I love getting outside. And I want my kids to love it too. Especially in a city like Sydney, there are so many beautiful spots to explore, which obviously you can’t do with a pram. Front carriers are ok I guess, if your baby weighs less than a loaf of bread and you don’t mind having a person in-between you and whatever you’re doing at all times. But for the best adventures, back packs are the way to go. Not just for big hikes in the bush, but for markets, trips around the harbour, festivals, even just a quick trip into the city.
So with that in mind, I started searching for a backpack baby carrier. It really wasn’t as easy as I expected.
I had a good list of things that I wanted: A good sized compartment under the baby. Comfortable and secure for me and him. Spot for a hydration bladder. Sturdy when you put it on the ground. Not so ugly that my partner would not enjoy having it.
I started looking around, you know Babies R Us and what not, and they don’t even bloody have any. Well, online they have one — a Chicco Smart Support Backpack Frame Carrier, for $99. But looking at the lost of things that I’m after, which was all quite reasonable I think, and it’s got none.
So we went to the Moore Park Home-Makers-Supa-Centre thing, which conveniently had a Baby Bunting and an Anaconda (hiking store) next to each other, but neither of them had anything. I was astonished.
Let’s just take a moment to reflect on that. These major national baby / adventure retailers, where plenty of people would go to for all of their Stuff, don’t have any decent back pack baby carriers. It’s no wonder we’re turning into a nation of fatties, glued to the TV, while our beautiful National Parks slide into a state of disrepair. The mindset of getting out there to enjoy it seems yet to enter the mainstream baby market.
Anyway, they’re obviously out there somewhere, so I kept looking to get a feel for the market. On eBay and gumtree there seem to be a lot of Kathmandu Karinjo, for between $50 — $150 bucks:
Now we’re talking. That’s got a decent amount of space, looks stylish enough, seems comfortable, and packs some pretty cool features as well, such as a nice little fold up change mat, some decent drinks holders. Looking good.
There’s a Kathmandu store right near my work, so I went in to try one. Two problems jumped out at me. The shade canopy was pretty flimsy, and the stand didn’t feel too sturdy. Maybe it would be different with a baby in it, with more weight, but I wouldn’t want to trust it. It was on sale at $150, so the price was definitely good, or as I said, heaps of second hand ones for even less. And those kids didn’t die I suppose, so it probably is sturdy enough. But I decided to keep looking.
So I headed to “Adventure Row” — the string of outdoor shops around Kent St, down behind Sydney’s Town Hall.
Patagonia, surprisingly, don’t make one, which was disappointing, because they generally make the best of everything, and in the best way too.
In Paddy Palin they had the Osprey Poco, which again ticked pretty much all the boxes, and even added an extra box I didn’t know I had, which was a removable back pack part. Very comfortable, heaps of storage, plenty of clever little pockets, great start. Where it fell down was on looks mostly. I don’t even really care much, and it was a bit ugly even for me. It’s normally $329, but was on sale for $268, which was a pretty good deal, so they were definitely at the top of the short list so far.
Next on the street, just across the road, was the Macpac store. I hadn’t seen much of them online so I didn’t even expect them to have any, but a friendly girl took me over to a wall with a fantastic range: The Bilby, the Koala, the Possum, and the Vamoose.
The Bilby is a small thing that felt more like a day pack sized back pack that you put a baby in, rather than a baby carrier that takes stuff as well, if you know what I mean. I was impressed. I hadn’t even considered getting a smaller sized one yet, and now this had me reconsidering my whole approach. Do I need a big massive hiking pack if we’re just making a little trip? Would they prove too cumbersome? Obviously I do need a big one for serious hikes, but maybe I should get a smaller one as well.
The next size up was the Koala, which felt like it was half-way between a big pack and a small pack, and didn’t really do either properly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s a great pack, and for other people it could even be the perfect size. Big enough to be able to do a hike, but small enough for little trips as well. But I don’t think it was for us.
Their big boys were the Possum and the Vamoose. They were basically exactly the same, but the Vamoose has a removable backpack part (and we know how we feel about those).
(front view of the Possum)
I tried it on, and felt a big ball pressing into the bottom of my back, which was kind of weird. Turns out its a memory foam thing, which conforms to your body over time. So while it felt strange when I first put it on, after a few minutes I could feel it morphing to fit the body perfectly.
So with a removable back pack, hydration bladder pocket, good shade, sturdy stand, comfortable straps, ample space, plenty of pockets, and all contained in a good looking little unit, the Vamoose shoots right to the top of the list.
There were still a few shops to visit though, so I kept walking and found some other options. In Mountain Designs I found Deuter, who had a few products under the Kid Comfort range, which despite looking pretty functional, just didn’t tickle my fancy. Maybe it was because I’d just been looking at the lovely Macpacs, but they just seemed a bit brutal.
I didn’t love having that stand all the way out there either. Space wise it was alright, comfort was ok, but it wasn’t going to beat the Macpac.
Columbia sports wear didn’t have any, so the last one was Trek and Travel, and they didn’t have anything to beat the others. Macpac came out on top for the day.
But I knew Phil and Ted’s (baby product designer) did a couple. A mid sized ‘Metro’, and a bigger sized ‘Escape’. I called around to various baby stores to check them, trying about 3 or 4 before I found an Escape in Kensington, and a Metro in Alexandria.
I got to the Escape first, and it’s a stylish unit. But that’s its roots, and that’s the problem. While it seems like a perfectly satisfactory pack, its soul lies in fashion, not in hiking. When it comes to big packs, Mac Pac know what they’re doing, Phil and Teds are just tourists.
When it comes to small packs, however, the Metro comes into play. It’s pretty similar to the Mac Pac Bilby, in that it feels like a back pack you can put a baby in, with one major difference: It has a stand. That’s the clincher. It looks great, works fine, and retails for about $150, but we found one on eBay for $50, which arrived a couple of days ago.
We took it out for the first time yesterday, walking from Potts Point to Circular Quay, to get the ferry over to Shark Island. The baby had no problems with it at all, he was perfectly happy the whole time.
I had a few issues though. The chest strap popped out straight away, because it was basically just clipped on to the shoulder strap. This is what I mean when I say their soul isn’t in hiking — there is no way that would happen with a serious pack. It doesn’t have a mirror or a hydration bladder (though I think I could slip one in behind the straps), and the side pockets are inaccessible when you’re wearing the pack. But since we only need it for little-ish trips, I think it’ll do. We should be able to make some minor modifications ourselves as well.
So look, not perfect, but for $50, I’d say it’s a damn good investment. My birthday is coming up in a bit over a month, so hopefully we can splurge on a Macpac Vamoose then.
In my mind, the best entertainment is free, fun, healthy, and educational, and few things fit the bill better than just heading off and enjoying the great outdoors. I’m looking forward to many fun adventures with our baby.
Disclaimer: This should go without saying, but if you buy anything second hand from the internet, make sure you check it over very thoroughly before putting your baby in it.