Backpack carriers aren't just for the great outdoors. Many parents also use backpack carriers for less exotic trips to the beach, the mall, the zoo, and elsewhere.
Most backpack carriers are only intended for children old enough to sit up independently, and who have full head and neck control, usually 6 months of age. Although some carriers feature moldable head and neck support for children as young as 3 months, we don't recommend using a backpack carrier until your child has full head and neck control.
Backpack carriers can typically be used for a child and gear totaling 30 to 50 pounds, although some models are rated to carry as much as 70 pounds. The weight of the pack can add another 4 to 7 pounds to your load, so consider that when choosing a pack. A heavy carrier might make it more difficult to carry your child.
Most backpack carriers have an aluminum or aluminum-alloy frame, which together with the waist or hip belt, distribute a baby's weight along your back, shoulders, and hips, rather than putting it all on your shoulders and neck as some front soft infant carriers do, especially those without a waist belt. Although the weight is on your back, "Your entire upper torso is supporting it," said Anne Coffman, a physical therapist and a member of the American Physical Therapy Association.
This tot-tote is a superior choice when your child can sit up completely by herself, has full head and neck control, and fits comfortably into the pack. But don't expect a backpack carrier to make your load light. A 25-pound child will still feel heavy after a while, even if her weight is distributed evenly over your hips with maximum padding.
Most backpack carriers come with a built-in stand that makes loading and mounting easier, but they definitely aren't stable enough to be used as a baby seat on the ground or any other surface. Seats and shoulder harnesses are made of moisture-resistant fabric. Many models have multiple positions for the wearer and the child. Carriers usually have densely padded shoulder straps and hip belts, storage compartments, sun/rain hoods, and toy loops. Parent extras may include a changing pad, a removable diaper bag, a rear-view mirror so you can watch your baby without removing your pack, a removable insulated bottle holder, a detachable pillow so your child can nap on the go, and multi-storage compartments for all the baby gear you'll be carrying on your back.
Backpack carriers can be cumbersome and expensive, though. Many are designed for the great outdoors, and may be more pack than you need if your idea of an adventure is a trek to the grocery store with your baby onboard. Some have a substantial aluminum frame that takes up a lot of storage space. Still, some backpacks are now better designed for everyday use. These "urban" carriers look more like a regular backpack, but still have a structured frame to support your child. They're less bulky than some of the more traditional backpack carriers and are more easily packed for short trips that are part of your daily routine.
Before buying a backpack carrier, think about how much you'll use it. That will help you determine what to spend. We've found that price isn't necessarily a reliable indicator of quality. Consider sharing with friends if you expect to use a backpack carrier only occasionally.
If you plan on longer or more frequent outings with your baby, consider models that will have more storage features, better padding, and a more comfortable fit. As we mentioned, don't use a backpack carrier until your child can sit up unassisted (usually at 6 months) and has full head and neck control.
Before you venture out, become familiar with your backpack carrier. For example, if the directions are unclear about how to secure your child in a carrier seat, use a carrier seat's lap belt, or assemble an accessory such as a rain hood, call the manufacturer. Keep all instructions for future reference. Don't wing it. Unclear directions and a lack of understanding can be dangerous because your and your child's safety depend on setting up a backpack carrier and adjusting the straps properly.
Be sure to send in the registration card so you'll be notified in the event of a recall.
Finally, before doing a lot of walking with a carrier, make sure you're in good physical shape. It's easy to underestimate, but you'll need a strong back, hips, and quadriceps to lug around a baby. Stay within the recommended weight limits. When your child outgrows the backpack carrier, stop using it.
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