Just like any baby carrier, it is very important to try on before you buy. In fact, even more so for hard frame hiking carriers.Please check out the first post of this series, Hard Frame Carrier 101, for information on basic fit before you jump to buy. Each brand has a different basic torso fit and each model within the brand varies greatly, so there is no way to suggest the “perfect” one for caregiver without more information. While trying-on is the best method to find the best fit for your body, there are many options so it can get overwhelming. This post is meant to be a basic guide to help you decide where to start.
I selected five carries to compare. I selected three major brands--Osprey, Deuter, and Kelty--since these are fairly easy to find in stores or buy second hand . I also selected varying price levels, to show the features at various price points.
Osprey Poco AG: This is one of the most common carriers I see on the trail. It is usually available at most outdoor stores and online. This is the base model in Opsrey’s Poco line. Features an adjustable torso (extra-small up to extra-large), offering a better height range fit. Padded-adjustable shoulder straps, chest clip, and padded adjustable waistband. It also has shoulder tethers to further take weight off your upper back. Cockpit features an adjustable height and a butterfly harness to secure your child. The sides of the cockpit can also be tightened up with an adjustable tension strap. There is a washable suckpad to keep the cockpit clean. Standard built-in sunshade and removable rain cover, too. There is a large back storage pocket, zipper pockets on the waistband, and space to add an optional water bladder. It has an aluminium frame with a nylon canvas. Carrier weight is 6.9 lbs. Maximum weight load of 48.5 lbs. Waistband length range is 26 to 48 inches. Torso fit range 15.5 to 21.5 inches. Water reservoir optional. (source)
Osprey Poco AG Plus: This one is one step-up from the Poco, the middle option for the Poco line. This is another popular carrier I see on the trail. All the same features on the base model above, plus more storage space (larger hip and main storage pockets), a larger waist belt, and a removeable daypack. It has an aluminium frame with a nylon canvas. Carrier weight is 8.3 lbs. Maximum weight load of 48.5 lbs. Waistband length range is 24 to 50 inches.Torso fit range 15 to 20 inches. Water reservoir optional. (source)
Deuter Comfort 2: This is Deuter's middle of the road carrier, in terms of price and features. It is usually available at most outdoor stores and online. It features an adjustable torso fit---the base of the shoulder straps can move up or down on the back to match your shoulder height. It also features a chest clip, adjustable-padded shoulder straps, and adjustable-padded waistband. The waistband straps adjust forward, making it easier to tighten properly. The cockpit has a height adjustable 5-point harness with leg straps to close the secure the child. There is also a suckpad to keep the cockpit clean. It has an aluminium frame with a polyester/ nylon canvas. Carrier weight is 7.3 lbs. Maximum weight load of 48.5 lbs. Waistband length range is 24 to 54 inches. Torso fit range 15 to 21 inches. Water reservoir optional. (source)
Kelty Tour 1.0: This is a basic model carrier from Kelty. I chose this because is it comparable in features to older model mentioned next. And it has budget price compared to the ones above. It features an adjustable torso (an adjustable strap on the torso to raise and lower the shoulder height), adjustable chest clip, padded-adjustable shoulder straps, and a padded-adjustable waistband. Cockpit features an adjustable 5 point harness and adjustable leg loop. Also features toy loops and Kelty's patented auto-deploy kickstand. It has an aluminium frame with a polyester. Carrier weight is 7.2 lbs. Child minium weight 16 lbs. Maximum weight load of 40 lbs. Waistband length range is 28 to 46 inches. Torso fit range 15 to 18 inches. Water reservoir optional. (source)
Kelty Journey: This carrier is a very common one to pop up at consignment sales and online secondhand sales. I chose an older model carrier to show the changes in design over just a few years. Older carriers are not unsafe as long as they are in good condition; just keep in mind safety regulations may have changed since original manufacturing. And comfort features may have changed, too. This carrier features an adjustable torso, padded-adjustable shoulder straps, chest clip, and padded-adjustable waist. Also features toy loops and Kelty's patented auto-deploy kickstand. It also features reflective tape all around the carrier for enhanced visibility. I was unable to find the specs on this carrier and Kelty has yet to get back to me with the information.
Let's see how they fit on different body types...
Miranda and her twin boys Hudson and Lincoln are regular hikers. She prefers wearing her boys in Tulas (either single or tandem) while hiking. Miranda is good example how these carriers fit on an average-sized woman. And her sons are good examples of how average-sized toddlers fit in the cockpit.
Based on her height, I set the Osprey Poco's adjustable torso to medium, but it was too long to sit on her hips correctly. So I reset it to small and it fit great. It was easy to get her son in the cockpit and adjusted properly. Miranda liked how this carrier fit on her hips, no pressure at all.
The Poco Plus fit very similar to the Poco. The torso length was also set to small on this one. Miranda felt it was bit bigger and bulkier. This is probably due to the increased storage space on this carrier. Overall, it fit both her and son very well.
Miranda found the Deuter cumbersome to get on. I adjusted the torso to just shy of the smallest position, which placed the waistband nicely above her hips. She did not feel it was overall the best fit though. It was slightly difficult to get a wiggling toddler into the harness and properly adjusted. In the end, I liked how he sat in the carrier though. I was concerned the shoulders straps looked off, as if there was slight pulling or gapping. But Miranda said they felt fine. I wonder if they would have started hurting her overtime, but she was not concerned.
Even on the smallest torso setting, Miranda did not like the fit of Kelty Tour. She felt it was made for a bigger person. There were too many clips in the child harness, which made it hard to get a proper fit on her wiggling toddler. The lack of stirrups allowed him to kick his legs freely; we both wondered if this would encourage him to kick her on the trail.
As you can see, her twins did not cooperate for the last carrier so she borrowed my son, Jack. He is very close to the twins’ height and weight. Miranda actually owns this Kelty Journey and let me borrow it for this comparison. She bought it cheap secondhand for hiking, but hardly uses it. She says it is just okay. Overall, she the fit is not ideal for her body type. She doesn’t like how high the cockpit sits. This throws off her center of gravity.
Miranda’s preferred the Poco. It was the best fit, and was easiest to get her twins in and out quickly.
A side note, my husband is close to Miranda’s height. When he tried on the Osprey Poco, I set it small since that size fit Miranda so well. However, within a minute of wearing a shoulder gap appeared and he complained of upper back pain. So I adjusted it to extra-small and it fit much better. Even though they are the similar height, Miranda has a longer torso and my husband has a broader chest. Thus, the carrier sat very differently on them. This is a great example of how important it is try on a carrier. There are other factors to fit besides height and weight.
Addy’s son Lucas is the youngest model and is great example of how the harness fits a baby who just met the requirements. Addy is an example of how the carriers fit on a shorter person.
Addy found the Osprey Poco comfortable overall. However, even on the extra small torso setting, there was shoulder gaping. Overtime, this may have hurt her upper back. It was easy to get her son in and adjusted. The child harness had to be set on the highest setting for her son to fit, but overall it fit well.
Addy felt the Poco Plus was lighter than the Poco. Less bulky and compact, very easy for her to lift and get on. I found it interesting that Miranda felt the opposite about this carrier. There was very slight shoulder gap this time, even on the extra small torso setting. It was less than on the Poco though. Her son’s feet did not reach the stirrups in the carrier, something that I would have preferred for a baby of his age. This would have put him closer to the optimal spread-squat position.
Addy thought the Deuter was heavy and harder to lift by herself. Overall, she felt it was just too big for her body. Also, her son did not fit in the harness very well, even when adjusted to the smallest settings. This made it easy for him to lean, which concerned me. I did not feel he would stay fully in the cockpit if she happened to fall on the trail.
Addy also felt this the Kelty Tour was heavy to lift, but liked how it fit overall. No pressure on her hips or shoulders. Once again, her son was a bit too small for the harness even on the smallest settings. Also, she did not like how baby’s legs are positioned to fit behind her back rather than dangle to the side. He started kicking her in the back right away.
The Kelty Journey also felt heavy to Addy, and was hard for her to set down on her own. The overall fit was comfortable though. Her son fit well in this harness, but she did not like how far away he was from her body. His feet were also too short for the stirrups.
Addy’s liked the Poco Plus for overall fit for herself and her son. She also thought the fit the Deuter was decent, but was not a fan the harness of her son.
Antoinette is an example of how the carriers fit a woman on the taller end of average. Also, her daughter is tall for her age, showing how a bigger toddler fits in the harnesses.
Set to the large torso setting, the Osprey Poco fit very well on Antoinette. However, she did not like the waistband fit, she felt it has too much padding. The cockpit harness was on the largest setting and fit her daughter very well. I noticed a deep seat with slight bend her knees, the optimal position for a child to sit.
The Poco Plus Fit like the Poco, but even better for Antoinette. She said it felt great on her hips, and overall no pressure points anywhere on her body. She preferred this waistband the most. Her daughter fit in the harness similar well, too.
Antoinette liked how the Deuter fit on her hips. However, she felt it was kind of top heavy, as if the cockpit was too high. The harness could have been lowered a bit more to be at the lowest setting, but from my standpoint I felt she was in a good position with her knees slightly bent. I was surprised that a taller child couldn’t reach the stirrups on this carrier because they are attached so high.
Antoinette really liked the fit of the Kelty Tour. The hips and shoulders were really comfortable and she could adjust everything easily. She also liked how her daughter sat lower and closer to her body. However, it was a bit awkward for her to lift and take off by herself.
Antoinette had no major issues with the Kelty Journey. The fit was good, and overall she felt it was just okay. She thought it was bit awkward with baby sitting up so high. Her daughter told me this was her favorite though. I liked how she sat in the harness the best out of all the carriers.
Antoinette liked the Poco Plus and Kelty Tour the most.
Chantal demonstrates how the carriers fit on a tall, slender women. Her daughter was the smallest baby modeling, giving you an idea of how smaller babies who have been sitting up for awhile fit in these carriers.
The Osprey Poco carrier fit nicely on Chantal on the large torso setting. She did not like the padding on back piece, it was putting pressure on her lower back. Her daughter was on the smallest setting the harness and fit just alright, I personally would have liked the straps tighter. And her feet did not reach the stirrups.
The Poco Plus fit similar to the Poco, however she felt no pressure on her lower back, which is her biggest concern. It was also very supportive in the shoulders. Once again, her daughter was secure in the harness on the smallest setting, but I personally would have liked to have seen a tighter fit.
Chantal felt the Deuter put more weight on her chest, making it not very comfortable overall. I liked how her daughter sat in this harness better. It was hard to get her legs through all the straps and properly secured though.
Chantal thought the Kelty Tour was pretty comfortable. She liked how easy it was to buckle and adjust. She thought the waistband had the perfect amount of padding. Even though she did not feel uncomfortable, I noticed a slight gapping in the shoulders. I am not sure adjusting the torso straps would have fixed the issue though, I think it was just not the best design for her body shape overall. It was a bit hard to get her daughter’s legs through the leg loops.
Chantal found the Kelty Journey very uncomfortable. All the pressure was on her shoulders and was concerned it was on wrong at first because it felt very top heavy. She understood once I explained this cockpit just sits very high. I also did not like how her daughter sat in the carrier, very low even on the smallest setting. It was just too big for her.
She preferred the Poco Plus for the back support.
Ernie, one of our Chapter Volunteers, is an example of how these carriers fit on a taller man. I thought it was important to include a male perspective since hard frame carriers for very popular with dads.
Ernie thought the Osprey Poco felt great. He loved it even more once I showed him the upper tethers and took any pressure off his shoulders. It was easy to get his daughter in the harness and adjusted properly.
The Poco Plus fit similar to the Poco for both of them. But, he could feel the back padding more in this one. It was not uncomfortable, but he needed to get used to it.
The Deuter was the easiest for him to lift and get adjusted on himself. After a few minutes though, he felt the chest clip pinching his armpit. I tried making some small adjustments to fix the issue for him, but it did not help. I think this carrier is just not a good fit for his chest shape. Also, he did not like the child harness. It was hard for the two of us to get his daughter in the harness and adjusted properly.
Ernie liked how the Kelty Tour sat on his hips and liked the lighter padding on the shoulder straps. But, it was very difficult to get his daughter’s legs through the leg loops.
Ernie thought the straps on the Kelty Journey were hard to adjust and he could not get them as tight as he wanted. He felt it was wobbly due to the high-sitting cockpit. However, this was the only carrier where his daughter’s legs reached the stirrups.
Ernie thought the Poco felt the best for him and his daughter.
Here are some general observations in terms of fit with hard frame carriers. They really fit more like hiking backpacks than Soft Structure Carriers. Even though my husband and Miranda are the same height and both fit very well in Tula Baby Carriers, they had discrepancy in torso fit. This video from Backpacker Magazine on how to fit yourself for a hiking backpack will get you a better fit than going by solely by height.
Hard Frame Carriers seem to be made for average-sized people or taller. Petite women in particular do not seem to fit well in them (Addy is a good example of this). They are a bit too long for a shorter person’s center of gravity. Also, some smaller women are concerned that the carrier plus baby is too heavy to lift on their own. However, Addy could lift and set down all the carriers on her own, though some were more difficult.
Once you find a carrier with a good overall fit, small features may make or break a carrier for you. Like how shoulder strap shape on the Deuter pinched Ernie’s armpits and the back padding on the Osprey Poco hurt Chantal’s back. These may seem like not a big deal at first, but after a few hours on the trail you may be sorry and hurting.
Even though I recommend trying on as many carriers as you can to find the best one for your needs, I hope this post offers you a starting point. Find the body type closest to yours, and keep that recommendation in mind when you begin to shop. Also remember each brand has slightly different specs that may to your advantage. For example, the Deuter’s waistband adjusts to the largest size of 54 inches, so it might be a good one to try on if you are plus size. If you are petite, Osprey Poco’s toso adjusts to 15.5 inches while the Poco Plus goes down a half inch smaller to 15 inches. That half inch could make a big difference.
I hope you find one that fits you well and you get out some great trails with your family this summer. Happy hiking!
-Samantha Reddy, VBE