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As a mother of two with a bit of an obsession with window shopping, I can tell you that the amount of products marketed to parents are crazy. A resourceful parent can get away with having minimal stuff–no need to overpack for baby–but there’s one product that traveling parents of small kids need: a good baby carrier.

The security of having Mama or Daddy snuggling baby close in an unfamiliar place combined with the convenience of not having to haul a stroller through the airport or a cramped cobblestone European sidewalk can’t be beat. The kiddos can sleep and eat comfortably in them, and you get a workout. But which one to pick? It’s a very personal decision and there are tons of carriers out there, so I’m only covering the brands that my friends and I have personally used. But rest assured, after you find the right carrier you’ll never want to push a stroller through the airport again.

Woven wrap, Scarborough, England. Photo by deannanmc

The two main types of baby carriers I’ve used are wraps–stretchy and woven–and soft structured carriers (SSCs). Now’s a good time to mention the Baby Bjorn: while it is the most popular, it is also the least comfortable for you and for baby. The weight distribution is poor (centered all on your shoulders and on baby’s pubic bone) and it’s a bad choice for extended wear, so forget that walking tour. As wraps go, a woven wrap like a Storchenwiege is the most versatile: appropriate for newborn through toddler because man, they can handle a LOT of weight. No special equipment is required for newborns and it’s easy to nurse in them. You can carry the baby on your back, but be warned: it takes practice and you should consult a certified babywearing instructor before you try it at home (I learned on YouTube, practiced with a teddy bear and then with a spotter before I tried with my daughter. Proceed at your own risk). The main drawback is the price: a woven wrap can cost over $100 new. A stretchy wrap like a Moby Wrap is not appropriate for back-carrying, but has all the other benefits with the added plus of retailing around $40 new–and used ones can be found quite easily. It is the coziest, most affordable option for smaller babies, especially breastfed ones.

Moby Wrap, Big Island of Hawaii. Photo by deannanmc.

The main complaint about wraps is that they can be complicated to learn. I disagree, since I live in the age of YouTube instructional videos, but I concede that it can take time and can be bulky. Soft structured carriers are a good option for speed, safely carrying kids on your back, and can be cooler (temperature-wise, that is). The child’s weight is comfortably distributed across your hips and through their thighs, sparing your shoulders and their pubic bones. My go-to carrier is a Beco Butterfly. It’s expensive (around $140) but the quality is phenomenal–three years running and no problems–and the extra security panel between me and my daughter makes it easy to transfer from back to front or from parent to parent. While I haven’t used it, it does come with a newborn insert for 7-15lb babies. I also hear the Beco Gemini is a very nice option if your child is smaller and makes it possible to do a hip side-carry, which is not my favorite but go for it if that’s your thing.

Back carry in a Beco in Nara, Japan. Photo by deannanmc

Now, in the past I’ve written things like this and been challenged by other parents: “This is great if you have one kid, but what about two young kids? What then?” This takes us to one of the best carriers for travelers: the Ergo. Minor cons: the shoulder straps are puffy and kind of silly-looking and the newborn insert is sold separately. But, and this is a HUGE but for backpackers: Ergo sells several backpacks and cargo pouches in varying sizes designed to attach to the body of the carrier. The Performance line even has built-in pockets. Depending on the carrier and accessories you get, you can eliminate the need for a separate diaper bag or day pack (frankly, the backpack looks like overkill for anywhere except the airport, but the pouch is quite roomy for a day’s worth of needs).

Front carry in a soft structured carrier in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by deannanmc.

Why is this great for parents of two kids? The Ergo can hold kids up to 45 pounds, and so can the Beco. My three year old is about 35lbs and LOVES riding on Daddy’s back–he can manage her on his shoulders if she gets tired, but is happier to have her weight distributed evenly on his back in a carrier. So our nine month old goes on me, the toddler walks until she’s tired and then goes on Daddy, the stuff goes in a cargo pouch, and BAM. Out the door, and hardly a stroller in sight. Backpacking parents for the win.

Like any products I review or recommend, I haven’t received any compensation from the manufacturers. I just like these because they’ve worked for me in the past. There are several carriers I haven’t covered because I haven’t used them, so please share if you have experiences! And parents of three or more children, do weigh in–how do you manage your flock on the road without a stroller? Can it be done?

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