No need to beat around the bush: TheHikingChild would not exist if there were no child carriers. This is the staple product of our website so we give you the goods, and our goods begin with what all of our goods begin with: common sense.
The Common Sense Basics Of Child Carriers
There are three Common Sense basics that EVERY child carrier should adhere to: Safety, Ergonomics, and Storage.
Safety: We are talking about your child, in case you slip and fall (forwards, backwards, or to the sides), or get ‘whacked’ with a tree branch along the route, or scrape up against a rock, or need to go through a low overhang. Sun protection should be considered safety as well.
Ergonomics: Irrelevant of whether you are a Mother or a Father, and let’s not forget what’s most important… your child.
Storage: Will it carry what you need to carry, other than the child, of course?
A child carrier can be the prettiest polka dot pink or the lightest form of light, but if it doesn’t meet these three criteria, it’s got no use to us. Not too many carriers can successfully combine safety, ergonomics and storage in a well-rounded package.
Child Carrier Safety
Safety is the most important factor when considering a child carrier, so what do we need? Simple: solid back and side protection, ideally a backrest that is taller than the child’s head, a good seatbelt harness to keep your kid seated if you fall forward, and a sun/rain cover to protect from, well… the sun and the rain. The legs should be held in with stirrups and not dangle wider than your shoulder width – that way you’ll scrape obstacles with your arms and shoulders and not with your child’s legs. And finally, the child carrier must provide safety while ensuring comfort for the child. All of this is a tight balancing act that is difficult to achieve.
Child Carrier Ergonomics and Comfort
Child carrier ergonomics come second to safety but cannot be overlooked. In terms of parent comfort nothing really new here as far as packs are concerned. The carrier should have an adjustable shoulder harness to accommodate tall and short torsos, a padded hip belt, and load lifter adjustments. An aerated back design keeps you hiking, not hike-swimming during your uphill climbs. While this will likely not be a deciding factor, it’s good for a carrier to have easily accessible water bottle pockets as not everyone likes using hydration packs, and you certainly don’t want to be taking the carrier off your back in order to grab a drink. Unfortunately, many carriers out there don’t deliver.
For the child you want a height adjustable seat so that the pack can accommodate your little one’s growth. After all, you want your child to see the world around them. Certain seats are also better shaped for comfort than others. Adjustable side protection panels or ‘wings’ will allow the cockpit to grow with your child. The seatbelts should be padded and fit snugly but comfortably. There should be no ‘harsh’ elements near the child’s face and torso for obvious reasons. Some form of a washable ‘pillow’ is also a good addition, and very important, the pack should have adjustable foot stirrups to prevent your child’s legs from going numb. Stirrups also give them something to brace against, and they can ‘ride horse’ – not to be overlooked.
Child Carrier Storage Capacity
While third in importance, storage can make or break your trip. Family hiking requires a lot of stuff. Meals and snacks, water, drinks, baby wipes, diapers, a change of clothes for the little one, rain jackets for everyone and maybe a fleece or two, first aid kit, hats, sunscreen, insect repellent, and more. As a family you will split the weight, but the extras are still going to be a big load for one partner to carry while the other carries the child. It’s best if the person carrying the child can carry some (if not all) of the gear that the child requires. The other person can then carry the staples such as food, first-aid kit, gear and other extras for the remaining family members. And what if you’re not travelling as a family, but just you and your child out for a dayhike? Who’s going to carry your ‘extras’ then? So storage, and we mean bulk storage, is important.
But micro storage is also important. Arguably the worst element of hiking with a child carrier is pulling the pack on and off your back, especially when your child is older (as in heavy!!) or sleeping. To prevent this you need as many things as possible within arms reach while the pack is on your back. That includes water for you and your child, snacks, soothers, a hat and sunglasses, and a few other extras like face wipes. A good child carrier should help you in this department.
There are other elements to consider, of course, but these three are the basics: safety, ergonomics, and storage. In our opinion, if a carrier does not meet these ‘big three’ look elsewhere. Sounds simple enough, but you’ll be surprised that in the world of child carriers the choice is not so vast. In fact, there are only three carriers that are really worth your consideration. Why only three? Because, at the end of the day, having gone through multiple possibilities, it’s always one of these three that we will choose for our trips. They set the standard, so here they are.
Deuter is a German company that started out making mailbags for the Bavarian Post – they have experience carrying bulk – to put it mildly. The Kid Comfort III is their flagship child carrier, and it is built solid. The child sits in a cockpit that is very safe and exceptionally comfortable: a padded five-point harness keeps the child in place; an internal frame provides reinforcement, though certainly not to the extent of the Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 (which we present below); cushioned ‘wings’ are sturdy, adjustable, and unclip to make entry/exit easy; and the Deuter is the only carrier that raises above the child’s head. This is important! Sometimes you are passing below low hanging branches or under a fallen tree and the extra height protects the child from your ‘miscalculation’. The seat is height adjustable and ergonomically contoured. A rain/sun canopy retracts from a dedicated pocket to protect your cargo from the elements. The Deuter also has the most spacious cockpit of the three carriers in this article, Cadillac comfort, so to speak. Adjustable foot stirrups keep legs in place, and a stuffed bear comes standard, adding yet another animal to the three thousand that your kid already has.
For the parents, there are ample adjustments to fit more or less all body types. A size adjustable shoulder harness and hip belt are standard and the back promotes air circulation. There is a dedicated hydration sleeve, but the reservoir itself is not included. Deuter also added a rather useful rearview mirror to monitor the condition of your child.
So the Deuter is safe for your child and comfortable for the parents, but it does have its faults (other than the stuffed animal). Because of its height it feels a little top heavy. It’s a poor trait but necessary if you want your child’s head protected. You just can’t have it all, can you? Furthermore, the five-point child harness clips in the child’s stomach area, like a car seat. It is generally difficult to access and next to impossible if the child is dressed in a snowsuit. The Deuter also has the smallest bulk storage capacity of the three carriers, 1,100 cubic inches (18 liters), which can be considered an absolute minimum. In our opinion this is by far the carrier’s weakest point. Finally, bottles stuffed into the mesh pockets are hard to reach and notoriously fall out. They must be carried inside the pack or strapped on with carabineers, both of which are uncomfortable solutions. There should be at least one easy to reach bottle pocket. Please Deuter.
So it has faults, but don’t threat: the Deuter Kid Comfort III is a great carrier. It receives much more praise than scorn in any environment other than a shopping mall, and if you have any doubts take a look at what’s on the backs of people passing you on the trail; chances are good, that it’s a Kid Comfort. In summary:
Unlike Deuter’s mail service roots, Osprey was founded in 1974 with a passion for constructing well fitting performance packs. Most users consider them among the best and the Osprey Poco Premium is the company’s most advanced child carrier. The cockpit is well ventilated and height adjustable. A cushy harness keeps the child snugly in place, and importantly, is the most easily adjusting harness that we’ve ever used – seriously. Foot stirrups keep the child’s feet secure and comfortable. There is a washable drool pad and a fold out baby changing mesh – the latter we could live without. A removable daypack gives the option to lighten the load a little if you find someone that’s willing to carry it for you (good luck with that), and there is a hydration sleeve that holds a reservoir and drink tube (which are not included). Also, there is a very useful sun/rain shade that stows neatly away into a dedicated compartment. Finally, at 2,075 cubic inches (34 liters), the Osprey has by far the largest storage capacity of the carriers in our comparison, which is its mega attribute.
In the parent department the pack offers all the expected trinkets. Shoulder harness and hip belt adjust quickly to accommodate various body sizes, and the hip belt has retractable padding. The pack is well balanced and well ventilated, a mesh (which is an Osprey invention) keeps air circulating along your back. We have heard complaints about insufficient padding along the hip belt, but for most people this is not an issue and the majority of users enjoy having the Osprey on their back.
As with most products, however, the Poco Premium has a few weak points that must be addressed. It has low child back support, which keeps the pack’s center of gravity low but does nothing to protect the child’s head. To us this is a significant negative. The Osprey’s cockpit is generally not as well protected as that of the competition; it’s not bad, just not as good. Furthermore, the Osprey has an integrated aluminum foot stand that is designed to fold-in when not in use, but it will not fold when the lower storage compartment is full of gear. Given that most of the time you spend with the gear compartment full, this becomes annoying. As with the Deuter, a water bottle holder is not included with the carrier, though you can purchase the Osprey AquaStow Water Bottle Holder as an additional accessory.
All in all, the drawbacks of the Osprey Poco Premium child carrier are few and not very significant. It is loved by the vast majority of people that use one. In summary:
Thus far it seems like this article has been a comparison of two carriers: the Deuter Kid Comfort III and the Osprey Poco Premium. There is good reason for that, as these two set the pace for everyone else to follow. However, there is still another company in the child carrier game that deserves a second look: Kelty.
In fact, Kelty is no stranger to either backpacks or child carriers. Many of our readers grew up with Kelty products at a time when modern internal frame pack systems were a distant dream. Their first child carrier was released in 1994, and the Pathfinder 3.0 is a modernization of the long-lived Kelty FC 3.0 child carrier, which was very successful in its day.
The Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 offers a padded and adjustable child harness. It is similar to the Deuter’s – which unfortunately means not as good as the Osprey’s – but it does work ok. However, the Kelty is the only carrier that has a reinforced cockpit – called the ‘V-Bar Structured Cockpit’ – the side panels are reinforced with ‘V’ shaped aluminum and prohibit the structure from collapsing. For example, if you fall on your back the cockpit will maintain its shape and protect your child. We’ve never heard of a situation like this happening but it’s scary to even think about, so this feature is a big plus for Kelty. Furthermore, the carrier has an auto-deploy kickstand with no-pinch hinges. When you tighten the shoulder straps the kickstand folds-in, and folds-out when you release them. This is a great feature especially for smaller sized adults, who have a harder time reaching out to push the kickstand on other carriers. The Pathfinder 3.0 also has a hydration sleeve (reservoir not included), washable chin pad, secure leg straps and a baby changing pad (you already know what we think of that). There is also a removable daypack (again, you know what we think of that).
The parent department is standard practice. The Kelty torso adjustment system quickly adjusts the pack to different body sizes with the use of a simple pin. This is a feature that was used on the FC 3.0 and initially posed a problem – the pin would give in and the pack would slip down – but the issue has since been corrected and works really well on the Pathfinder 3.0. The hip belt adjusts easily. Finally, the Kelty has – that’s right! – a hip belt easy-access bottle holder, thank you very much.
Naturally, the Pathfinder 3.0 has a few drawbacks, like a sun cover that is too large and does not stow away. With regards to the size, we get the intention – protect the child from the elements – but this cover is as overprotective as a ‘helicopter parent’ that will not hover down. And the fact that it doesn’t stow makes it absolutely useless. It gets to the point that we go hiking and the sun cover stays at home, kind of defying the point of having one. Furthermore, the foot straps hold the child’s feet in position very well but they limit movement. We would say that they increase safety at the expense of your child’s comfort, but almost – dare we say it – too much so. The foot straps will become ever more uncomfortable as your child grows. Next, as with the Osprey, the Kelty does not reach over the child’s head providing no head protection. The sun cover provides head protection but it won’t be any good if it’s not there, will it? Finally: storage. At 1,300 cubic inches (21 liters) it’s marginally better than the Deuter, but nowhere near the dump truck capacity of the Osprey.
So, as with our challengers the Kelty is not perfect. Yet despite the drawbacks the Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 has its loyal fans. A lot of people consider it a very safe, comfortable, and durable child carrier, and this may be the reason why it’s been around for so long (initially as the FC 3.0). In short:
Conclusion: And The Best Child Carrier Is?
Have you ever had to choose between a Canon or Nikon, or a Ford vs. Chevy (let alone a Mercedes vs. BMW)? It’s the same with these child carriers: each is a great product that has its benefits and drawbacks, and the deciding factor is personal. In our opinion the Kelty is safe, perhaps the safest of the three with the sun cover on (otherwise it’s missing head protection), but its safety comes at the expense of comfort. We did state safety over ergonomics, but with the Kelty it’s almost too much – the enclosed cockpit, sun cover, and foot straps are rather inhibiting to the child on a long trek. The Osprey excels in the storage department, is very comfortable and has a great child harness adjustment, but it could protect the child slightly better, especially around the head when the cover is not up. A taller backrest that protects the head (like the Deuter’s) would probably make it our favorite carrier. Finally, the Deuter is both safe and comfortable for the child and adult, and if it only had a little more bulk storage space… proving once again, that none are perfect. But a choice must be made, and we consider the Deuter to be the best compromise (of safety and comfort, although NOT storage), the Kelty the safest, and the Osprey as the most practical (due to very good comfort and outstanding storage). So pick your criteria and then pick your child carrier. The great news is that with these three, you won’t go wrong.