Babies love being held close to mom or dad, feeling the warm comfort of their chest and the gentle rhythm of their breathing and heartbeat. But unless you're Ronda Rousey or Mark Wahlberg, your arms and shoulders are going to get very tired from lugging around a growing baby all day. That's where the soft-structured baby carrier comes in! Each year, there are several new entrants into the baby carrier market, making it harder to make an informed decision about which ones are best for you and your baby.
We took 17 popular baby carriers, some having been around for over a decade (like the BabyBjorn and ERGO) and some being relative newcomers to the market (like the Mother Nest and Tula), and put them to the test. They ranged in price from about $35 to $150, and in general price tended to correlate with quality. All of the carriers were purchased by us, we did not accept any freebies to ensure our reviews were honest and unbiased. We evaluated each carrier for ease of use, safety, comfort, versatility, breathability, durability, and long-term reliability. Five moms and dads of different shapes and sizes tried out the carriers with 4 different babies ranging in age from 2 months to 2.5 years.
Soft structured carriers are the most popular and versatile baby carrier option, and come in many different shapes, sizes, prices, and quality levels. Most can be strapped on your front or back to carry the baby forward- or backward-looking, and are well tested for safety and durability. Rather than a wrap (like the Boba or Moby), soft structured carriers have an intrinsic padded structure that gives the baby reliable support, minimizing the risk of your baby wiggling into odd positions like you sometimes see with a wrap or sling. Not quite as customizable as the wrap carriers, and not quite as convenient to pack away for travel, but definitely a more user-friendly option without the major learning curve of a wrap carrier that involves wrapping and tying. However, there are some very important things to look for in a baby carrier. Here are some of our notes:
Ergonomics. To ensure proper hip and back development, the ergonomics of a baby carrier are very important. There are a few things to look for here. First, you want your newborn infant (first couple months) to adopt the C spinal alignment, which means there is a nice curvature to you baby's back, with legs tucked up. This is called the "fetal tuck" position, and it reduces pressure on the spine and hips, promoting calmness and easier digestion. Second, you want your infant (3+ months) baby's buttocks and hamstrings to be supported, putting the baby into a "frog leg" position. In other words, you never want the legs to be dangling down below the carrier (just from the calves down), and this is true for at least the first couple years of life. When testing out the carriers, we looked for the fetal tuck for newborns, and a maintained frog leg position for infants, toddlers, and bigger kids.
Versatility. Gone are the days when a baby carrier can only support a single carrying position. You no longer need separate infant, toddler, big kid, and hiking (back) carriers. Most carriers are now very versatile, allowing for multiple carrying positions. At the low end, some carriers have 2 positions, usually forward-facing and backward-facing. At the high end, carriers have six positions, including backward-facing newborn (fetal tuck), backward-facing infant (legs out), forward-facing toddler, backward-facing toddler (without as much head support as the infant position), hip sling, and back carrier (like a hiking carrier). The best ones tend to be more versatile and last from newborn (about 7+ pounds) until about 4 years old (about 40 pounds), but they also tend to be the most expensive ones.
Safety & Reliability. There is no more important factor to consider than safety. There are a lot of factors to consider here. How is the stitching along the important seams, and where the buckles and zippers attach? What is the quality of the zippers? What is the quality of the clips, fasteners, adjustment slides and loops, and Velcro? How do these components stand the test of time, with repeated wearing and adjustment? Many carriers use lower quality connectors, fabrics, and stitching, and don't do well with repeated wearing. The last thing you want is a malfunction of a weight-bearing component. Safety also considers baby position, the breathability of the fabric, and the appropriate head and neck support. Our testing considered short-term hands-on use, and reviews from long-term use, pulling together a wide range of data regarding these safety considerations.
Ease of Use. Some carriers look great, feel great, are super comfortable and reliable, but are a total pain in the butt to put on, take off, or adjust. Carriers have come a long way in terms of convenience and ease of use, but some are still quite poor in this regard. Our best carriers list carefully considers ease of donning, doffing, and adjusting the carrier.
Comfort & Breathability. After ergonomics are considered and you are certain the baby is in a proper position for safe carrying, comfort is a determining factor as to whether the baby will be happy and comfortable for an extended journey. Padding needs to be in the right places: along the back contour, where arms and legs meet open air, on the bum, and wherever a body part might come in contact with a fastening or adjustment component. Less padding around the head and face to ensure breathability and high air flow where it matters.
Cost. Carriers vary in widely pricing, from as low as about $25, to upwards of $200 for the higher quality and more versatile ones with all the bells and whistles. Because our list values versatility, reliability, comfort, safety, etc, it also tends to include some of the more expensive carriers, with a lower price range around $100, up to around $150. We do provide some very limited reviews of lower cost (and limited feature) options toward the end of this article. In that section, we consider the NimNik, Mo+m Classic, Bebamour, Infantino Cuddle Up, and Mother Nest carriers.
With all that in mind, below are the best baby carriers of 2017.
1. LILLEBaby Complete All Season Baby Carrier. This is a truly excellent carrier, and this is the first year the LILLEBaby carrier was tested for inclusion in our list, and it made it right into the first place position! The LILLE Baby series is relatively new to the baby carrier market, using beautiful and highly functional Scandanavian styling, and including some very comprehensive features. They make three categories of carriers: the COMPLETE series, CARRY-ON series, and ESSENTIALS series. As the name would suggest, the COMPLETE series is the most versatile, with six carry positions, a wide weight range that includes infants down to 7 pounds, and big kids up to 45 pounds. Within the COMPLETE series, they have the All Seasons, the Airflow, the Original, and the Embossed version. Unless you live in (and never travel outside of) southern CA or Florida, which might lead you to purchase the Airflow version, we highly recommend the All Seasons. The All Seasons version a cotton exterior fabric, a highly breathable 3D mesh lining, and has an awesome zip-down front section for warmer conditions. This was an awesome touch, because many of our moms reported that there are very few single carriers that are versatile enough to adapt to different weather conditions. Often, you will begin a walk in the morning when the weather is a bit cool, and then carry again around lunchtime when the weather was warmer. This carrier allows you to effectively reduce the insulation and allow more airflow to the baby's back, sides, and/or torso. There were several other features we loved about this carrier. First, unlike the ERGO, there is no awkward infant insert to deal with: the carrier is already shaped to support infants as small as 7 pounds without any insert. Second, the carrier configures into 6 different carry positions, which are all really awesome. The first uses the fetal tuck, the second is a tuck with legs out, third and fourth are front- and rear-facing toddler, fifth is a trendy hip sling style, and sixth is a back carrier for the bigger kiddos (all the way up to 45 pounds!). We found that all 6 positions were highly supportive, well constructed, and very comfortable for both mom (or dad) and baby. A third thing we loved is that it has an adorable sleeping hood, which also is great to protect baby's head a bit from the sun and elements. Fourth, we loved that mom and dad's comfort were taken into consideration throughout: nice wide waist belt, a large lower back/lumbar support pad, super comfortable shoulder straps, all while staying quite lightweight. Fifth, it has some additional little features that are worth mentioning: it comes in a ton of truly stylish and adorable styles, colors, and patterns, it has a convenient zippered pocket on the front for storing little things (phone, credit card, keys), and the carrier itself is adjustable in several ways to both the wearer and baby. In our testing, we also found that it was rather easy to put on and take off (after reading the manual and practicing for about 10 minutes), put baby in and out, and that it was well-built and reliable. LILLEBaby has made some recent modifications to fix a strap issue, and the resulting carrier is very reliable. Downfalls? Well, not much, but if we are being picky: the storage pocket is on the outside of the zipper-down flap, so it's hard to access when the flap is unzipped. Could have been nice to put the storage pockets on the waist band! Overall, a truly excellent carrier highly deserving of this spot on our list. Usually around $140, check out a ton of styles and colors here.
2. Ergobaby 4-Position Baby Carrier. We didn't get our hands on this for testing last year, but we're happy we did for 2017! The Ergobaby 4-position "360" carrier is the newest addition to the already great Ergobaby carrier line up; a couple years ago, their Ergo Original 3-position carrier was rated #1 on our list, so they have a great history of making excellent carriers. The Ergobaby 4-position carrier is definitely the most comfortable carrier on our list. In our testing, we found it to be super lightweight, comfortable, soft, and easily adjusted to nicely fit nearly any body shape. We wore it for several hours around town and along some trails, and our backs and shoulders felt completely fine. Definitely more comfortable than the LILLEBaby, and we also thought it was a bit easier to breastfeed while wearing the Ergobaby versus the LILLEBaby. We also found it easy to put on, take off, and adjust, even when carrying the baby. However, the shoulder strap adjustment needed to be done by someone else while carrying a baby. It also has a small hood to protect baby from the elements, or give a little shading for a nap. However, it just isn't as versatile as the LILLEBaby. The weight range doesn't go up nearly as high (7-33 pounds), you have to buy an infant insert separately, and it doesn't have the "bucket" adjustments to accommodate both infants and toddlers thighs. So you end up with the four positions, and need to purchase the infant insert to make that 5. We also thought it needed a small storage pouch to carry a paci, keys, phone, etc, and that the Velcro around the waist was great but also quite loud to use. So those are the reasons we chose the LILLEBaby as #1, though honestly it was a close call. The ERGObaby is just so comfortable for parents and babies, that it was a difficult decision. A truly excellent baby carrier with just some small shortcomings. Usually around $150 and available in a ton of colors and patterns here.
3. BOBA 4G Baby Carrier. The BOBA carrier used to sit at the top of our best baby carrier list, and for some great reasons. It is comfortable, stylish, durable, and very well-made and reliable. The thick waistband tends to support a lot of the baby's weight so you shoulders don't get too sore, with a nice even distribution around the body. We also liked that the waistband has two adjustment points, which helps quite a bit to even out the cinching around the waist. It also has the adjustments for the shoulder straps right under the arm pits, helping you customize the fit even when wearing your baby. Some advantages of the BOBA over the ERGO is that it includes an infant insert, supports from 7 pounds all the way up to 45 pounds (like the LILLEBaby), and it has a small zippered pocket along the waist. Though working with an infant insert is a bit awkward relative to having it built in to the system.It also includes little foot straps (stirrups) to support tired hanging legs. Also, we found the range of strap adjustment is very wide, fitting a wider range of body shapes and sizes. So this carrier does in fact have quite a few advantages over the ERGO. So why is here on the list? Well, in our testing, the majority of moms agreed that the ERGO was simply more comfortable for mom, and seemed a bit more supportive for baby. That's not to say that this isn't a comfortable carrier, because it definitely is. Just not quite as comfy as the ERGO, in our opinion. Like the others, it comes in a ton of cute colors and patterns, and we tend to see it for around $125 online. Check it out here.
4. TULA Ergonomic Baby Carrier. The TULA series is definitely one of the most adorable, stylish, and trendy baby carriers on the market. It is also quite comfortable, has a simple design, and is lightweight. We liked the front Velcro pocket, though it was a bit difficult to access for moms with shorter arms or larger babies. It can be used from 15 to 45 pounds, giving it a decent upper range but a very restrictive lower range. Basically, you're not going to be able to use this carrier until your infant is a few months old, unless you purchase the separate infant insert. But once you use it, you and your baby will definitely love it! The shoulder straps are highly padded and comfortable, the baby thigh/leg supports are softly padded, the hood is well-sized and removable, and its simplicity makes it quite easy to get on and off. However, while the baby thigh/leg padding is a nice touch, note that that area is not adjustable like it is in our better options, so there will be a sweet spot when your infant fits perfectly, but before then it will be too wide and maybe a bit uncomfortable for baby. After about an hour, several of our test moms did complain of some back pain and wanted to get back into the LILLEBaby with its cross-straps and lumbar support, or the ERGO. They also noted that it doesn't have very good circulation, and thought it could benefit from some 3D mesh for better airflow. Overall, this is a great carrier with some basic limitations. For the price, we were expecting it to be a real winner, and walked away thinking it's great, but not quite as great as the others above it. It is available in a ton of truly beautiful colors and patterns, putting many of the other carriers to shame! Tends to sell for about $150 online, you can check it out here.
5. BabyBjorn Original Baby Carrier. The Original BabyBjorn is a classic, and really started the style revolution for soft carriers. Suddenly it was stylish to wear a baby carrier, and it was no longer giant, bulky, and utilitarian like the baby carriers your mom might have stuffed you into back in the 80's. The BabyBjorn still remains a staple in the soft baby carrier market, and the price of the Original version has fallen considerably since its introduction. The Original is very basic - shoulder straps only, not much adjusting, and no frills (no newborn insert, no waist strap, no pocket, no hood, etc). It's a good carrier, but will make for sore shoulders and neck after about an hour of use. Because of these complaints, and because the market was getting taken over by more versatile and comfortable carriers, BabyBjorn decided to come out with their own version of a larger, more padded, and more versatile carrier. The One carrier is just like the Comfort model from last year, and has a lot of the basic capabilities of our top rated carriers: front-facing option, waist strap to relieve shoulder pain, multiple adjustments, soft padding, etc. But there is no newborn insert (8 pounds minimum baby weight), no storage pocket, no sleeping/sun hood, and is much bulkier and harder to store relative to the Boba and Ergo. Also, in our trials, we found that the BabyBjorn One doesn't quite take the weight off the shoulders like the Boba or Ergo. So if you're looking for a relatively simple, stylish, well-built and reliable baby carrier for under $50 or so (see it here), this is probably a great option for you!
Best Budget Baby Carriers
A $100-150 baby carrier not fitting you budget? We have been testing baby carriers for many years and have seen some great options under $50. Not great enough to get into our annual top 5 list, but definitely worth considering if you're looking to save some cash! Start with the Baby Bjorn, listed above, for about $50. But if you want something a bit more versatile and like the more comprehensive carriers, check these out:
1. Mother Nest Ergonomic Baby Carrier. One of our favorite all-time carriers under $50, with features and versatility that are quite good for this price range. Supporting babies from 12 to 33 pounds, this carrier does not have an infant insert and can only support babies after they are a few months old. It can be used rear-facing on the chest and on the back, but doesn't work as a front-facing carrier which is unfortunate. But that's where the limitations end. It has nicely padded shoulder straps that we thought were quite comfortable, and it does have a small strap to connect the two shoulder straps and help keep things in a nice comfy position for mom and dad. It has a removable hood, and more pockets than most other carriers on this list, with four zippered pockets, some on the carrier itself, and some around the waist band. Speaking of the waistband, it is quite wide and thick for this price range, and uses Velcro in addition to a clip, keeping it secure. In our testing, we thought the fabric was impressively soft and durable for a carrier in this price range. It also comes with some drool pads that you can remove and wash separately. Overall, this is a really great carrier for this price range, though like the others it's not appropriate for babies under about 12 pounds, and has limited versatility in terms of carrying positions. Tends to sell for about $50, you can see it online here.
2. Mo+M Classic Baby Carrier. This is a great back-to-basics soft-structured carrier with some great versatility, especially given the price point. There are 3 carry options: rear-facing front, hip sling carry, and front-facing back. Notice how there is no forward-facing front position, and no infant position. Not only is there no infant (fetal tuck) position, the carrier is not suggested for use under 12 pounds. It does go up to 36 pounds, however, which is quite good. There are also some good additional features, like a zip-down flap to expose some mesh for higher breathability, much like the LILLEBaby. Also has storage pockets and a hood. Downfalls? Well, not anywhere near as comfy or padded as our premium options, and the cloth is nowhere near as soft and luxurious. Also cannot support infants, and has no infant insert. Overall, a great option if you're looking to save a ton and can deal with the limitations. Tends to go for about $35 online, you can check it out here.
3. NimNik Sling Carrier Hipseat. This is one of the more unique carriers on this list, and we think it's great for older toddlers and bigger kids (up to 45 pounds). What's really unique is that this carrier can be used as: a forward-facing carrier, a rear-facing carrier, and also as a super cool hip-seat for older babies. What is a hip-seat? Well, it's not a baby carrier at all, but rather a little seat you have around your waist to help support your baby's weight. It's a great concept to reduce those sore arms from carrying your baby around in the natural position. And the carrier is quite good as well. It uses lightweight highly breathable fabric and design. It's basically the hip-seat with an added back support to turn it into a very simplistic carrier. IT does have some nice features, however, especially for the price point. It has three small mesh pockets (non-closing) that can fit a phone, keys, pacifier, etc. It also has a nice wide waist band which helps with comfort and stability, especially when using the hip-seat. It uses Velcro and a buckle to hold on the waist, which makes it feel quite secure. But there's no infant insert and can only be used for babies over 12 pounds. No closing pockets, nowhere near as padded, soft, or luxurious as our top options, and definitely not as comfortable to wear. But if you're looking for an inexpensive hip-seat that doubles as a basic carrier, then this could be the option for you! Usually about $50 online, check it out here.
4. Infantino Cuddle Up Ergonomic Hoodie Carrier. Infantino makes a wide range of baby products, and several varieties of baby carriers. They have over a dozen options, some of which are difficult to tell apart from others, and some are not really worth considering. We will say that we're impressed by the pricing and features of the Infantino line, with an overall reliable and secure set of carriers at great prices. As with all the others on this list under $50, it has limited weight range, versatility, and comfort. The Cuddle Up is included in this list for a few reasons. First of all, it is adorable, with a cute bear hood cover that goes on like a soft hoodie cap and has cute little ears. When it's off, it has a cute colored chevron pattern on the fuzzy inside. It's the only carrier on this list that has a hood that can actually keep your baby's head a little warm in the fall. Second and continuing the hoodie theme, it also includes a front pocket just like your favorite hoodie, though we point out that things can fall out of it at times, particularly when taking the baby in/out, or taking the carrier off. Third, we found the pads to be reasonably supportive and the adjustments were sufficient. Not too much back or shoulder pain. Note that like the Mother Nest and Mo+m carriers, it only supports two carry positions, both are facing mom or dad: front carry and back carry. It also only supports from 12 to 40 pounds, which is par for course on this inexpensive carrier list. Usually about $40 online, you can check it out here.
5. Bebamour Baby Carrier. Another hip-seat option like the NimNik, for use with babies from 12 to 45 pounds. Has some good features, and a different style than the NimNik. We liked that it included a bunch of zippered pockets, most of which can even be used when configured as a hipseat. The hipseat was reasonable, but not quite the same incline and saddle size as the NimNik. It was overall comfortable to wear, nothing to write home about. For the baby, it was a slightly different story. In addition to its somewhat small and poorly inclined saddle, it also has zipper pulls and rough fabric in the area where your baby's thighs contact it. That can be pretty abrasive on a baby's skin, so your baby will need to be wearing pants when using this carrier. The same situation arose when the baby was rear-facing, with bare knees resting against a pocket zipper. One of our test moms draped a muslin cotton burping cloth over it to help out with that situation, but that seems like it should have been considered when this carrier was designed. The unit we purchased also had a bad smell to it, which took some time to off-gas. It's unfortunate because this hip-seat carrier actually has a lot of potential, especially given the cute styling and features. Overall, a decent hip-seat carrier, sells for about $70 (see it here), but we'd suggest going with the NimNik if you're looking for a hip-seat carrier.