned higher scores than those with open pouches, even if space is large. Those with useful waist pockets and pockets within reach of the wearer also earn extra points.


The Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite earned a 10 of 10 for storage with more pockets than the competition. its storage includes space for a hydration bladder with the only water bottle holder the wearer can reach and a large waterproof pocket for storing dirty or wet items. This pack has two waistband pockets with zippers. One fits an average-sized smartphone, while the other extends with a mesh pouch for storing your water bottle.

The Thule is the only pack with a waistband pocket large enough to fit a smartphone.
The Clevr waistband has a zippered pocket that may not be large enough for your smartphone. The zipper is covered by a flap of fabric that gets caught in the zipper teeth when you try to use it.

The Thule Sapling (above left) also scores well for storage with a 9 and waistband pockets that fit a larger mobile phone and have a wide opening in the main pockets. The lowest result for storage is the Clevr Cross Country with a 3 (above right). This pack has fewer pockets than the competition with fabric flaps that make pockets ridiculously challenging to use.

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 potential backpacks on the market, it can be challenging to determine why one carrier is better than another by looking at their features and design. With several products in our review failing to meet our expectations or that executed their features poorly, we discovered a big disparity between competitors. Luckily, we spent time wearing and packing little ones around so we could determine which backpack carriers are the most comfortable for passengers and parents. We've condensed our observations into details and award winners that you can use to make the best choice for you and your family.


Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz