Baby Carriers for Hiking – why I love a soft carrier over a framed backpack for hiking!

I always thought that a framed backpack was what one used when you needed carriers for hiking with your baby.  My husband and I love to hike, so when my son was born, I duly purchased a big framed backpack carrier for our outdoor adventures.  It worked great when we were doing major hikes, and was essential for our weeklong backpacking trip when my son was 1.


It was so. darn. big!  The frame backpack was practically as big as I was, and it put my son up really high and away from my body.  While that has some advantages, it also made me feel off-balance and vaguely tippy. I *definitely* needed to get the thing off me as soon as we stopped moving because it was not fun to stand around in.

Framed backpack baby carriers
Hiking the High Sierras in a framed backpack

I discovered the Ergobaby carrier soon after that big backpacking trip, and I felt like I’d found the holy grail of baby carriers for hiking.  It’s possible I never picked up the big frame pack again!

Here’s why.

The Soft Baby Carrier is the best baby carrier for hiking

Soft Carriers are cuddlier and more natural feeling

Frame backpacks hold your child up and away from your body.  Soft carriers for hiking are like carrying baby in your arms (or giving a piggy back ride).  I really loved having my baby hug me the whole time we were out  – it felt more natural to me, and more bonding as well.

Soft carriers have a lower center of gravity

For me as a shorter (5’4″) woman, frame carriers feel very top heavy, with baby’s weight high up above my head.  In a soft carrier for hiking, baby’s weight is centered on my back.  This made me feel a lot more balanced.

Soft carriers can be used with small babies

Once my daughter was born, soft carriers made it possible to get out hiking before she was sitting up (which is a requirement of most frame backpacks, and certainly of the one we had).  These days there is a huge range of adjustable soft carriers so that you can start hiking anytime, even with very small ones.

Soft carriers for hiking with your baby
Photo credit: Kindall Harville

Soft carriers can be used in a wider variety of situations

I love having a carrier that can do double and even triple duty. I only ever wanted to use a framed packs for hiking. Soft carriers worked anytime I needed to hold my baby. I used soft carriers for hiking, yes, but I also used them for grocery shopping, travel, running errands, housekeeping, laundry, and just getting things done.

Soft carriers for hiking with your baby
Arches National Park Photo credit: Tamara Motes

Soft carriers are more compact

Soft carriers are a fraction of the size of framed backpacks. This makes them ever so much more convenient for taking lots of places.  They aren’t as likely to be in other people’s way, and they are easier to stash when you are not using them!  Our framed backpack took up half our trunk (this was before the minivan).  This was definitely a pain when we had a lot of luggage and needed the space.  With a soft carrier,  could just roll it up a soft carrier and stash it in the diaper bag when I wasn’t using it.

Soft carriers are less expensive

Even low-end framed backpacks start at about $170 and most of them are in the $250-$300 range.  That’s nearly twice the price of even the higher-end soft carriers (Tula, Beco, Ergobaby etc).  Combined with the versatility of the soft carrier, I think this makes them a great value.

Soft carriers for hiking with your baby
Photo credit: Ashley Romig

Soft carriers for hiking have a huge range of fit and feel

Most people who hike with a soft carrier use a buckle carrier.  This is a great choice and there are lots of these available to fit every body type. You can also comfortably hike with wraps, meh dai and onbuhimo carriers.  You can have lots of buckles, or no buckles, structure or not, and on and on.

Don’t get me wrong, framed backpacks definitely have some benefits!  Any serious hiker (especially multi-day hiker) will want to have one available. But for everyday hiking and day tripping, I think soft carriers are the way to go!

For more information on choosing a soft carrier for hiking, read this article.  Or just shop my favorite hiking carriers.

Related Articles:

Baby Hiking Carriers – our favorites for taking day hikes with infants on up to toddlers and beyond!

The Sling Lady’s Survival Guide To Hiking With Your Baby

Baby Carriers For Hiking: Framed Backpacks Vs. Soft Carriers – Pros And Cons

3 Best Soft Baby Carriers

Bestseller No. 1
Ergobaby Embrace Cozy Newborn Baby Wrap Carrier (7-25 Pounds), Pure Black
  • COZY: Softness of a baby wrap, the comfy knit fabric nestles baby close to parent
  • SIMPLE: No complicated wrapping or tying
  • COMFORTABLE: Supportive waistbelt and spreadable cross straps
  • LIGHTWEIGHT & COMPACT: Easily rolls up and stores in diaper bag
  • NEWBORN CARRIER: 7-25 lbs.
SaleBestseller No. 2
Infantino Flip Advanced 4-in-1 Carrier - Ergonomic, convertible, face-in and face-out front and back carry for newborns and older babies 8-32 lbs
  • Design: 4-in-1 convertible carrier with adjustable ergonomic seat with adjustable shoulder straps and waist belt to shift weight to the wearers hips for a more comfortable fit
  • Wearing positions: Convertible facing-in and facing-out design for newborns and older babies, weighing between 8-32 pounds
  • Benefits and use: Experience hands-free convenience with opportunities for bonding and developmental benefits, whether it’s running errands or exploring parks, there’s no place like close
  • Adjustability: Adjustable 2-position seat, padded shoulder straps and supportive waist belt, designed to fit a wide range of body types and lifestyles
  • Infantino, smartly designed products for happy parenting: We design smartly, we have fun and we're overjoyed when an idea evolves full circle into a product loved and used daily by parents everywhere
Bestseller No. 3
Boba Wrap Baby Carrier, Grey - Original Stretchy Infant Sling, Perfect for Newborn Babies and Children up to 35 lbs
  • Simple, no-guess tying instructions and just one size make this wrap your GO-TO BABY CARRIER for the first three months of parenthood <3 It was the first of its kind and the simplicity of the idea has kept moms and babies together for 10 years.
  • Stretchy and SOFT, machine washable fabric that will keep your baby close. So much easier to clean than a stroller or carseat! You can machine wash and dry this wrap, making life just a little easier for new moms.
  • ERGONOMIC seat for baby, ergonomic weight distribution for mom and dad! Each time you tie the wrap, you create a CUSTOM seat for your baby. Knee to knee support every time!
  • EASY to tie and easy to breastfeed in. It even acts as a privacy shield for nursing moms because you can nurse while wearing it, without taking your baby out of the wrap.
  • Bond with your little one while getting back into the swing of things: you'll be able to tie this once and then wear it out and about. 95% Cotton, the Spandex in our wrap allows it to retain its shape and not loosen or sag as you re-adjust to nurse or take baby out to go for a ride in the car. Just like your favorite yoga pants, the wrap stretches and supports you and your baby.

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