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


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 your 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:

Soft carriers are awesome carriers for hiking with your baby because they:

  • can be used even with very small babies
  • are cuddly, like you’re giving your baby a hug
  • can be used on your front or your back
  • are easier to monitor your baby’s body temperature and cues of hunger or discomfort
  • have a lower center of gravity which some people feel more stable in
  • are versatile and can be used in other situations other than hiking
  • are more compact and easier to maneuver in
  • are smaller and easier to store when not in use
  • are less expensive than framed backpacks.
  • have more variety in types and styles so you can find one that suits your body

Cons to Soft Carriers

Downsides to soft carriers include that they:

  • can be hot, since your bodies are close to one another, generating additional heat
  • are most flexible for the wearer if worn on the back – some babies who are too small to see over your shoulder complain
  • don’t have the same level of sun/rain protection offered by framed packs
  • have limited storage options for your gear

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

Framed backpack baby carriers

Framed Backpacks for Hiking with your Baby

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 air flow and they have better sun protection (if you have a 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 no where 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

Framed backpacks are awesome because they:

  • hold baby up high, providing a great view
  • hold baby a bit away from your body, which allows for greater airflow and coolness
  • typically have a lot more storage options
  • offer rain and sun accessories that provide more serious protection than provided by a soft carrier
  • can be used as a chair/seat for your little one while on the ground (so long as an adult is there to keep the pack stable)
  • are specifically designed for hiking so the weight distribution is ideal for very long wearing

Cons of Framed Backpacks

Complaints wearers have about framed packs include that they:

  • can only be used with older infants (usually around 6 months or older)
  • carry baby’s weight up higher and off the body, which makes some wearers feel off balance
  • are heavier and bulkier than soft carriers
  • don’t transmit the wearer’s body heat to the baby (this is a bonus in hot weather but less so in cold weather where it can be harder to notice if baby is getting cold)
  • take up a lot of room and are not easy to store when not in use
  • can be cumbersome to put on and take off
  • are more expensive

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

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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