Backpack baby carriers aren't just for people who want to take hikes on nature trails with their tots in tow. Many parents use the carriers for less exotic trips to the mall, the zoo, or just to walk the dog.
Most backpack carriers are for children old enough to sit up independently, with full head and neck control. That's usually around 6 months of age. Although some carriers feature moldable head and neck support for children as young as 3 months, we don't recommend them.
Backpack carriers can typically be used to carry a child and gear totaling 30 to 50 pounds, although some models can carry as much as 70 pounds. The weight of the pack itself can add another 4 to 7 pounds to the load, so consider that when choosing a pack. A heavier model might make it more difficult for you to carry your child.
Most backpack carriers have an aluminum or aluminum alloy frame, which, together with the waist or hip belt, distributes the weight of the baby and your gear along your back, shoulders, and hips, rather than all on your shoulders and neck, as some front infant carriers do, especially those without a waist belt.
Wearing a pack with a padded hip belt that feels comfortable is critical, says Scott Bautch, a chiropractor, CEO of Allied Health Chiropractic Centers in Wisconsin, and father of six. "The majority of the weight should be carried on your hips. The shoulder straps are only there to control the motion of the backpack. You should fit the pack from your hips up, not your shoulders down."
Backpack carriers are a good choice when your child can sit up completely by herself, will have full head and neck control for the length of time you plan to put her in the carrier, and fits comfortably in the pack. But even though your child's weight is evenly distributed by the carrier, don't expect a backpack carrier to make your load light. A 25-pound child will still feel heavy after awhile.
Most framed backpack carriers come with a built-in stand that makes it easier to load your baby in and mount him on your back. The carrier can stand up while you get baby settled and prepare to strap it on. But this feature definitely doesn't mean the carrier is stable enough to be used as a baby seat on the ground or any other surface.
Seats and shoulder harnesses on backpack carriers are made of moisture-resistant fabric. Many models have multiple positions for the wearer as well as the child. The carriers usually have densely padded shoulder straps and hip belts, storage compartments, sun/rain hoods, and toy loops. Extras may include a changing pad, a removable diaper bag, a rear-view mirror to watch your baby without removing the pack, a removable insulated bottle holder, a detachable pillow so your child can nap on the go, and multistorage compartments for baby gear.
Backpack carriers can be cumbersome and expensive, though. Many are designed for the great outdoors and might be more than you need if your idea of an adventure is a trek to the grocery store with your baby onboard. And those with a substantial aluminum frame can also take up a lot of storage space.
Some smaller backpack carriers are 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.