Updated October 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, Beco and Lillebaby 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 ~ $33
For a fraction of the price of the others (below), the Infantino Sash ($33, $25 on sale) 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 Omni 360 ~ $180
New in 2017, the Ergobaby Omni 360 ($180, $165 on sale) is Ergobaby’s new four-position carrier that “does it all” (including OUTWARD FACING!). They took the best features of the original carrier and their wildly-popular Ergo 360 to make the Omni 360.
It features a deep, padded seat that allows baby to sit comfortably (and ergonomically) in all four positions while keeping her legs in the hip-safe “M position.” (No “crotch dangling” in this carrier!)
You can use the Omni 360 for babies from 7 to 33 pounds, and you don’t need an infant insert! This is a big change for Ergo, whose popular “original” version required an additional newborn insert that is both bulky and hot. On the Omni 360, you set the carrier’s seat to the “newborn” position, which you can change to TWO wider positions (for a total of 3) with simple velcro tabs as your baby grows:
The Omni 360 has all the key features every carrier should have, including a detachable storage pouch for your keys/wallet/phone, a sun hood (that you can tuck away), and lumbar support on the waistband. OH — and shoulder straps you can cross (yay!!)
Crossable straps make it much easier to put the carrier on by yourself than with regular straps, and they also help distribute baby weight across your back for more comfortable carrying. Plus these straps are nicely padded, much like the seat (such luxury!).
I found the Omni 360 to be an attractive, comfortable, and practical carrier — if on the pricy side. It comes in four classic colors: khaki green, midnight blue, pearl grey, and pure black, so it’s great to share with your other half.
After a few practice tries, I found it easy to get this carrier on and off, adjust its width to my baby’s size, and use both inward and outward facing positions. I didn’t even need the instruction booklet!
All in all, the Ergobaby Omni 360 gives you all the options you could possibly want in a well-constructed, comfortable, four position carrier. If you can swing the price (or maybe add this one to your baby registry), I don’t think it will disappoint!
See the full review of the Omni 360 here.
3. Lillebaby 6-in-1 Complete ~ $120+
The lesser-known Lillebaby Complete carrier is another one of our all-time favorites.
Like the Ergobaby Omni 360, this carrier also allows baby to face out OR face in. The Lillebaby has a wider seat and a higher weight limit (45 pounds to Omni’s 33) – though its seat lacks the Omni’s deep structured bucket seat. This carrier offers two width positions for the seat – a narrow seat and a wide seat – which allows it to fit very well for all ages of infancy through toddlerhood.
Like the Omni, the Lillebaby doesn’t require a separate infant adapter, and it is quite comfortable for both mom and dad.
Since the Lillebaby 6-in-1 and the Omni 360 are functionally similar, the choice often comes down to prints: Ergo has classic simple colors while Lillebaby offers a more expressive set of patterns. There’s also quite a big difference in pricing, with the Lillebaby Complete coming in nearly $60 less than the Ergo.
Check out my video review here:
The popular All Seasons (cue the video above to 5:15) has a panel that zips down to allow for airflow in warmer weather, and the Airflow features mesh paneling throughout. Anyone who’s ever carried a baby knows how hot it can get in there, so any attempt to mitigate the heat is appreciated.
Lillebaby now makes two toddler-only carriers: the CarryOn Air and the CarryOn All Seasons. They also make a less expensive Essentials carrier ($90 – but this one doesn’t do forward facing), a Ring Sling ($97), and a Baby Wrap ($50).
Love the Lillebaby!!
4. Boba 4G ~ $140
We loved the Boba 3G, and the 4G is even better. Boba is a lesser-known carrier that is most similar to the Ergobaby Original and the Beco 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. It has a very wide seat that lets it support toddlers up to 48 months.
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.
Boba now makes the Boba Air ($70, $60 on sale) for babies over 15 pounds. The Air is made of lightweight nylon that keeps babies cool and is easy to stuff into a bag. It has padded leg openings, an ergonomic seat, a built-in hood, and can carry toddlers up to 45 pounds.
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.
Until recently, Tula made just 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 to 4+ years.
Tula also just started making its new Free to Grow carrier ($159), which carries babies from 7 to 45 pounds and does not require an infant insert (yay!).
They’re also now making the Baby Tula Coast Mesh Baby Carrier (139), which keeps babies cooler in warm weather. This one does require an infant insert for babies under 15 pounds.
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 ~ $180 ($114 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!
It was also designed to be easy peasy to transfer from a front-carry to a more comfortable back-carry (though this design makes the overall babywearing experience slightly less snuggly than the other carriers, since there is an extra panel of fabric between you and your baby). The Carrier One has a nice built-in mechanism for carrying newborns without requiring extra pieces. Finally, it has Bjorn’s signature clasps, which allow for an easy/quiet exit should baby fall asleep in the carrier. That said, some people find these clasps rather finicky and difficult to attach.
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.
BabyBjorn is now making another version of the Carrier One called the Carrier One Outdoors ($170) designed for active parents who like to hike with their babies. This version features mesh material for better air flow and a pocket for your phone and keys.
Downsides: It is rather bulky compared to the others and doesn’t have a sun hood (or a pocket on the Carrier One)- whose decision was that?
7. The Beco 8 ~$149
The new Beco 8 is another four position carrier that “does it all” (like the Omni 360 and the Lillebaby Complete), and this carrier fixes some of the more annoying issues with the older Beco Gemini.
The Beco 8 does forward facing carrying and includes an infant insert (required for babies under 15 pounds), a sun hood, a mesh airflow panel you can unzip on warm days, lumbar support, and a roomy storage pocket for your keys/phone. The Beco 8 also has snaps for a quick and easy seat conversion so baby can change from inward to outward facing in seconds, and vice versa. Additionally, Beco got rid of the annoying safety lock you’ll find on the waist belt of the Gemini, so you can now take this carrier off one-handed while still holding onto your baby with your other hand. As of now, the Beco 8 only comes in the grey color (pictured above). Hopefully they will soon offer it in some of the lovely Beco prints.
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.