We have tried many different carriers and spent more money than I'm willing to admit. We have had failed hiking trips, sore backs, and unhappy children. After many years of searching and testing, we have finally found the best products and I wanted to share them with everyone. Hopefully this will save you some money and backaches! ;)
Even an easy one or two mile hike can seem impossible if you don't have the proper support to carry your child and gear. There are many things to consider when purchasing a carrier, the most important should be support. First of all, the right hiking carrier will depend mostly on the individual. There are many factors you will need to consider such as price, your child's size, the distance or amount of time you will be wearing the carrier, soft or hard framed carrier, and how many kids you will be packin'. These tips will help you make an educated decision, and hopefully, avoid the mistakes we made.
I strongly suggest carrying infants in a wrap for the first 6 months. In my experience, they pretty much just sleep at that age and a wrap (K'Tan) seems to be the most comfortable for the baby and parent. Please note that you should never put a child in a hard framed carrier like a Deuter until they can fully support their heads. My favorite carriers for hiking with an infant 0-3 months is a K'tan. After that I started using an Onya and Tula for longer hikes (3+ miles). If you're carrying a toddler on your back in a hard framed carrier, I recommend an Onya to carry the infant/baby on the front. It works, I promise! :) Another cool thing about Onya carriers is that they convert into high chairs too!
No: baby bjorn or hotsling
As you can see in the images below, it is extremely important to chose a carrier that puts your kid in the "frog" position (pictured right). If you would like more information on this please read this article.
This is when you start to get overwhelmed with choices! Your child is now big enough to be carried in a hard framed carrier, but small enough to stay in their soft structured carrier as well. You will know when you are ready to get a hard framed carrier depending on a few things. 1. The duration and terrain of your hiking adventures 2. How big or small your child is. 3. If you need to carry another child or additional gear. I use an Onya for smaller hikes and carrying my daughter around town. I also use the Onya when I need to carry her on my front and my three year old in a hard framed carrier on my back. We have always used a Deuter for our hard framed carrier because it is the most comfortable, supportive, and versatile. If you only plan on hiking 3 miles or less and only in good weather conditions, you will be fine with an Onya or Tula until your child is 2 or possibly older. If you will be hiking in a variety of weather conditions and for longer distances, I strongly recommend a Deuter. This carrier has the most space for your gear, baby's gear, and can carry a baby into their early childhood years.
Toddler- Young Child
The only carrier we use for our four year old is this Deuter Kids Comfort II. This carrier allows me to carry him (when he needs a break from walking) and the weight of all our gear. It is made to withstand all kinds of weather conditions with an easily attachable rain cover as well as a sun shield. Another reason I love this pack is because my son's head isn't directly behind mine. Deuter packs are the most versatile, user friendly, comfortable, and definitely has the most amenities... Gotta love that famous German engineering! ;)
I hope this information helps you! There are tons of baby-wearing groups on Facebook so definitely reach out to your community. I know if you join Hike It Baby, they will let you test different carriers and that was super helpful for me. Before you buy anything, you will need to decide what purpose you want a carrier for (hiking long distances/all terrain, shopping around town, or for the occasional hike on a nice day), the weight of the child you will be carrying, how much money you want to spend, and the support/comfort. I have found that spending more money one time on a supportive, comfortable, and reliable carrier (Onya, Tula, or Deuter) is worth every penny. If you buy something cheap, you and your child will be miserable! Eventually you will have to spend the money on something high quality if you are serious about baby-wearing/hiking with your children. If you are only planning on leisurely hikes and shopping around town, you could get away with only purchasing an Onya or Tula. I recommend a Deuter for anything more adventurous than that!