The Best Kid Carriers of 2023: Tested

These seven packs are our testers’ top picks for day hikes, hard-core epics and everything in between.

Heather Balogh Rochfort|Updated October 17, 2022

51 reviews with an average rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars
A woman hiking across a field of dry grass with her child in a child carrier on her back

Hiking with kids is tough as it is—you don’t need an uncomfortable child carrier to make the experience even more difficult. Thankfully, the days of wooden boards and leather straps are in the rearview mirror as outdoor companies have come to understand that families want to spend time together in nature. With modern technologies and materials, the new generation of child carriers comes equipped with greater suspension systems, more dialed-in fits and bevies of features not previously available. But which one is the best for you?

More than a dozen co-op members around the country put foot to trail—with kiddos in tow—in an effort to test the best carriers sold at REI. They hiked 14ers, slogged through rain forests, handled diaper blowouts and negotiated toddler peace treaties to bring you the seven best childcarrier backpacks of the year.

For quick recommendations, check out the results of our round-robin here, or scroll down for in-depth reviews.

Best Child Carrier for Day Trips & REI Co-op Editors’ Choice Award Winner: Deuter Kid Comfort Child Carrier
Best Child Carrier for Overnight Trips & REI Co-op Editors’ Choice Award Winner: Osprey Poco Plus Child Carrier
Best Child Carrier for Urban Adventures: Osprey Poco LT Child Carrier
Most Versatile Child Carrier: Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite Child Carrier

Other Top Performers

Thule Sapling Child Carrier
Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Signature Child Carrier
Deuter Kid Comfort Venture Child Carrier
 

Test Results: There isn’t a single child carrier to rule them all, but the Deuter Kid Comfort comes close. Not only did our big testers rave about it, but our littlest judges gave this chariot two thumbs up too. So to what does this pack owe its best-in-test comfort? An arched profile transitions up to 70% of the load to the wearer’s hips, making uneven terrain easier on adults with wriggling toddlers. “Our son is like a bobblehead, always moving side to side in the pack to catch a glimpse of everything, but the low center of gravity on this pack meant I never felt off-balance,” our Hawaii-based tester said after a steep hike up Oahu’s Koko Crater Trail. The ultrapadded hipbelt felt cushy against hip bones, unanimously pleasing all of our testers.

The plush, removable head pillow had an impressive effect on energetic toddlers: Once their heads hit the soft fleece, it was lights out. “Our 2-year-old fell asleep on every single hike,” said our Hawaii tester after two weeks of testing. And getting disinclined toddlers into the Kid Comfort was as easy as opening a door, thanks to the side-entry panel that eliminates the need for loading from above. Plus, a height-adjustable child seat ensures kids will get sweet trail views at every stage.

There isn’t enough storage for overnight gear, but our testers deemed it enough to suit most day trips. Two elastic side pockets are easily accessible and great for things like your kiddo’s water bottle, and a large stash pocket and zippered bottom compartment on the back can hold diapers and dirties, wipes, extra layers and a down-filled picnic blanket. Two zippered hipbelt pockets fit a trail bar each. It has an included sunshade. Buy here.

Deuter Kid Comfort Child Carrier

Bottom Line: A longtime favorite, the Deuter Kid Comfort stays true to its name with superior comfort and a handful of features, making it a can’t-go-wrong choice for short trips.

Testing stats:

  • Total mileage: 75
  • Testing states: California, Colorado and Hawaii
  • Best testing story: One California-based tester hauled her 7-month-old daughter on junior’s first-ever multinight backpacking trip in California’s Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Test Results: Kids and gear weigh a lot, but the newly redesigned Poco Plus handles the load with ease. Osprey ditched its antigravity suspension used in previous models in favor of a fully suspended mesh back panel that is completely separate from the hipbelt. (It was a continuous system before.) This means the tensioned back panel fits comfortably and breathes well, while the hipbelt supports heavy loads. “Carting a kid up the mountain is never easy—especially when she throws her weight from side to side—but this pack seemed to minimize the jostling and keep me centered,” said our California-based tester after five nights in the Ansel Adams Wilderness with her 8-month-old. (This redesign also fixes the rubbing hipbelt that some testers disliked in the previous model.)

With 26 liters of gear storage (tied for the most in our test with the Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite), the Poco Plus can easily fit bonus gear on long hauls. Two large zippered compartments on the back can swallow an ultralight sleeping bag, sleeping pad, trail snacks and a few extra layers, while a stretchy stash pocket handles diapers and wipes. Two zippered hipbelt pockets hold lip balm and a snack, but are too small for most smartphones.

Every tester in our crew praised one particular feature: the included sunshade. It tucks away in a petite pocket but easily deploys with small tabs to protect your babe from sunrays or light precip. Stiff mesh paneling on its sides allows for a breeze to pass through and makes the side of the pack strong enough to prop up a snoozing baby’s head. Buy here.

A woman carrying a child in the Osprey Poco Plus Child Carrier while walking along a river

Bottom Line: Thanks to a smooth-riding suspension and ample gear storage, the Osprey Poco Plus is a workhorse of a kid carrier for epic adventures.

Testing stats:

  • Total mileage: 79
  • Testing states: California, Colorado and Oregon
  • Best testing story: Our Oregon tester’s daughter loved the Poco Plus so much that she requested to sit inside it—even in the house.

Test Results: You won’t find a lighter child carrier on this list. Osprey slashed ounces from its well-loved Poco series by using a shorter frame and less overall padding in the hipbelt. End result: A featherweight that’s perfect for adventure travelers or urban families moving quickly through tight spaces (well, as fast as one can move with a child). Even though the Poco LT is shorter, the carrier still boasts 6 inches of adjustability in the torso, fitting a variety of body types. (Note: The adjustability didn’t do quite as much for testers taller than 6 feet.) But the real magic is thanks to the foldable frame that allows the Poco LT to collapse flat for storage or travel. A zippered panel seals in the hipbelt and shoulder straps, yet easily stashes away in a hidden pocket when not in use.

Features are minimal on the Poco LT, but the carrier still offers two stretchy mesh pockets on the hipbelt, each large enough to store a phone or snacks. The remaining gear capacity is split between two large rear pockets: a medium-size zippered compartment on top and a larger zippered storage compartment on bottom. “I easily fit extra layers, diapers, wipes, a travel changing pad, snacks and water,” reports one tester after a day trip to New York City’s Central Park. The built-in sunshade easily deploys from its designated zippered compartment. 

Like the Poco Plus, the Poco LT uses Osprey’s new harness that clips behind your child, preventing any Houdini-esque escape moves. Thanks to the shorter frame, the child headrest is minimal (if nonexistent), but the padded face rest is plenty cushy for child snoozes on the go. Added bonus: It’s one of the less expensive carriers on this list. Buy here.

Bottom line: The ultralight Osprey Poco LT is compact enough for busy streets in urban environments yet boasts enough features and storage for a day hike on the trails.

Testing Stats:

  • Total mileage: 102
  • Testing states: Colorado, New York, Utah
  • Best testing story: “Our family travels a lot but frequently uses a stroller for airport transport,” reports our Colorado-based tester. “We found ourselves ditching the wheels in favor of the Poco LT and airport terminals got so much easier. Not only was our daughter contained, but I had my hands back!”
     

Test Results: If we were in the business of reviewing testers instead of the gear they test, we would most certainly give this one high marks: Our 5-foot-2-inch mama loaded the Elite up to its 50-pound capacity with overnight gear and her 3-year-old, then strapped her infant to her front for good measure. The trio trekked nearly 8 miles on the Pennsylvania Gulch Trail in the Rockies with nary a sprained ankle. We’re not surprised since the PerfectFIT Elite easily pulls double duty. The child carrier has just as much gear storage as the Osprey Poco Plus for overnight trips, but it weighs nearly the same as the Deuter Kid Comfort, making it a top choice for day hikes, too.

Our tester was able to fit a rain jacket, a puffy, diapers, wipes, sunscreen, a medical kit and a dozen snacks in two of the Elite's large back compartments. (Her partner carried the rest of their gear in a regular overnight pack.) As anyone who’s tried knows: Backpacking with toddlers can be foul. Thankfully, Kelty took that into account and created the only pack in our test with a zippered “dirty” compartment that seals away stench and mess. Our testers used it like a hamper for soiled clothes or simply to partition dirty diapers away from everything else. The pack has two additional zippered hipbelt pockets, two side mesh pockets and one zippered organizer pocket to hold small items like car keys and lip balm.

The Elite’s adjustable back frame fit our 5-foot-2-inch mom fine, as well as her 6-foot husband. “I could even cinch it tightly around my hips, and that never happens,” she raved after the family’s trip to Colorado’s Silver Dollar Lake. Caveat: The pack’s center of gravity was a bit high, which was especially noticeable when the toddler zoomies took effect. Other features include a hydration sleeve (but it only fits a bladder horizontally, which posed a problem for testers with vertical reservoirs) and a sunshade. Bummer: The kid harness doesn’t allow for side access, causing exhausted parents everwhere problems with coaxing fussy toddlers in. Buy here.

A man carrying a child in the Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite Child Carrier

Bottom Line: The feature-rich Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite has all sorts of pockets, including one specifically for dirty gear, making it a versatile option for type-A packers.

Testing stats:

  • Total mileage: 45
  • Testing states: Colorado and Utah
  • Best testing story: “I found myself picking up toddler turds off the trail with a plastic bag, just like I do with my dogs,” said one Colorado tester after a 6-mile trek on the North Tenmile Creek Trail. “I stashed them in the special dirty pocket and promptly forgot about them when I left the pack in the car for three 90°F days. It smelled like a dead animal inside the pack, but you couldn’t detect even a whiff outside.”

Other Top Performing Child Carriers

 

Test Results: It’s a familiar name but a brand-new pack. While we enjoyed the first crack Thule took at its Sapling kid carrier, we love this second iteration launched in late 2021. Bottom Line: It’s lighter, it’s more comfortable and it holds a bit more gear, making it an especially good choice for smaller individuals needing a featherweight child carrier. Not only did the brand cut the weight by nearly a pound, but it also swapped to recycled, 70-denier nylon for the fabric. Gear capacity increased by a liter thanks to the large zippered compartment on the bottom that holds the bulk of your items, accessible from either side via large C-shaped zippers. A smaller zippered pocket sits on the front of the compartment to hold smaller items like snacks, diapers and trail maps. Thule also added a side-entry panel to the cockpit, making it easier for parents to slide their kicking children into place, but at least you can protect them from the harsh UV rays with the included sunshade. There are no water bottle holders, so your hydration bladder has to also fit inside the storage compartment, which takes up more space. Bummer: At this price point, the most expensive in our lineup, we’d expect the Sapling to come with extra features like foot stirrups for older kids. Buy here.

 

 

Test Results: Kelty cut the junk in this sleek-and-minimalistic child carrier, giving it perhaps the best bang for your buck in our test. Well under 7 pounds, the Signature was the second-lightest pack (after the Osprey Poco LT), but it includes a handful of storage pockets for parents hauling more gear. A large zippered pocket on top and a zippered compartment on the bottom easily swallowed extra layers, water and food, and the hipbelt pockets stashed lip balm, keys and a few gels. The included sunshade neatly stows away inside its own pocket. Trade-off: The center of gravity sits higher in the Signature, so smaller testers with heavier children struggled with upper-back discomfort on trail. Buy here.

A woman adjusts the Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Signature Child Carrier before putting it on

 

 

Test Results: No muss, no fuss and a whole lot of function. That’s the motto behind the latest launch from Deuter, the Kid Comfort Venture. This do-it-all workhorse offers enough storage for day hikes via a single, bungeed bottom compartment that swallows a few extra layers, snacks and a water bottle. A side-entry panel still makes it easy to slide your kiddo into the cockpit and accompanying five-point harness, and the adjustable child seat is one of the easier ones to move up and down as junior grows. However, this budget-friendly price point does come with a trade-off: minimal features. There aren’t any foot stirrups or water bottle holders, and the shoulder straps and hipbelt have less padding than the Kid Comfort (our top choice and Editors' Choice Award winner). Still, we think the Venture is one heck of a value. Buy here.
 

 

Shop All Child Carriers 

 

Buying Advice

Before taking a look at a kid carrier, take a look at your kid. If your babe is still an infant without any neck strength, your family is not yet ready for a backpack-style child carrier. Instead, opt for a soft front carrier until junior can sit upright on her own (and weighs more than 16 pounds). Once your family is ready, there are a few components to consider.

A woman carrying a smiling child on her back in a child carrier

Suspension

Parental comfort on the trail is arguably more important than kid comfort (although a fussy toddler may beg to differ). If you know you will be sharing the carrier with a partner or spouse, consider a pack with an adjustable suspension like any in this roster. You want the hipbelt and straps to fit each carrier, of course, but being able to correctly size the back panel to each wearer’s torso length will help transfer the load to the hips, no matter whose hips those are.

 

Storage

While it sounds great to have copious amounts of storage, not every family needs six different pockets. After all, more features mean more weight, so why carry extra ounces if you don’t need to? Evaluate how you and your family will use the child carrier. If you know you’ll only be out on mellow day hikes, opt for a slim-and-trim design that cuts pounds like the Deuter Kid Comfort Venture or Osprey Poco LT.

If your family loves multiday journeys, snag a carrier that weighs more but comes with surplus storage like the Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite or the Osprey Poco Plus. Your needs are personal to your family, so strongly consider those before stepping foot into a store.

 

Try It On

Backpacks are like strong opinions: They look a bit different on everyone. When possible, try the kid carriers on. Not only can one pack fit two adults quite differently, but kids have strong feelings about the cockpit, too. Avoid any trail time surprises by outfitting yourself in the store so you can ensure everyone is happy with your family’s investment.

 

Methodology

A man carries a crying child on his back in a child carrier

Our 14 testers tallied more than 600 miles while putting 11 child carriers through their paces. Over eight months, our duos summited peaks and slogged through rivers, scaling more than 100,000 vertical feet combined across nine testing states. This, all while handling 22 backcountry blowouts, which our co-op members deftly handled with grace, humility and just a bit of parental chagrin.

At the close of the testing cycle, our testers collected their stories and rated each kid carrier on its parental comfort, child comfort, suspension, storage, durability and features. We tallied up the scores, found the averages and included the best of the best in this guide.

 


Article by Heather Balogh Rochfort. Heather is a freelance writer and author specializing in the outdoors and adventure travel, particularly as they apply to women and families. Her organization WildKind educates and empowers families to find their wild. As a lifelong Colorado resident, Heather loves Type-II fun above treeline where the sun is hot and the oxygen depleted. Things she does not like: rock climbing. REI member since 2008, which she thought was impressive until learning that her husband was a member before he was old enough for a bank account.

Photography by William M. Rochfort, Jr. Will is a freelance writer and photographer based in Carbondale, Colorado. His hobbies include backpacking, bikepacking and skiing with his wife and daughter, but he is mainly known for his rare ability to double-fist milkshakes prior to meals. REI member since 1998.