* Prices may differ from that shown
The Littlelife Explorer Child Carrier is the carrier to invest in if you like to do a lot of walking as a family.
This was the dilemma me and my husband were in as we like to go out and about walking but the original baby carrier we bought for my daughter was no longer useable.
It had been perfect when my daughter was tiny but now she was bigger it was proving too much for either myself or my husband to carry her on our front for long walks.
Added to this was the fact she was simply too big and heavy for her original carrier.
My husband was the one who carried her most and once she hit seven months he said enough was enough and he was going to see what proper baby carrier he could buy.
We had seen a couple of men out walking with their little children in Littlelife carriers and they certainly appeared to be the brand leader for this particular piece of kit.
My husband bit the bullet and bought one off Ebay. He still had to pay almost £100 for it even though it was second hand but it would have retailed in a shop for almost £200 and when it was delivered to our house we could see why. It is really quite impressive and makes you look like a pro-walking family.
The main benefit instantaneously is this carrier allow you to carry your child on your back which is a lot less strain. The baby or child is simply lowered into the carrier and strapped in. The straps can be adjusted depending on the baby's size and is suitable for youngsters aged from 6 months to around two or three years - in otherwords until they are big enough to walk with you so it is a great investment and you'll never have to go and buy another one. The baby is essentially maintained in a standing position with their legs dangling down either side but with a padded seat supporting their bottom - just imagine a baby riding a horse and you'll get a clear idea of the position the carrier hold them in - but they are obviously supported back and front as well.
There are even pictures of animals on the padding which supports the baby's front to give them something additional to look at as they go along.
The carrier looks very much like a hiking rucksack and has plenty of other storage in it with lots of pockets and compartments to put the baby stuff in so you do not have to take a separate bag out with you.
It is easy to hoist onto your back. Because you can stand the carrier up on the floor to put the baby in it is possible for it to be a one man job getting it on your back though of course it is easier to have a second person there to guide your arms through the straps.
It even has a little mirror on a string so if you were out on your own you can hold it up and check on your baby behind you.
It is these touches which make this a premium product. It appears very hard-wearing and as I say we are the second owners of ours and you wouldn't know. The material can all be washed down with a wet cloth if it does get dirty and while it is rather large and will take up a bit of boot space, as you won't have to take any other bags or pushchairs out with you that shouldn't prove a problem at all. Walkers go out and buy one now, or get it off Ebay.
Child carriers are a nifty little invention which allow you to carry your child around on your back - hopefully in relative comfort. They are very similar to normal backpacks in their variability in cost, size and design.
We have always enjoyed walking, usually just long ambles around the English countryside, but occasionally we have tackled mountains as well. We didn't want to limit ourselves to pushchair friendly walking when our little one arrived so we looked into child carriers as soon as she was old enough to sit in one comfortably (this is probably around six months). Now I don't want to scare you off baby backpacks altogether, but buying one is not a job for anyone lacking in persistence or stamina.
Before I get into details about the one we chose here are some tips on the choosing process in general:
*****Choosing a Child Carrier *****
* Internet research will really serve you well when choosing a carrier. It is worth setting out what you want from your backpack and making a shortlist.
* Phone round the shops to make sure they have the model and size you want in stock. Most shops only stock a few models and of those usually only a small number are kept at any one time.
* Do NOT buy a child carrier without trying it out in person. That means everyone who will be using it should try it on and the child should get a go in it. If your child gets fed up climbing in and out of the things, outdoor shops should have bags of sand to make up the weight which will give you some indication of the bags comfort.
* Remember, get what you need, but you get what you pay for. Don't expect a cheaper option to stretch to the performance of a more expensive one - your back will not thank you.
***** Littlelife *****
Littlelife is part of the same company as Lifeventure (who make backpacks, sleeping bags, camping gear and that sort of thing) and Lifesystems (who make first aid kits, mosquito nets and other things to keep you safe when you're off adventuring) so they boast a significant amount of experience in hard wearing materials and carrying technology.
They make five different types of baby backpack starting with the lightest -Ultralight, Traveller, Cross Country, Explorer and Voyager - the largest. They also make first aid kits, backpack for children, travel cots and some other bits and bobs.
The explorer is the backpack we chose because it suited our needs best. It has a small attached backpack on its back - roughly where your child might wear a backpack - and a larger compartment for storage underneath the seat. One of the deciding factors for us was that the back is hugely adjustable. I am 175cm (5'8) and my husband is 193cm (6'4 I think) so we needed something that we could both use comfortably. My husband seems to be basically beyond the height range of most backpacks, except this and the Macpac Vamoose. [The Vamoose was ruled out because it comes in different sizes, so we would have needed two to fit us both comfortably.]
Weight: 2.6 Kg
Maximum Weight Load: 18 Kg
Dimensions: 26 (w) x 36 (d) x 70(h) cm
Suitable for Ages: 6 months - 4 years
The weight of the carriers was a big stumbling block for us. We wanted, understandably, to have minimal weight which wasn't our daughter, but we soon discovered that the difference between 1.8 kg and 2.6 kg on your back is not really significant, especially when you add a 10kg girl to it.
Obviously 18kg would be a lot to carry, but by this stage (I hope) there will be a lot more walking and we will only use the pack for rests. At the moment, our little one weighs around 11kg and I can comfortably carry her for three hours over even terrain or smallish hills. For example I have recently carried her up Glastonbury Tor and over Brean Down (there will be some non-West Country examples later).
***** Features *****
For the Child
* The seat: made from foam padding and has semicircles cut out of it to fit little legs more comfortably. It is also adjustable up and down by about 15 cm (six inches) so that it can keep being comfortable as your child grows. The back and sides of the seat are also padded so that when your child is all strapped in, they are surrounded by soft bits. There is an extra padded section on the back which acts like a cushion for extra comfort. At the front is a little pillow with a frog, a duck and a sheep in bright colours on it. This pillow cover is removable and washable so that you can clean off the inevitable saliva and potential vomit.
* The straps: these are thin but sturdy. They have padded fleece covers where they sit over your child's shoulders. The straps are firmly attached at the back of the seat and go to the front centre where they fit into two separate clips. Once strapped in, you then tighten the sides of the seat so that your child is securely held and cannot reach the clips for the shoulder straps.
* Toy hooks: there are two brightly coloured ropes, one on each side, for attaching toys so that they don't get lost along a walk.
For the Adult
* Back system: the backpack uses something called the Comfort Adjust padded backsystem. The shoulder straps attach to a fully movable part which slides up and down a metal strip in the centre. It adjusts by about 15-20cm (6-8 inches) using a simple pull strap. This means that it can be adjusted when it is on your back for fine tuning. This is the really important bit for making carrying that much weight comfortably because you need the pack to ensure that most of the weight is carried on your hips - or your shoulders will be aching very badly within half an hour.
* Shoulder straps: these are very well padded and can be length adjusted. There are also straps which anchor the shoulder straps to the backpack which can be adjusted for comfort and to increase or decrease pack stability. The shoulder straps can be joined together with a chest strap. This can be easily slid up and down so that it sits comfortably on your chest and holds the shoulder straps where you want them.
* Hip strap: This is again well padded, and the part that takes the weight of the pack and rests it against your lower back is a large chunk of padding as well. The hip strap is very adjustable and can easily be tightened to secure the pack in place. There are also more anchoring straps down here. I usually leave them loose to allow for the natural movement of walking, only tightening them up on steep inclines or very rough ground.
* Anchor point: this is the unique point of most Littlelife child carriers. It is basically a small hole at the back base of the backpack set into the metal frame of the pack. When getting a child in and out, you simply put your foot in here and the pack will not fall over - as long as you don't. Most other packs have a frame, either permanent or pull out, which acts as a stand. This means that on unstable ground it may not work. The anchor seems like it isn't a good thing at first, because you have to have your foot in it for the pack to stand up, but realistically you wouldn't leave your child in the pack when it's not on your back - none of them are very stable - and it also gives you enough resistance when taking your child out so you don't end up with a backpack attached to your child's feet.
* Hip pocket: this is a tiny pocket on the hip strap which contains a small, wonky mirror for taking a look at your child - it is attached to a string so you can't drop it. You could probably fit a coin purse and a small phone in here, but not much more.
* Lifting straps: there are two of these, just in front and just behind where the child sits. These are perfect for another person to lift the pack onto your back. There are also two straps, one at each side right at the bottom, but these are not really for lifting, more for steadying as you lift it yourself onto your back.
* The storage pocket at the bottom also houses the anchor point so it is a slightly odd shape. In this I can fit the sunshade, waterproof and a small changing bag.
* The small backpack has two pockets in it for keeping things in place - phone or wallet. I usually fit our lunch in here as well as all of my bits and bobs. However, it is stuck right on the back of the pack, so if you're going somewhere crowded I would not recommend keeping anything valuable in it, as chances are you wouldn't notice if someone decided to pinch something. There is also a small mesh pocket on the outside of this part of the pack. You can just about fit a map or guide book in here.
* The pack is quite attractive really. It is mainly black and grey with the inside of the seat a bright yellow. There is reflective piping all over the pack to add to your visibility.
* There is a large Littlelife logo on the back and a sign pointing you towards the location of the anchor point.
* The sunshade that comes with the pack is also grey and fits very easily and quickly onto the top of the pack. It doesn't have a bag or anything, so it usually stays loose in the bottom pocket. The top and back are made of waterproof material and the sides and roll up front are made from mesh meaning that if you roll the front down it is sort of like a baby prison. Note that this does not cover the whole pack - or your child's legs - so you really do need the extra waterproof cover.
***** Conclusions *****
It is really very difficult to buy one of these. We couldn't find one anywhere near us to try it out. Eventually I found one online and happened to notice that they were based just up the road from us and had a small showroom (quite a coincidence considering we lived in a small Oxfordshire town at the time) so I rang them up and made an appointment to try one. We had originally intended to try the three littlelife carriers that might have been suitable and then go away and think about it. But we were so impressed (having previously tried carriers by Macpac, Deuter and Vaudé) we bought it on the spot. And they aren't exactly cheap either. But then you wouldn't scrimp on a pushchair, so why scrimp on something that has to be comfy for two people?
The RRP is £129.99, but online deals at the moment (and how you buy one in a shop I'm not sure) make it about £110, including delivery. We bought ours about a year ago from Babyworld for about £120, if I remember correctly. Since then we have also purchased the full rain cover (we got this from Cotswold Outdoor in Betws-y-Coed for £25) and the neck pillow (about £5 from an outdoor discount store).
--------A Note on the rain cover: this is much bigger than the shower cover, although it does also fold up and go in the lower pocket. It also has a roll down front section and is easily attached. As far as I am aware, while it is made from waterproof fabric, it does not have fully sealed seams and so is not as waterproof as your waterproof jacket might be. The reasoning behind this seems to be that you shouldn't be taking your child out in a storm anyway. But generally with this and her usual coat and salopettes on, we have never had any complaints - except of the bored with being in a small tent variety.
We have had the carrier for over a year and we have used it up mountains, on weekend walks, around town and all over the place. It is really fabulous to have the freedom from the pushchair and our little one loves the views from up on a back. It is more difficult for her to fall asleep in it than the pushchair, especially now she is a bit bigger, but then she sleeps better at night after a long walk.
Comfort wise, I find the pack fine. My husband complains a bit about it, but I think maybe that is because he isn't used to carrying a heavy backpack anyway. Realistically, it's not going to feel like nothing - you are carrying about 15kg, after all. The best thing about this pack is its adjustability so you, and anyone else who wants a go, should be able to adjust it to what is comfortable for them - even if you are especially tall. I can't comment on what it's like if you're especially short as the smallest person to have used ours is 168 cm (5'6) - but (and this applies to everyone) I really, very strongly, urge you NOT TO BUY ANY CHILD CARRIER WITHOUT TRYING IT ON FRIST.
Anatomically shaped child seat and soft face protection pad. Comes with a free sunshade.