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Backpacking with baby ... a new breed of carrier.

Backpacking with baby . . . a new breed of carrier

Until recently, parents who wished to carry children along on hiking or backpacking outings had few options. They either had to make do with carriers intended for limited use around town, or improvise rigs using standard backpack frames.

But now a number of sophisticated designs have significantly upgraded the comfort of both parent and child on extended rambles. Here and on page 68, we show three of the new breed of carriers and some useful features to look for when you go comparison-shopping.

These heavy-duty kid carriers employ light aluminum frames (total weight ranges from 3 to 5 pounds) to suspend a comfortable sling seat. They're generally suitable for any child old enough to hold its head up unsupported and weighing less than 35 pounds--roughly 5 months to 3 years old. (For small infants, buy one of the relatively simple slings that hug the baby close to the parent's chest.)

Here are points to look for:

Suspension. Carriers suspended only by thin shoulder straps can quickly lead to sore shoulders and an aching back. The new carriers come equipped with heavily padded belts that transfer much of the weight to the hips, where it can be more comfortably supported. Some models also have a strap that buckles across the chest for even better weight distribution.

If parents of different heights both plan to use a carrier, it's important that the suspension system be adjustable. By allowing you to significantly alter the distance between the shoulder straps and hip belt, most of the new carriers can adapt to fit one parent just over 5 feet tall as well as another a full head taller.

Seat. On most models, cushioned seat compartments covered in stain-resistant synthetics can be removed easily for washing. Seat bottoms can be lowered to accommodate a growing child.

Quick-release harnesses of varying configurations hold a baby securely in place. This is not only safer for the child, it's also easier on the load-bearing parent.

Most backpacking carriers now on the market have the child facing forward. This gives him a reassuring view of his parent instead of an empty trail--but it also exposes the child's face more to low-hanging twigs and branches. And there is debate over which direction is more comfortable for the parent. Antelope Camping Equipment, a pioneer in this area, makes a rugged carrier that still has the child facing backwards. If you need help finding their retail outlets, call (408) 253-1913.

Storage. When you're out with a baby far from home, storage space is indispensable. Carriers now have ample pouches for such necessities as diapers and bottles. For overnight trips, the carrier should also provide a place to lash on a sleeping bag or other items--to help lighten the load of the parent packing the other gear.

Stability. Fold-out stands built into some carriers can be very helpful in two ways: They let you secure a child in the seat before you maneuver the carrier onto your back. They also let you use the carrier as a baby seat during rest stops and in camp.

Generally, the wider the stand, the more stable it is. One caution: a rigid-frame platform, while good for attaching gear, doesn't provide stable support for an unattended child.

Size. Compared to around-town models, these carriers can be quite bulky. If home storage is limited, look for a model with a collapsible frame.

Price. Unfortunately, deluxe carriers come with deluxe price tags: from around $85 to $120. Realizing that parents might be reluctant to spend so much on a product with a limited useful life span, some manufacturers offer kits for converting their carriers to regular backpacks after a child has outgrown them.

Other uses? Whether these carriers should be used by cross-country skiers is open to debate. Skiers are more likely than hikers to take a tumble, and for the baby it's a long way to the ground.

You'll find the best selection of trail-worthy carriers in outdoor equipment stores. If the Christmas rush has emptied shelves, you can telephone manufacturers directly to ask where their carriers are sold in your area: Ridgeway by Kelty (page 64, left), (800) 423-2320; Mountain Masters (page 64, right), (916) 273-9154; Tough Traveler (top left), (800) 468-6844.

For help planning a day hike or overnight trip with a small passenger, look for the new edition of Backpacking with Babies and Small Children, by Goldie Silverman (Wilderness Press, Berkeley; $6.95).

Photo: Baby rides high above mom's head in new tall-and-narrow carrier. Head rest is padded; bag below detaches. Dad's pack frame swings out to be freestanding; high sides protect passenger. Both packs boast other new features such as padded hip belts and storage compartments

Photo: Retractable kickstand converts carrier into baby chair--handy for trailside or camp stops

Photo: Elastic rings secure bottles inside diaper- and supplies-storage pouch suspended from carrier seat

Photo: Chest pad connects shoulder and waist straps on toddler's harness. Frame-top bar is also padded for safety

Photo: Tyke's hike is easy in bucket seat of this collapsibleframe carrier
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Dec 1, 1986
Words:846
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