One of the greatest challenges as a parent (and there’s no denying, there are almost infinite challenges) is the logistics of getting anywhere. New parents often struggle to leave the house with their bundle of joy. And getting anything done when you have a baby who just screams unless they’re cuddled is equally mind-blowing and exhausting.
So it’s no surprise a baby carrier is a lifesaver for parents not just of babies, but toddlers and even older children too. They allow little ones to nestle in close and snug (ideally helping them to drift off to sleep), and for parents to get on with life hands-free – whether that’s doing the washing up, doing the weekly food shop or eating in a restaurant in (relative) peace.
We tested 15 carriers on babies of different ages in a range of settings from long country walks, to shopping and around the home. When testing we looked at how easy they were to get on and off, how comfortable they were and how happy our child seemed in them. Special attention was paid to how easy they were to hoist on without help, how long the product would last with a growing child and any special extra details.
The best baby carriers of 2021 are:
- Best overall – LittleLife cross country S4 child carrier: £169.99, Littlelife.com
- Best for multi-purposing – Baby Tula explore baby carrier: £138.95, Buggybaby.co.uk
- Best for front wearing – Ergobaby Omni 360 cool air mesh baby carrier: £154.90, Mamasandpapas.com
- Best for newborns – Ergobaby embrace: £79.90, Johnlewis.com
- Best for easy loading – BabyBjorn baby carrier one: £144, Mamasandpapas.com
- Best budget buy – Close Caboo lite baby carrier: £55, Closeparent.com
- Best for fashion conscious parents – Artipoppe Zeitgeist baby leopard classic: £315, Artipoppe.com
- Best for flexibility – Beco-8 baby carrier: £125, Becobabycarrier.co.uk
- Best for back carrying – Najell Easy baby carrier: £109, Alexandalexa.com
- Best for travelling – Integra baby solar integra: £65, Babipur.co.uk
- Best for comfort – Nuna cudl: £150, Johnlewis.com
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LittleLife cross country S4 child carrier
It’s hard to find fault with this carrier, other than it’s not much of a looker. Suitable from six months to three years, it will see you through the hard-graft early years with kids. Certainly, our 18-month-old tester loved this carrier best out of all the ones he tested – cheering and shrieking, and telling us to “giddy-up”. And the carrier itself, although bulky, doesn’t make you feel like a packhorse, while still having enough pockets to fit in more equipment than a Buckaroo pony.
We loved that the bottom pocket had space for the detachable sunshade and rain cover (included with the carrier), plus some snacks and a pack of wet wipes. It’s incredibly easy to put on solo and loading in a child is easy. They simply slot in and a comprehensive harness goes over their shoulders and clips in to hold them steady. It feels lightweight once on thanks to padded shoulder straps and waist belts, and didn’t cause any strain even after a lengthy walk. This carrier has been really thoughtfully designed and even has a mirror attached so you can check on your passenger, and toy loops so you won’t lose a precious favourite teddy.
Baby Tula explore baby carrier
Best: Multi-purpose carrier
As soon as we got this carrier out of the box we knew it was promising, and it didn’t disappoint. The fun fabric (it comes in a range of playful and chic prints) is soft and feels good quality. The carrier offers three carry positions – front forward facing, front inward facing and back carry. It was a breeze to put on both back and front outward facing, and our 18-month-old co-tester seemed very happy with the set up. It’s suitable from birth to toddlerhood meaning you’ll get good mileage out of it. Thanks to the padded shoulder straps and waistband, even with a heavier passenger it didn’t cause any aches or pains – in fact, our baby felt positively light and we felt liberated, which is a real rarity.
Ergobaby Omni 360 cool air mesh baby carrier
Best: For front wearing
We found this baby carrier one of the easiest to put on – it’s similar to a simple backpack with straps for your shoulders and a buckle around the waist and chest. It’s is suitable from birth to toddlerhood, so although it’s fairly pricey it will last a long time. We tried using it both forward-facing on the front, and on the back. You can also wear it on the hip, and inward-facing for younger babies without the need for an extra insert. There is adjustable head support for babies who haven’t yet mastered head control.
The carrier excelled at forward-facing – our weighty 18-month-old tester was happy in there for a decent walk, and it didn’t cause us any sore shoulders while using it. We particularly liked the zip pocket for tucking away small items like dummies, and how easy it was to adjust for different seating positions. Putting this on our back was more of an ordeal with our heavier (impatient) baby tester, but there’s definitely a knack to it, which we eventually mastered.
Ergobaby embrace baby carrier
Best: For newborns
We loved this carrier, as did our nine-month-old tester. It’s made of soft, stretchy material and has three settings to make it smaller for newborns, and can be worn on the front in forwarding- or parent-facing positions. We found it was a great alternative to wrap and ring slings for newborns as it was so simple to use, and it felt safe and secure with large buckles to secure our baby in place. The waistband sits higher on the waist than some other products, but we found weight distribution was really good, and we didn’t have strain to counterbalance the extra weight. This carrier says it’s suitable from birth (as long as your baby is over 7lbs at birth) to around 12 months.
BabyBjorn baby carrier one
Best: For easy loading
Not that we are totally swayed by a good print (we really aren’t), but we fell in love with the pinky-coloured leopard print on this carrier. It felt much chicer than some other carriers we tried, and would be perfect for more image-conscious parents (Gigi Hadid has one). This is one of the carriers we found more difficult to get our heads around, as straps detach using slightly stiff clips (these did loosen with use). However, once we did master putting it on, we felt it was one of the easier carriers to get a baby into if using solo. However, we didn’t feel like this one had quite as good weight distribution as other carriers we tried. It has two height settings, so should see you from the newborn fog right through to toddlerhood, which should help the pound per wear ratio.
Close Caboo Lite baby carrier
Made from a soft lightweight poly cotton blend, this carrier has a nice bit of stretch that made it feel secure when our baby was in place. It’s also really easy to put on – you pull it on like a T-shirt and adjust without the need for ties or clips. There are multiple front positions you can use, including one for discreet breastfeeding. We found our 12-week-old tester was happy in this position and seemed cosy, allowing us a hands-free feed. However, geting your baby out of the sling takes a little manoeuvering, which means it’s quite a faff to change sides during a feed. The carrier is lightweight and foldable, meaning it’s great to chuck in a change bag or under a pram. We found that while the straps were wide they weren’t too bulky, so we could still wear a coat on our shoulders without looking like an Eighties power dresser. While this carrier is only suitable for the first year, we still think it’s fantastic for the price.
Artipoppe Zeitgeist baby leopard classic
Best: For fashion conscious parents
Part baby carrier, part fashion accessory, this premium design feels seriously sophisticated – and so it should for the hefty price tag attached. Made from easy-care cotton, this product is not just machine washable but also vegan friendly. We loved the look and feel of this carrier – even the packaging feels luxurious – and the simple clasps made it really easy to put on. However, it is better for younger babies, despite it saying it’s for babies from newborn to two-years-old. It doesn’t have a chest clip for that bit of extra support, but the waist belt is well padded. When carrying on the back it definitely needs a chest clip to hold the straps on your shoulders. The instructions say to use a silk scarf but we felt that for the price, a chest support should be included. This carrier was definitely the most aesthetically pleasing we tried by far.
Beco 8 baby carrier
Best: For flexibility
What really stands out about this carrier is its versatility. It is designed so it can adjust to the parent – whether you’re petite or very tall, you’re sure to find a fit that’s comfy. This is especially helpful if you’re sharing the load of carrying between caregivers. An integrated booster means it’s suitable for newborns, but with a quick unzip it can seat a bulky toddler. In hotter weather the panel down the front unzips to reveal a mesh fabric that allows air to circulate and keep passenger and adult cool. There is also a built-in headrest and sleeping hood. This carrier also has really great support with an extra wide waist belt and lumbar support that detaches. You can carry your little one facing in on the front, or facing out on the front, on your hip or your back, which just adds to the flexibility. This is one of the most comfortable wears and was great even for our taller 6ft tester. A mark of how comfortable it was for the passenger – it’s the only carrier they fell asleep in.
Najell Easy baby carrier
Best: For back carrying
This baby carrier is another one you pull on like a sweater. We found it simple to put on, and it had easy-to-use magnetic clips to secure our mini tester in place. After a few practices, you can put this on one-handed. This carrier felt really padded and we found it one of the most comfortable to wear. There are three positions for your baby to sit in: on the front-facing inwards or outwards, and on the back. Our mini tester is 18-months-old and enjoyed the back seat best, but they are at the upper limits of fitting this sling – it goes from birth to 18 months.
Integra baby solar integra
Best: For travelling
Our immediate thought when we got this carrier out was that it was perfect for the summer, especially for taking on holiday. It’s so lightweight, and is made from sun-protective fabric that blocks out UBV and UBA rays. Because the fabric is so light it also dries really quickly and is designed to keep your baby cool, wicking away sweat. For all these brilliant perks, we thought it would have sacrificed comfort as it’s not the most padded of slings – however, we actually found it incredibly comfortable and easy to put on, and our mini tester was very happy too. We thought this carrier was incredible value for money, especially as it’s suitable from birth up to age two.
Best: For comfort
Initially we really struggled to make sense of this carrier, as there seems to be a lot of adjusting and straps. Once you figure out how to put it on (pull on over your head, like a jumper), it’s super slick. We especially enjoyed the satisfying click of the magnetic clasps – of which there are four for maximum support. Our little tester really seemed comfortable in this carrier and we felt it was very comfy too – it’s made from breathable mesh to ensure no one gets too sweaty and the straps are nicely padded. An integrated baby booster makes it suitable from newborn, and this easily unzips for older babies. Like most carriers we tested, babies can be worn on the front facing inwards or outwards, or on the back. We really appreciated the smartphone-sized pocket on the waistband too.
Baby carrier FAQs
Baby carrier types
There is a huge range of baby carriers out there, from long pieces of stretchy fabric you tie yourself, to more structured carriers to larger backpack styles. The stretchy thin pieces of fabric are ideal for new babies. They hold them close to your chest, which is their favourite place to be, and are adjustable enough to find a comfy way to wear them. Some come just as one piece of fabric, others are more elaborate.
As your child grows, you may find that the slings that were great in the early days don’t offer enough support and you want to upgrade to something more substantial. A structured carrier is a great solution. Initially, they might seem like an intimidating mystery of buckles and straps, but once you get the hang of it they’re a dream to use. Many models allow you to carry your child facing inwards, outwards or on your back.
From here you might want to go a step further and get a back carrier. These backpacks don’t look chic or cool, but save you from toddler meltdowns on longer walks. No parent needs that.
What to consider when buying a baby carrier
When selecting your baby carrier, make sure your child is the right age and weight for the carrier. Some carriers require a newborn insert for the first few months of use.
“Many parents find using a sling is practical and enjoyable as it leaves you hands free, but keeps your baby warm and comforted by being close,” says Elizabeth Duff, NCT senior policy advisor. “However, there are possible health risks to both parent and baby, so it’s really important to read the safety information about wearing slings, wraps and carriers. Whether you buy new or second-hand, look at the essential guidelines to help keep your baby safe and you reassured. More information including the UK Sling Consortium’s TICKS Checklist can be found on the NCT website.”
It’s also important to make sure you’re carrying your baby in a hip-healthy way. “When a proper hip position is maintained while babywearing, there may be a substantial benefit for natural hip development. The M-position is a natural clinging position for infants – also known as the Spread-Squat, or Jockey Position. This is recommended as a healthy habit,” says Charles T. Price, MD, Medical Director at the International Hip Dysplasia Institute (IHDI). Look out for carriers that have the approval of the IHDI.
The verdict: Baby carriers
We found the Little Life cross country faultless for us, but concede that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea for popping to the shops or snuggling a new baby. For those purposes we think the Baby Tula explore is a fantastic option – comfortable, cute, easy to use and it comes in as slightly more affordable than many of the others.
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