In my last post, I talked about the pros and cons of carrying spawn in the Osprey Poco. What follows is the article I wish I’d been able to read before buying a frame carrier. It is possible to hike without a frame carrier, even with a toddler, no matter what the REI sales associate might tell you. Regardless of how many miles you want to hike or how many days you plan on being out, it’s worth considering a lightweight alternative, especially if you already have an everyday child carrier that you like to use at home and around town. (Watch out, folks, lots of links below.)
Bloo Kangaroo Kanga XT Sport
Weight: 19.3 oz | Capacity: one spawn
Our SSC has been dubbed “Fa-Fa” by SB–can you guess why?
This is an amazing soft-structured carrier (SSC), at least for me and Stealth Baby. It’s been said before that SSCs are like jeans. They fit everyone differently, and you’ve got to shop around if you want a perfect fit. It’s so true. Several SSCs came and went before I discovered Bloo Kangaroo. I’d all but given up on SSCs by the time I got to try one of these on.
I have a short torso and a small waist; a lot of SSCs are “dad-sized” and threaten to swallow me whole. I also like to carry Stealth Baby up pretty high on my back, with the waistbelt somewhere between my ribcage and my navel, while most SSCs are designed to rest on your hips. In addition to sitting at my natural waist, the Kanga has fantastic, low profile foam padding that lays flat on your shoulder and doesn’t compress the way cheaper poly-fill padding can. The Sport Mesh option makes the Kanga a bit more breathable, lighter weight, and quicker-drying. I would love to see a version that utilizes the same 3D spacer mesh on the shoulder straps and waistbelt. The cotton canvas gets sweaty and takes a long time to dry out.
I was hesitant to get a Kanga of my own, because they’re a step up in price from the more readily-available Ergo, Lillebaby, etc. What makes the Kanga worth it is that it’s a custom-crafted carrier sized specifically for you and the kid you’re carrying. Kristen offers standard, petite, and plus-sized shoulder straps and waistbelts, as well as cinchable versions so you can share with a partner (the regular versions are adjustable, but the cinching versions offer a wider range). Also, it’s made in the US by a small producer. My kind of gear.
The XT is a toddler-sized carrier, designed to fit children approximately 12 months and up. Bloo Kangaroo also offers infant-sized and preschool-sized options. Offering different sizes means that even as your baby grows you’ll be able to find a carrier wide enough to offer knee-to-knee support* and tall enough to prevent wiggly spawn from leaning out. SB has come to like “Fa-Fa” (it has a foxy on it!) quite a lot. Nine times out of ten, this is the carrier he asks for if he wants to go up (at home, I prefer wraps, so he doesn’t always get his way).
Montbell Trail Lumbar Pack 7
Weight: 11.3 oz | Capacity: 7 liters / 427 cubic inches
This Montbell lumbar pack is a little overbuilt for my taste; the zippers are pretty bulky, and I find the top handle and the interior organizer pockets to be unnecessary. However, it’s the best I’ve found in terms of its space:weight:dollar ratio. It’s nicely padded, so it sits comfortably at my waist and I can put oddly-shaped objects in it without feeling them poke through. I’m able to fit a one-liter Platypus, a basic first-aid kit, a 3-oz tube of sunscreen, and a rain jacket, plus my wallet, keys, and phone. Small capacity encourages efficient packing! An added bonus is that the front lash-straps are the perfect place to stow our umbrella when it’s not in use.
Weight: 2.9 oz | Capacity: 3.5 liters / 214 cubic inches
I adore this little pack. I’m always impressed with the build quality and the level of innovation in ZPacks products. The Multi-Pack can be slung over one shoulder, worn crossbody, or clipped around one’s waist (or used as a lid for any ZPacks backpack, and many others). Super versatile and ridiculously light, because it’s made out of cuben fiber. Also, waterproof!
Because this is a pretty unstructured satchel, I use it to haul lightweight-but-bulky stuff. Namely, in my case, a few diapers and some wipes.
euroSCHIRM Light Trek Umbrella
Weight: 9.8 oz
One of the most appealing features on the big, heavy kid carriers is the built in sun-shade. I’ve solved that problem by carrying an umbrella. Keeps the rays of both me and SB and weighs less than 10 oz. Moreover, it works at least as well as the clip-on rain cover that comes with the Osprey, and eliminates the need for me to carry a separate rain shell for myself. (SB and I share an oversized Frogg Toggs jacket. If we ever find ourselves in a really rainy climate, I’ll probably invest in a KinderRain Poncho, which is specifically designed for babywearing in wet weather; it has two head-holes and two hoods!)
My total carrying capacity with this set-up is only about 10 cubic litres. That’s about the equivalent of a very small daypack. This allows me to go on short solo day hikes with SB; for longer trips I rely on my partner to sherpa most of the gear, but I’m able to carry the essentials that I’d need in an emergency. I like to be prepared for those rare scenarios where we might get separated from each other. The benefit, of course, is that the entire set-up weighs 43.3 oz; that’s less than 2 ½ lbs! We’re talking about a 5 lb reduction in total weight over the Osprey, not to mention improved comfort and fit (some people find frame carriers very comfortable–I do not).
One last point: We use “Fa-Fa” (our Kanga XT) on a daily basis at home. It is comfortable, familiar, and part of our daily routine, which makes it an ideal travel companion, as it helps ease the transition into new environments.
*The importance of knee-to-knee support? To be brief, optimal hip development. If you’d like more info on babywearing ergonomics, check out this brochure from the Babywearing Institute. Using a carrier that positions the child in a full spread-squat is most important for the first 6-12 months, but even as the child gets older and heavier, a carrier with a wide base will provide better support and greater comfort.
Note: Some people will tell you knee-to-knee is essential; others will tell you it’s ideal, but that any carrier, as long as it’s safe, is better than no carrier. Frame carriers like the Osprey are prime examples of carriers that do not provide knee-to-knee support. However, they are also not intended for use with tiny infants or newborns. If you are dedicated to only using truly ergonomic carriers for your spawn, then frame carriers are out.
I’m not going to weigh in on the ergonomics debate today, but I will say, little ones seem not to give a hoot about proper support. If it were up to Stealth Baby, he’d pick Big Red every time because it allows him to sit up very high and gives him more room to wiggle around. These days, I keep Big Red hidden in a closet because otherwise SB begs to go for a ride, and I would much rather he go up in something lighter, and less likely to knock dishes off the kitchen counter, a la the proverbial bull in the china shop.