Traveling has never been easier for parents - no longer do you need to rely on the hotel, or the in-laws, to have a clean and safe crib for your baby. With a playard (usually called a "Pack and Play" or "travel crib"), you simply unzip it from its carrying case, unfold it, and put on a sheet. Your baby or toddler is then ready to sleep, play, or relax. It's also great when you need to shower, get ready, get dressed, or do some cleaning - a safe place where your baby can't get in trouble while you're not in within direct view. Super convenient for home or travel.
To write this review, we tested 10 different playards - in the stores, in friends' houses, and of course 3 different models in our own house. There were 5 primary things we considered when writing this review: Weight and Portability (can it fit in a backpack? can it be a carry-on? how heavy is it?), Ease of Use (what is the set-up time? what is the break-down time? how hard is it to stuff into its carrying case? can it be easily cleaned?), Durability (can your toddler jump in it? will they tip it over? will it fall apart from repeated use?), Comfort (is the mattress too thin? is the fabric soft? does the mattress lay flat?), and Safety (does it go beyond government safety standards? is the fabric chemical free? are there pinch or injury points?).
Here are the Best Playards of 2017!
1. The Lotus Travel Crib & Portable Baby Playard. This is the best reviewed playard of 2017 for good reason, but it is also sometimes hard to find. Due to demand, it gets sold out quickly, even at Amazon! It's a fantastic, ultra-portable, lightweight (13 pounds!), and stylish playard that fits in a backpack, can be brought on a plane as a carry-on, and parents absolutely love it. It assembles and disassembles in about a minute each, is nicely padded and comfortable, is free of harmful chemicals (PVC, BPA, Lead), and has a zippered side-door for fun (think play fort!) and easy access to put down a sleeping baby. It has a unique style and shape, durable construction, and is super easy to use. It tends to sell for around $250 but we've seen it as low as $200 on Amazon. Pricier than a basic Graco, but worth every penny for anyone planning on using it for travel, whether on the plane or walking to the park for a picnic. Long and narrow in shape, at 42" x 24", which translates to only about 7 square feet of play space. More of a playard for sleeping than for playing, per se, given the smaller area. There are only two small negatives that we found: first, the mattress is a little thinner than what you might find in the Pack N Play or BabyBjorn versions. It's still soft *enough* but not really plush. Second, the Velcro tabs that you need to fasten during assembly can sort of be time consuming. After a few times, you'll get a hang of it and be setting it up within 30 seconds (really). Highly recommended!
2. Graco Pack N Play TotBloc Playard. Note that our #3 is better than this, but also over twice the price. Numbers 2, 4, and 5 on our list are very similar in style and utility. They are all square rather than rectangle, simple in their styling and functionality, but all sturdy, comfy, and useful. This first one of the three has a really cute style and works very well. It is 38" x 38" in size (about 10 square feet of play area), folds and unfolds very easily, his highly breathable/ventilated on the sides, and has very cute lady bug and other cartoony pictures on the sides. When we took it out of the package, we were able to get it setup for the first time in under 3 minutes. It was really fast and simple, and there were no tools required. You unfold it and push down in the middle of the mattress area, and it pops into shape. We also thought that the mattress was relatively thick and supportive, which is rare in a playard. Thicker than the Delta version (#5 below).Overall, we thought it was decently sturdy, and it seemed well made. It is quite heavy (about 24 lbs), but also quite a bit bigger than typical rectangular playard options like the Lotus and traditional Graco (#7 below). The Lotus wins, hands down, but this is a great second option that fulfills a slightly different need. It's quite a bit cheaper and very much more basic. For a baby up to 35" tall. This unit sells for about $80-90 .
3. BabyBjorn Travel Crib Light. This excellent playard is very similar to the Lotus option, but with a couple of weaknesses. Let's start with the strengths. It's stylish, ultra-compact (but doesn't fit in a carry-on-sized backpack like the Lotus), assembles and disassembles in about 30 seconds, has a very thick and comfortable mattress, and is durable and easy to use without those pesky Velcro straps that the Lotus has. Sounds pretty good, huh? Well it is, it's really an excellent playard, with only a few things that make it #3 on our list. First, there is no zippered side door for fun and easy access to put down a sleeping baby. Second, it fits in a bag but it's not as convenient as a backpack and is too big for a carry-on; and since it's too big to be a carry-on, you'll need to take up quite a big space in your suitcase to pack it in - otherwise you'll be paying for an extra bag check (and moms report it's not really tough enough to put up with the abuse of being a checked bag). So, this is an excellent playard but is probably best for traveling by car or if you're willing to take up most of the space in your suitcase. Third, it is quite a bit smaller than the other playards on this list, with a mattress size of only 41" x 23.5", which translates to about 6.5 square feet of area. Not quite bit enough for playing, but great size for secure sleeping. Finally, we found it difficult to put a sleeping baby down into the playard since the mattress sits on the floor. That makes for a nice firm sleeping surface, but is a pretty far reach down while trying to gently place a baby down. The Lotus (#1, above) solves this problem by adding a zippered side. This unit sells for upwards of $240; free 2-day shipping on Amazon.
4. Joovy Room2 Portable Playard. Note that it comes in much better colors than just orange! This is similar in style and function to the Graco unit above. It is about an inch larger in width, coming in at 39" x 39" (about 10.5 square feet of play area) which turns out to be more than enough room for the little guy to nap and play. This unit, however, is really about style. It has a modern and sleek design that fits into urban and contemporary decors. It has clean lines, subdued colors, and doesn't have any (maybe tacky?) cartoony baby colors and pictures. In our testing we didn't think the mattress was quite as plush as the Graco TotBloc, but it did feel very sturdy, well made, and safe. Just like the TotBloc it has breathable/ventilated mesh sides. While it is very sturdy and looks great, we also thought it was a bit heavy for our tastes. A few moms commented that it was just too heavy to, for instance, carry to the beach. We pulled out our scale and it tipped the scale at just under 30 lbs. That's pretty heavy, but we also point out that it pays off in the sturdiness department. The major downfall with this unit is that it was honestly rather difficult to set up, and required a bit more brute force than we thought it should in order to fold open. After a few times we got the hang of it, but it was frustrating that it required the brute force of 2 people to get it properly opened. So that's not so great, and puts it behind the Graco option. Outside of that, it's an excellent playard option and you'll likely get used to the opening/folding mechanism after a few uses. This thing is big, but the price is not. We found it online for about $120.
5. Delta Novel Ideas Playard. Just like the Graco and Joovy options above, this is another square playard. The square units are quickly gaining in popularity, giving parents and babies more flexibility to spread out and nap without having to face one direction or another. It's more like the old-fashioned playpen rather than the traditional playard shape. This particular Delta Novel Ideas unit is a bit smaller than the other two, however, coming in at 36" x 36" (9 square feet of play area), which may seem large but when it's next to the Joovy Room2 it looks quite small. It is between the Graco and Joovy in terms of weight, however, coming a bit heavy at 28 pounds. When we took it out of the box we were pleasantly surprised that it was not only fully assembled, but it was very easy to pop completely open and have it ready to use within a minute or two. The mattress was decent, if not a bit thin. Overall, our testing moms thought this was one of the best options for those on a limited budget. They thought it really gets the job done. Not quite as sturdy as the Joovy (or even the Graco), and not quite as spacious, but it's also only about $75. You can't go wrong with this playard. Since it is relatively new to the market, however, we're holding off on putting it higher on our list until we see some good reliability out of it. We'll update in a few months with some more info.
6. 4Moms Breeze Playard. This is an awesome newcomer, and it holds a lot of potential. This is good sized and a bit heavy, coming in at 46" by 33" by 29" high, and just under 25 pounds. That's not as heavy as the beast Graco unit (below), but it's enough to make a sore arm if you need to carry it through an airport. The size makes it a comparable square footage to the Joovy Room2, both coming in just over 10 square feet of room for sleep and play. The 4Moms is slightly rectangular, and the Joovy is square. They call this the Breeze for good reason - it is extremely easy to pop open and close up when you're done using it, especially on a hardwood or tile floor. Not as easy on carpet since the legs can't slide out into position easily on thick carpet (too much friction). It has a convenient bassinet feature that attaches and hangs from the top sides. This is great for infants to keep them at a higher level (like at bed level), but you'll only get a few months out of this feature since it's max weight is 18lbs (it can also be used as a changing table later on). The bassinet is convenient but unfortunately not very soft or comfortable. Of course, infant sleeping surfaces are supposed to be quite firm, so this is expected. The primary mattress lower down is actually quite good, not too firm or soft. We really liked this playard for these reasons. We also liked that it is well built and sturdy, has a nice simple style, and is very spacious. What we didn't like is that it's quite heavy and awkward to carry along, the bassinet attachment doesn't fit into the carrying case, and its price is a bit outrageous coming in at around $300! Not to mention that the 4Moms fitted sheets for this playard are an additional $40 or so. That's too much for us, especially when you can get other great options for substantially less money. So it has good features that put it high on the list, but a price that drops it down several notches.
7. Summer Infant Pop 'n Play Portable Playard. This is a great, large, inexpensive, no-frills playard that is perfect for at home, on the beach, and in the yard use. We found it very sturdy, easy to pop open and fold closed, and quite large. It comes in at 48" wide and about 26" tall. At 14 square feet of play area this is the largest playard on our list. Less for sleeping, more for playing, unlike the Lotus and BabyBjorn options. We found it perfect for car travel to the beach or park, great for an indoor ball pit or out in the yard, but less suitable for travel by plane. Even completely folded up in the included carrying case, it's just way too big for that type of travel. The mattress is fine, but not really comfortable for sleeping. So overall, you're getting a very large, sturdy, and well-constructed playard that is great for some particular uses. So why so far down on our list? Well, the architecture of the playard is a bit unfortunate with the cross-bars all around the sides. The mesh netting is a bit loose, so a few things happened during our testing. First, one 20-month baby quickly climbed right out by pushing his foot to stretch the netting and climbing on the cross bars. Second, when we used it as a ball pit, one toddler bonked his head on the cross bars. There are some ways to solve this, for instance by placing foam pipe insulation (or even pool noodles!) on the bars, but that seems like a bit of work that should have been done by the company in the first place. In any event, we definitely think this is a great playard, but you will need to do something about to pad the cross bars. Of course, this doesn't solve the climbing issue.
8. The Graco Pack N Play is like the Cadillac of playards - you can get a basic model for a mid-range price, or you can load it up and get it into a much higher range with all sorts of options: attachable changing tables, baby rockers, music players, vibrations, etc. With all those options you will end up paying around $150-200. You've have a great playard, but you'll also have a very heavy (37 pounds!) and cumbersome playard with lots of peripheral parts to lose, break, and replace batteries in. Graco has ruled the playard market for over a decade now, so much so that their trademarked name "Pack N Play" has become a more common term than playard. It's big, heavy, cumbersome, and not great for anything other than car travel. But it's sturdy, well built, and has basically any feature you can imagine having in a playard - except for an ultra-portable carrying case or zippered side. Prices range from about $100 to $200 depending on the number of features you need.