Gear for walking with babies and toddlers: Dan Bailey tests out the Deuter Kid Comfort III Child Carrier rucksack.
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On Meall a' Ghiubhais
UKC Gear, Dec 2011
© Dan Bailey The arrival of your first baby changes everything, but it needn't totally curtail outdoor activity. So the Mrs tried to persuade me, and I took some convincing. Family days up winter Munros may be on hold for a while, but in the meantime there's plenty to go at if you lower your sights. Learn to look on country rambles and manageable mini summits as opportunities rather than sacrifices, she said. Every trip is a magical brand new experience for the sprog after all, and easy walks now look pretty novel and challenging to us too.
Babies and smaller toddlers are portable, and don't complain (much) about being cold, wet and hungry. Between when they can hold their own head up and the age they're suddenly wise enough to put their foot down you've a window of opportunity that won't come again. They are at your mercy. But you won't get far without a child carrier (we tried).
A child carrier is fundamentally a rucksack, but unlike a normal pack it's got to please two people at once, offering both a comfy carry and a pleasant ride. The seat should be snug, well padded, supportive, and able to expand as the nipper grows. Junior has to be strapped securely into place too, to prevent them flying headlong if the parent stumbles. The carrier should offer its occupant a measure of protection from the elements with a canopy to keep out at least some sunshine, wind and rain. An additional waterproof cover is also essential, not just for heavy rain but also on cold windy days.
Our forebears got away with a couple of scraps of sacking and the odd toy decorated with lead-based paint, but modern babies come as standard with mounds of clutter. Nappies, wipes, changing mat, a complete set of spare clothes, sun hat, warm hat, mittens, fleecy all-in-one, waterproof all-in-one, teddies, bottles, beakers, Calpol, sun cream, snacks, bits of rubber to chew, muslins, camera to capture the heart warming moments ... the basic kit for an afternoon stroll can be piled almost as high as the hill you've set out to conquer. Partner number two will have all the adult stuff x2, so it usually falls to the baby porter to lug the clutter. A child carrier worth its price tag will have generous storage, preferably in several compartments so that items can be kept organised for when suddenly needed.
"...Between when they can hold their own head up and the age they're suddenly wise enough to put their foot down you've a window of opportunity..."
Add the weight of junior too, usually bouncing about as she attempts to pull your hair, and you've a considerable load. The carrying system has to match that of a rucksack, distributing the weight evenly and transferring as much load as possible to a hip belt. Padding must be sufficient but not so thick that the shifting weight of a wriggling cargo causes wobbles.
Straps have to be easily adjustable to accommodate varying back lengths as different adults take their turn as beast of burden. The whole lot will generally hang from an aluminium frame, which in the better models performs the dual function of a fold-out stand too. You might wrap your precious in cotton wool but the carrier itself will see a lot of scuffing, mud, sick and general abuse. Robust materials and construction are de rigeur, though that trades off against the weight of the carrier.
"...You might wrap your precious in cotton wool but the carrier itself will see a lot of scuffing, mud, sick and general abuse..."
It's no wonder they don't come cheap; building the perfect child carrier is clearly difficult. Have Deuter managed it with the Kid Comfort III? Not far off. A child carrier is ideally going to be a one-off purchase in life, and if you're determined to have several children you'll probably fall apart before this sturdy model does.
There are three carriers in Deuter's Kid Comfort series in ascending order of refinement, with the mark III at the top of the range. It has a price to match, but you get a lot for your money. This is a particularly well-made bit of kit, with all-day carrying (and sitting) comfort and a number of well thought out features.
Little Miss D loved it from the off. She happily spends hours riding around (you do need to let your baby out regularly) and sometimes even demands to be put in it of her own initiative. This helps ensure we get out a lot. I can understand her attraction – it's a luxurious travelling throne for one, and I only wish the seat part came in my size. We've had it out most weeks over the summer and autumn just gone, and now we're well into winter it's still seeing plenty of use thanks to the protection if offers from the weather. We've taken it for coastal walks in Devon, country strolls in the Central Belt and hill days in the Highlands. It's been on an overnight trip in the Lakes and safely transported the nipper up her first 3000-footer. She's stayed shaded in hot sunshine, happy in high winds and dry in horizontal downpours – even when the porter was soaked to the underpants.
"...it's a luxurious travelling throne for one..."
First up, the cockpit. This opens really wide to allow easy entry from above or the side. It combines cushioned comfort with confidence inspiring protection – just what your little darling needs. There's a padded seat, adjustable for height, with a padded rucksack-style back rest in sweat-reducing mesh. A high, padded headrest leaves plenty of growing room. A zip runs around the top of the headrest giving access to a roll-away canopy, which is reinforced with a tent-style internal pole. The canopy secures in place with small plastic clips, a little fiddly with cold hands but sturdy once set up; it is shady and shower-proof, and provides the overhead framework onto which the separate rain cover can be stretched. When the urchin slumps forward asleep there's a snug fleecy pillow to rest their head on and soak up dribble (etc). Luckily this is detachable and washable. There's also a little knee padding.
We live in Scotland, where child carriers are useless without a decent rain (and wind) cover. I struggle to find major fault with the Kid Comfort III's. It stretches over the canopy as explained, securing just behind the adult's shoulders, then runs down the back of the carrier to clip into the adult's hip belt. The storage compartments are totally covered, as is all of the passenger except perhaps their feet. Well, no child should have life entirely their own way. See-through panels offer the occupant some visibility. The cover is quickly deployed but again the little plastic clips are fiddly with cold fingers. Protection is about as good as you could expect, given that babies do need to breathe.
Our October trip to Torridon was a week of on-off downpours and non-stop gales, but with this carrier we were happily out every day. Within five minutes of setting out up Beinn Eighe the heavens opened. By the time we'd staggered to Lochan Coire Mhic Fhearchair the wind was blowing waterfalls uphill. Standing was difficult with the child carrier acting as a sail, and any thoughts of summits had to be swiftly abandoned. We turned tail into a roaring headwind and a face-full of hail; and that's the only time Miss D was remotely unhappy. In anything other than a full-frontal sand-blaster she'd been completely protected, warm and dry while her parents shivered. It's a pretty good rain cover. My one complaint is that it doesn't come included – you have to fork out an extra £25.
Safety wise, Deuter have cut no corners. The passenger is secured in place with shoulder straps (adjustable for height) that click into a central buckle between the legs to create a secure five-point cradle. Once the inmate has been thus restrained the cockpit's well-padded, wrap-around sides are also tightened into place, giving a 360-degree enclosure that offers a measure of protection from the wind and any possible bumps (about which, below). All buckles and adjustment points are made of very robust plastic and bright yellow so you can easily spot loose or undone straps.
"...In anything other than a full-frontal sand-blaster she'd been completely protected, warm and dry while her parents shivered..."
The internal frame is aluminium tubing in two separate parts that hinge so the whole lot folds for storage. The carrying system hangs from one section of frame as per a rucksack, while the second section runs from the base of the carrier around the full height of the headrest almost like a roll bar on a convertible car. This really helps protect the driver, as I managed to discover when I accidentally slipped down a muddy bank and executed a full roll, baby and all. Nul points for style. We were both a bit shaken, but amazingly no harm was done. They are quite resilient at that age. At the rear is a third little section of framework, a fold-away stand that snaps into place with an audible click. The Kid Comfort III stands securely on its base, which is great for getting the occupant in and out (particularly if you're walking alone) though of course you should never leave a baby thus unattended. Not all kid carriers have stands, but I wouldn't be without one.
The carrying system is simple but effective. Sculpted shoulder straps give a comfortable fit for both men and women, and the elasticated chest strap is adjustable for height. All buckles are sturdy. The curved 'Vari Flex' hip belt takes the strain as it should, and pivots slightly on at a central point to allow it to move with you. Padding at shoulders, back and hips is firm and not too deep; and even in hot weather the arrangement isn't that sweaty. Back length is quick and simple to adjust, though it may not suit the very tall. Weight distribution takes some getting used to on any child carrier, but with this in mind the Kid Comfort III offers a nice stable ride. Twin carry straps, one on the head rest and one above the shoulder straps, give a secure balance when hoisting the carrier onto your back.
"...This really helps protect the driver, as I managed to discover when I accidentally slipped down a muddy bank and executed a full roll, baby and all..."
Stuff storage options are many and varied; just what you need for all those bits and bobs. The main zipped compartment hangs below the child seat, and fits about as much as a small adult daypack. Above is a smaller zipped compartment and several elasticated mesh pockets for hats, sun cream, bottles and bears (indeed, a little teddy comes as part of the package). A narrow zipped sleeve behind the adult's back holds a water bladder or the rain cover. A pocket on one hip is big enough for a compact camera etc, while on the other side is a little sleeve containing a mirror. This is brilliant for keeping tabs on the nipper while on the move or walking alone, though unlike every other component on the carrier it's a little flimsy and easily scratched.
Deuter Kid Comfort III
RRP: £200 plus rain cover £25
I haven't seen a better child carrier than the Kid Comfort III. It's solid, comfortable, weather proof and adjustable in all sorts of directions; storage is spacious and all the features have been thought through. With all this in mind the £200 price tag doesn't look outrageous, except of course the real price is £225 since the carrier is pretty much useless without a rain cover.
You could spend £30 less on a Kid Comfort II, but then you'd need to shell out another £25 on an additional sun roof and I'm sure the final result wouldn't be as good. But the rugged quality of the kid Comfort III brings with it another price too - a hefty 3450g weight, before you've even added sprog and paraphernalia. Only stronger walkers are going to want to lug that lot up mountains. It's all good training for the distant day you're finally allowed to do some proper hillwalking again.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com: