There are plenty of unhelpful and unnecessary items of outdoor gear out there for families, but baby hiking backpacks aren’t one of them. If hiking and spending time outside was important to you before having kids, then a baby carrier is essential for carrying these two things into your new chapter of parenthood. And if you’re just getting started, investing in a well-made baby hiking backpack will provide the best piece of gear to help you build a lifetime of memories together outdoors.
One Google search can bring up a sea of look-alikes that can easily deter you from purchasing one of these high-priced gear items. As a mom of an almost one-year-old girl who has endless adventures in mind, I experienced the same choice paralysis that many parents face while trying to discern which pack is best for them.
There are countless options available on the market, many with specific designs and features that set them apart from others, so to see how they measured up, I put five different baby hiking backpacks to the test in the sun and snow, up and down the East Coast, in the mountains, on beaches, around town, and yes, even at a petting zoo. Skip the next section to go straight to the reviews for each pack I tested, or keep reading to check out some of the key features I looked for while toting around the cutest little freeloader, Filippa, in these packs.
Important Baby Hiking Backpack Features
It goes without saying that ideally, both you and your child should be comfortable with the backpack. Features that up the comfort level include a roomy cockpit, soft performance fabrics, plushy drool pads (also great as a pillow for pack naps, speaking from experience here), and airy yet soft shoulder straps. Look for straps that can easily adjust the pack to customize your fit.
Kids have a lot of baggage, so to speak, so you’ll need ample storage space for all their baby gear. Choose a backpack with zippered compartments or side pockets to keep essentials secured and close enough to grab the snack in a hurry. Pro-tip: don’t let your baby get hangry on the trail.
On top of hats and sun protective clothing, a backpack with a sun shade is a must-have feature for baby hiking backpacks. Toddlers and babies skin are sensitive to sunlight and can easily burn, so look for a pack that has a built-in or removable sun shade that provides full coverage on sunny days.
The 5 Best Baby Hiking Backpacks of 2023
Most Comfortable Baby Hiking Backpack: Deuter Kid Comfort Child Carrier
The Deuter Kid Comfort Child Carrier features a spacious cockpit enveloped in plush, breathable mesh, side support cushions, and an ultra soft cushioned pillow that can be removed once your little one has outgrown it (tears!). The proof that it is the most comfortable baby hiking backpack on the market lies in the many drool stains left on the pillow after some of the deepest trail naps I’ve ever seen my baby take.
The large side panels created a cozy, cocoon-like environment that protected her from a chilly breeze. The comfort also extends to the wearer in the form of padded shoulder straps, a back system designed with mesh for ventilation, and an ergonomic waist belt that’s made to move with you as you walk. Its flexible steel frame is lightweight yet robust, and the kickstand can be easily adjusted by the wearer with one hand for easy on/off on solo trips. I particularly loved the large, stretchy side storage pockets that became a catchall for a wide variety of baby accouterments that had to remain easily accessible during our hikes. Some clever features include a low-profile hydration pocket, foot stirrups, a detachable sunshade, and a side exit that swiftly opens with the release of a buckle.
Best Storage: Kelty Journey PerfectFit Child Carrier
This feature-rich baby backpack carrier is the biggest one on the list, yet manages to stay on the lighter side thanks to a svelte aluminum frame. There are two large zippered pockets on the back and roomy hip belt pockets with internal pockets to help keep baby gear organized. On one winter hike with my daughter, I was able to stash nearly all the contents of our diaper bag (including a large changing pad)in a zippered compartment, as well as a puffy jacket and water bottle in the other.
Aside from its impressive storage space, it was comfortable to wear and easy to adjust the fit—a necessary feature if you have an active and curious kiddo who moves around like mine. It was a breeze to simply pull the straps tight to center her weight and keep the pack secure, which made a huge difference every time and felt like I could go on for miles.
Despite being quick and simple to set up, there are a few key details and straps to tighten in the cockpit that can easily be missed if you don’t read the directions carefully. Likewise, the built-in sunshade takes a few tries to figure out, so spend time going through the motions and making all necessary adjustments before hitting the trail with your hiker-in-training. Planning a multi-day hike and need more room? The Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite has an additional storage compartment to stow all your baby outdoor gear and then some.
Most Lightweight Baby Carrier: Osprey Poco LT Child Carrier
The Osprey Poco LT is by far the lightest pack out there—weighing only five pounds—to make light and easy work out of carrying a chunky baby or a growing toddler. The most noticeable difference within the Poco’s construction is the harness system inside the child carrier’s cockpit, which is designed to clasp behind the back instead of in the front. Right off the bat, this was a huge relief since Kelty’s and Deuter’s front-clasp buckles tend to be hard to see and had me fumbling around for a few minutes just trying to get her buckled in (spoiler alert: this doesn’t put anyone in a good mood for a long hike). Much like the rest of the setup, securing her in the child seat with the back clasp harness was quick and easy. Additionally, there are no foot stirrups, which don’t work for my one-year-old, but are useful for toddlers—something to consider if you know your kiddo needs to rest their feet.
It also has a removable sun shade with the most coverage out of all the packs tested (Osprey also sells a rain cover), which worked spectacularly in the hot sun. The Poco LT hiking baby carrier’s lightweight frame folds down for easy transport with a stowaway cover to protect the back panel, but the trade off is a less cushy cockpit. That said, Filly always seemed very comfy even without her plush drool pad. Overall, it was comfortable to wear, and possibly the most accommodating to different torso lengths because of its smaller size.
Best for Warm Weather Hikes: Thule Sapling Child Carrier
With the highest price point on the list, Swedish gear outfitter Thule offers a well-ventilated baby hiking backpack thanks to an open and airy design with mesh side panels to keep littles cool and dry. Although it may not seem like a huge selling point, when you consider how wet and dirty kids can get outside, and the fact that they aren’t able to regulate their body temperature as easily as adults, it’s both a functional and safety feature for warm weather hikes. For this reason, the cockpit doesn’t have the coziest, cocoon-like vibe, however, the ergonomic seat overshadows that small flaw with a low-hanging saddle that naturally elevates the feet to forgo foot stirrups and prevent fatigue.
The Sapling also has a side entry that’s great for getting bigger kids in and out, and an oversized zippered storage compartment that seemed like it could have even packed a sleeping bag or two (or at least a package of diapers). In terms of fit, this carrier takes the cake for multiple adjustments that can be sized and resized to accommodate different torso lengths, so it can stay in the family for years to come.
Best for Travel: Minimeis G4 Shoulder Carrier
Although the Minimeis G4 Shoulder Carrier looks somewhat out of place on this list of the best child carrier backpacks, allow me to convince you that it’s not. Developed by two Norwegian dads, the shoulder carrier sits your little one safely on your shoulders with the assistance of a waist belt and leg straps (with an optional shoulder harness system for 6-10 month old babies) and a backrest for more support. I was surprised by the carrier’s truly minimal design which quickly faded after Filippa was comfortably seated up high in the padded seat enjoying the panoramic views with a smile on her face.
The Minimeis is ultralight and durable but it does take some getting used to, but its placement relieves your neck and shoulders from the stress of carrying a backpack and it has plenty of safety features, including a handheld mirror that gives you a good view of your passenger. On hot days, the Minimeis beats a backpack by providing great airflow to keep you both cool and dry, along with a removable sunshade. The child carrier packs down to a compact size that’s easy to stow in a stroller or bring as a carry-on item for far-flung adventures. It’s not included, but you can purchase a removable daypack to attach to the carrier for storage, but otherwise, the lack of compartments isn’t ideal. That said, it delivers for traveling, short day hikes, and urban adventures with your littles, and at a decent price too.