For newborns, start with an infant carrier. This is a simple, frameless pack that snuggles your baby right in front of you. Most can hold an infant plus some baby gear to a total weight of up to 30 lbs. or so.
For a larger child, you'll want a child carrier with built-in frame that holds the child behind you. To use a child carrier, a child must be capable of sitting upright without assistance. The smallest child appropriate for a child carrier is about 16 lbs., which typically means a child about 6 or 8 months old. If unsure about your child's readiness, check with your pediatrician. The largest child appropriate for a carrier is about 40 lbs., with some models supporting extra weight to accommodate gear, too.
Child carriers are best for travel, hiking and use around town. Because the added weight and movement of your child could cause you to lose your balance, child carriers aren't recommended for hiking on loose rock, climbing, skiing, inline skating, biking or other high-speed activities.
Kickstand: This bar provides a stable platform for loading and unloading your child. Most can be manually extended and retracted to the loading position with a simple tug. Other models feature a fixed-position kickstand (to save weight) or a spring-loaded kickstand (which extends and retracts automatically).
Frame: Most child carriers feature an external frame of tubular aluminum. A few models use an aluminum stay for support, much like those used in internal-frame backpacks, and may offer a daypack option. As noted earlier, frameless carriers are intended only for infants and gear totaling up to 30 lbs. or so.
Accessories: If you plan on using a child carrier only occasionally, you might not want lots of bells and whistles. But if you plan to head off-road or carry lots of gear, consider models with the following extras:
First, adjust the child carrier to fit you. This is the main factor for your comfort. When making your initial adjustments, use books to weight the pack instead of your child.
Before putting your child in the carrier, adjust the height of the child seat. Make sure the child's straps are loosened and the kickstand is fully extended.
Lifting an occupied child carrier is similar to hoisting a heavy backpack (see our pack-hoisting video for instructions). The first few times you do so, have someone help you put it on your back. The steps: Lift the child carrier by the top handles, slip on the shoulder straps and buckle the hipbelt. When removing the carrier, loosen the shoulder straps and unbuckle the hipbelt. Grabbing the handle behind your head, bring the carrier around to your front, and grasp the second handle to help you set the child carrier on the ground.
Some additional pointers:
By Steve Tischler
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Last updated: 01/16/2013
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