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My daughter is almost one year old and I’m convinced she likes being outdoors even more than her parents. Since she could crawl, she’d haul herself over to our living room window, rise to her knees, and gently smack her palms against the glass, staring at waving trees, seagulls wheeling overhead. When she was a newborn, we’d bring her on long day hikes in her front carrier, and though she surely couldn’t see them yet, she’d always have one eye wide open, locked on fluttering leaves and branches.

The moment she was big enough for a proper baby backpack, we had her everywhere in the thing. Forest trails, beach, grocery store, neighborhood walks, and long distance snowshoe hut treks. Plop her in a backpack and her face lights up, knowing she has a little adventure in store.

We tried a few child carriers before we settled on our favorite, and we haven’t looked back. The all-new Osprey Poco Plus is pricey, but, like all Osprey packs I’ve tried, it’s engineered brilliantly, comfortable to carry, and the quality is unmatched, backed by a 7-year warranty.

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First, the details.

The pack by itself weighs 7 pounds, 14 ounces. It can carry up to just under 50 pounds, obviously including the weight of your baby. Total non-baby storage is roughly 26 liters, spread out over 10 pockets. The torso is adjustable, as is the hip belt, so it will fit a huge range of parents. The back panel is Osprey’s excellent AirSpeed mesh system that allows a ton of airflow, holds the pack nice and far off your back, and conforms to the shape of your back. In my experience with tons of backpacks, Osprey’s system is simply the most comfortable, especially for large loads, while allowing the most confident range of motion—an important detail I’ll get to in a moment.

Buckling a child into the pack’s seat area—which is easily adjustable with a simple strap to lower the seat as they grow—is easy and secure. There are two stretchy arm panel loops at the front that buckle behind the passenger’s head. That’s it. I’ve used several other packs that involved fumbling around for clips and buckles before you could strap the kiddo in, but the Poco is the simplest, most intuitive, and roomiest. You won’t need to consult the owner’s manual if it’s been a few months since your last hike. This is also a big bonus if you have a toddler or a younger crawler who you will be taking out of the carrier often to explore.

Lots of room in the pockets, plenty of visibility for the kiddo.

Passes the all-important sleep test.

There are a few little, thoughtful touches touches that make this pack very pleasant to use. There is a small fabric loop you can use to attach a toy, or a pacifier tether, in easy reach of the baby. When not in use, the child’s shoulder harness loops have dedicated clips you buckle them into to keep them out of the way. Storing it in a car is awesome too—a dedicated loop and buckle system compress the pack to about one-third of the depth it has when in use. This pack won’t eat up the entirety of your car’s rear hatch.

The sunshade is also well designed. It pops out of a zippered compartment, raises well above your baby’s head, and secures tightly into color-coded flaps on the pack’s side. A standard kickstand on the bottom extends with a satisfying click so you know it’s in place, and the dual handles for putting on and taking off the pack are easy to grasp and feel sturdy and secure.

Now then, hiking in this pack feels like, well, backpacking with an Osprey pack. The child’s weight is centered nice and high and far away from your back, the weight sits well above your hip bones, and the pack moves well with the hiker. For me, it’s crucial to feel confident with my baby in a pack while I navigate dicey corners, duck under low branches, or pick my way down a steep, rooty trail. There’s no unwieldy shifting or balance issues with the pack. It just works.

There are all of the pockets you’d expect on any backpack, nothing really to get excited about there, except to note that carriers at a lower price point often skip out on pockets. I typically keep a bottle of water for myself, one that I’ll use for formula, and my daughter’s sippy water bottle in three of the four mesh pockets. A big panel on the back of the pack is perfect for stashing a rain shell or an umbrella. A large pocket at the base of the pack houses diapers, a sack for dirty diapers, a jacket for her, and my lunch.

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All of that often equals a bit more than 35 pounds, including baby, and it carries the weight quite well. Backpack season is coming, mercifully, and using this pack all fall, winter, and through the early spring has been a great training regimen.

The Kelty Journey was our runner up, and you can see here it carries the baby a little lower than the Osprey, not that she seems to mind.

When hiking with the little one on a trek that will involve sitting somewhere for awhile, I bring the following pieces of gear to make things easier and more comfortable.

• Sun shade/mosquito tent: The one we use weighs less than a pound, is easily carried on the outside of a daypack.

• Outdoor mat: The CGear Sand-Free mat allows dirt and sand to fall through from the top, but not come up through the bottom. It’s brilliant, and perfect for the beach or plopping it down on a clearing in the woods somewhere to let the little one stretch those crawling legs.

• We love the Sunday Afternoons Sunsprout sun hat.

• If it’s cold, we’ll usually throw these wool slippers from Glerups over her little toesies.

Osprey Poco Plus, $330 • BUY

More baby hiking goodness

We also like the Kelty Journey Perfect Fit carrier (pictured above), which is quite a bit cheaper at about $260. It doesn’t boast the pockets of the Osprey, and it’s a little fussier to get the kid secured, but it’s comfy and a great choice too.

The Deuter Kid Comfort is a classic, gets rave reviews, and has most of the features of the Osprey, at roughly the same price point too. We liked this carrier, but found the Osprey to allow for a more athletic style of hiking.

If you need something close to tent for shelter for a long day outdoors, but not the complexity and bulk of a true tent, the Kelty Cabana shade is ideal.


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