Baby Carriers for Hiking: framed backpacks vs. soft carriers – Pros and Cons

So you want to buy a hiking carrier for hiking with your baby and you’re wondering which style will be right for you.  In this article, I’ll be breaking down the pros and cons of choosing a framed backpack vs. a soft carrier.

Soft Carriers for Hiking with Baby

What they are: The most popular soft carriers for hiking are Soft Structured Carriers (aka SSC aka Buckle Carriers).  These usually have a soft cloth panel which holds the baby against the wearer’s body, along with padded shoulder straps and a padded waistbelt. They fasten with clips or buckles.

In addition to Buckle Carriers, soft carriers that can be comfortably used for hiking with your baby includes wraps, meh dai and onbuhimo carriers.

“I prefer an SSC. Frame carriers throw me too much off balance because they make kiddo higher than me. They’re just as comfy, and my husband doesn’t have that issue, but I do. I’m also a klutz as is so I don’t need the extra off steadiness.” – Stefani H.

“Quick up and downs for Eli would be my biggest pro for using an SSC on a hike.” – Maria M.

“The frame packs definitely allow more airflow, but I find them to be quite bulky and heavy feeling. An SSC is much more comfortable, and you can maneuver around with much more ease, but can run hotter.” – Krista C.

“I’ve used both, and as a smaller framed person, I just couldn’t handle the weight of my child + the carrier in a frame pack. No matter how I adjusted the frame pack, it was painful. I feel much more support in a Tula, and also appreciate the extra comfort granted by the thick shoulder padding.” – Ashley M.

Soft carriers for hiking with your baby
Climbing Rocks at Joshua Tree National Park, photo credit: Erin Cokeh Halla


Pros to Soft Carriers:

Cons to Soft Carriers

Choose a soft carrier for hiking if:

  • you already have one and love it – no need to fix what isn’t broken!
  • you want a carrier that is very versatile and can be used for other situations besides hiking
  • you are typically doing shorter hikes, measured in hours rather than days
  • you don’t need a ton of storage
  • you have ways to protect yourself and baby from the sun/rain/elements while in the carrier
  • framed backpacks are outside your budget

3 Best Soft Structured Baby Carriers

Bestseller No. 1
Baby K'tan Original Baby Wrap Carrier, Infant and Child Sling - Simple Pre-Wrapped Holder for Babywearing - No Tying or Rings - Carry Newborn up to 35 lbs, Black, Women 6-8 (Small), Men 37-38
  • HANDS FREE BABYWEARING: Keep newborn babies, preemies and infants close while you go about your day. Our unique baby wrap design also supports your best position for easy breastfeeding on the go.
  • SIMPLE DESIGN: The Baby K'tan baby wrap is quick and easy to wear - no rings, belts, buckles or excess fabric. This infant carrier is the no-wrap wrap! Just slip the sling over your head like a t-shirt.
  • COMPLETE COMFORT: Made from 100% cotton, our baby carrier allows even weight distribution, and the breathable fabric is soft against baby skin. Not bulky or frilly - ideal for both moms and dads.
  • SAFE AND SECURE: Our infant holder’s unique double loop design and one way stretch hold your baby securely in place, and the wrap carrier’s natural seated position is Approved Hip Healthy by the International Hip Dysplasia Institute.
  • 5 POSITIONS: Our infant carrier wrap grows with your child – choose the best position from sling wrap for newborn babies & preemies to an upright seated carrier for infants up to 35lbs.
SaleBestseller No. 2
Beco Gemini Baby Carrier Metro Black - Multi-Position Soft Structured Sling w/ Adjustable Straps & Comfort Padding for Infant/Toddler Hip Support
  • ★ The NEW AND IMPROVED Beco Gemini has redesigned shoulder straps that feature a new safety catch! Say goodbye to cumbersome tri-lock buckles!
  • ★ Happy BABY, Happy PARENTS - Beco brings you only the very best in baby carrying quality! This remarkable Soft Structured Baby Carrier is not only versatile with four different carry options, but amazingly comfortable for both you and your little one. That paired with unmatched durability is why we’re the premier choice in ergonomic baby carriers!
  • ★ FOR YOUNG AND “OLD” - When you buy Beco, you’re buying for years to come! Our innovative little carrier is designed to support your child from newborn to toddler (7-35 lbs / 3.5 - 16 kg) without worry. You don’t grow out of Beco, because we make sure that we grow with you.
  • ★ IT’S YOUR PREROGATIVE - From front facing out and facing in, to hip, to back carry, you’ll be comfortable, and so will your child! Not every baby likes to be carried the same way all the time, and let’s face it, you don’t like it either! With Beco, you’ll get a wide range of comfortable carry option to use whenever you see fit, without the back pain.
  • ★ CLOUD 9 - With superior padding in our adjustable straps (23" - 45") and ergonomic comfort support for both you and your child, you can say goodbye to back pain and other hip and shoulder related carrying issues. Best of all, with the added padding by the leg holes, you can rest assured that your little tyke is sitting pretty in style and comfort no matter how you carry!
Bestseller No. 3
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.

Framed Backpacks for Hiking with your Baby

Framed backpack baby carriers


What they are: framed backpacks are what many people think of when they think of hiking baby carriers.  They are modeled after traditional hiking backpacks, but instead of the larger compartment, they have a seat for your baby suspended on a frame.

“I definitely prefer a hiking specific frame carrier. Much more airflow and they have better sun protection (if you have shade) without making it stifling for your little one like the hood on an SSC does in the heat. They also often have more/bigger pockets than an SSC allowing you to pack more things within the carrier itself. It also makes it so that you can safely set your little one down as long as you’re staying right next to them because the frame keeps the carrier upright.” – Kayla S.

“We used to hike weekly and hands down the hiking frame made such a difference. Living in the desert meant we could get airflow and shade with a hiking frame carrier and I honestly love that when worn properly it got the weight completely onto my hips and nowhere else. I never felt like it threw me off balance and for once my son could see! Plus there is room for supplies in a hiking carrier.”  – Rachel W.

“I have a lillebaby airflow ($125) and I just bought a deuter comfort 3 (original price:$300, on sale at rei: $175). Went on a 3.2 mile high w/ serious elevation gain. There is no way on God’s good earth I could have done that hike in my lillebaby. The path was too uneven, and I sweated profusely (which would have made my daughter extremely uncomfortable). In the deuter she was able to be extremely comfortable/stable and even slept a good portion of the hike. I rely on my lillebaby on a daily basis, but for serious hikes, the deuter will be my go-to.” – Amaris M.

Pros of Framed Backpacks

Cons of Framed Backpacks

Choose a framed backpack if:

  • you already have one and love it – no need to fix what isn’t broken!
  • you need a lot of storage on your hike
  • you are going on a multi-day hike, both for the storage and because these carriers are specifically built for hiking and will likely be better on your body over several days.
  • you want or need the rain and sun protection accessories available with these carriers
  • you have an older child and are finding that your soft pack carrier doesn’t provide enough support

3 Best Hiking Baby Backpack Carrier

Bestseller No. 1
phil&teds Escape Child Carrier Frame Backpack, Charcoal – Height Adjustable Body-Tech Harness - Articulating Dual Core Waist Belt – Includes Hood, Daypack, Change Mat – 30L Storage – 2 Year Guarantee
  • SUPPORTIVE & ADJUSTABLE - An articulating dual-core waist belt and advanced lumbar support distributes weight evenly, keeping you comfy on long hikes.
  • TRAIL QUALITY - Share your love of the outdoors with your child! Escape includes a hood and rain shield, day pack, change mat, mirror and foot stirrups.
  • HYDRATION POUCH & STORAGE - Stay hydrated with a specialized hydration station for your water bladder (water bladder not included) and keep your thirst for adventure alive.
  • L76 x W32 x H15cm / L29.9 x W12.6 x H5.9” (folded)
  • STIRRUPS - Included foot stirrups maximize your child's circulation on the trail and beyond. Age range - 6 months (or when baby can sit unaided) to 3 years (or maximum load)
Bestseller No. 2
ClevrPlus Cross Country Baby Backpack Hiking Child Carrier Toddler Gray
  • LIGHTWEIGHT AND COMFORTABLE: The lightweight frame only weighs 5.5 pounds yet is sturdy enough to be comfortable for both baby and adult for hours. The straps and hip belt are comfortably padded and the carrier features energy-absorbing lumbar padding that keeps you cool and secure.
  • LARGE STORAGE AREAS: Storage compartments are large enough to hold the included baby changing pad, bottles, diapers, sweaters, phone, and keys. No need to carry extra bags along.
  • RAIN OR SHINE: The included sun canopy and rain cover help keep your baby protected, cool, and dry during all weather conditions. The safety belts and foot stirrups keep your baby in a secure position so comfortable they will fall asleep. The washable drool pad allows baby to rest their face on something soft and clean.
  • GROWS WITH YOUR CHILD: The adjustable seat customizes the carrier to fit your child’s height. The carrier is built for children between 9-48 months (max 33lbs) allowing you to use your carrier for years as your baby grows!
  • QUALITY YOU CAN TRUST: We Stand by our products, so we backed our carriers up with a ONE YEAR LIMITED WARRANTY on all our carriers! (applies to purchases made after January 1, 2019 by an authorized dealer)
Bestseller No. 3
ClevrPlus Canyonero Camping Baby Backpack Hiking Kid Toddler Child Carrier with Stand and Sun Shade Visor | 1 Year Limited Warranty
  • We stand by our products, so we backed our carriers up with a one year limited on all of our carriers! (Applies to purchases made After January 1, 2019 by an authorized Dealer)
  • Includes a new insulated pocket for baby bottles or cold drinks. A bonus changing pad is also included for a clean surface to lay your child. New comfortable & adjustable, ergonomically, breathable padding for you and secure straps for your child.
  • This child pack carrier is made of strong and durable materials that will last for a long time. It is made of a lightweight but strong aluminum frame.
  • With safety in mind, this new clear child carrier is made of strong waterproof polyester and new safety straps for your child. This carrier also includes adjustable straps to fit your child more safely and comfortable.
  • Recommended for children between 9 to 48 months young or max child weight of 42 lbs.

I hope this helps you make your decision!

For more information on hiking with your baby and choosing a hiking carrier, check out these articles!

The SlingLady’s Survival Guide to Hiking with Your Baby

Baby Hiking Carriers – our favorites for taking day hikes

Baby Carriers for Hiking – why I love a soft carrier over a framed backpack for hiking with my baby any day!

And for more information on Framed Backpacks:

Hard Frame Carrier 101

Framed Backpack Carriers


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