When I climbed aboard the baby wagon, I was realistic in my expectation that the amount of time I spent trail running would undoubtedly take a hit. However, a wise friend assured me, “They make a pack for that.” Enter child carrier packs. Much to my satisfaction, my daughter Lucy has drunk the Kool-Aid of the great outdoors and couldn’t be more pleased to be packed.
Child carrier packs, like most things on the baby wagon, come in various styles, designed by a number of great companies, with all kinds of bells and whistles. While I find myself blissfully in the clutches of a whole new world of marketing, and a proud member of an irrational target audience, I rest assured that some of you are right here with me!
I had the opportunity to test two child carrier packs, the Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite ($300) and Deuter Kid Comfort Active SL ($240). While these packs are very different in their make-up and therefore best uses, both have made my job as Lucy’s Sherpa as comfortable as possible, and have given her a Cadillac of a ride.
Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite
The Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite accommodates a maximum pack load of around 48 pounds, child and gear included. It weighs 7 pounds, 4 ounces, and has an ample 26 liters of storage, a built-in sunshade, a waterproof lined wet/dirty compartment, and a hydration sleeve. These are some of the features that make this pack an excellent option for longer days on the trail as well as overnight backpacking.
One of the things that initially attracted me to the Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite was the ease with which other reviewers had reported its adjustability from male to female. I love the way the pack fits both me and my husband Travis, though we’re quite different in our height and weight. I also appreciate how easily the fit, including shoulder-strap height, can be adjusted while the pack is on. That said, I am 5’6” and about 135 pounds, and when I’m wearing it, I do generally have it cinched almost as small as the waist and chest straps will go. I would venture to guess that particularly petite moms could find that it may not cinch small enough?
Since Lucy’s initial pack adventures involved a much older Kelty model, I really appreciate the wide, padded hip belt of this carrier, which is integral in stabilizing the pack/child’s weight and distributing it over the hips and off the back. The pack comes with a kickstand that provides a sturdy base when loading and unloading, and can easily be popped out and folded back in while the pack is on.
The Kelty has a handful of features to maximize child comfort, and I think the amount of time that Lucy has spent passed out in its cockpit attests to its comfort level. It offers a removable drool pad, adjustable child shoulder/waist straps with color-coordinated buckles, adjustable stirrups, and an adjustable seat height. The adjustable seat height is a feature I initially struggled with. However, with some forceful maneuvering, I did eventually figure it out. The pack also has handles in the front and back of the cockpit, with the front handle additionally providing the perfect anchor for a tethered binky or other such item.
Perhaps my favorite feature of the kid cockpit is the built-in sunshade that deploys from a zippered pocket right behind the child’s head and clips into two buckles in front of the drool pad. Whether protecting her from the sun or mist and rain, there are very few circumstances in which we would not opt to use this feature.
It is in the storage–and the easy access to it–category that this Kelty pack really shines. Unlike a trail running vest, most child carrier packs come with storage that is relatively inaccessible while the pack is on. Kelty designed the waist belt of this carrier with generously sized zippered pockets, large enough to stash a smartphone, keys, snacks, and similar, maximizing storage on the easiest part of the pack to access while on. The right belt pocket even offers a zip-open bottom and mesh extension to accommodate a water bottle right on the belt. The built-in hydration sleeve creates yet another accessible hydration option while on the move, and so do the mesh pockets on either side of the back of the pack that can secure additional bottles.
This Kelty has two main compartments which can both accommodate larger items such as bulky layers, and one includes a key clip and sewn-in internal pockets to keep smaller items organized. Below the two main compartments is a storage compartment lined with a waterproof liner for dirty/wet items. The liner can be pulled out and cleaned.
Deuter Kid Comfort Active SL
The Deuter Kid Comfort Active SL accommodates a maximum pack load of around 50 pounds, quite similar to the Kelty, but it’s otherwise a very different pack. At a svelte 5 pounds, 13 ounces, it offers a remarkably lightweight daypack with 12 liters of storage capacity.
The Deuter Kid Comfort Active SL was specifically designed to fit women–it’s one of the few child carriers that does this. The hip fins and shoulder straps are contoured to best fit “mom” and have notably thick, breathable padding for heightened comfort. The compact Lite Air back system with ventilation keeps this pack comfortable and light. While targeted for women, my husband Travis has proven that this model is not incompatible with the dad bod. Adjusting the shoulder straps is an extra step, however, that requires the pack to be off; it can’t be achieved on the fly.
This Deuter pack has a wide, padded hip belt, and comes with a fold-away kickstand for safe and efficient loading and unloading.
This Deuter pack offers some of the same child-comfort features as we see in the Kelty: a removable drool pad, adjustable child shoulder/waist straps with color-coordinated buckles, adjustable stirrups, and an adjustable seat height. Lucy has logged a lot of miles in this pack, and has seemed super comfortable along the way.
Where this Deuter pack deviates from the Kelty pack in the kid-comfort category, however, is in its lack of an included sunshade. While other Deuter models come with one, the Kid Comfort Active SL does not. You can purchase one separately for $30. I honestly consider a child sunshade to be an essential accessory.
Perhaps the most popular feature of this Deuter among other reviewers is the option of having side access to the cockpit via the left. This feature seemed most appreciated by those with squirrely toddlers. Again, like the Kelty, this Deuter pack sports handles in front and in back of the cockpit, with the front handle also serving as a tether point for a pacifier or similar item.
In terms of storage, the pack’s minimalist design includes a stretchy mesh pocket on the back and a drawstring pocket below the cockpit. The waist belt includes just one zippered pocket on the right, large enough for a smartphone, granola bar, keys, or similar. While the storage capacity should be sufficient for most shorter treks, the only accessible pocket while the pack is on is the one on the waist belt.
Kelty has designed a product that can comfortably fit a relatively wide range of users, offers generously sized and accessible waist-belt pockets and hydration options, and offers a storage capacity suitable for any adventure from a couple hours to a couple days. The tradeoff with this pack is that especially petite moms may not find it fits as precisely as something specifically geared toward women, and innumerable storage options mean a heavier overall set-up.
Deuter has created a pack that caters to the curves and generally smaller frame of the female anatomy and is remarkably lightweight while not compromising padding or comfort for the child or parent in the slightest. The tradeoff with this pack is that the sunshade is sold separately and the pack is minimal in its storage capacity, making it ideal for shorter adventures.
For those of you who have some, albeit legitimate, fears regarding how your lifestyle as an endurance junkie can survive the perils of parenthood, they do “make a pack for that.” Find one that checks all your boxes and head for the hills!
Call for Comments
- What child carrier pack do you use, and what features in it do you appreciate?
- Are you using either the Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite or the Deuter Kid Comfort Active SL? If so, share your thoughts on the plusses and minuses of the packs for you and your child.
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]