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

SaleBestseller No. 1
Ergobaby Omni 360 All-Position Baby Carrier for Newborn to Toddler with Lumbar Support (7-45 Pounds), Star Dust
  • ONE CARRIER THAT DOES IT ALL: Grows with baby from newborn to toddler (0-48 Months; 7-45lbs).
  • ALL CARRY POSITIONS: Inward, Front Outward, Hip & Back Carry
  • 100% PREMIUM COTTON: Soft and cozy for the ultimate in comfort
  • COMFORT: Padded lumbar back support and extra padded shoulder straps. Can be used in two ways: regular or crossed shoulder straps
  • PREMIUM FEATURES: Large removeable storage pouch. UPF baby hood for sun protection and privacy for easy breastfeeding. Machine Washable.
Bestseller No. 2
Boba X Baby Carrier - Adaptable, Micro-Adjustable Soft Structured Backpack for Babies 7 - 45 lbs (Denim Rain)
  • ★ Micro-adjusts to your little one AND to you! Fine tunes like no other carrier - from your littlest of littles to your spirited toddler. Comes with padded seat extenders that connect easily to the carrier with zippers and Velcro. These wings make the Boba X’s seat 53 cm wide!
  • ★ International Hip Dysplasia Institute Certified Hip Healthy. The Boba X offers knee to knee support for both your fresh newborn and your walking toddler: achieves the optimal seat with one smooth slide and locks in place with a flat press of your hand.
  • ★ Provides the total coverage of a wrap or sling but has the ease of a buckle carrier. It's also soft and machine washable!
  • ★ Secret zippered pocket for hood storage and an iPhone pocked on the waistbelt: the hood pocket can also be used for extra neck support. Just snap the hood in using the smaller settings to cinch that are or roll it and zip it to form a pillow.
  • ★ Secret zippered pocket for hood storage and an iPhone pocked on the waistbelt: the hood pocket can also be used for extra neck support. Just snap the hood in using the smaller settings to cinch that are or roll it and zip it to form a pillow.
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
QINGTIAN Carrier Backpack Premium Comfort Lightweight Framed Baby Hiking Backpack Convertible Carrier for Hiking,Housework with Kids
  • ☀Infants 7 months to 5 years old. The maximum load is 20kg/60lbs
  • ☀Carry baby-facing in narrow seat for newborns, facing in wide seat for older babies, facing out narrow seat for babies with head control and back carry wide seat for older babies and toddlers
  • ☀Multiple load-relief system with removable backpack and water cup bag. High-strength external hanging system device, high-strength handle. Luxury cockpit with breathable front and rear pillows, adjustable cockpit space, adjustable cushion height, with adjustable pedals. With a waist Bag to hold the mobile phone.
  • ☀Bearing is more comfortable and labor-saving, which is in line with ergonomic system. Equipped with waterproof and dust-proof rain cover.
  • ☀Our baby back pack carrier is made from premium hiking materials that will stand the test of time. The main material is 600D Ripstop Polyester material that is strong and will look as good. The kick-out stand is made from strong lightweight aluminium.
Bestseller No. 2
ClevrPlus Urban Explorer Child Carrier Hiking Baby Backpack, Olive Green
  • Lightweight & Comfortable:The lightweight frame is lightweight 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. Waist band extends to approximately 60".
  • Extra Large Storage Areas:The removeable diaper bag is perfect to add extra storage to carrier, and can be taken off of carrier to take extra weight off the pack. Storage compartments are large enough to hold the included baby changing pad, bottles, diapers, sweaters, phone, keys and the included baby changing pad.
  • 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 42lbs) 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
Baby Carrier New Born to Toddler –Infant & Child Carrier with Lumbar Support for Men & Women –Baby Hiking Backpack Carrier-All Carry Positions Baby Holder & Sling Carrier - Cotton (Khaki Green)
  • 💖【Made Of 100% Cotton 】: TotCraft all in one baby carrier is made with love from non toxic materials guaranteed to be free from harmful and allergic substances that is tested according to CPSC/CPSIA/ASTM regulations.
  • 😻↙Thoughtful Design ↙: Tuck away baby hood for sunny or rainy days , privacy and easy breastfeeding.Also supports baby in an ergonomic natural "M" position in all carry positions .
  • 💕►Fits All Sizes ◄: Fully adjustable size and seat width.
  • 【Comfort & Safety 】: Lumbar Support Provided to protect the parent from long carrying times and meticulously crafted shoulder straps to provide ergonomic feeling to the Parent .
  • ☃ All Carrying positions & Machine Washable : Grows with your baby from 3+month and up.

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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