I feel like I’ve owned 100 carriers in the short time since Elliott was born. It’s hard not to want to try everything that’s out there (and there are sooooo many different types of carriers out there!), especially when you aren’t comfortable wearing your child in the one that you have. I’ve tried lots of different ring slings, soft structured carriers, and hiking carriers and I’m finally learning what my favorites are. One of my friends suggested that I write up a gear review on the two hiking carriers I’ve tried, so here are my thoughts. Remember that hiking carriers are similar to backpacking packs – they fit everyone differently so it’s best to try things on in person to find the best one for you!
I spent most of last summer hiking with Elliott in a Tula baby carrier. He was ready for a hiking carrier, but the carrier I had (a Deuter Kid Comfort Air that I was gifted) wasn’t able to adjust to my body and it was always uncomfortable. During one of REI’s sales I noticed that the Deuter Kid Comfort Active SL was on sale. The “SL” version of this carrier is made to fit women better, so I decided to try it out! Plus I’ve used the SL version of their backpacking pack and liked it, so I figured this would fit the same. REI has a killer return policy so I knew I could try it and return it if it didn’t work.
At first, the Deuter worked out pretty well. It adjusted much smaller to fit my body. However, it was still uncomfortable after about a mile. There were also some huge cons for me. First of all, the storage on this carrier is honestly awful. There’s only one hip belt pocket that my phone barely fit into, and the main storage container in the back is held closed by a pull cord instead of a zipper so I was always paranoid my gear was going to fall out. There’s no storage for the sunshade or rain cover (sold separately) so you have to make a decision at the trailhead and hope you don’t need that stuff during the hike. But the biggest con for me was that there is no water bladder holder. I’m a big fan of water bladders so that I can drink water whenever I want, and taking off the pack to grab my water bottle was a lot of work. I was fine slogging through hikes in pain and dehydrated because at least the pack fit, but I figured there had to be something better out there. The problem is that there’s not a ton of carriers sold in store at REI where I can try them on, and I didn’t really want to shell out hundreds of dollars for a carrier that might not fit.
Fast forward to this winter. I’m scrolling through Facebook Marketplace and I see that someone is selling an Osprey Poco AG carrier for only $100. I immediately message her while googling reviews, and within an hour I’m the new owner of a very underpriced and almost brand new Osprey hiking carrier! I figured that if I hated it I could sell it for what I paid and just settle for the Deuter. But after a bunch of hikes testing out the Osprey I think I’ve finally found a winner! This pack fits me better and has more of the features I wanted. Here’s my official comparison of the two: the Osprey Poco AG vs the Deuter Kid Comfort Active SL
Comfort: For me, the Osprey wins. The straps all have more padding, and the waistband of this particular version of the Poco uses Osprey’s AG (anti-gravity) technology. My husband has an AG backpacking pack so it was exciting to think that maybe he’d be comfortable carrying Elliott up a mountain! The AG version isn’t sold anymore, but if you’re like me and you’re looking to buy one used you might come across one of the AG carriers. The only con is that I do have some soreness on the front of my hip bones from the hip belt, but it’s better than my shoulders dying on every hike!
Stability: The Deuter wins in this category. When I wear the Osprey I feel like I’m wearing a giant heavy tank on my back and my center of gravity is definitely off. Elliott felt closer to my body in the Deuter even though I don’t really see that in pictures. I already hate climbing steep trails with a giant bouncing toddler on my back, so the fact that the Osprey makes it worse is kind of annoying.
Storage: Osprey hands down! And I just have the regular version of the Poco: the Plus and the Premium have even more storage! There are two stretchy pockets on the hip belt, a stretchy pocket on one of the shoulder straps, stretchy pockets on the sides of the carrier, a big zippered compartment on the back, another stretchy pocket on the back, and a small zippered compartment that’s perfect for your keys/wallet/snacks.
Sun/Rain Shields: Osprey wins again. There’s a built in zippered compartment behind the baby area where the sun shield folds out, and putting it on is super easy. I’ll always have it with me because it’s permanently inside the carrier. I had to buy the rain shield separately.
Water Storage: Osprey wins again with a water bladder holder.
Kid Area: This one is tricky to judge. I can’t exactly ask Elliott for his review of the area, but based on what I can see it looks like the area is bigger on the Deuter. The Deuter also opens on one side so kids can climb in/out, and the area has soft walls (is that a pro or a con?). I think it holds bigger kids that the Osprey would, which leaves me concerned because my kid is tall and with all his winter gear on I’m worried he won’t fit in the Osprey for very long! Both carriers have pillow areas for naps, and the headrests seem to go to the same height. They also both have foot stirrups, although the Deuter ones seem to have a bigger range of adjustments for the foot placement. However, the shoulder buckles on the Osprey are way easier to put on a child than the ones in the Deuter due to the placement of the clips. In the Osprey the straps clip near his chest, where on the Deuter they clip down by his legs where I can’t see what I’m doing and it’s a struggle every time.
Safety: I haven’t tested the safety of this carrier out by falling yet, but by holding the two carriers you can tell that the Osprey is more structured. This also makes it feel like it won’t accommodate bigger children, but at least I feel safe carrying him now!
Etc: I immediately noticed that the kickstand is way easier to pull in/out on the Osprey and I no longer need a second person to help me close it when it’s on my back. It’s the little things sometimes!
Overall, the improved comfort, storage, and water bladder holder on the Osprey won me over. After a month of hiking in the new carrier, I decided to return the Deuter to REI. I saved almost $200 by buying the Osprey used instead of keeping the Deuter (and the rain shield and sun shade that I had to pay extra for), and I’m much happier on hikes now! Finding the right gear for your body is a tough process sometimes, but it’s worth it! Don’t be afraid to try a bunch of different carriers to find the one that works for you. And don’t be afraid to buy used because you can save serious money!
What’s your favorite hiking kid carrier? How many carriers did you try before you found the one that worked for you?