Perfect Hiking Carriers for 3-Year-Olds

structured hiking carrier for 3 year old - man with hiking sticks carrying son in a hiking carrier

Your 3-year-old might seem like they’re full of boundless energy from dawn to dusk, but as any hiking family will tell you, that enthusiasm can be short-lived. Bursts of absolute independence can immediately be replaced with the howling need to rest NOW and having a comfortable place to nap.

Whilst we’ve previously covered our favorite toddler carriers for travel, we felt hiking carriers deserved a review page of their own as the needs of a passionate hiking family used to long days on the trails are quite different than when you’re walking through airports or city exploring.

Our focus in this guide is on your older toddlers, approximately three years of age, needing a structured carrier to rest little legs on long hikes.

This post is part of our Tried & Tested essential gear series – learn more about all our favorite baby & toddler travel products

Best Toddler Carrier for Hiking

We’ve summarised our favorite models here to suit different budgets, but read on to see all the features that we love, and what you should be looking for when choosing a hiking carrier for a 3-year-old

Hiking Carrier NameProduct WeightMax Capacity (incl gear)Key FeaturesPricing
Deuter Kid Comfort Child Carrier Backpack7 lbs 1 oz48 lbs
Back length adjustment, adjustable footrests, plush chin pad & integrated head rest, fold out sunroof

Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite Child Carrier7 lbs 4 oz48.5 lbsAdjustable, 6 point safety harness, padded roll cage, multi grab handles

Osprey Poco Plus Child Carrier 9 lbs48.5 lbsBuilt in sunshade, Double Halo child harness

ClevrPlus Deluxe Adjustable Baby Carrier 5.5 lbs38.5 lbsPadded straps & hip belt large storage areas & detachable backpack

ClevrPlus Cross Country Baby Backpack Hiking Child Carrier5.5 lbs38.5 lbsEasy Adjustment system, padded waist straps, sun canopy & rain cover

Piggyback Rider Scout2.5 lbs50 lbsStanding platform with harness

Features to Look for in a Toddler Hiking Carrier

Do I need a framed carrier for a 3-year-old?

There are two options when it comes to carriers for outdoor adventures – soft-structured carriers and framed carriers.

Soft-structured carriers can, of course, be used for hiking, but our recommendation is only for short stints. For any longer hikes (say, an hour+ of carrying time), you will want s a more substantial structured carrier for added comfort, as they can better distribute the weight.

That said, there are some cons still to a framed carrier to consider before investing in this essential piece of hiking kit for your family.

The pros and cons of a structured carrier for hiking with toddlers

  • Load distribution is the biggest PRO of structured carriers over regular baby carriers; especially with big kids, it takes the strain off the shoulders as weight distribution is equaled out with the hips.
  • Storage space is another strong pro to the structured carrier; in addition to small pockets for storing small items and valuables that most soft infant carriers also have, structured carriers can include hydration sleeves, mesh pockets, and some models even have complete additional storage compartments for all your essential hiking gear.

Now not to get negative, however, there are definitely some cons that we’ve experienced using a framed hiking carrier for toddlers and we know many hiking families can relate!

  • Structured carriers are not as easy as soft carriers for getting your 3-year-old in and out. Most structured carrier designs require your child to get in first, then use your upper body strength to swing it onto your back.
  • This is easy enough perhaps when they are small children, but 3 years old weigh substantially more than an infant! A hiking partner can certainly help with this part of the process to make it easier – but as any parent of a three-year-old will know, no sooner do they get what they want (ie you carrying them!), they are bound to want out again; for this reason with a 3-year old who may only need occasional carrying, you may err on a soft structure they can easily get in and out.
  • Weight: The frame itself on a structured carrier can already add 7lbs on average, before you have a child in, so it’s undoubtedly the heavier option. And as kids grow, the other thing to be conscious of, is even if they fit the specified weight limit, with big coats on too, will they actually still fit in the carrier? Some kids have wider thighs and may not find the carrying seat position comfortable.
  • They are bulky to pack. If you are traveling by airplane, especially to your destination, you are likely going to need to check your carrier as it will be too large to fit in the overhead bins on the airplane. You will then need an appropriate storage bag to prevent damage.
  • The cost of a structured carrier is undoubtedly going to be a major consideration for you. There’s no denying for a good brand it’s going to cost you a lot more than a soft carrier. There are cheaper models, though; if you’re not hiking all the time, look below for our value options that should last each child a few years.
A man carrying a 3-year-old in a hiking backpack

Key features we look for in a hiking carrier for older children

  • Weight capacity: This is one of the key features to look for in choosing this type of carrier. Your child’s weight can increase rapidly, so you want to get a good couple of years from your hiking carrier. While some baby backpack carriers can cap out at 30 lbs, the best child carriers for toddlers and bigger kids have a capacity of up to 48 lbs, which will cover you for most 4-year-olds.
  • Ease of use: How easily can the item be adjusted? Not all structured carriers are created equal in this regard, particularly if you and your partner are of different sizes. You want the carrier to be quick and easy to adjust – both the shoulders and the waist – to your body type. Lumbar support is essential in weight distribution, and suspension systems are an added bonus for overall parent comfort.
  • Your child’s comfort is, of course, paramount. If they’re not comfortable with the carrier, they will be reluctant to use it. An adjustable seat position is a must, as is some sort of cover from elements – a rain cover or multi-function sunshade (some are built in, others are added extras); If you think it’s likely your tot will need to sleep, look for products that come with a headrest; an added comfort feature for tots is adjustable foot stirrups.
  • Storage space: in addition to carrying your child, you’re likely carrying everything for the family, from water bottles to small hiking snacks and maps. Look for carriers with easy-to-reach storage pockets and a hydration pack built-in.
  • How easy is the item to clean? Unlike most soft carriers, which can handle a gentle cycle in the washing machine, you will need to clean your structured carrier with sponge cleaning. Do look for carriers that have, for example, a removable drool pad that tends to get the grubbiest and can go in the wash.

Don’t forget to pop over and read our guide on how to keep your toddlers motivated to hike – and you’ll want to see the best toddler shoes for hiking

Best Hiking Carriers For 3-Year-Olds – The Details

Best Overall Hiking Toddler Carrier: Deuter Kid Comfort – Child Carrier Backpack

Why we love it: Our top pick, the Deuter Kid Comfort Child Carrier Backpack is the ultimate carrier for hiking in comfort with older kids. 

A color-coded safety harness system helps you to get small children settled safely and securely, and multiple customizable measures have been put into place to suit all sizes and shapes.  It is the most comfortable carrier for avid hikers with a young child.

Deuter Kid Comfort Child Carrier and Backpack - Midnight
  • Product Weight: 7 lbs 1 oz
  • Recommended Age Range: 40 lbs Maximum Weight
  • Max Capacity with Gear: 48 lbs
  • Waist: 24″ to 54″
  • Comfort Features: VariSlide precise back length adjustment system, Energy-efficient VariFlex hip belt, ergonomic load distribution for carrier/Adjustable height footrests, plush wraparound chin pad (machine washable!), an integrated headrest, and a fold-out sunroof for bub

Don’t forget to think about weather extremes when hiking. The Deuter Kid Comfort comes with custom accessories to protect against both the sun and a raincover, which we love (the Deuter Kid Comfort Pro comes with a built-in cover)

Also available on REI (check for specials as it can be cheaper on sale weeks)

For a smaller framed adult, you may want to consider the Deuter Kid Comfort SL made for more petite women wearers, though as a compromise on size and weight doesn’t have as many inbuilt features such as a sun cover.

Runner Up Best 3-year-old hiking carrier: Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite Child Carrier

Why we love it: Many toddler backpack carriers are more suited for larger frames, but the Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite Child Carrier easily adjusts to many body sizes, making it a great option if you and your partner have quite different body types. 

The large storage compartments are perfect for diapers, snacks, and other supplies. The wide seat base is great for bigger kids, and adjustable stirrups mimic your toddler’s natural resting state.  

Kelty Journey PerfectFIT ELITE Child Carrier for Infants and Toddlers, Zippered Pockets Galore, 26L, Waistbelt, Aluminum Frame, Integrated Sunshade
  • Product Weight: 7 lbs 4 oz
  • Recommended Age Range: Minimum 16 lbs/Maximum 40 lbs
  • Max Capacity with Gear: 48.5 lbs
  • Comfort Features: Kelty PerfectFIT Suspension System easily adjusts to fit both mom and dad, 5-point safety harness and padded aluminum roll cage, multiple grab handles
  • Material: Poly 420D Small Back Stafford75D Poly x 140D Nylon Blend

Possible Cons: This was a close runner-up as our favorite for 3-year-olds; similarly priced to the Deuter Kid Comfort, though could be out of budget for many occasional hikers.

Also available at REI – compare prices here

Best Toddler Hiking Carrier With Gear: Osprey Poco Plus Child Carrier

Why we love it: The Osprey Poco Plus Child Carrier is built with your bub’s every comfort in mind and has plenty of storage for extra supplies, snacks, and room for an extra water reservoir. We love the generous UPF 50+ sun canopy and the 7-year Osprey All Mighty Guarantee.

Osprey Poco Plus Child Carrier Backpack, Starry Black
  • Product Weight: 8.7 lbs
  • Recommended Age Range: Minimum 16 lbs, Maximum 30 lbs
  • Max Capacity with Gear: 48.5 lbs
  • Comfort Features: Built-in sunshade, deluxe child cockpit with Double Halo child harness, adjustable torso

Possible Cons: Although packed with great features, the product weight alone is on the heftier side and may not be the ideal choice for people with smaller body frames. It does not fold up much, so it’s a bit bulky to store. The price differential to its nearest competitors is also off-putting.

The weight limit of 30 lbs is also a bit low if you are considering the best carrier for a large 3-year-old, but you are making up for this with all the storage pockets and how much you can carrier in addition to your tot!

Also available in REI online & in store if you want to try it

Most Affordable Hiking Carrier for 3-year-old: ClevrPlus Deluxe Adjustable Baby Carrier Outdoor Hiking Child Backpack

Why we love it: This ClevrPlus Deluxe Adjustable Baby Carrier has a lightweight, foldable metal frame and plenty of storage for a day on the trails.  It comes in at under $100 USD and comes in several eye-catching colors.

ClevrPlus Deluxe Adjustable Baby Carrier Outdoor Light Hiking Child Backpack Camping
  • Product Weight: 5.5 lbs
  • Recommended Age Range: 9 months to 48 months
  • Max Capacity with Gear: 38.5 lbs (Max child weight of 33 lbs)
  • Waist: expands to 60 inches
  • Comfort Features: Padded adjustable straps and hip belt, large storage areas, detachable backpack 

Possible Cons: While this hiking backpack for younger children is an excellent option for occasional hikes, it may not be as durable as higher-end carriers. Although they say suitable up to 48 months, the weight capacity likely limits most toddlers over three years old, which may limit the overall use you can get from this carrier.

Runner Up Value Pick: ClevrPlus Cross Country Baby Backpack Hiking Child Carrier

Why we love it: This lightweight and affordable toddler carrier for hiking has energy-absorbent padding and large storage areas, including mesh pockets; it will grow with your child through age four. The durable fabric stands up to the elements in rain or shine. Compared to the Deluxe, this model is lighter and slightly pricier.

ClevrPlus Cross Country Baby Backpack Hiking Child Carrier Toddler Gray
  • Product Weight: 5.5 lbs
  • Recommended Age Range: 9 months to 48 months
  • Max Capacity with Gear: 38.5 lbs (Max child weight 33 lbs)
  • Waist: up to 60 inches
  • Comfort Features: Easy adjustment system, thick padded shoulder pads, padded waist straps, sun canopy, and rain cover
  • Material: 600D Oxford Cloth

Possible Cons: Women with smaller frames may have trouble adjusting the straps tight enough to suit them. The weight limit specified again really limits your larger toddlers.

An Alternative to Consider: Piggyback Rider Scout

Saving you a huge amount of space and weight, the PiggyBack Rider can be the perfect solution for a child who only occasionally needs a helping hand. The design is very simple, where you and your child wear attached harnesses, and they stand upright, with handlebars on your shoulders, they can maintain a grip while safely riding high on your back – far better for your posture than shoulder riding a small child.

You can buy just the basic harness or the whole Piggyback rider package, including a carry bag, small gear bag, mud flap protector, a water bottle holder, and an additional key loop.

Piggyback Rider SCOUT model - Child Toddler Carrier Backpack for Hiking Trails, Camping, Fitness Travel - Black
  • Product Weight: 1.5 lbs
  • Max Capacity: 50 lbs (can carry more, but over this weight would be uncomfortable)
  • Comfort features: padded shoulder straps, a nip belt attachment can be added.

Possible cons: It’s important to note that this sort of hiking carrier for a 3-year-old is a short-term solution; Some parents have reported some discomfort and rubbing on the lower back over longer periods (there is a hip belt attachment for heavier children), and you’ll be carrying all of the weight in your shoulders rather than distributing the weight on your hips like the best toddler backpack carriers.

Additionally, once you are using this device, you cannot simultaneously wear a backpack with your gear, and your toddler will not be able to sleep.

Another Hiking Carrier Option – Trail Magik®Kid Carriers

We are yet to get our hands on one of these to test it out on the trails. However, by all reports, hiking parents have highly acclaimed these as a great, lightweight hiker solution to carrying your 3-year-old for short periods of time.

Designed as a transition item when your child walks most of the time but not the whole hike, it’s a durable yet lightweight addition to your regular hiking backpack. You will need at least a 30L pack with upper loaders and a waistband for the most comfortable fit.

Trail Magik is recommended from approximately one year of age up to 43 pounds, making it a great hiking carrier solution for a 3-year-old, coming in under the $100 USD mark.

Learn more about Trail Magik here

We hope this detailed guide to structure toddler carriers for hiking has helped you pick a design that’s suitable for you and your 3-year-old.

As hard as it might be to imagine now, there will be a day soon when they won’t need carrying at all and will be independently joining you on all your hikes; but as we know, 3-year-olds still tire easily, one of these leading brands of child carrier is the ideal solution for your family hiking needs.

Next up, pop over here to see our complete guide to family hiking gear you will need as your kids grow more independent; plus, we have this detailed guide on how to encourage your toddlers to love hiking too.

More toddler travel inspiration

For all you avid hikers and lovers of the great outdoors, you may also like to check out these articles:

  • Toddler Sleeping Bags – why you may want to invest in a specialized toddler sleeping bag on your next camping trip.
  • Best waterproof baby carriers Looking for a carrier you can wear in the water? Check out our comprehensive guide to ring slings, wraps, and carriers for wearing at the pool or beach.
  • Best wetsuits for toddlers – ideal for those cooler days at the beach, a wetsuit will ensure your little one can still enjoy some splashing good fun no matter the weather.
  • Essentials for Hiking with a Dog – don’t forget your fur-children too! If your family dog will be joining you on the trails, here are some further considerations and packing items to consider.

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a close up of a man in hiking gear carrying his toddler son in a hiking carrier with text overlay Hiking carriers for 3 year olds

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