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REI.com is currently running a sale on their selection of baby backpacks. I'm not looking for a product recommendation because ultimately that's like asking someone's favorite flavor of ice cream. What I am interested in are people's recommendations on what to consider when purchasing a baby backpack. We live at the foot of one and near several mountain ranges so do a fair amount of hiking. We have twins so can make concessions on one backpack (better for mom, roomier etc.) if we can make them up in the other.

Are there better positions for the baby to be carried in? How much room for carrying stuff is necessary? Is there anything in particular to stay away from? Are particular bag features safer than others?

Edit
My twins are 3 months old, but were two months premature and currently both are just over 9 pounds. Even if we cannot use the carrier straight away I'd like to purchase two during the sale.

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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

For a 3 month old baby you would need a soft carrier like an Ergo or Beco, not a framed backpack carrier. REI's website does include a couple Ergo models. I've heard Ergo and Beco ones will be usable significantly longer than a baby bjorn or snuggli type of carrier and be more comfortable, and usually can be worn in front or back. Be sure to check the age and weight limitations as well as whether the carrier can be worn on front only or is reversible. Look how the weight is distributed. Not all distribute the weight well. Some are difficult to get the child in or out of.

If you are looking to get a backpack carrier for when the babies are old enough to ride in one, look for comfortable padding, and a fit that can be adjusted to fit you well. The straps to hold the baby in should be comfortable and padded as well. Look for a design that is free-standing when the baby is not in the carrier for easy loading and unloading. Look at how difficult it is to get the baby strapped in and how well supported they are (some will support them all the way to their shoulders, others only to the mid-back). How high will they sit up in the carrier, will they be able to see over your shoulders? Are the straps easy to adjust for fit? How heavy is the carrier itself? Do you need additional storage, or just space for the baby? What age and weight/height limits does the carrier have for the child and/or additional luggage? Are there add on accessories like sun-shades you can get for the carrier?

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I think the most important information is the age of the children.

AFAIK the "hard" seats on the back are not really suitable for young toddlers, as they are "sitting" on a very thin support and if their head is not supported accordingly, it is not good for their spine.

Most important features IMHO:

  • large and soft support surfaces for the child (tissue, no hard and stiff seat!)
  • child's head must be supported (for young children)
  • safety?!
  • ease of use (are you able to put it on and off safely alone?!)
  • "mechanics": how does it distribute the child's weight on the carrying person? (it should not only rely on the shoulders, as this makes carrying very tiring, especially when the child gets heavier, but also rely on the hips.
  • can you see/stroke the baby?

So I'd recommend to have the child on your stomach/breast to be able to see it/communicate with it and it is much easier to put on. I think the models which let the child look forward (while it is "hanging" in front of you) have the problem with baby's head swinging freely, so IMHO it's better if the child is looking to the parent.

We had an ERGObaby carrier like that one and were very satisfied with it. This shall be not product recommendation (even if we think it is a real good one), but to explain the type of backpack I'm talking about.
Good features of the baby carrier:

  • it rests on the hips, so not all the weight is on your shoulders!
  • the lap belt is easily adjustable
  • the lap belt has an extra "backup", so if you open the belt buckle and forget to support your child by hand, it does not fall down immediately.
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I've added information about our kids age to the question. –  ahsteele Oct 9 '11 at 13:29
    
@ahsteele: ok, as they are very young I think you should not use a backpack where they have to sit and their head is swinging freely. A carrier in which they are held to your body with kind of a tissue and where their head also can be supported seems much more appropriate. For choosing your preferred "carrier" see my answer. –  BBM Oct 9 '11 at 14:24
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Those are very good criteria, I couldn't have said it better. I'm giving my +1 for pointing out that the baby carriers the asker is referring to aren't suitable for infants, and also for linking to age-appropriate alternatives. (A manduca is another alternative.) –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Oct 9 '11 at 18:46
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