Want to go hiking with your baby or toddler and aren’t sure whether a stroller of hiking carrier is better? Like most things in life, there are a lot of variables to consider. Here’s my take.
The short answer:
If you don’t mind limiting yourself to stroller-friendly paths, then hike with a stroller. It will be more comfortable for you and your child – especially if your child is older or heavier. However, strollers will really limit the places you can hike. If you are confident in your ability to carry your child and want to get off-the-beaten-path, then go with a carrier.
I used a carrier when my child was young and still relatively lightweight. Now that she’s a toddler, I’ve mostly resigned myself to stroller-friendly hikes. I’ll still sometimes use the carrier on tougher hikes, but make sure to keep the hike short so I don’t get exhausted.
Sometimes, I’ll even use a combo: I start with the stroller on an accessible path. When the path gets too narrow/bumpy, I’ll lock the stroller to a tree with a flexible bike lock. My daughter then goes in the carrier for the rest of the way. She goes back into the stroller on the way back.
- Don’t mess around. Use trekking poles with a hiking carrier! It will redistribute the weight, save your back, and improve balance.
- Get a wrist strap if using a hiking stroller. Wearing it gives me peace of mind that the stroller won’t go rolling away if I fall while on a steep slope.
Still not sure whether a stroller or carrier is better?
Below are some questions to help you decide.
How Heavy Is Your Child?
When my daughter was a baby, I had no problem carrying her in a hiking carrier. But now she is two years old and weighs 28lbs. Add in the weight of the carrier (the famous Deuter Kid Comfort carrier weighs 7lbs!), water and other supplies and it gets even heavier.
Most backpacking gurus recommend you carry no more than 20-25% of your bodyweight. The UI Hospitals & Clinics Rehabilitation Services team recommends carrying no more than 10% of your bodyweight! Under that recommendation, I shouldn’t be carrying my child at all. :/
A frame hiking carrier does make it easier to carry all this weight. But they are expensive and don’t fit short, small women well.
- Best hiking child carriers for petite women
- Soft vs. frame backpack child carriers
- Expert tips for using child hiking carriers
Is It Safe for You to Use a Hiking Carrier?
Bear in mind that a too-heavy load (aka your child) reduces balance and makes it easier to fall. Do you really want to fall while wearing your child? I definitely turned back on some hikes because the trail was too steep and I didn’t feel comfortable carrying my child.
How Fit Are You?
I carried my first child everywhere until she was almost three years old. Back then, I was in my 20s and it didn’t faze me. My second daughter was born when I was in my 30s. What a difference a decade makes! My core muscles are also permanently weakened due to recti diastasis. Now, my back gets sore with my daughter in the carrier even on short hikes.
How Eager Are You to Go On Tough Trails?
Let’s be honest: most stroller-friendly trails are pretty boring. They are also often crowded, so that’s not much fun either. If you are very eager to go on a specific trail which isn’t suitable for strollers, then you’ll have no choice but to use a carrier.
Are You Hiking Alone or with a Partner?
Using hiking carriers is a bit of a pain. Even if it has a built-in storage compartment, it won’t hold too much (and you’ll need a lot of extra things for your child). Without a partner, you’ll be stuck carrying all this yourself – and have to remove the carrier completely to access any gear.
I find also it annoying to access my water bottle from a hiking carrier; I have to ask my partner to get it each time I want a drink. Because of this, I almost always choose the stroller when hiking alone.
Is Your Stroller Designed for Hiking?
Umbrella strollers are NOT suitable for hiking. Unless it is a completely paved trail and is well-maintained, almost all hiking paths are too bumpy for those small folding strollers. Your child will feel every single bump and not be very comfortable. Your arms will also get very tired from the vibrations of pushing over the bumpy terrain.
However, it is possible to hike with some strollers – even off of paved roads. The stroller needs to have large wheels and preferably a suspension/shock-absorbing system. My Pertini stroller is fine on most paths, even if my daughter does get bumped when going over root growths and rocks.
Does Your Child Like to Sleep in the Stroller?
My daughter loves to sleep in her stroller. And I love to relax while she’s sleeping. 🙂 She will also sleep in her carrier, but it doesn’t seem very comfortable and she definitely doesn’t sleep as long. I’ve tried to gently put her down while still in the carrier and she’ll inevitably wake up.
Bear in mind that your experience might be completely different than mine. Choose what makes most sense for you and your family to enjoy nature together.
Image credits: Quaries.com and “Road Warrior 4: Jogging Stroller” (CC BY 2.0) by ChiefG_G,