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Diaper bags

Diaper bag buying guide

Last updated: November 2012
Getting started

Getting started

Being out with a baby is like starring in your own action-adventure movie: Will you be able to find a clean pacifier with one hand before she starts crying? Can you fold down the changing table in the gas station restroom and set up for business without letting baby or diaper bag touch the filthy floor? The right bag can make you a hero in just about any situation.

It should fit everything you'll need to take care of a baby–whether for that emergency diaper change or a weekend at Grandma's. Besides diapers, it'll tote baby's extra clothes, snacks, and toys. Since you'll carry it everywhere you go, consider one large enough to hold some of your stuff, too. Many feature sections to hold your iPod, wallet, cell phone and more. Many bags, such as the Duo Deluxe Edition from Skip Hop, have specially designated areas for your cell phone, wallet and keys–helping to make sure they stay dry and you stay organized. The Emily Canvas from Storksak features a detachable inner bag (with a zipper) where you can stash makeup or other small items.

You could save money by using a bag you already own. Some parents find a structured tote like a laptop bag works well. But bags designed for hauling baby paraphernalia usually have more pockets--some up to 14. Plus they usually come standard with a washable diaper-change pad, insulated bottle pockets, compartments for baby wipes, and lightly padded shoulder straps. If you want to use your own bag, you can purchase something like the Pronto changing station from Skip Hop, which has a foldout changing pad and a pocket for wipes.

Keep your partner in mind when choosing a bag. One parent might prefer a backpack style to more evenly distribute the bag's weight, while another might like a messenger style. When it comes to fabric patterns, get one that neither of you will mind carrying. If you can't agree on one bag, get a second one--and stock them so you're both ready to head out the door.

Recommendations

Opt for a bag that leaves your hands free, such as a backpack, sling, or messenger-style with a diagonal strap. (See diaper-bag types.)

Many bags can convert into a backpack style. Others are very simple "sling" styles that are great for quick trips. The McKenzie Kids Messenger Bag is actually a small sling style with a pocket for diaper wipes under the front flap. The small Mothers Minder Sling Bag has a bungee cord attached to the front to store extra stuff. The JJ Cole System Bag 180 is a roomier messenger style that comes with its own "pod" to hold a pacifier.

A bag that allows your torso to bear the brunt of the weight you're carrying is better for your neck and shoulders. With this type of bag, you won't have to balance your baby in one hand and a bag in the other. A hands-free bag will also make it easier to juggle a stroller and shopping bags while keeping up with an energetic toddler--that'll be your baby in no time--when you run errands.

You can buy a bag designed to hang on your stroller's handlebar or clips that give you the same option with other bags, but we don't recommend this because the weight might cause the stroller to tip backward.

The right bag for the right price

You can buy a perfectly chic yet durable and practical carryall for $35 to $40, such as California Innovations Rounded Tote Diaper Bag ($39.99) or Trend Lab's Messenger Bag ($29.98). Or you can spend hundreds for a designer or other high-end bag from Gucci, Kate Spade, or Juicy Couture. If you're looking for something less floral or feminine, there's an entire subindustry aimed at designing diaper bags for dads. Ju-Ju-Be carries the Be Hip messenger bag in slate and timber colors, for example. Storksak carries the Jamie bag made of cowhide and big enough to fit a laptop along with the nappies. And DadGear messenger bags can be found decorated with flames and skulls, if you're so inclined. Just keep in mind that a bigger investment might not deliver a bigger return in terms of convenience or durability. And remember that a diaper bag can get dirty and worn pretty quickly.

"Try to consider what your priorities are before you go out and buy a $500 bag," says Mary Carlomagno, a mother of two, professional organizer, and author of "The Secrets of Simplicity." "Trial and error is often what works when it comes to children. I have gone through a couple of different diaper bags, and half the time all you need is a diaper and a wipe. Go to a retailer who can explain the benefits of the various diaper-bag options. Don't invest too much, because you might want to get another one."

Types

There are many types of diaper bags, including backpack, messenger, and tote styles - the three most popular. Most come with a padded mat for changing a baby's diaper on the go.

Backpack


A backpack diaper bag looks like a regular backpack but with extra pockets to hold wipes and changing pads, among other items. The Travel Baby Depot Bag (pictured), for example, gives you tons of room to stash your stuff and distributes the load on your shoulders evenly.

Messenger


The messenger-style bag (sometimes also referred to as sling style) has one strap and can be carried on a shoulder or across your chest. They are often designed with dads in mind, but you can find them in almost any variation, from unisex to floral. Storksak's Jamie bag (pictured) has an adjustable shoulder strap, is big enough to hold a laptop, and has plenty of pockets, including insulated ones for bottles.

Totes


A tote-style looks like an overgrown handbag. Like other bags, some include extra pockets and space for cell phones and more. Some tote styles, such as the Ju-Ju-Be BFF bag (pictured), come with detachable straps so you can turn it into a backpack or messenger bag, or simply grab the tote handle on the top. Other tote styles look even more like large pocketbooks, such as Petunia Pickle Bottom's high-end Cosmo Carryall, made with Italian cut velvet. It has large handles, just like a fashionable purse.

Stroller handlebar bags: A bad idea

Another variation, sometimes called a "stroller diaper bag," is basically a tote-style but designed with longer straps to fit on the back of a stroller's handlebars. Models are available for double strollers as well as single. Some of these stroller bags have clips. Manufacturers are adding stroller strap-on mechanisms to other styles as well, such as the OiOi hobo-style bag mentioned below. You can buy separate clips to fasten any bag to your stroller.

Consumer Reports advises against hanging anything on the handlebar of a stroller because the weight might cause the stroller to tip backward. The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association agrees.

Linda Woody, communications manager for the association, says that if you plan to use a larger bag or purse, you should choose a stroller that can safely carry them in a basket, not on your stroller's handlebars. "We recommend that parents don't hang pocketbooks, diaper bags, or shopping bags over the handles of the carriage or stroller.

"You want to use the shopping basket underneath the stroller and make sure it is low on the back of the stroller or directly over the rear wheels," Woody says.

She says there are so many types of carriages and strollers on the market that parents should look for one that fits their needs. But she adds that many convertible strollers will often have a basket underneath where a diaper bag can easily be placed. (Convertible strollers are used with an infant car seat that can be changed to carry a child once they outgrow it.)

Other styles and trends

Hobo bags mimic the style from handbag fashionistas. The OiOi hobo diaper bag, for example, has one main internal compartment and a shoulder strap with an adjustable buckle.

Convertible bags, such as the Ju-Ju-Be BFF, come with a handle and a removable sling strap and backpack strap so you can use it in whatever mode is most convenient.

If you want wear your baby gear around your waist like a carpenter belt, you can get a fanny-pack style, like the Mia Bossi MB601 Tobey Diaper Bag.

Some sling-style bags are designed to be smaller for quick outings. Like a messenger bag, it has a strap that can cross your chest, but because it's compact it can fit snugly.

Last and least are mini bags, which are made to fit inside something else. They look like a small handbag or clutch, such as the Cross Town Clutch by Petunia Pickle Bottom or the Amy Michelle Poppy Chic Diaper Clutch.

As you're realizing by now, there are enough different types of diaper bags on the market right now to warrant their own edition of "Project Runway." Parents can choose one that looks practically professional, a mod messenger bag, a hike-worthy backpack, a small sling, such as the Mothers Minder Sling Bag, or a tiny "changing purse" such as the clutches mentioned above. Some bags hold only a few diapers and are made for quick outings; others are big enough for a four-day getaway, with zippers to let you expand the bag when you need more room.

Before you're seduced by all the choices in shape, style, fabric, and fashion, think about where you'll be bringing the bag and what will work best for you. An imported Italian leather fanny-pack style like the Mia Bossi Tobey might look chic when taking a walk to a local coffee shop, but you'll want something more substantial for a day trip, when you need to pack an extra outfit for your baby, your cell phone and wallet, and a day's worth of juice boxes or formula.

Practicality is paramount, but a diaper bag can still be a fashion accessory. If you want that silk-covered bag with great graphics and colors, just make sure the interior is nylon or microfiber so you can clean up after the wet diapers and spilled milk. Ju-Ju-Be bags, for example, are machine washable, have light-colored interiors that make it easy to see inside, and are easy to wipe clean. Plus they're treated with an antimicrobial finish. In the mood for a bag with a camouflage design, your alma mater's insignia, or even a skull and flames? It's all out there. You can also easily find something more subdued but modern, like stripes or polka dots. You'll have to look a bit harder for those old-school, sweet-and-innocent designs like butterflies or Winnie-the-Pooh, but they can be found, too.

From budget to deluxe

Prices range from $15 for a low-end fabric or vinyl model to as much as $500 and up for well-appointed designer bags. Here are more specifics about what you'll find in each price range.

The lowdown on the low end

At $35 or less, these might skimp on quality and durability, leaving you with a zipper that won't zip or a bag that is quickly frayed and needs to be replaced. If you expect to have more kids and want diaper-bag shopping to be a one-shot deal, spending a little more (in the upper end of the $35-to-$100 range) will get you a good-quality bag that might last through several years of Sesame Street.

The mid-range

If value is what you're after, midpriced models (in the $35-to-$100 range) offer the best mix of sound construction and generous storage. The best bags can be wiped clean inside and out because gunk tends to accumulate on all surfaces. They also have lots of Velcro or zippered pockets, which can help you stay organized.

High-end, haute, and hip

Many of the top names in fashion have jumped into the diaper-bag business, as they have with baby clothing. So if you want to make a statement with yours, you can. Just be prepared to pay for it. The Addison Op Art Baby Bag by Coach, for example, will set you back $500. The Mia Bossi Maria Chocolate is a couture bag with distressed Italian leather that goes for $600.

You're apt to get a good-quality bag, but make sure it's the type you want and has all the features (such as durable fabric and closures and double seams) you seek. Think washable, wipeable, and waterproof. You might want to avoid a bag that requires dry cleaning.

Features


Do you want a bag with a built-in soft-pack cooler, room for 16 diapers, and a special pocket for a portable DVD player? If you have twins or plan to travel a lot with your kids, a bag with tons of space might be perfect. If you prefer to travel light, look for something more streamlined. Some diaper bags come packed with features, so it's worth considering your options.

Construction

Look for wide, padded, adjustable straps that won't dig into your shoulders. Try to buy a bag that has well-reinforced, finished seams. You want the seams to hold up to use and washing, and not fray. Stress points on the bag should be reinforced with a rivet or zigzag stitching. Look for good-quality hardware: heavy-duty plastic or metal zippers with sturdy closures. Zippers with large teeth and tabs that are large enough to make them easy to grab are superior. Finally, zippers, rather than magnetic closures, can help ensure your stuff won't fall out if your diaper bag tips over or a frustrated toddler kicks it. A flap that closes over the bag, rather than an open-type tote with just a zipper, will have a better chance of keeping your contents dry.

Changing pad


Most bags come with a rectangular changing pad that folds up, fits in the bag, and can be wiped clean. Many pads fit into a designated pocket--a plus, since isolating the pad can prevent it from contaminating the rest of the bag, and make it easier to find. Some pads are cushier than others, but you can always buy one separately. A few models come with a pad attached to the side or, like the Petunia Pickle Bottom Society Satchel (pictured), into a zippered bottom compartment, and can be used as self-contained changing stations.

Handles


The handles of a tote-style bag should be short enough so that the bag doesn't drag on the ground when you carry it like a briefcase, but long enough so that it can be slung over a shoulder, such as the Sally Spicer diaper bag.

Some bags now come with a variety of handles; a short "grab handle" or "lug handle" and backpack straps as well, such as the B.F.F. bag from Ju-Ju-Be (pictured). Wide or well-padded straps are more comfortable. A backpack, messenger, or sling-style diaper bag keeps your hands and arms free. A backpack's shoulder straps should be adjustable for proper fit. A few even come with a sternum strap, which connects the shoulder straps at the upper chest and can help distribute the weight more evenly.

Fabric

There are hundreds of choices in fabrics, from modern brocades to glazed, coated canvas. While the outside designs can be dazzling, make sure you choose something durable. A moisture-resistant nylon or microfiber bag will be more practical; you'll want a diaper bag that can be wiped clean, inside and out. Beware of vinyl bags if you live in a cold climate. They can crack when the temperature dips.

Color


Some manufacturers continue to offer "baby colors"--pastels and light-colored prints. But dark shades are less likely to show dirt or stains. For the interior however, a light- or bright color, like the one in the Eddie Bauer Davenport Diaper bag (pictured) in silver, can make it easier to see what's inside.

Storage

Easy-to-access zippered interior and exterior compartments, which can function as a wallet and storage for things you constantly need, such as baby wipes, pacifiers, and your cell phone, are a convenient plus.

Clear vinyl, fabric, or mesh pockets inside can hold diapers, wipes, sanitizer, and more. An insulated cooler section is great for traveling with your little one's formula or food. Bottle pockets are handy, but make sure your brand of baby bottle and your water bottle fit. Pockets are important because you always want to keep bottles and food separate from dirty diapers.

Weight

Check out how much the bag weighs when empty; a diaper bag that weighs 3 pounds before you pack it will quickly become a heavy load once you add diapers and more. It might make most sense to have more than one bag, perhaps a more spacious one for long trips and a more compact one for quick jaunts.

Brands


Amy Michelle

Friends since graduate school, cofounders Amy and Michelle have been designing elegant and fashionable diaper bags since 2004. Available at specialty stores and on the company’s website.
www.amymichelle.com
 

BOB

BOB (short for Beast of Burden) started out in 1994 making trailers for bikes. Today, the company still makes trailers as well as strollers, and carrying bags and accessories for both. Company website lists retailers by location.
www.bobgear.com
 

Baby Sherpa

Founded in 2002, Baby Sherpa is a designer and manufacturer of gear-carrying solutions aimed at active families. The popular diaper backpacks come in three styles: Original, Short-Haul, and Alpha. Available at Babies "R" Us and online.
www.babysherpa.com.
 

California Innovations

Since 1986, California Innovations has been producing soft-sided insulated products. Available online at Babies "R" Us and in stores through the Columbia Sportswear company.
www.californiainnovations.com
 

DadGear

Founded in 2003 by two new fathers, Dad Gear is dedicated to bags for dads, from messenger-style to courier-style, backpacks, and even vests and jackets. Available at specialty stores and the company’s website. www.dadgear.com
 

Eddie Bauer

The outerwear experts even have a diaper bag. Available at a wide variety of stores and several online sites, such as Amazon.
 

J.J Cole Collections

A young company based in Utah, J.J. Cole Collections changed the bunting market with its innovative BundleMe product. Available at Target, Babies "R" Us, and other retailers, and on the company’s website. www.jjcolecollections.com
 

Ju Ju Be

Started by two people who felt that “no one had successfully acted on the idea that fashion and function aren't mutually exclusive, and no one else had delved into the deep realm of microbes and anti-stick coatings.” Ju Ju Be claims to make “smart bags by smart people.” Available at retailers such as Nordstrom, and online at www.shopjujube.com.
 

Mia Bossi

These handmade, high-end diaper bags are made from high-quality Italian leathers and fabrics, and can be used as a purse, a computer case, or a carryall. Available on a variety of online stores and its website. www.miabossi.com
 

OiOi

Established in England in 2002 and the USA in 2003, OiOi began as an Australian company more than a decade ago. Its diaper bags are known for their quality, beautiful designs, vibrant colors, and functional styles. Available at specialty stores and the company’s website.
www.oioibabybags.com
 

Okkatots

This Utah-based company develops products “for the love of little ones,” which includes front baby carrier system, travel, and shoulder bags, along with accessories. Available at specialty retailers and on its website. www.okkatots.com
 

Petunia Pickle Bottom

Designing stylish baby accessories, Petunia Pickle Bottom was founded in 2000. Available at Nordstrom, Pottery Barn Kids, Neiman Marcus, and other high-end department stores, and at the company’s website. www.petunia.com
 

Sally Spicer

Sally Spicer makes a wide variety of bags, from clutches and cosmetic bags to baby messenger and baby tote bags. Available on the company’s website and at eBags, Zappos, Walmart, and Amazon. www.sallyspicerbags.com
 

Skip Hop

In 2003, inspired by their needs as new parents, Ellen and Michael Diamant founded Skip Hop and introduced the stroller bag called the Duo. Today, they also make diaper bags in several styles. Available on the company’s website, Nordstrom, Babies “R” Us, and Target. www.skiphop.com
 

Storksak

Established by the British design duo Melanie Marshall and Suzi Bergman, Storksak began offering its brand of “fashionable and functional” diaper bags and accessories in the U.S. in 2006. Available on the company’s website and specialty stores.
www.storksak.com
 

Trend Lab

Trend Lab LLC is a privately held Minnesota-based company founded in 2001 on the belief that new parents wanted trend-conscious nursery décor. Their line includes bedding, diaper bags, baby gifts, and even pet products. Available wherever juvenile products are sold. 
www.trend-lab.com
 

Shopping tips

You might find it handy to have more than one diaper bag, perhaps a big, feature-laden one for long trips and a small one for quick jaunts--whatever is going to work for you and your family.

Consider how you'll use your diaper bag

The diaper bag should be your "nursery on the go," says Mary Carlomagno, a mother of two, professional organizer, and author of "The Secrets of Simplicity." So it's worth giving some thought to how it is going to fit with your family's lifestyle. "Will you keep the bag on your stroller most of the time, or are you a driving mom who takes your kid to day care? Where will your bag live? Will you carry it on a stroller, will it spend a lot of time on your shoulder, or will you most often be tossing it into the car?"

Try it on

You'll be carrying your bag for a year or more--perhaps even after your child is potty trained, since it's useful for any gear. So it's a good idea to try on some bags for size, look, and feel, even if you ultimately decide to shop online. Bring some of baby's stuff from home, plus some of the necessities from your own bag, and load up the bags you like at the store. The diaper bag should be easy to use, but comfort is vital, too. Check out how much the bag weighs when empty--the supplies you'll be carrying weigh plenty so there's no point in adding to the load with a heavy bag.

Bigger is not necessarily better

You'll want a good-sized diaper bag. As your baby grows, her bigger diapers and bottles will take up space. But you don't want one so cavernous that you're constantly losing things in it, or bumping it into people. A deep hobo-style diaper bag, for example, might be too big for everyday use with one kid (though possibly perfect if you have twins). And even if you don't really need much stuff, there's a tendency to fill the void. Try not to wind up with a diaper bag that weighs more than your baby and ruins your posture.

Look for (some) extra compartments

Efficiency is the key here. When you need to clean spit-up from your shoulder and find a clean diaper, all at the same time, being able to easily put your hands on those items is a lifesaver. Loops inside or out to clip your keys or your baby's toys on are handy, too. You want to grab and keep going, without having to break stride every 5 minutes to find what you need.

"If you have the changing pad in the pocket, and you keep a wipe and a diaper there, you can just grab and go," Carlomagno says. "Too many pockets can give you too many choices. Keep the bag packed the way it is easiest for you to grab, because half the time you are grabbing it with a kid in your hand."

Back-saving diaper-bag toting tips

Scott Bautch, a Wisconsin-based chiropractor and father of six, has seen many new mothers complain of aching backs. He says badly designed, overly stuffed bags and the way parents carry them contribute to the problem. When choosing a bag, he offers a few things to keep in mind. "The number one principle is, the smaller the better. If it is big you will load it up."

Bautch, who is past president of the American Chiropractic Association's Council on Occupational Health, says parents should consider how the weight of the bag will affect their posture. "I am a big fan of using a backpack instead of baby bag," he says. "I think a lot of times we think our baby bag needs to be soft and cuddly because it is a baby bag, but nothing beats a backpack. Also, the bigger the handle [at the top] is the better; it should be large and big and easy to grab. And the strap has to be as comfortable as possible when it comes in contact with you."

Parents should also think about the patterns they get into when they go out with their baby, he says. Don't get into the habit of tossing your diaper bag on the floor. Instead, place it on a table or chair so you don't have to bend down to get it, especially when you are already carrying the baby. "Think about how you pick up the baby and the car seat and the backpack," Bautch says. "You should drop your knees and drop your hips and get closer to what you are lifting. Get down and start your lift with your knees, hips, and ankles, and then stand erect. You really have to think about the fact that you are going to be an athlete like you have never been, bending and lifting all the time."

Above all, Bautch urges parents not to overpack. "When it comes to diaper bags, I think dads have an advantage sometimes because we are minimalists," he says. "We aren't with our garages or the trunks of our cars, but we are with kids. We can be out for 4 hours and think–OK, I need three diapers and a few bottles! Moms should be realistic: How many diapers do you really need? And don't carry huge cans of formula with you. A lot of moms do that. You don't need all of that. Break it down and carry what you need. You don't have to bring everything."

Diaper bag checklist

Let's face it: With a baby in tow, popping out of the house at a moment's notice just isn't an option. But you'll have one less thing to worry about if your keep your diaper bag stocked and ready to go.

"The key to diaper bags--and any sort of bag that travels--is restocking," says Mary Carlomagno, a mother of two, professional organizer, and author of "The Secrets of Simplicity." "My biggest trick is restocking the moment I come home and keeping duplicates of everything.

"I look at it like a survival kit," she continues. "If you and your baby get stuck somewhere, this will answer all of your and your kid's needs."

Be systematic about how you organize your diaper bag. Don't have enough pockets to stash your stuff? Extra diapers can go inside a large plastic bag, while a backup pacifier can go in a smaller one. However you decide to organize and use the bag, do it the same way each time and a messy diaper change will be no big deal.

Whether you're packing a diaper bag for an afternoon play date or a weeklong trip, the checklist below can help you make it out the door prepared:

  • At least five or six diapers if you'll be out most of the day.
  • A travel pack of baby wipes. (You can buy them in bulk and restock a smaller travel holder as needed.)
  • Hand sanitizer for cleaning your hands before and after diaper changes if you won't be near soap and water.
  • Tissues.
  • A changing pad.
  • Zinc oxide diaper-rash ointment.
  • Antibacterial ointment, such as Neosporin (or generic bacitracin).
  • Plastic bags for soiled disposable diapers, wet bottles, or clothes. (Some diaper bags come with one of these.)
  • A complete change of baby clothes, including socks, a hat, sweater, and/or jacket if it's chilly out.
  • Sunblock.
  • Extra formula and sterilized nonfluoridated water (if you're bottle-feeding). Carlomagno suggests keeping a bottle packed and ready with the formula already measured inside.
  • Breast pads if you are breast-feeding.
  • Snacks such as cereal and crackers in plastic containers with lids or plastic bags, and an insulated bag for cold items such as yogurt or breast milk. (If you want to reduce your dependence on plastic bags, many companies offer reusable food-storage bags and containers. Reusit.com is one site that carries many of these items.
  • A baby spoon in a plastic bag or other reusable bag to keep it clean.
  • A bib or two.
  • Two spare clean pacifiers (if your baby uses them).
  • A book or toy for your baby to hold.
  • Teething toys (if necessary).
  • A small towel or burp cloth to mop up spit-ups and spills.
  • A small first-aid kit with baby pain and fever relievers.
  • Water for you, especially if you are breast-feeding.
  • Reading material for you, in case you have a few minutes!
  • If you're going on an overnight trip with your baby, plan for unexpected delays by packing extras of everything, especially diapers, clothes, wipes, formula, sterilized water, snacks, plastic bags, and pacifiers.
   

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