Updated January 2017
Soft Structured Carriers
Okay, now we are getting into older baby territory…soft structured carriers can be used until 35 lbs, or well into the 2nd year (or longer). You can also buy toddler-specific carriers for your much older/heavier kiddos. See Tula and Beco for those.
Some very smart person decided to design a baby carrier that distributes the weight of your baby to your hips instead of your back. Hallelujah! The generic name for this is a “soft structured carrier” and there are MANY great ones on the market — just because yours isn’t on the list doesn’t mean it’s not good. I had to whittle it down somehow.
For any decent SSC, you should expect to pay northwards of $100, generally about $120-$150. It should last you for multiple years and kids. In terms of the general design and ergonomics, they are very similar. The differences lie in the nuances of fit and function. They can all be worn on your front or back and generally look like this:
Let’s compare them, shall we?
1. Infantino Sash Carrier ~ $34
For a fraction of the price of the others (below), the Infantino Sash offers terrific value.
Like any good soft structured carrier, the Sash places the weight of the baby on your hips where it belongs!. But instead of using clasps, the Sash relies on being tied into place, both at the waist and shoulders. While it may take a bit more practice to get a sash-type carrier on, the benefit is that you can tie it to fit yourself perfectly.
Another benefit is that the Sash folds quite compactly. So, unlike some of the bulkier carriers, this one will fit easily into your diaper bag. It’s especially great for plus-sized moms or moms whose bodies aren’t otherwise well served by the proportions of other carriers.
On the downside, it’s not as well made as the other carriers listed here and may not weather as well, but I still feel it’s a terrific value for the money.
2. Ergobaby Carrier ~ $111
The Ergobaby is the most popular SSC, but is it the best? I’ve logged many, many miles in my Ergo with both babies. Do I like it? Definitely.
The Ergo is extremely comfortable, has a nice little zippy pocket for your keys and such, and has arguably the best sun hood of the group. You can wear the Ergo on your front or back, but when worn on the front, the baby can only face in.
For a newborn, you can buy the infant insert for another roughly $24. But you know what? It’s really not ideal for a baby younger than 6 months (can you do it? Yes. Is it ideal? No). The infant insert is SUPER hot and bulky – someone described it as wrapping your baby in a comforter, then putting them inside the carrier. Plus, there are many other carriers that have a built-in infant insert. Needless to say, it’s not my favorite carrier for < 6 months.
All in all, I don’t think anyone would be disappointed with the Ergobaby carrier. The only negs are that you have to pay for an infant adapter (for others, you don’t) and you can’t crisscross the straps in the back, like with a Beco. However, if you don’t want to think too much about which carrier to buy, this is a good bet.
- The “Cool Air Mesh” version will keep you both a little cooler: it has a breathable mesh lining and a cooling panel for wicking, but it may not be as comfortable.
- The Ergobaby 360 is a great carrier for those who want baby to face out in an ergonomically correct position. The 360 is ideal for 6-24 months. But since it’s a smaller carrier, it won’t last much longer than that. See the full review here.
3. LILLEbaby Complete ~ $120+
The lesser-known LILLEbaby carrier – to me – is the best of all worlds. It’s truly complete.
This carrier offers two seating positions – a narrow seat and a wide seat – which allows it to fit very well for all ages of infancy through toddlerhood.
This design also allows baby to face out OR face in, like the Beco Gemini. However, the LILLEbaby has a much wider, more comfy seat (essential for toddlers), a storage pocket, and a sun hood. Also, the Gemini (the other popular “outward facing” carrier) requires two hands to unfasten the clasps, which drives me bananas.
The seat is also a good bit wider than the Beco Soleil and Ergobaby, and the LILLEbaby doesn’t require a separate infant adapter like the Soleil and Ergo do. The LILLEbaby is also quite comfortable for mom and dad.
Check out my video review here:
LILLEbaby makes three carriers: the Original ($120+), the Airflow ($125+) and the All Seasons ($140+). The All Seasons (cue the video above to 5:15) has a panel that zips down to allow for airflow in warmer weather. Anyone who’s ever carried a baby knows how hot it can get in there, so any attempt to mitigate the heat is appreciated.
Love the LILLEbaby!!
4. Boba 4G ~ $125
We loved the Boba 3G, and the 4G is even better. Boba is a lesser-known carrier that is most similar to the Ergo and the Soleil.
I really like how Boba deals with newborns; it comes with (yes – for free!) a newborn insert/pillow thingy that acts as a seat for little babies. See it in action here. The Ergo requires you to buy the newborn insert.
There are other little things that Boba has perfected. These include an adjustable sleeping hood, removable foot straps to provide a more comfortable ride for toddlers and taller kids, a wide seat, a purse holder loop/snap, and multiple storage pockets.
The 4G comfortably fits people from 5’0″ – 6’3″ and comes in some beautiful, subtle colors, which are especially great for sharing with your favorite baby daddy (BD). For a facing-in carrier, this one is top notch.
5. TULA Baby Carrier ~ $149
Tula is the new it carrier in the US. It first gained cult-like popularity through hardcore babywearing clubs, but is now becoming more popular in the mainstream.
There is one feature that sets Tula apart from its competitors: HUGE coverage. Meaning, the seat is waaaaay wider and taller than other carriers. This wideness keeps baby’s legs in a natural “M” position to prevent leg dangle, while the height of the seat helps better support baby’s head.
Unlike others, Tula makes two carrier sizes: one for babies and one for toddlers. The “baby” version is good from 0-45 lbs, but is mainly ideal for 0-2 years. It can be used for newbs with an infant insert (but you know how I feel about infant inserts; you’re better off spending that money on a newborn carrier). The toddler carrier goes from 18 months – 4+ years.
Tula carriers cost a bit more than most, but are very well made and come in super cute patterns.
Note that these carriers ship from Europe (and some from Cali), so they take 1.5-3 weeks to arrive at your doorstep.
6. The BabyBjorn Carrier One ~ $189 ($118 on sale)
The Carrier One is a nice carrier from BabyBjorn. I played with it at the 2013 Baby Show and was pretty impressed (see my quick video here).
BabyBjorn took three long years to design this carrier from scratch, with input from pediatricians and (get this…) the International Hip Dysplasia Institute (is someone overcompensating??). Finally, the anti-crotch danglers have been silenced, mwaaaaa.
What’s different about the Carrier One? Lots!
Like the Beco Gemini and LILLEbaby, the BabyBjorn Carrier One is an ergonomically-friendly carrier that allows babies to face out in the front carry position.
It was also designed to be easy peasy to transfer from a front-carry to a more comfortable back-carry. It has a really nice built-in mechanism for carrying newborns without requiring extra pieces. Finally, it has Bjorn’s signature clasps, which make for super-fast in and out and allows for an easy/quiet exit should baby fall asleep in the carrier.
This carrier will serve you well from infancy through toddlerhood. Oh, and dads love it because it’s all black. No flowers and sh!t. If you’re looking for a carrier to share with your partner, this is a goody.
Downsides: It is rather bulky compared to the others and doesn’t have a sun hood (whose decision was that?).
Slings are yet another alternative to traditional carriers. Most slings can easily be folded and stuffed into a diaper bag, unlike most other carriers. I don’t have a strong opinion on slings, but the favorite seems to be the Maya Wrap. Another favorite is the Sakura Bloom (below), which comes in some beautiful colors. Many designer slings and woven wraps can run upwards of $1,000, which I personally find ludicrous.
Many slings and wraps are homemade and can be found on Etsy and such. If you really get into babywearing, it’s fun to explore all the different wraps and slings out in the realm of DIY.