The Thule Sapling and Sapling Elite are easily adjustable child carriers ready for all day adventures.
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.
We only tested the Thule Sapling for this review, but the Sapling and Sapling Elite are very similar and we will point out the differences for you. Read on for our full review!
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Trying to find the best pack for your family? Check out our top picks for Best Hiking Child Carriers for 2020 here.
Thule Sapling vs. Sapling Elite
The Thule Sapling and Sapling Elite are 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.
Thule Sapling Specs
- Volume: Unavailable. REI lists the Elite at 20L, but I think that is just the removable pack volume.
- Weight: 7lbs 8oz (Sapling Elite is 7lbs 14oz)
- Torso Fit Range: 15″-22″
- Hipbelt Fit Range: 27″-49″
- Dimensions: 28.75″H x 12.25″W x 13.75″D
- Maximum Weight Load (Child + gear + pack): 48.5lbs
- Child Weight: Minimum 16lbs to Maximum 40lbs
- Hydration Compatible: Yes
- Sunshade Included: Yes
- Exterior Pockets: 5 (Sapling Elite has 7)
- Colors: Slate/Cobalt (Blue) and Dark Shadow (Grey)
Thule Sapling Key Features
- Adjustable hipbelt and back panel
- Side access into the child cockpit
- Roomy zippered hipbelt pockets
- Hydration sleeve (Bladder slides between the mesh back and child cockpit)
- Deployable sunshade
- Breathable back panel
- Stomp pad for easy child removal
What the Thule Sapling is Best For
Best for Smaller Kids
I felt the child cockpit was on the smaller side (front to back) compared to the Deuter Kid Comfrort II and Osprey Poco Plus. My 4 year old said she felt more cramped in there than our Deuter. On the plus side, this keeps your passenger closer to you (and your center of gravity).
My 4 year old (40” tall/40 pounds) was in the lowest seat position, which rests on the tops of the lower storage area. Obviously she is at max weight, but her height is a little less than average and I’m not sure kids taller than 40” tall would be comfortable, I might even say no more than 36” tall.
Best for Average Sized People
I feel like most child carriers fall into this range, so far the only carrier that has come close to fitting both my husband and I is our Deuter. I’m 5’2 and he is 6’2” so we are normally both on the end ranges for “one size fits all” child carriers.
My 6’2″ husband felt that this frame was too small for his body. The yoke of the shoulder straps was too far down his back even on the XL setting.
According to the size chart, I should be on the “M” setting, but the yoke was a ways down on my back and I had some gapping under the shoulder straps. The “S” setting put the yoke about halfway down my back which put a lot of pressure on my shoulders. Even with load lifter adjustments I never seemed to find a good fit.
Best for all day adventure
This pack is great for all day adventure. Easy to adjust between users and plenty of storage makes the Sapling a good choice for all day hiking or adventures.
No lack of space for stashing diapering supplies, spare layers and a few snacks. The sleeve for your hydration bladder makes sure you won’t go thirsty.
The Thule Sapling is easy to pop your kids in and out, whether you have a toddler or a preschooler. It has the side entry for big kids, quick adjustable seat configuration, and essential stepping spot to pull your kid out of the carrier with ease.Bonnie V., TMM Subscriber
What We Love About the Sapling
Roomy Hipbelt Pockets
I love a pack that has hipbelt pockets you can actually store things in! I have no problem getting my iPhone X in and out. The hipbelt pockets easily hold my phone, keys, and granola bar all in one side!
The Thule Sapling Elite claims to have even roomier hip belt pockets! You can see there is a size difference in the stock photos in the beginning.
Finally, a pack with a feature to help you get your kid out! You just flip down the little pad, step on it, and pull your kid out without the pack hanging on to them. Such an innovative feature I love since I normally just stand on the hip belt or kick stand on my other packs.
Easy to adjust
This is one of the easiest packs to adjust for the wearer. Just pinch on either side and slide the frame up or down until is locks into the next point.
There are four stopping points: S, M, L, XL and each point is about 2 inches apart. This is also a slight con… you can’t quite dial in the fit if you need something in between those four points.
The hipbelt fins also adjust easily, just undo the hook and loop, slide the fin in or out, and reattach. You get about 3.5 inches of adjustment on both hips from all the way in at “S” to all the way out at “L”.
I also love that the hip straps are not super long! This is a problem I have with most packs, I have the hipbelt cinched almost all the way and the excess strap is dangling down to my knees. Not with this pack! Straps only went down to my mid thigh.
What We Don’t Love About the Sapling
Small child cockpit
The Thule Sapling seems to have one of the smaller child cockpits in comparison with an Osprey Poco Plus or a Deuter Kid Comfort II. Even my petite 1 year old seemed snug in there.
The Sapling also has a unique feature where you can tighten the pack back to front bringing the child closer to you to help stabilize the load (similar to compression straps on a backpack), but it also makes their cockpit even smaller.
The child harness and adjustments
I do not enjoy buckling my child into this carrier. The front clips that you need to attach the shoulder straps to always end up under your child and you have to dig around to find them before you can attach the shoulder straps.
The only time it didn’t happen is when there were two of us, one to hold the attachment point and the other to put the kid in the cockpit. If you have an older passenger, they might be able to help you out too.
Adjusting the child cockpit wasn’t the easiest either, especially when your child was in it. To adjust the seat height, you have to detach the chin pad. To adjust the harness height, you must unhook the headrest, push it forward and then adjust.
Although I do my major adjustments without a kid in the pack, sometimes you need adjust once they are in, and that was not easy to do in this pack.
The sunshade is difficult
The sunshade is difficult to deploy with a kid in the cockpit. You have to undo the hook and look closure behind their head, pull out the shade, and then reattach the hook and loop to the shade.
Next, you insert the poles into the front sleeves and put the button through the loop. Be careful not to poke your kid with the front poles while you are attaching the back ones.
It is also difficult to enter/exit the pack from the side without putting the sunshade away. There is no easy way to just have it “half” attached like I can with our Deuter and Osprey (just unhooking the front attachments so the sunshade stands straight up at the back of the pack).
If you want your passenger out, you will need to completely remove the sunshade due to its “x” shaped canopy supports that spring it open. You can also open the side access and have your older kid climb out if you don’t want to remove it.
A few other little things
The two legged kickstand isn’t my favorite. Although it looks sleek, if I forget to pop it in, I’m afraid I might poke a kid in the eye instead of just bonking them like I would with the closed loop bottom like on the Deuter Kid Comfort.
The aluminum uprights that the torso adjuster is on also make the pack very stiff. They also keep the pack very straight and it doesn’t contour to the body like other packs.
A top complaint in a lot of customer reviews if that there is no easy spot for the wearer to stash a water bottle within reach, and I agree with that. You either need to use a hydration bladder or remove the pack to access from the rear compartment if you don’t have someone else with you. The mesh slash pockets on the side of the cockpit are not big enough for storing an adult water bottle.
The stirrups only have one attachment point with about 8″ of adjustability. They were at an OK length for my 4yo, but my 14 month could barely reach them.
One last small feature I am not a fan of is the fabric covering the bottoms of the frame on the pack. You can see that it already showing some wear and over-time I think it will get holes.
I am a fan of other Thule products, but this isn’t my favorite child carrier. The Sapling had too many things that I didn’t love to call a winner in my book.
However, it is a sturdy pack with some unique features and might be a good fit for you even though its not my favorite!
Where to Buy
As with all packs, we definitely recommend heading to a local outfitter and trying on a variety as all packs fit everyone a little different and everyone has different preferences.
As of August 2020, Thule is discontinuing the Sapling, but it is currently still available at many retailers (maybe even at a discount soon). The Sapling Elite will continue on.
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