Which Are The Best Baby Carriers For Hiking?

The single most important item when hiking with your baby? A baby carrier! Their most important feature? They allow you to carry your kid safely when venturing out on the trail. It sounds so simple, yet when you take a look at the variety of child carriers available, you can easily feel lost. We get it, we’ve been there…

But we ended up loving the baby carriers we used! We didn’t only use them for hiking, but anywhere, anytime. Except for a few easy, accessible hiking trails, strollers won’t help you there, you definitely need a baby carrier to tackle them safely. Whether you are looking for a framed or frameless carrier, a premium baby backpack, an extra lightweight or a budget-friendly piece, we got you covered. So let’s see which one is the most suitable for you and your kid.

Our recommendations are based on our own experiences and customer ratings and reviews at Amazon and REI.

Things to consider before purchase

El Chinyero, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

How old is your baby? This is essential, because the average baby backpack carrier that you most often see on the trail can only be used safely once your baby is capable of sitting on their own. Newborn babies can be carried, too, but you need to look for different types of carriers for them.

Who will carry the baby? It’s usually mom, dad or both. The child carrier should be suitable and comfortable for each person who will use it.

Where will you hike with your baby? How is the weather like there? Do you need to protect your baby from the sun, wind, rain or snow?

How often do you hike with your baby? Do you hike in every season? How long are the hikes? (They’ll likely be getting shorter as your baby gets heavier…) Should your hiking carrier be water resistant?

Do you want to use the carrier only for hiking, or in your everyday life, as well?

What kind of baby carriers are there?

It’s important to have a baby carrier, because it keeps your little one safe, but also because it distributes their weight to your hips, taking the strain off your shoulders and back. These two features are the most important that you need to consider for any kind of carrier. Then there are extras that you might or might not need, and certain types of carriers typically offer them or not.

Baby wraps, slings and mei tais (meh dais)

Mei tai with sleeping hood - Buda Hills, Budapest, Hungary

These are the only baby carriers that are safe to use with an infant as they provide sufficient support for the baby’s neck and back. They’re for everyday use, at home or outdoors, and you can also use them when you take your infant to hiking.

What they have in common is that they’re a long piece of strong and stretchy fabric that you tie and knot around yourself to create a pouch where your baby can sit. They wrap over your shoulders and across your torso, so they distribute the baby’s weight across your shoulder and hips. Since the baby is close to your body in each of these carriers, you keep each other warm – which is an advantage in cool and cold weather, but a disadvantage in hot weather.

What’s the difference between them? A baby wrap is essentially a piece of stretchy fabric without any clasps, rings or buckles. There are different ways to tie it, so you can carry your baby on your chest, back or hip.

A sling is the one-shouldered version of the wrap. It’s easier to tie and adjust than a traditional wrap, but it asymmetrically distributes the baby’s weight.

A mei tai (also called meh dai) is the Asian version of the baby wrap. It has a rectangular body panel with four straps: the baby sits in the panel, and you can tie them around your body with the straps. Just like in the case of traditional wraps, you can carry your baby on your chest, back or hip with the mei tai. It distributes the baby’s weight evenly, but it’s much easier to learn how to tie it securely than a wrap carrier.

Back carry with mei tai - Börzsöny Mountains, Hungary

It’s not possible to decide which of the three is the best in general, and we recommend that you (and everyone else who wants to carry the baby) try them out before buying them. Mums and dads often have a strong preference.

You might have already figured out that our favorite is the mei tai. It was so easy to use, and Tomi loved it so much that we barely put him down in the first six months! We used it during our hikes with him in the first seven months, too – first on our chest, then on our back. It was the most comfortable carrier we’ve ever used, we could easily put Tomi in without anyone else’s help, and we could quickly switch who carries him, Csaba or me.

Why did we give it up then? Because we needed something that protects our baby from the elements better. For colder fall and winter days, we got a warm and waterproof carrier cover which (combined with our jackets) worked well until we carried him in the front. As he got 6-7 months old, we started to carry him on our back, because he got too heavy for front carry. But on our back he was more exposed to wind, rain or sun, and the mei tai didn’t offer enough protection, not even with the extra cover.

Mei tai with a winter cover - Vértes Mountains, Hungary

The other reason was Tomi’s changing preference. As a newborn he enjoyed being tied tightly to our body, but later he wanted more freedom to move and observe his surroundings.

All in all, the mei tai was the best choice for us for the first seven months. We still miss how lightweight and comfortable it was (khm… and how lightweight our baby was when we used it :P).

We collected the advantages and disadvantages below – which are mostly the same for baby wraps, slings or mei tais:

ProsCons
stretchy, flexible materialno storage
they’re the most lightweight types of carriesbarely any weather protection: from wind, rain or sun (carrier covers can help, but their protection is still limited)
easily adjustableit takes some time and practice to learn to tie them securely
they’re typically one size fits alluncomfortable in hot weather
suitable from infant age, and can be used for years (check the exact weight and age limit for each one)
most can be used to carry your baby on your chest, back or hip

Buckle carriers

Buckle carriers are somewhere between wraps and carrier backpacks. They’re less flexible than the wraps, because they’re structured, but they’re more lightweight than the carrier backpacks. Some say it’s easier to use them than wraps or mei tais, because you only need to fasten the buckles, and some say that they’re only bulkier without offering more features. We’re in that latter category.

Since both of us carried Tomi a lot with the mei tai, a buckle carrier would not have been easier to use, because we have had to adjust it to our very different bodies before fastening each time we change. As for protection against the elements, they’re similar to the wraps and don’t offer nearly as much as the carrier backpacks. But since comfort and ease-of-use are highly subjective things, you should try them for yourself.

Though buckle carriers remind you of a backpack, they can often be used both on your front and your back. Some are more suited for smaller babies, some for toddlers, but they’re not recommended for the first few months when your baby needs full neck support.

You can adjust them with the straps, but they can’t compete with wraps and mei tais in this regard. This also means that not every buckle carrier can be a comfortable fit for every person. (Again: try it before you buy it!)

ProsCons
quick to put on (once you adjusted the straps)less adjustable than wraps or mei tais
relatively lightweightuncomfortable in hot weather
many offer some storage (like a small pocket for your purse; but it’s not comparable to the storage of carrier backpacks)not recommended for infants, rather from the third or fourth month
most allow carrying both on the front and back

Carrier backpacks

Börzsöny Mountains in winter, Hungary

If you take longer hikes with your baby in extreme weather, the carrier backpack is what you need. But keep in mind that a baby is ready for the backpack carrier only when they can sit up on their own and support their head! (It varies for each baby, but it’s usually around six months old.) Backpack carriers also have minimum and maximum weight restrictions that you need to check individually.

Why are they so good? They’re designed on a sturdy metal frame, so they keep their shape and offer protection for your baby. You can use them for years, usually until the end of the toddler age. Your baby sits high, so they can observe their surroundings better than from any soft carrier. They hold your baby a few inches away from your body, so they’re the coolest carrying option for the summer.

Zemplén Mountains in the fall, Hungary

Most backpack carriers offer decent storage, so you can pack clothes, food and drinks into it. It’s especially handy if you hike alone with your baby. They’re adjustable, too, for the comfort of the kid and the parent. As their name suggests, they’re backpacks to be used for carrying your kid on your back (and honestly, who would carry such a heavy toddler on the front?).

Carrier backpack with rain cover - Northern Velebit National Park, Croatia

What’s the disadvantage then? They’re HEAVY! I know, it’s relative, but compared to the soft carriers, carrier backpacks are much heavier. They add several kilograms to the weight of your baby. On the other hand, if you compare their weight to the weight of your child, do that few kilograms really matter? 😛 No matter the carrier, you have to be fit and strong to carry a baby on long hikes, and even stronger to carry a toddler.

ProsCons
best protection on rough terrain and in extreme weathermore expensive than soft carriers
decent storage spaceheavy and bulky
quick to put on (once adjusted correctly)less adjustable than wraps or mei tais
comfortable in hot weather, toocan’t be used if the baby can’t sit and support his head on their own
most can be used until the end of the toddler age

Best hiking baby carriers for newborn babies

Newborn babies can be carried in baby wraps, slings or mei tais. Since slings don’t distribute the baby’s weight symmetrically, they are quite uncomfortable and unhealthy for the parent on longer walks and hikes, and we don’t recommend them as hiking carriers.

But there’s a huge selection of baby wraps and mei tais for those early hikes.

The most comfortable & adjustable wrap: Moby Classic Baby Wrap

It’s a traditional baby wrap made of cotton. Very easily adjustable for anyone’s body size, and a very comfortable and secure snuggle hold for the baby. But like most baby wraps, it takes some time to practice how to tie your baby securely, and this one is an especially long piece of fabric which makes the process even more difficult.

ProsCons
very comfortable and adjustablevery long fabric (it gets dirty as you tie it outdoors)
baby is very well supportedthick fabric that can be too warm
machine washableonly front carrying is supported
affordable price

Click to see the current price here!

The easiest to use wrap: Baby K’tan Baby Wrap

Advertised as a “no-wrap wrap”, this one is really quick and easy to use, because you can just slip it over your head like a T-shirt. But this easy construction comes with a compromise: you need to choose the right size, and since mom and dad often have very different body sizes, it’s unlikely that both of you can use it.

ProsCons
very easy to usenot as adjustable as other wraps, you need to figure out the correct size
front and hip carrying positions
machine washable
affordable price

Click to see the current price here!

The most budget-friendly wrap: Acrabros Baby Wrap

This is a simple one size fits all baby wrap made of polyester. But because it’s a one-size-fits-all, the fabric is long and can easily get dirty when you tie your baby outdoors.

ProsCons
unbeatable pricevery long fabric (it gets dirty as you tie it outdoors)
baby is very well supportedonly front carrying is supported
thick, sturdy fabric makes it durable
adjustable, suitable for any body size

Click to see the current price here!

The best mei tai: Liliputi Mei Tai

Liliputi mei tai with winter carrier cover

This is the mei tai that we used with Tomi, and we couldn’t recommend it enough! It can be used almost from the very beginning (it depends on your baby’s weight) as it supports your baby’s spine in all sections.

It was comfortable for Tomi as he grew, because height and width of the panel is adjustable, and it was comfortable for us, because it has spreadable shoulder straps and a padded waistband. Thanks to its long straps, both Csaba and I could adjust it to our body, and we liked how easy it is to secure the baby in the mei tai.

It has a sleeping hood which we used to protect Tomi from the sun while sleeping. It also helped put him to sleep when carrying him in a bright, noisy place, because the hood blocked some of the light, and he was not distracted by movements and sounds so easily.

Liliputi mei tai with sleeping hood

ProsCons
easy to useexpensive
adjustable enough to be suitable for several caregiverslong straps (they help adjustability, but they easily get dirty if you tie it outdoors)
made of 100% organic cotton
machine washable
suitable for front and back carry
sleeping hood

Click to see the current price here!

Best hiking baby carriers for older babies & toddlers

Though baby wraps and mei tais can often be used almost until your baby’s second birthday (check for their maximum weight restriction), your needs can change so that you need to look for another carrier. And once your baby can hold their head and sit on their own, you have a larger variety of carriers to choose from.

Best frameless carrier: Ergobaby Omni 360 All-Position Baby Carrier

All in all, this is the best buckle carrier. You can find cheaper ones, but their quality doesn’t match with Ergobaby.

It’s made of a soft, durable fabric, and it offers extra padding on the shoulder straps and at the back so that it’s even more comfortable for both parent and baby. You can carry in every position with Ergobaby, however, be careful with outward facing front carry, because not every baby is ready for it, and you can easily over-stimulate your baby.

ProsCons
comfortable and durableexpensive
all carry positions (front – both inward or outward -, hip and back carry)very little storage (but this is a common feature for buckle carriers when compared to carrier backpacks)
easy to use
machine washable
sleeping hood

Click to see the current price here!

Best value for price baby carrier backpack: LittleLife Freedom S4

We’ve been using this with Tomi for more than a year now, and we’re absolutely satisfied with it. It doesn’t cost as much as some other brands, yet it offers the same comfort, reliability and features. A great carrier under $200? Yes, it is!

One of the main reasons we chose the LittleLife Freedom S4 was that with 2.7 kg it’s one of the most lightweight carrier backpacks we found on the market. It was also important that Tomi could sleep in it. We could only test this after we bought it and took it to a longer hike, but luckily, it wasn’t a problem. Our boy fell asleep in it easily.

Teno Rural Park, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

The adjustable baby seat and harness, the neck rest and the face pad adds to his comfort – the latter is detachable and washable. Otherwise, you can just wipe the fabric of the carrier if it gets dirty. The adjustable foot stirrups can be useful as your kid gets older.

Comfort is just as important for the parent. (At this point, it’s mostly Csaba who carries our 2-year-old, I can’t do it for more than a few kilometres, he’s too heavy for me.) With paddings and adjustable fit, Csaba can make it as comfortable as possible, and it distributes the weight quite well across his body. The airflow back system keeps his back dry.

Sunshade for the carrier - Julian Alps, Slovenia

It has a built-in, retractable sunshade that is a lifesaver on long hikes without much shade (aka high mountain terrain in good weather). It’s easy to deploy, it remains securely in place during the day, protecting Tomi not only from sunshine but also from light rain. We found it a bit hard to slide back into its place though, it’s a very tight fit.

For heavy rain a rain cover can be bought separately, and we sure needed that, too (you know, high mountain terrain in bad weather). It perfectly covered and protected Tomi from both the rain and the wind. Now that he’s 2, his feet are not covered, because they’re too long, but he wears proper shoes, anyway, so it’s not really a problem.

Carrier backpack with rain cover - Austrian Alps, Austria

Some complain that the storage space of the carrier is not enough. Since the three of us usually hike together, we have an extra backpack for most of the stuff, and we don’t want to put much in the carrier, anyway, so that it won’t be too heavy. The storage space is also enough for our stuff when I take Tomi for shorter hikes alone. It might not be enough for multi-day hikes though, or if you often do day hikes with your kid alone. In that case look for another carrier, like the Osprey Poco Plus.

Important numbers:

  • weight suitability: children up to 20 kg (~44 pounds)
  • weight of the carrier: 2.7 kg (~5.95 pounds)
  • suitable for adult height: 1.57 – 1.87 metres (5’2″ – 6’2″)
  • storage capacity: 21 litres (~46 pounds)
ProsCons
lightweightit’s a bit hard to slide the sunshade back into its place
comfortablestorage space might not be enough for some
easy to useUK based company, might not be available outside of Europe
built-in sunshade
affordable price
several pockets (including zippered hipbelt pockets and a bottle pocket) and toy loops

Click to see the current price here!

Best carrier backpack for long hikes with heavy loads: Osprey Poco Plus

If you often do multi-day hikes or take longer trails with your baby alone, Osprey Poco Plus is for you. It’s one of the largest capacity carrier backpacks with an extra large lower zip compartment. It has a bottle pocket, plenty of other pockets and toy loops, too. (The downside? You have to carry all that stuff you pack in…)

Osprey Poco Plus excels when it comes to the comfort of the kid. It has adjustable child harness, height adjustable, padded seat, foot stirrups and a face pad (detachable and washable). With an extra-wide base, dual grab handles and a locking foot bar, it’s very stable while you load and unload your baby.

It’s less perfect when it comes to parental comfort. It has a back pad made of breathable fabric, a padded waistband and adjustable, padded shoulder straps. But some say that the waistband digs in or the shoulder straps are too stiff. Smaller people might struggle to fit it comfortably.

The built-in sunshade is very handy and easy to use, and it protects your baby from light rain, as well. For heavy rain you can buy a rain cover separately.

It’s an expensive carrier, but it’s good quality and offers plenty of features and comfort. If you often take long hikes, it could be a good investment as you’ll use it for years.

Important numbers:

  • weight suitability: up to 48.5 pounds (child, gear and carrier)
  • weight of the carrier: 3.48 kg (7 pounds 11 ounces)
  • suitable for adult height: up to 6″
  • storage capacity: 26 litres (~57 pounds)
ProsCons
sturdy and comfortableheavy
lots of storage space and pockets (including zippered hipbelt pockets and a bottle pocket) and toy loopsfit might not be so good for smaller people (like 5’)
easy to usethe child leg openings are a bit small
built-in sunshadeexpensive

Click to see the current price here!

Best carrier backpack for toddlers: Deuter Kid Comfort

This is a popular choice among reviewers, and it’s especially great for carrying toddlers. The hip belt adjusts to your body’s twisting movements, making it easier to move with a heavy toddler on uneven terrain. Also, you can load your kid from the side which is more convenient for toddlers than lifting them from the top.

It’s similar to the LittleLife and Osprey carriers in many aspects: it offers adjustable straps and hip belts, good ventilation, face and head cushion and foot stirrups for the kid, and it distributes the little rider’s weight to your hips. Reviewers love how comfortable and easy to use it is.

However, its storage space is much smaller than the previous two carriers in the list, and even though it has a sunshade, it’s a pain to use. You have to bend and shape the sunshade the right way for it to fit into a pocket underneath one of the storage units.

If you need a rain cover, you can purchase it separately. If you want a more lightweight version of this carrier, check out the Deuter Kid Comfort Active.

Important numbers:

  • weight suitability: children up to 22 kg (~48.5 pounds)
  • weight of the carrier: 3.4 kg (7 pounds 8 ounces)
  • storage capacity: 14 litres (~30 pounds)
ProsCons
easily adjustable and comfortablesmall storage space
easy to usebuilt-in sunshade design
side access is practical for toddlersheavy
Vari-flex waistband for more agility and ergonomic feelexpensive

Click to see the current price here!

Most budget-friendly carrier backpack: ClevrPlus Deluxe

It’s hard to beat the price of this carrier backpack, but it comes with compromises. Yet we think it still offers a good value for that price, and it’s the best for the occasional hikers – or for those on a tight budget.

It’s not only the cheapest, but also the most lightweight framed carrier in this list. But the maximum child weight is less than at other carriers, too, so you might not be able to use it with your 2.5-3 years old toddler. On the other hand, it offers sufficient storage and several different pockets.

It has adjustable seat and foot stirrups for the child, adjustable straps and waist belt for the parent. Lots of reviewers found it less comfortable than other backpack carriers though, because the padding is limited and the waist belt won’t be comfy no matter how they adjust. Shoulder straps for the child have no padding, the face bar is not padded enough. Others highlight that it’s comfortable enough for shorter hikes on easy terrain. “Gets the job done, but not that comfortable.” – summarized another reviewer.

Extras like a removable mini backpack, sunshade and rain shield are included. The backpack can be used by a toddler or can add extra storage to the carrier when attached. The rain shield is very basic, not nearly as protective as the rain covers that can be purchased separately. The sunshade is also smaller than the built-in sunshades at some other brands.

Important numbers:

  • weight suitability: children up to ~14.9 kg (33 pounds)
  • weight of the carrier: 2.49 kg (5.5 pounds)
ProsCons
the most budget-friendly framed carrierless comfortable than other carriers
the most lightweight carrier backpacknot suitable for older kids (above 33 pounds)
sunshade and rain shield included

Click to see the current price here!

Conclusion

A hiking baby carrier must be comfortable for both parent and child. Kids might argue, but parental comfort is the most important, otherwise there won’t be many hiking trips. If both parents carry the kid, the baby carrier should fit both of them.

Börzsöny Mountains, Hungary

The best choice for you depends on your hiking habits and budget, and also on the age of your baby. You need different hiking carriers for babies and toddlers. Backpack carriers for babies are only recommended when your baby can sit on their own and don’t need spine support. When your baby doesn’t walk yet, they likely don’t have hiking shoes or rain jacket, so a proper rain cover for the carrier is important. However, it loses significance later when your toddler will have their own waterproof outfit.

No matter which baby carrier you choose, make sure to try it out – or order it with a flexible return policy.


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By Beata Urmos

Bea is the co-founder of Our Wanders. She’s the writer and the trip organizer, and she’d love to help you plan your own amazing trips! She likes hiking, good novels and chocolate, as well. Her motto is: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” (John A. Shedd)

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