Tips for Buying and Using Child Carriers
Baby and child carriers offer parents more flexibility in terms of where they can go with their baby or young child. With the help of a good front or back carrier you can cover ground that even the best all terrain pram would not manage. And once they are getting beyond a pram, you can manage longer or more difficult walks by using your back carrier interspaced with periods of walking for an enjoyable day out.
Our customers also tell us that child carriers are particularly good for dog owners once a baby comes along. They allow parents to remain ‘hands-free’ to deal with the dog and allow them to maintain their usual walking routes that often a pram would not manage.
Front carriers are used either from birth or from a few weeks old depending upon the model, until the baby is at least 6 months old and can support their own head. You can still continue to use a front carrier up until the recommended maximum age/weight or you can change over to a back carrier at this point. Choosing a front carrier with a two way facing option allows an older baby to look around when you are out and about.
Back carriers can be used from around 6 months of age provided your baby can support his or her own head. There are variations between the different child carriers but most models will take a child up to 20kg (up to 3-4 years old, depending on the individual child). This is a common query that we get asked because young babies have a tendency to pile on the pounds early on and it is a concern that they will reach the weight limits within a relatively short period of time. However, once babies start to run around their weight gain tends to settle and we have found that by the time a child is coming anywhere near to the weight or age limits for a child carrier most parents don’t want to be carrying their child anyway. Time to invest in a good pair of walking boots instead!
Some back carriers are free standing, remaining stable on their frame to enable easy loading and unloading. This can also be an advantage for a quick snack stop or break where you don’t want to get your child in and out of the baby carrier (but still never leave your child unattended in the carrier). Other customers prefer the greater storage and the enclosed frame of non-freestanding models. Other models combine a little of both principles and are not free-standing but have a foot anchor point to stabilize the carrier whilst loading and unloading. However, the most important factor has to be the comfort of the baby carrier and the features that will be most useful to you, as the baby carrier will spend most of its time on your back rather than on the ground.
Choosing a child carrier with a height adjustable harness helps with getting a good fit and allows people of different heights to use the same carrier. It really pays to read the instructions and take time to get the best strap settings for you to ensure your child carrier is comfortable in use. Once you have experimented and got your fit correct, you then only need to occasionally adjust the seat height for your growing child, and your carrier should be comfortable each time you use it. If two of you are using the carrier, make sure that you remember your strap setting to enable quick adjustments to be made when you swap over. Some child carriers have colour co-ordinated straps to make this process easier.
Both front and back child carriers should have a good harness system. This should be supportive and should distribute the weight down onto the hips and not the shoulders. Again, experiment with the harness to get the correct fit. Even a baby carrier with an excellent harness will be uncomfortable to wear if the straps are not set correctly. The waist belt should be wide and supportive, and you should ensure that it is securely fastened to rest with the lower edge just on your hips. You should feel that it is your hips taking the majority of the weight rather than your shoulders. If the waist belt is positioned too low it will slip down on your hips and the weight will be felt on your shoulders. This is one of the commonest mistakes that we see and it is amazing the difference just shortening the back length to higher the waist belt can make. Most child back carriers will also have a sternum strap which will provide additional support.
Plenty of pouches and pockets mean that you can take everything you need out with you and allows for ‘hands free’ ease of use. Removable pouches or bags are very useful on baby and child carriers for storing a supply of nappies, bottles or breast pads. These can then be removed and taken where you don’t want to take the carrier. For example, you can leave your child carrier in the car when you go for your pub lunch after your hike. These zip-off bags are great for daily use as a baby changing bag as they can be kept stocked up and then just be zipped back onto the baby carrier when you go out for a walk.
Accessories for your Child Carrier
A sun shade is a pretty vital accessory, even in this country. Whilst in the back carrier your child is fully exposed to the sun, even on seemingly cloudy days. Many child carriers now come with a sunshade included, but others require you to buy this as an additional feature. We also try to make this easier with our package offers that include a sunshade when the baby carrier does not come with one as standard.
A raincover can be in the form of an enclosed style or as a poncho type jacket that fits over both your child and your back carrier. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. The enclosed styles, which usually fit over the sunshade, offer more shelter from driving rain but can sometimes impede all-round vision for your child. A poncho-style still allows your child to look all around and feel less enclosed, but on a windy rainy day they may get a wet face. This style can also take a little longer to put on if you have the sunshade in place as this needs to be removed to put the jacket-style raincover on your child. Often the enclosed style is preferred for a young baby to ensure full protection with progression onto a jacket-style once they get older if required.
Some models will come with stirrups already attached and included within the price. On other models these will need to be purchased as additional extras. Stirrups are not really used until your child is past the baby months. After this time stirrups become really useful by helping your child to be more comfortable for longer periods in the carrier as they are not sat in the seat with legs dangling. They assist your child to adjust their own position in the baby carrier and also re-distribute their own weight from their groin area to their legs as and when required.
A good tip for back carriers is to buy a small hand mirror to keep in your jacket pocket, or one of the more accessible pockets of the carrier. You can then check on your child, and whether they still have their hat on, without needing to stop and remove the carrier. One of the good things about a back carrier is that often children are lulled to sleep with the gentle side to side swaying as you walk. It can be quite disconcerting not being able to periodically check on them when suddenly everything has gone quiet. The use of the mirror can be very reassuring and allows you to keep on enjoying your walk without having to stop and check your child. Some child carrier manufacturers have picked up on this and now provide a mirror with the carrier, usually located in a small pocket in the waist belt.
Some manufacturers of child back carriers also make neck cushions that are available as optional extras. These are excellent for when an older child falls asleep in the carrier as it will support their head as you walk along. It is good idea to get one that attaches to the carrier to avoid having to back-track to find it. Some back carriers have a small pillow or comfort pad for your child to rest their head forward on when they fall asleep. This is most useful for babies and younger children who are quite low in the carrier and tend to rest their head forward when they fall asleep.
A child carrier can be really useful for family holidays abroad instead of a bulky pram. Most will go in a suitcase to go with main luggage. However, other models are also now small enough to pass as hand luggage (check with each airline though for their limits). This means that it can be used around the airport instead of carrying your child. Some of this kind now come with a dedicated bag or a bag can be purchased as an additional optional extra.
Little Trekkers’ Staff Experience of What to Pack in Your Child Carrier
- A compact lightweight changing mat to put on the ground for unexpected nappy changes. A travel towel is really handy for this purpose as it is so compact and has many other uses. A mat with a waterproof backing is ideal, but even a square of fleece or a tea-towel will do.
- Nappies and wipes, and also something to take dirty nappies home with you.
- A spare change of clothing in case of sudden downpours or nappy accidents.
- Sunscreen. Even on a cloudy day your child will be exposed to the sun. A sunshade helps, but sunscreen will also ensure protection from any reflected sun rays.
- A sun hat/warm hat depending on the weather.
- In cold weather adequate warm clothing is required. We tend to get warm as we are walking and are therefore not a reliable indicator of how cold it may be for a child who is essentially static in the child carrier. This is particularly the case for exposed areas such as head, hands and feet. Babies in particular are vulnerable, especially to heat loss through their head. Fleece-lined waterproof bootees, gloves and a warm hat are a common addition to child carrier purchases.
- Waterproofs. A splashsuit is great for babies and young children in a child carrier. They are well protected from the weather whilst in the carrier and well protected from the puddles and mud when let out for a run around. Fleece-lined or down versions add extra warmth during colder weather.
- A packed lunch. Depending upon the age of your child, a bought jar or home-made puree (don’t forget your spoon), or baked beans in a flask. Thermos, Stanley & Aladdin do some great products for transporting food for picnics. Try filled pitta bread or tortilla wraps sandwiches – they don’t tend to get as soggy and squashed as traditional sandwiches in the bottom pocket of the carrier.
- Drinks. A plentiful supply of fluids is essential, particularly on a hot day. In cold weather, a flask of warm water or juice is very well received on a rest break.
- Snacks. Ideal items are small boxes of raisins or packets of dried fruit, bananas, bread-sticks and rice cakes.
- Mobile phone, especially if you are going off the beaten track. Make sure it is fully charged and topped up.
- A blanket. Fleece blankets tend to be light-weight and pack down quite small.
- Toys. Attach a couple of toys to the carrier loops.
- A compact camera for family snapshots.
- First Aid Kit. If you are going on a longer hike, or to more remote areas, a first aid kit is a good idea.
- Don’t forget all the usual equipment for yourself … map, compass, food, drinks, appropriate clothing etc. …
Still undecided about which carrier to choose? Well if you take a trip to our showroom at Millhouse Green, near Penistone, all our carriers are available to try on and our friendly staff there can answer all your questions to help you pick the one that’s right for you.
©Little Trekkers Limited 2005. Revised and updated 2013. Information compiled from manufacturer recommendations and the experience of Little Trekkers' staff. No liability can be accepted by Little Trekkers Limited.