Hiking Kid Carrier Comparison
Using a framed child carrier is a great way to keep your kiddo comfy, give them the best seat on the trail and haul them around for some miles.
I prefer using a framed child carrier for my kiddos (as soon as they are big enough) in warmer weather and for longer distances. It’s easier for us both for to stay cool on warmer days since we are not sharing body heat and sweat.
For those longer hikes, I really like the structure and support of the frame pack as well as the extra storage.
I have owned a Deuter Kid Comfort II for almost 4 years now and it is still my favorite carrier. This past summer I also tested and reviewed an Osprey Poco Plus and Thule Sapling with our kiddos.
A friend was kind enough to lend me a new Deuter Kid Comfort as well so I could check out the updated features to share the most up to date info with you all!
Keep on reading to find a little summary on each of the packs, learn what I like and don’t like about each along with some photo comparison. Obviously, this is just my opinion and every pack fits everyone a little differently, so if you can, try before you buy!
Just for your reference as you read my opinions, I am a petite person and my husband is taller. I’m 5’2″ and 125 pounds. My husband is 6’2″ and 215 pounds.
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The Deuter Kid Comfort has tons of features to keep the child and the adult comfy and cool. The ability to fine tune the adjustments will keep you going all day long.
I have the most experience with the Deuter Kid Comfort II (crica 2017), but was able to borrow a new Kid Comfort (the current equivalent of the KCII) before completing this comparison.
Note: The Deuter Kid Comfort is hard to find right now. We recommend the Kid Comfort Pro – check out our full review of it here.
I am happy to report that I am loving the upgrades from the old KCII to the newer version Kid Comfort! A few of the things that I wasn’t loving on ours have been addressed.
Here are a few:
- The sunshade clips were improved to a side pinch buckle from a gate clip closure
- The full padded back switched to an air mesh panel without compromising comfort
- There are now 2 hipbelt pockets that are a little roomier
- The child chin cushion is larger and wraps further around
- The child harness clips were improved
A few of my favorite things on the Deuter Kid Comfort:
- Comfy air mesh back panel
- 2 attachment points for the child stirrups and an adjustment on the stirrup
- 2 attachment points for the load lifters to fine tune your fit
- The large, plush, wrap around child chin pillow
- The Variflex hipbelt that moves with you
Some things that could use improvement are:
- No clip for the hydration bladder in the sleeve
- There is no small zippered “valuables” pocket (this exsited on the older version)
- Addition of adjustable hip fins to get the best fit for all sizes
The redesigned (for 2020) pack has some great new features. An easy to use child harness, quick adjusting adult harness, and tons of storage. There is a lot to like on this loaded pack.
Some of my favorite features on the Poco Plus are:
- The mesh back panel keeping the wearer cool
- The sunshade is integrated and super easy to use
- Easily adjustable torso and hip fins
- “Backward” child harness is easy to use
- So much storage!
Some things that could be improved:
- The grab handle is stiff and can hit the back of your head
- The child leg holes are tight and no side entry option
- Hydration bladder area is difficult to get to
This streamline pack could be a winner for some, but it was my least favorite of the three. The overall size of the pack was the smallest, but it had some unique features.
Thule had two child carriers available, the Sapling and Sapling Elite. As of August 2020, Thule has discontinued the Sapling, but is keeping the Sapling Elite. I only tested the Thule Sapling for this review, but the Sapling and Sapling Elite are very similar.
They are both built on the same frame with a few differences in features. In addition to all the features on the Sapling, the Sapling Elite has a removable backpack, extra roomy hipbelt pockets, and pocket mirror included. The Elite also weighs about 0.5 lbs more and costs $50 more.
Some of my favorite features on the Thule Sapling are:
- Stomp pad for easy child removal
- Super easy to adjust torso and adjustable hip fins
- HUGE hipbelt pockets
- Side entry access
Some things that could use improving:
- Pack comfort for the adult
- Child harness straps always seem to end up under your child’s bottom when you are loading them
- Sunshade is very difficult to deploy
Spec Comparison Chart
Hiking Kid Carrier Comparison: Pack Features
This section will take you through some of the key features on the child carriers and how they compare to one another.
Child Cockpit and Harness
The Deuter had the largest cockpit of the three, which makes it the best option for bigger kids. It also has a very plush cockpit that is easy to adjust. The side entry is another great feature of the Deuter.
The Osprey had my favorite child harness with its “reverse” harness but the small leg openings and no side entry made loading and unloading difficult with bigger kids. The Poco Plus had the easiest adjusting cockpit of the three.
The Thule was my least favorite, the buckle for the harness always ended up under the kids bottom when I put them in. The adjustments were all hidden as well and it’s difficult to make small adjustments with a child in the cockpit.
Adult Hip Belt and Harness
Deuter comes out on top in this category for me. The Kid Comfort was the most padded and the Variflex hip belt makes it comfy for hiking.
Thule and Osprey both had adjustable fins on the hip belt which I also really like and would love to see Deuter add on their packs.
Thule wins for category of easiest to adjust, push two buttons and slide the rails. However, each adjustment is about 2 inches apart, so there are no micro-adjustments available.
Deuter and Osprey both use similar systems where you lift a lever behind the mesh panel, slide the harness, and relock. Osprey’s was easier to use, but could be blocked by a hydration bladder if you use one larger than 1.5L. With both, you can stop at any point along the way, so you can dial in the fit.
The Osprey Poco Plus takes the cake with storage with 26L capacity and pockets galore. The bottom has plenty of space for everything you need to a day trip, and then some.
Downside, to get the max storage space, the kickstand must always extended. This didn’t bother me too much as the “kickstand” is completely covered, making it less likely that someone will run into it. It also is pretty flush with the rest of the back of the pack.
There is also plenty of storage on the Deuter Kid Comfort and Thule Sapling Elite. You will have no problem with longer day hikes. All 3 packs have mesh side pockets for easy access items for your kiddo, the Thule has the smallest pockets though.
The Osprey sunshade has 270* of coverage (back and sides) and was easiest to deploy and put away. Seriously, so easy. I have never had to fight with it once. With the thicker front panel supports, they are also less of a grab item for the passenger.
The Deuter comes next, and some days I like that there is only cover on top and back so the little can have a full 270* view, but other days I like the full coverage on the Osprey.
The newer clips on the Deuter make the sunshade much easier to use than previous versions. However, the front attachment cords are still a favorite “toy” when in the carrier and my kiddo is constantly pulling on them. No major issues with that, just annoying at times.
The Thule sunshade was my least favorite. It was a pain to deploy and put away, especially with a kid in the carrier. I always felt like I was going to poke my kid. And, if you want to take your child out, you have to completely remove the sunshade before. Storing it away was no easy task either.
The Thule is by far the easiest to adjust, push the buttons on each side and slide it up or down along the rails. The downside to this is you have to adjust in 2″ increments. I also felt like these “rails” made the pack very stiff and didn’t contour to the body well.
The Osprey and Deuter are pretty similar. The mesh panel on the Osprey Poco Plus has a circle opening where you can make the adjustments. Downside, if you use larger than a 1.5L bladder, it will probably cover up the opening (meaning you can’t easily make adjustments on the trail.)
The Deuter Kid Comfort has a similar mechanism with flip lock, out of the three, this was the hardest to adjust, just because you had to reach behind the back panel. However, the hydration bladder will not get in the way here.
For both the Osprey and the Deuter, you can stop at any place to get the best fit. Pro tip: use a Sharpie and mark where you like your adjustment, that way you get a perfect fit every time!
All three packs have room for a hydration bladder, but none of them are 5 stars for me. Deuter wins this category since it has the easiest access. Also, using a 3L bladder was a tight fit in both the Deuter and Osprey.
Deuter has a long, vertical zippered pouch in front of the child harness area to slide your reservoir in and a port on the opposite side (not labeled on the new Kid Comfort though). My only issue, there is no hanger for your bladder so as it empties it just ends up in a heap in the bottom. The Deuter was the easiest to insert and remove with a kid in or out of the pack.
Osprey says their pack is compatible up to a 1.5L hydration reservoir, but I was able to shove my 3L in there (mostly because I didn’t realize they recommended a 1.5L). The Poco Plus was the most difficult to get any bladder in and out of the opening.
Osprey does not give you a lot of room to get a bladder in there. I use CamelBak bladders, but maybe the Osprey reservoirs work better in the space since they are a little different design. Disclaimer: if you use larger than a 1.5L hydration bladder, you cannot use the torso adjuster easily.
The Thule takes a bit to get to the opening since you have to remove the chin cushion and unclip the child seat before you access the pouch. Once you get to it, just drop any size bladder in and attach the hook, reassemble and you are good to go. Easiest bladder insertion, even if it takes a bit to get there.
If you are a water bottle lover, the Osprey is the only pack that has a lower stash pocket that you might be able to reach for without help. Neither the Deuter or Thule have a pocket for a water bottle within reach of the wearer.
I love that the Deuter has TWO stirrup attachment points, which is awesome for the little littles. You can use the higher attachment point for shorter legs and once they get a little taller move it down to the lower attachment.
They also have adjusters on the stirrup to make the opening just a little smaller for smaller feet. The Thule and Osprey each only have one attachment point that is toward the bottom of the pack and even on the highest setting, my little one still couldn’t reach them early on.
The Deuter and Osprey both have exposed frames on the bottom. The Thule is covered in fabric which I see as a nuisance, always getting dirty and likely to wear out.
Osprey was the easiest to use for my short arms. It pulled in and push out easily. Deuter was a little more difficult because it is a little further back when extended. The Thule wasn’t bad, but you had to grab both legs.
Both Osprey and Deuter have a “closed loop” style kickstand that is very stable. The Thule has two individual legs and I felt was the least stable.
I felt like the Deuter Kid Comfort had the roomiest child cockpit and was the best for bigger kids. The Osprey is your best bet for smaller kids. Check out the gallery below with my 4.5 year old and 15 month old in each of the packs.
Kylie (4.5) is 40 pounds and 40 inches tall. Nora (15 months) is 20 pounds and 28 inches tall.
Deuter Kid Comfort is the winner in our house. Our KCII is over 4 years old and still going strong and I love the new upgrades on the current model.
Although I only tested three specific packs, keep in mind that the other packs in a brand’s line up are going to be similar. Features like the adult harness, adult hip belt, child harness and adjustments are going to be very comparable, if not the same. Many of the upgrades/downgrades come with storage space and/or specific features (like the built in sunshade on the Deuter Kid Comfort Pro.)
If I could come up with my own pack… I think it would be a mash-up of the Osprey and Deuter with a few of the little features from the Thule. But I’m not in the pack design business, so I’ll go with my top choice and call it good for the few short years I’m hauling kids around on my back.
I hope this helps you make a decision, and if you have any questions, drop a comment below!
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Hiking Kid Carrier Comparison: Deuter, Osprey & Thule
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