Best Child Carriers for Traveling with Kids Over 40 Pounds

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In preparation for my family’s first sightseeing vacation to Portugal, I started thinking about the logistics of exploring old cities and standing in tight spaces with two high-energy, uber-curious kids. My kids are three and five, and I cruise around the streets of San Francisco with my side-by-side double stroller all the time, but there’s no doubt that it’s a pain and almost downright impossible to navigate a wide stroller in some stores and restaurants. Negotiating a historic city like Lisbon is bound to be even more challenging. My husband suggested we look into a hiking-style carrier as an alternative, so I put out a call to friends on Facebook to see what their favorite brands were. 

“Outdoorsy friends, what carrier would you recommend for kids 40+ lbs?”

“Their feet,” one clever friend responded.

He has a point, of course. My children are not babies. They’re full-fledged little kids who are capable of walking and will want to explore and be involved in all that we do. If a stroller is overkill, maybe a carrier is ludicrous. Lugging preschoolers on our backs all day in 90-degree weather sounds less than pleasant (although, it would be good justification for all the vinho verde wine we plan to drink).

Then I thought about our first day. We take a red-eye from the east coast, arriving in the morning, but we can’t check into our Airbnb until 6:00 PM (six in the evening, people!), so we have a walking tour of Lisbon scheduled to occupy our time. I don’t even know how I’m going to make it through this tiring first day, let alone how my children will fare. They still fall asleep in the car on the way to wine country.

A stroller would be ideal, but it’s not practical for this particular day or the two other days we have city tours planned. 

So we’re back to carrying them, and it’s either going to happen in our arms or on our backs. Each child is around 40 pounds (my younger one is big for his age and my older one is light for hers), so the inventory of carriers that support kids this size is limited.

The Osprey Packs Poco AG Plus Carrier (for children up to 48 pounds) and the Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 Kid Carrier (up to 50 pounds) were the two most recommended carriers from friends. These carriers are the real deal. They’re sturdy but relatively light with lots of bells and whistles to get you through a day of hiking. They’re the biggest and most expensive options and probably more than we need for a few days of sightseeing.

Osprey Poco
making the effort for friends

At the recommendation of another friend, I tried the LILLEbaby 6 position 360 Degree Ergonomic Baby & Child Carrier. It fits infants and children up to 45 pounds and was a really nice carrier – well made with a breathable fabric. If I was just starting out, buying a new carrier for a baby, I would consider this one because of how long I could use it with my kids, but it wasn’t the right fit for my needs. I felt every ounce of my 40-pound child on my back. 

LILLEbaby Airflow 360

After the LiLLEbaby, I assumed the carrier idea was a dead end, so I let it go. Now, the trip looms closer and closer, and we still haven’t landed on a solution. I did even more research and found six more options.

Here are the contenders:

Piggyback Rider SCOUT

This is the most out of the box solution of the bunch. Instead of a traditional carrier, your child actually stands on a bar positioned behind your back.

Pros

The kids have a great vantage point to look around

It was very easy to put on and intuitive on how to clip the kids in.

Compact to carry (as long as you don’t use the optional hip belt)

It’s safe. I tested it by standing in front of my bed and having my daughter let go of the harness straps and lean back. She stayed in place, and I didn’t lose my balance. 

Cons

My kids can’t relax in the harness.  They have to stay standing, which means bye-bye to naps on the go.

The weight was all in my shoulders. There is a hip belt that you can purchase separately that helps distribute the weight. Without it, I could only last a few minutes.

The optional hip belt was pretty big and made it more cumbersome to put on and pack up.

$110 (not including the optional hip belt)

For children up to 50 pounds

 

phil&teds Parade Backpack Carrier

This one maxes out at 40 pounds, but I wanted to try it because it looked like the most practical solution, sort of a streamlined version of a hiking carrier.

Pros

It has a metal support structure in it, like a sturdy hiking carrier.

It’s fairly light, considering the metal framework within it.

The small, attached backpack and zipper pocket in the belt are great storage.

Easy to adjust the straps.

Cons

As expected, my kids are too tall for it. The metal frame cut into their legs.

There’s no footrest. Both kids’ legs were dangling, which got uncomfortable.

The weight was on my shoulders despite the hip belt. I kept it on for about 20 minutes and managed fine, but my shoulders were definitely tired.

The carrier folds flat, but the length and width are fixed, so it’s more cumbersome to pack than carriers without a metal support frame.

$135

For children up to 40 pounds

 

Boba 4G Carrier

The Boba arrived neatly and compactly packed. It would fit much more easily into a suitcase or large diaper bag for travel than the phil & teds or Piggyback Rider. 

Pros

Comes with a detachable infant insert and snap-on shoulder strap protectors, both helpful, if you’re carrying babies. 

The hip belt did a good job of distributing the  kids’ weight

It’s compact to carry. 

Cons

My kids said they were uncomfortable. The carrier dug into the back of their legs.

I was hot while wearing it.

$105

For children up to 45 pounds

 

Onya Next Step

The next three carriers are all from Onya. The Next Step style is marketed as the urban carrier. It has a streamlined, two-toned look and I suspect that’s what’s meant to give it an urban feel since the rest of the features are the same as the Outback (up next). 

Pros

The kids said it was comfortable to ride in, even without any type of foot holder to rest their feet.

The hip belt distributed the kids’ weight well.

The belt and chest clips are sewn into the carrier on one side, which limits the amount of fumbling it takes to clip in. 

It’s as compact as the Boba, so it’s feasible to travel with this. 

It’s a mobile highchair! This isn’t necessary for my children’s age, but I think it’s so cool that you can attach this carrier to a regular chair to keep your little one secure as you feed them. 

Cons

I got warm wearing this one rather quickly.

It’s not magic – 40 lbs. on your back is still 40 lbs.

$150

For children up to 45 pounds

 

Onya Outback

The Outback’s fabric is the easiest of all the carriers to clean, but in terms of features, it’s very similar to the Next Step.

Pros

The kids said it was comfortable to ride in, even without foot holders to rest their feet.

The hip belt distributed the kids’ weight well.

The belt and chest clips are sewn into the carrier on one side, which limits the amount of fumbling it takes to clip in. Instead of securing the clips in the center of our body, you bring the strap across and clip it.

It folds compactly, so it’s feasible to travel with this. 

It’s a mobile highchair! This isn’t necessary for my children’s age, but I think it’s so cool that you can attach this carrier to a regular chair to keep your little one secure as you feed them. 

Cons

I still got warm wearing this one, but the fabric (recycled polyester) felt a little cooler than the Next Step.

It’s not magic – 40 lbs. on your back is still 40 lbs.

$140

For children up to 45 pounds

 

Onya Pure

This carrier is a simplified version of the Next Step and Outback. There’s no storage pocket (the pocket on the other styles is small, anyway), no hood, and the hip belt and chest strap clip at the center of the body, instead of to the side. The material is lightweight and breathable.

Pros

The kids said they were comfortable in this one!

It was the coolest option for both of us. The back unzips to reveal an airy mesh fabric which kept my child’s back cool. The streamlined design also allowed for plenty of airflow on my own back. 

Compact to carry, just like the other two Onyas. 

Cons

The kids felt a touch heavier in this one than the other two Onyas, but still manageble.

It cannot be strapped to a chair like the Next Step and Outback. 

$130

For children up to 45 pounds

 

And the winner is. . .

None of them!

Strapping the kids on and off our backs will ultimately be more cumbersome than picking them up and putting them down as needed. While the kids said the Onya carriers were the most comfortable, they still wanted out of them pretty quickly. My Facebook friend was right, after all. The best mode of transportation for children 40+ pounds will be their feet. 

If I had to choose a carrier to bring, I’d go with an Onya. For younger children, I love the fact that the Outback and Next Step styles transform into mobile high chairs. The Pure would have been my pick for our current trip because it was the coolest, most comfortable for my kids, and reasonably priced. All three would have been easy to pack for the trip.

If we were setting out on a serious outdoorsy trip, then I’d invest in the Osprey Poco. We love our Osprey backpacks, and the carrier is equally impressive.

Did I miss a carrier that I absolutely must try? Tell me about it below and share your Portugal travel tips and insights on traveling with preschool aged kids. I’ll let you know how the trip goes when we return! 

Update: Here’s a recap of our Portugal trip! 

 

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