Let me start this review by saying that if you asked either me or my two-year-old what is our favorite way to hike, we would both undoubtedly choose to hike with this Kelty Journey PerfectFit Elite carrier. My son because it is a major upgrade in visibility and comfort, and me because it means my son will *FINALLY* let my husband carry him on the trail, too. (No longer being the sole-toter of the 35 pound behemoth toddler? Winning!)
This is our first framed carrier that we have used to haul our son on hikes. We have been committed to getting the life out of our soft-structured Onya Outback carrier, which we love and has never let us down—even when our two-year-old reached the size of a four-year-old and still wanted to be carried! But when we got the opportunity to try out this Kelty carrier we thought—sure! And we weren’t disappointed.
First of all, this is the Journey PerfectFIT Elite model, and we feel pretty elite wearing it. It has all the bells and whistles for safety, storage, ease of use, and comfort. (Skip to the end for a quick summary!)
Safety: Five stars for structure and sun protection.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has taken a tumble while toting my kid, and I’ll even shamelessly tell you I’ve done it both on uneven trails and walking across a flat parking lot. This pack boasts a padded aluminum roll cage which protects babe and prevents the cockpit from collapsing so they don’t get squished by mama’s weight. So definitely if you are in any sort of trip-or-tumble danger from skiing, treacherous hiking, wading in rivers, or what have you, this is the pack you want to carry your kid in.
The pack also includes an integrated sun shade which is THE BOMB! It has its own dedicated zippered pocket just behind the cockpit where it slides out effortlessly and just requires two quick clips behind the straps to be set up and ready to go. Literally takes less than 5 seconds! Same to put it away, you just unclip the little buckles and it collapses as you slide it back into its little pocket. (See end of review for more detailed photos.)
The only drawback to the sunshade is that it blocks the back grab handle behind the cockpit (which is the handle my husband prefers to use to hoist the pack), and we wouldn’t mind the shade being a bit higher to accommodate taller riders. Overall, though, we love this feature.
The sunshade is NOT advertised as a rain cover, but we tried it out and it works great to keep a steady shower off Trail Baby as well. (At this time, Kelty doesn’t offer a rain fly to cover the pack itself. The stuff in the daypack did get damp, but not soaked.)
Storage: Five stars because I can bring the kitchen sink.
In addition to a dedicated storage pocket for the sunshade, there are two other zippered pockets in the body of the daypack. It has side water bottle pockets as well as a hydration pocket which is quite spacious—so if you are bringing water bottles instead of a bladder there is a lot of extra storage potential here. I put my rain shell, my son’s waterproof suit, and a spare sweater for him just in this pocket alone.
At the base of the pack there is a nice lined wet-bag compartment for wet or dirty clothes, diapers, etc. which is also spacious and can be used as a storage option in rainy situations when you have something that needs to stay absolutely dry. One thing I particularly like about this pocket is that it can be pulled inside-out for an easier wipe-down if you’ve been toting messy items in there. There are also zippered pockets on the hip belt which I haven’t used because I have yet to run out of space in the daypack, even with the plethora of snacks that are absolutely required when hiking with a toddler!
Ease of Use: Three stars for figuring out the straps, Four stars for mounting up.
Admittedly, when I first put this pack on I was not ultra-impressed. The manual, while nice and concise, was a little lacking in helping me figure out which straps to pull for what purpose in order to get a good fit and make sure everything was adjusted correctly. So at my first try-on it felt a little bulky, my center of gravity wasn’t quite right, and my shoulders were bearing some weight. (And, to be honest, I didn’t read the manual until AFTER my first try-on, thinking surely I was missing something trying to figure it out on my own…) Make it easier for yourself and watch this video from Kelty which walks you through making adjustments for both you and your child! Then you should have no trouble at all.
I was missing something, indeed. After one or two short hikes where I continued to adjust the straps and fiddle with the settings, I found the sweet spot and BAM! we started cooking with gas. So, making adjustments was a little confusing at first, but in a way it’s a good thing since it means the pack has lots of options to get the perfect fit for you and your kiddo.
I have found it relatively easy to get Trail Baby in and out of the cockpit on my own. To slide him in, the toughest part is just getting him to put his feet out through the holes (we struggle with this even in a shopping cart). Pulling him out, I have found it works great to put one foot on the metal kickstand to hold the pack down on the ground, then I can just grab him under the armpits and slide him out. I can easily reach behind me to pull in or push out the kickstand while wearing the pack, so I never have to balance the pack on my own when I remove it.
At 35 pounds, Trail Baby is nearing the max weight for the carrier and thus fills it out more than a smaller babe, so it was even easier to slip my 9-month old nephew in. Having a smaller babe also gives you a little more clearance for reaching in to secure the buckles and adjust the harness. The shoulder straps for babe have a nice on-the-shoulder buckle to make it easier, and the only strap I have a little trouble with is the one located at the side since it is tucked in behind the V-bar of the roll cage. (You can see in the picture below how I am reaching in to tighten it.)
I won’t lie: I’m no bodybuilder. In fact, since having a kid I haven’t worked out AT ALL and I’m a little wimpy. Thus, it is a little tough to dead lift 45 pounds of pack+kid from the ground and heft it around onto my back. That being said, I can manage and if there is ever a bench or rock to sit on and use for a starting point, it is no problem at all. One thing I really love about this pack is the grab handles, which are numerous and super sturdy. Six separate handles circle the cockpit, so you can use whichever works best for you. My husband and I each prefer to use a different top handle when mounting up. Once the pack is on, buckling in is easy and most of the adult straps can be adjusted even while wearing the pack.
Comfort: ONE HUNDRED STARS for sacked out kiddos.
And here it is: this is where the Kelty takes the prize. Our MOST FAVORITE feature of this kid carrier is the comfort level for kiddos! In all the many miles Trail Baby has traveled in his 2+ years of life, he had only ever fallen asleep in a carrier ONE TIME. The SECOND time he went out in the Kelty he totally sacked out. It wasn’t even naptime, but he just couldn’t resist the pull. We put my nephew in it and the same thing happened to him! He normally rides in a soft-structured carrier and ends hikes fussy and ready to be done, but in the Kelty he snuggled up to that drool pad and was in for the long haul.
When not sleeping, the kiddos seem to enjoy being raised up in the cockpit where they have better visibility compared to their soft-structured carriers. They also have a little more room to relax rather than being smushed up against mama and goodness knows we don’t get as sweaty this way.
The cockpit is well-padded and covered with a soft material, even over the shoulder straps and extending out the leg openings. There are adjustable stirrups so kids’ legs don’t have to dangle and lose circulation. The removable drool pad (apparently) provides the perfect head rest for napping on the trail. It is removable for washing with simple snaps. (This makes me wish the bottom of the seat had a removable pad as well, since dirty shoes often slide through there to get out the leg openings, or in case of an accident while riding.)
The Kelty is also comfortable for the wearer, with plenty of padding along the back, shoulder straps, and hip belt. The suspension system is adjustable to fit different torso lengths and includes load lifters to keep the weight off your shoulders. The stiff hip belt and straps at the cockpit sides allow you to adjust your center of gravity and weight distribution.
Surprisingly, there was little difference in how stable and comfortable I felt hiking with this as opposed to the Onya Outback. My expectation is that a soft-structured carrier will feel lighter and more stable with babe being right on my body, but despite having the additional bulk and storage weight of the Kelty, the load felt similar. In my opinion, Onya has the best soft-structured carriers out there, so if we had been toting Trail Baby around in a different soft carrier which didn’t perform as well, the Kelty would be a huge improvement. As it is, I am impressed that I can add on so much gear in storage and such a large structure and yet still feel as confident as when I just have Trail Baby right on my back.
Drawback: Height limitation for tall kids and adults.
Having mentioned the rider’s comfort as the best feature of the pack, we feel it is important to also mention our LEAST FAVORITE thing about this carrier: the height limitations for kids AND adults. We are a tall family. My husband is 6’4” and I’m not petite either at 5’7” so our son has come by it honest being in the 90-99th percentile all his life. Now, when I said we weren’t disappointed in this carrier what I meant was we weren’t disappointed in the quality. However, we were quite disappointed that we hadn’t gotten one sooner because, in fact, Trail Baby is technically already grown out of it.
There is no height limit listed for the pack (just a weight limit of 40 lbs), but at their longest setting the straps won’t fit over his shoulders without squishing him down. The stirrups still work for him, but we also let those out to their longest setting. At just 35 lbs, he still fits in to the pack comfortably but simply can’t be buckled in over his shoulders. I took a flexible measuring tape and measured the loop from his shoulder, down between his legs, and back up to his shoulder (to match the clearance the seat/harness would need)—that loop for Trail Baby is 39 inches whereas that measurement in the cockpit is only around 32 inches, even with the seat at its lowest setting and the straps as long as they would go. Consider this if you have a kid who is in the high percentiles on height as they may grow out of this pack sooner than you’d like! (Compare this picture of my 9-month old nephew to previous pictures of Trail Baby to note the differences in fit.)
Additionally, for adults the adjustable torso length is great to allow mom and dad to switch back and forth easily—and the range probably works just fine for most people. However, my towering husband has to max out the length and still ends up feeling some of the weight on his shoulders during a hike. Granted he is built like a salamander with a long, slim torso so likely this won’t be an issue for most people, but be sure to check the fit for both mom and dad if you will both be sharing the load.
In the end, all the major kid carrier brands are upping their game and making new packs with many of these same great features. The best way to get the pack that is right for you is to take your kiddo and go try them on in the store, or even better borrow from friends so you can test them out on the trail. That way, you’ll be sure to find the one that fits your body shape and is the most comfortable for your babe. In lieu of that (we live in the sticks, so I feel ya), check the reviews! Watch this video from Kelty which shows you many of the features we have described here. I can say that this Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Elite is, in my opinion, an excellent kid carrier and we love it!
Safety: Roll-cage reinforced cockpit and handy dandy sunshade – very confident!
Storage: Daypack with hydration bladder, wet bag, hip belt pockets, and water bottle pockets – LOTS of space!
Ease of Use: A bit of a learning curve with all the strap adjustments, but once you find your fit it is easy to secure babe and self—also love the grab handles help to heft the pack up.
Comfort: YES YES YES! Adjustable for mom or dad, GREAT for babe – naptime all the time.
Most Favorite: Kiddos are comfortable and happy (and sleeping).
Least Favorite: Shoulder straps are limiting for tall kids, torso length is limiting for tall adults.
Bottom Line: We love it!
Meet Team Member Emily Christensen: Emily is a full-time working mama and wife raised in the Ouachita Mountains and currently navigating life in northern Missouri as she finishes up her PhD in chemistry. Over the years, adventure has become a part of her lifestyle, leading her and her husband Rocky into outdoor activities like hiking, scuba diving, camping, kayaking, fly fishing, and now parenting—their biggest adventure yet! Now Emily is applying her adventurous spirit into getting her family outside no matter the season to instill that same love of nature and exploration in their two-year-old son, and connecting with other families to inspire them to do the same. Find them on Instagram @hiking.home
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