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Choosing the Right Child Carrier
August 26, 2012
From AMC Outdoors, April 2007

Having a small child shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying a hike. Just load the young tyke on your back for the great outdoor thrill ride. Infants are ready to go at six months and can keep enjoying views from on high until they reach 40-45 pounds. Your cargo is precious, so be sure to invest in the right child carrier.

FIT FOR ADVENTURE Most child carriers feature an external frame with a harness system similar to a multi-day backpack. And like backpacks, the most important feature is a good fit. When trying one on, first loosen the shoulder straps and position the waist belt so that the bony knob of your hips (the iliac crest) is in the middle of the padding. Tighten the belt and evaluate for fit. It should wrap snugly around your waist with no gaps, evenly distributing the weight. Next check that the shoulder straps attach to the frame approximately one inch below the top of your shoulders. If not, adjust them up or down accordingly. Tighten the straps and then use the load stabilizer straps (located behind your ears) to lift them just off the top of your shoulders. Lastly, put in some weight (or the lucky child). The goal is to carry roughly 80 percent of the burden on your hips, 20 percent on the front of your shoulders, and none on the top of your shoulders.

SIT TIGHT Each carrier also features a harness system for securing the child. The seat can be shifted up or down, and should be positioned so that the toddler’s head is above the sides with clear sight lines in all directions. Child carriers are inherently top-heavy; minimize this by keeping the youngster as low as possible. The sides of some carriers open up, which makes it easier to position the child and adjust the harness—a nice feature. If the sides don’t open, it’s harder to work with the straps and clips, especially if they get stuck under the kid when you drop him in. Tighten the child’s shoulder straps (and waist belt if present) so that they’re secure, but not so much that movement is restricted. The objective is to prevent a squirming toddler from throwing you off balance.

FEATURE COMFORTS The shoulder straps on different models adjust up or down with varying degrees of difficulty. If you expect to regularly trade the load with a partner, look for straps that can be moved quickly and easily. Evaluate how much additional carrying capacity you want for gear, though be aware that prices start to increase markedly as manufacturers add pockets. Consider investing in a sun/rain hood that attaches to the pack and protects the child from the elements. Some styles come with one; sold separately they cost around $30. A small mirror is another useful accessory and allows you to make eye contact with your child as you hike; some models come pre-equipped with one. Every external-frame carrier also has some sort of kick-stand that flips out to keep the pack upright when on the ground. Some manufacturers attach the shoulder straps directly to a spring-loaded kick-stand; as soon as tension is released it automatically pops into position. You’ll otherwise need to extend it manually each time you take off the carrier.

TAKE CARE Avoid placing a child carrier on a raised object such as a picnic table. An unexpected bump or a restless toddler could cause the pack to tip over and topple the strapped-in child headfirst onto the ground. As you hike, watch for low-hanging branches that might scratch the child’s face and be wary when scrambling over uneven terrain where balance is a concern; an unexpected squirm could send you both sprawling.

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