Types of carriers - Framed Backpack Carriers

These carriers are widely available in highstreet shops and outdoor shops and usually recommended from 6 months onwards.

They basically resemble a typical hiking backpack, but instead of a big compartment they have a seat for your baby and often a small storage compartment for nappies, food, drinks etc. They are easy to handle and appeal to many parents.

But the questions are:
Are they really ideal for carrying your baby?
What's important if you decide to use one?

I've never used one personally because I never felt the need (I use different carriers to carry my children on the back), but I found this really comprehensive posting from a Swiss babywearing consultant and she allowed me to translate it.
(source: http://www.stillen-und-tragen.de/forum/viewtopic.php?f=103&t=45725)


If we consider baby's anatomy and the criteria of a good carrier we realise quickly that a baby's position in a framed carrier is not quite ideal.
Here's a photo of a 11-month-old girl in a backpack carrier:

You can see that the legs are hanging down and that there's no M-position (= knees higher than the bum). Also neither the upper back nor the head are supported, even though the straps at the carrier's side are tightened and thus preventing the baby from moving too much.
You can also notice that the child has to be dressed quite warmly when it's cold outside. The parent is moving which keeps him/her warm, but for the baby it's like sitting in the cold in a chairlift. Imagine how quickly children can be freezing in a carrier like this - and in fact there have been reports of children getting frostbite whilst being carried. So if you use a carrier in the winter please be aware that your child may be cold even when you're not.

Considering all this framed backpack carriers are not the ideal carriers under most circumstances. If you want to go hiking it's better for your child to use a more suitable carrier and let your partner carry a backpack with all those other things you need.

However, when you need to carry a lot of things, for example because you want to go on a longer hike and need equipment and clothes for several days, a framed backpack carrier can be very useful.

So what's important if you decide to use one?

  1. The child should be able to sit up by herself, which means getting into a sitting position by herself. This makes sure that her back is strong enough to compensate lack of support in a carrier.
  2. Use a framed backpack carrier only if you need to. Use an anatomically more ideal carrier as main carrier for your baby. For an older baby and toddler mei tais and soft structured carriers are good, or a woven wrap with the child on your back.

Choosing a framed backpack carrier

  1. Check that there is enough padding - both for baby and parent. The frame should be well padded because the little ones often sleep in a carrier and of course you wouldn't want them to feel uncomfortable. Sometimes there is an extra cushion or similar available to support a sleeping child.
  2. A sun-canopy/windshield protects your child from the weather. Here you can see that it's quite handy to have one:

  3. On the pic you can also see that there's a harness. Always buckle your child into the carrier so she cannot fall out when you bend over or stumble and fall.
  4. Choose a carrier which can stand by itself, especially when the child is sitting in the carrier. A firm stand is very useful to get your child in or out of the carrier.

    Here's a lovely picture of little Eva Sophia on the top of Monte Zucchero, in a backpack carrier which is standing firmly. Of course you should never let your child unattended whilst in the carrier.

  5. Choose a carrier with removable seat if possible. They're much easier to clean and often you can achieve a better leg position for your child by adjusting the seat accordingly. Also if your child is hanging in the carrier rather than sitting he'll have better suspension.
    Here are two examples for carriers with removable seat:

    front fastening

    back fastening

    diagram / view from top

    diagram copyright Transbach Ltd, Kilkenny, Ireland
  6. There should be footrests/stirrups for the child. When your child's legs are dangling down his legs can go to sleep quickly. Having footrests prevents that, and also you can achieve better positioning by lifting your child's feet with the footrests.

Using your framed backpack carrier

In a framed backpack the child sits relatively far away from you, because of the frame. That means that for the person carrying the child the centre of gravity shifts backwards/upwards. It's not possible to have the child's weight really close to your body like with soft carriers and slings. Especially when carrying a heavier child and luggage this can be quite hard on you.

However there are a few recommendations which make using a framed carrier easier (and apply also for hiking backpacks).

  1. It is very important to tighten the horizontal straps which go around your child. Why? Firstly, your child will be much better supported. Secondly, it's much more comfortable for you: The closer your child is pulled to you, the less the weight pulls on your shoulders.

    Here the same carrier with lose straps and tightened straps:

  2. Ideally the harness system for the wearer can be adjusted to fit different back lenghts. Shorter people with shorter backs need a shorter length. If the backpack isn't adjustable it should be chosen to fit the person who will use it most.
  3. The hip strap should be placed in the middle of the hip bone to distribute the weight. It shouldn't be too soft to support the weight well. Ideally it's made from softer padding inside and firmer material on the outside.
  4. Generally strap padding shouldn't be too soft and spongy or it will soon be scrunched up and feel uncomfortable. Don't economise here - if you buy better material your shoulders, hip and back will thank you.
  5. After adjusting the shoulder straps and closing the hip belt there is another strap which is very important for comfort: the load control strap (see diagram on the right). This strap should connect the shoulder strap from just below your shoulder on the front to a point at the carrier above your shoulders. Ideally it goes up at an angle of 45°. It's used to bring the weight closer to your body and thus makes it easier to carry.
  6. Another tip: Good backpack carriers have another strap where the person's hand on the diagram is shown. You can see it on the picture above showing the footrests. Tightening this strap will bring more weight on your hip and make carrying your child more comfortable.
  7. If you buy your carrier in an outdoor shop staff should be able so show you how to use it correctly and enable you to get a comfortable fit with all these confusing straps.

Hope this helps!

For more advice on how to carry a hiking backpack you can also check the following links:

  1. http://www.fjallraven.com/Activities/Trekking/Carrying-correctly/Carrying-right/
  2. http://www.hikingtrailer.com/tag/backpack/
  3. http://www.salewa.com/uk/4/955/ig_rucksackpacken.html




© Mirjam Brockmann 2009