Gear Review: Child Carriers Overview (With Pics)

I just completed a 6-minute overview of the Osprey Poco Plus Child Carrier but wanted to offer some insight into child carriers in general and offer a comparison to an older, more affordable child carrier (Kelty TC 3.0 which is discontinued and replaced with the Kelty Transit 3.0) We're talking $260 vs $89. That's a significant difference so what do you gain by purchasing a newer pack (or what do you lose by getting an older one)?

First, why buy a child carrier?

This might seem pretty clear to most people but you're getting a child carrier because you're doing longer walks/hikes and need more support/storage than available on something like the Ergo 360 (great kid carrier for little ones, just not for hiking). I'd say, the primary reason you're looking to get a child carrier, is to have the weight transferred to your hips. 

Next, what to look for in a child-carrier?

There are vital features for any pack then there are premium features. Vital features which you should look for in any child-carrier:

  • 5 point harness
  • Padded waistbelt
  • Internal frame
  • Adjustable harness

Premium features (helpful but not vital):

  • Sunshade
  • Hydration Compatible
  • Premiere materials
  • Extra storage
  • Kickstand

In my personal opinion, if you're not sure how much you'll be hiking and you're starting out, hop on eBay and score a decent used child carrier from one of the major brands (Kelty, Deuter, Osprey) as long as it has some of the above vital features. If you have a few extra dollars, the premium features can be helpful but again, they aren't always necessary. 

Comparing a full-featured child carrier to an older, more basic model:

Osprey Poco Plus vs. Kelty Kids TC 3.0 from the back

Osprey Poco Plus vs. Kelty Kids TC 3.0 from the front

These packs both feature an internal frame, waist belt, load bearing straps, 5 point harness and storage. 

If you were going to compare apples to apples, you'd take two child carriers in the same price range and you'd find similar features. But we're trying to figure out if it's worth saving $200 by purchasing an older used model. So what are the differences? Let's walk through them:

The child harness:

Though these both feature a 5-point harness, the Osprey has a fully padded harness and adjustable clips that keeps extra belt from hanging around the pack. The straps also maintain their individual form whereas the Kelty meet in the front. I prefer the support offered by the Osprey. Functional difference? Probably not much.

Osprey harness

 Kelty TC 3.0 Harness

Kelty TC 3.0 Harness

The waist belt:

There's no competition here. The newer tech found on the Osprey helps distribute the weight to your hips and relieves back and shoulder strain. It also provides adjustable padding not found on other more basic packs (you can adjust it while hiking with the "fit on the fly" technology). The Kelty does have a waist belt with a few inches of padding coming around your waist. It is helpful and keeps the pack from swinging with a child in it, but it does less to transfer that weight to your hips. That being said, it is somehow very comfortable. With the load bearing straps cinched to hold the child in place, the Kelty feels more like an Ergo than a hiking backpack. Overall, the newer tech on the Osprey is fantastic but still not a deal breaker when trying to save a few bucks. 

The adult harness:

Both of these packs feature an adjustable harness that will fit smaller frames and can expand to fit larger frames. The actual way they are adjusted is different. The Kelty features a pin you pull out before sliding the harness up or down. Pretty easy. The Osprey features a clip behind the mesh which you flip to release, then slid the shoulder straps to your desired fit. Both work flawlessly and it remains to be seen which works better. The primary difference you'll find on these packs is the actual frame/back mesh. While the Kelty is padded, it doesn't offer a ton of ventilation. Again, it's comfortable but doesn't give you much breathability. The Osprey, on the other hand, offers a phenomenal mesh backing that gives your back some space from the actual frame, giving room for air to flow and keep you (and your child) cooler on warmer walks. Winner? Depends on your use. For hiking: Osprey. For around town: either.

The gray clip on the bottom is what you flip up to move the harness on the Osprey.

The pin with the cord attached is what you pull to adjust the adult harness on the Kelty.

A few other key differences:

  • The primary difference between these packs is size. The Kelty is a lot smaller and more suitable for around-town kid carrying. But, from wearing it around a bit, I think it can also for short hikes
  • The weight limit on the Kelty is about 40 lbs. The Osprey is about 50. 
  • The primary storage on the Kelty has a lot to offer (it has a zip-off "daypack" not pictured), but there are more mesh pockets and vestibules on the Osprey. Honestly, I think the Kelty might have more storage space, if you need it.
  • Osprey has hydration bladder space. Kelty does not.
  • Kelty feels closer to body and more nimble but the Osprey feels more secure and rigid where it should (around the child).
  • Getting a big toddler into the Kelty is a pain-in-the-A but it's something you sacrifice for the smaller size. It has a rigid baseplate so it does stand on it's own but it's nowhere near as robust and sturdy as the Osprey. Loading a kid into that pack is extremely easy...but it should be for how much larger it is.
  • The Osprey Poco Plus (and Premium) has a built in sunshade. You can purchase an option sunshade for the Kelty but it doesn't attach quickly and will take up a lot of space in the pack.

Kelley with optional sunshade.

Conclusion:

I like the Kelty a lot more than I thought, but also realize that with a large toddler, it will probably only last another year since it maxes out at 40 lbs. I plan to use it a lot on day-trips around town but will still go back to the Osprey for longer hikes, mostly due to the way it transfers the weight to my hips and for the comfortable harness (and back mesh for airflow). 

For those on a budget, you really should consider some older models on craigslist and eBay. They may not have all the bells and whistles, but they'll still help you to get out and enjoy nature with your little ones! I'm happy to make some observations and recommendations if you have any questions on particular packs.

I hope you enjoyed this review.

Find the Osprey Poco Plus here.