When it comes to climbing, walking and mountaineering gear I'd like to think I know my stuff. Years of using a lot of kit from many different brands has provided me with an in-depth knowledge that (hopefully) comes across in the reviews I write and the forum responses I offer. However, last year I realised there was a large gap in my knowledge, because not once in my life had I ever thought of all the stuff you need to successfully raise a child.
Up until June 2019 (my daughter's birth) I'd never really considered the pros and cons of a four wheel vs. a three wheel buggy, or experienced jealousy at someone who had a child's car seat that featured a swivel. Most relevant to this review, I'd never hitherto pondered the pros and cons of child carriers.
Now before I go any further it's worth spelling out the obvious: everyone has their individual preferences which are unique to their own set of circumstances; every child is different and - as a result - there isn't (sadly) one ideal carrying solution for all. We were very kindly bought a sling for when our daughter was small, because tiny kids require a certain level of strength (and size) before they're suitable for a backpack style carrier. The sling did us proud and we took it everywhere we went, which was a lot of places. Granted, climbing swiftly became more of a shambles, but walking rose up the ranks and we soon found ourselves exploring loads of places we might not have otherwise.
However, as time went on babies do what they do best - grow. As the wee one put on weight the sling soon became quite uncomfortable not just for us, but for the little'un too, who was clearly in need of a bit of support. Our first child carrier was a hand-me-down, which is always a good way of acquiring kit; however, it doesn't always get you exactly what you need and with this particular pack it taught us the value of buying something fit for the purposes we needed it for. If you're an active person likely to be spending a lot of time outdoors, blending big walks with short trips out and about, then super light, unsupportive and flimsy isn't going to fit the bill - you're going to need something sturdy. Clearly there's always the option of getting something second hand, but if you do decide to buy one then it's for the best if it fits well, and also if it's built to last since you'll likely hand it on or sell it afterwards.
So if you are willing to invest in quality, what features are you looking out for?
It boils down to three key points: your comfort, your child's comfort, and your child's safety. When it comes to the adult, think of a child carrier as an expedition pack, where the priority is on moving heavy loads as comfortably as possible. The main difference is that in this particular pack there's a rather unpredictable element in the form of a small person sitting in it, who is either wriggling, flailing around, pulling out your hair, or shouting at the top of their voice. In order to achieve the necessary level of support a lot of thought will have gone into the back system - something we'll come to shortly.
The second factor - the child's comfort - is also key, for reasons that should probably be obvious (a comfortable child is a happy child).
The third and final factor - the child's safety - is also key, because when you're walking over rough ground there's always the chance of slipping, and hence it's crucial that the wee one is safe should this occur and that there's no way of them popping out.
It's worth mentioning a couple of caveats which come as a result of the various requirements. Firstly, as a result of the necessary structure, child carriers aren't light. The Deuter Kid Comfort Plus comes in at just under 3.5kg. If, like me, you're used to lighter weight climbing and mountain packs, then that could cause you to raise an eyebrow; but in the world of child carriers it's not notably heavy as these things go. The second caveat is one of price. These things don't come cheap. Realistically you're looking at £200+ as a bare minimum, with Deuter's range starting at £210 with the Kid Comfort Active (which is worth looking at if you're after a slightly lighter weight version than the one being reviewed here).
So let's get down to it:
Deuter's Kid Comfort Pro
As per the intro, a lare part of any child carrier is the back system, because without a supportive frame to base it all on the pack would be unable to house a child comfortably or safely, and of course you're going to need a hefty harness to carry that wriggling load.
The frame itself is, as a result of this, a rather substantial and complex affair which the following picture will hopefully go some way towards explaining. There are three parts to it:
- The back frame, which provides you with support, and also adds stability whilst standing courtesy of it running underneath as well.
- The child frame, which - as you'd expect - supports the child, but also you as it draws their weight in towards you by stopping them sagging too far back.
- The kickstand, which allows you to place the pack down without too much fear of it falling over (providing the ground is flat enough).
A key feature of Deuter's design is that the harness is connected directly to the frame, which adds further stability and increases the transfer of weight forwards onto your back, keeping your centre of gravity firmly over your feet. Clearly the small person in the back will do everything they can to disrupt this, but at least the pack is on your side.
Due to its design, the amount of actual material touching your back is quite limited, courtesy of Deuter's AirMesh. Whilst this doesn't stop you sweating (nothing does), it does make it feel a lot nicer on warm days; even on cold days it doesn't feel cold due to the extra layers you're likely to be wearing (and let's face it, carrying a small child tends to get you pretty hot and sweaty in itself).
No load carrying back system is complete without a decent hipbelt, and this one is great. Chunky and comfy, it provides further support, noticeably taking the weight off your shoulders. The big buckles and sturdy straps give a good fit, although the straps themselves are ludicrously long out of the box - so much so that we eventually cut ours down. In addition to this there are two further straps on both the top and the bottom of the pack to bring the weight of the load (aka. child) forwards, which make a massive difference. Other standard features include a chest clip and two further straps on the shoulders to, once-again, keep that weight forwards.
Whilst it may feel like I'm repeating myself, fit is absolutely crucial when it comes to achieving all-day comfort, so it's worth taking time to get things right.
If there's going to be two of you carrying the pack then adjustability is clearly important. Get it right and everything is good, get it wrong and everything will feel a lot less comfortable. If you're lucky you and your partner will be a similar height, but if not then you'll need to use the simple 'Vari Fit' system to adjust things up and down. Located behind the AirMesh lining, this system - once you've got the hang of it - couldn't be much simpler if it tried: simply release the locking buckle then pull it up or down. It's a 10-second job once you know where you want it to be, but could take a bit longer when you're first trying to figure it all out - not least because (just to repeat it once more) getting the fit right is of the upmost importance.
It's worth mentioning that there is only one size for the Kid Comfort Plus. If you're after a short back length then the lighter weight model - the Kid Comfort Active SL - is the one to look at. Clearly nobody wants to buy two child carriers, so it's infinitely desirable if you and your partner are able to share the same one. If either one of you (or both) are a lot shorter then it could be worth trying on the women's model for size.
Child Comfort and Safety
Enough about how it is for the adults, how is it for the child?
I must admit, when I first took the Kid Comfort Pro out the box I felt a pang of jealousy, as I very much wished that this was something I could be carried around in. The cushioning around the back headrest is plentiful and protective, the removable pillow on the front soft and (thankfully) washable. The seat itself is height adjustable so that it covers a wide age range, although clearly it shouldn't be used until the child is able to sit, and hence can support their own head adequately. It's hard to define an upper limit on size other than to say it's likely to be a decision made by both yourself and your child, when you decide they're too old or they refuse to be carried anymore!
The cradle within is something that puts a car seatbelt to shame. It's a five point harness that features three buckles on the inside and a further two on the outside. The harness keeps the child safe and stable so that if you were to trip they wouldn't simply chute out of the top.
Sitting down is uncomfortable for anyone if done for long enough, but the foot rests/stirrups here allow the child to manoeuvre themselves around a little, relieving sore spots. These are realistically more appropriate for when the child gets a little older, because if yours is anything like ours (who is currently 10 months old) there is no way that they're going to want their feet strapped into these things and will do everything they can to kick them off.
When it comes to getting the child in and out of the pack one of its sides opens out fully to provide easy access. One thing we've noticed with our daughter is that it's actually easier when they're smaller simply to loosen the side straps rather than undo them completely, as this way you can just slide them in. Once they're older I gather the idea is that you can open up the side and let them climb in, although whether or not they're complicit with this plan is another matter altogether (maybe they'll love it?). Once they're in, the next step is getting them buckled. This can feel quite fiddly at first, but once you get used to it everything comes together quite quickly (assuming the child in question is sympathetic to what you're trying to do).
If you're out and about with someone else the chances are that they'll be carrying most of the heavier items, because when carrying a child you'll have enough on your plate already. That said, if you're out on your own - or are in need of extra space - then the Kid Comfort Pro has 16 litres of room to play about with. Most of the capacity is within the rear hold, which provides easy access courtesy of a quick toggle/cord. This is ideal for nappy bags and other baby-based bits and bobs, of which I now know there are many (it's impossible to leave the house without it looking like an expedition).
In addition to this there's a variety of other handy storage spots, the most accessible of which are the two pockets on the hip belt. These are great for keys, phones, snack bars and anything else you need quick access to. In addition to this there's a few elastic pockets which are great for items such as kid's hats/gloves and other items which you may need quickly if the elements (sun or rain) come out.
The Kid Comfort Pro also comes with a small daysack, which - I must confess - we haven't used a great deal. The main reason behind this is that we've been out as a pair for the most part, hence whoever doesn't have the child carrier has a larger rucksack; however, if you were out on your own and needed a bit more storage then this could be useful. The fact it's designed to fit on the front of the Kid Comfort Pro (courtesy of a couple of clips) is handy, but could equally get in the way a little. Another feature is the space for a hydration system, which is located within the back. Given that there isn't an easy way to access a water bottle whilst carrying it this could be useful, especially on solo trips where there's no one else to hand you the bottle.
The integrated sunshade is (if you're lucky with the weather) a feature that you'll be using a lot. Young children are more sensitive to the sun, so keeping it off their heads whilst you're out and about is important. The hood itself is accessed via a zip within the rim of the carrier and is easily deployed. The fact it's zipped in also means you can't lose it (always a bonus), although it does require a bit of manoeuvring to get back in (it goes, it just needs a bit of a wiggle). An additional benefit to the sunshade is that it provides a bit of wind proofing for the wee one.
Were there to be an omission from what's included, it's a rain cover, which is available as an extra for £25. To me this seems like something that would seem logical to include as a part of the package, more so perhaps than the small rucksack, which seems like a bit of an unecessary extra. In the UK I would argue that a rain cover is essential. Fit-wise it goes over the sunshade, with four sets of quite awkward clips that fasten onto various attachments, then two loops that fit over the frame which folds out from the base. All-in-all it doesn't feel quite as elegant in design as the rest of the carrier, but once on it does the job.
A key feature of virtually all child carriers is a kickstand, which flicks out, allowing you to put the pack down without it falling over. When you're actually moving this can then be snapped back in, something which is actually quite important because you'd be amazed how much you bang into things if it's left out. The mechanism on the Kid Comfort Pro is quite on/off, insofar as when it's in it's in, but when it's out it's out - there's no grey area. As a result, it feels sturdy when deployed, which is ultimately a good thing when the prospect of it falling over with your child in is not appealing.
Other minor features which are also pretty useful are the two grab handles which are located on the front and back, simply because they're perfectly located for someone to help pick up the pack with you.
One final thing worth mentioning is that the pack itself is PFC free, something that Deuter should be applauded for.
The Deuter Kid Comfort Pro passes the criteria set out at the start of the review with flying colours, being safe and comfortable for the child, as well as providing a high level of support for the adult who's carrying it. It's got a bombproof feel to it so is likely to last a lifetime, hence the price of £280 seems more than justified. When it comes to features there's too many to list, but each appears to be well thought out. My only criticism is that it would have been good if it could have come with a rain cover as standard, particularly for those of us in the UK where its use is almost inevitable - perhaps at the expense of the small pack? That said, the fact that this is one of my only criticisms speaks volumes, as it's a pretty minor gripe!
Mountain adventures become much more pleasant with the ingenious, new Aircomfort Sensic Vario mesh backsystem. The weight of the load is transferred perfectly, the child carrier fits securely while the back is fully ventilated. The child carrier fits snuggly enough for easy carrying, yet the parent's back remains fully ventilated. The Kid Comfort offers the most options for passengers: the large, soft pillow gently braces a tired child's head even in the corners of the pack so that naps can truly occur anywhere outdoors. The Kid Comfort Pro also comes with an integrated, separately useable daypack for quick missions to the changing room, as well as a sun roof and a mirror for a rear-view of the rider.
- pleasant ventilation through perforated shoulder straps
- two zipped pockets on hip fins
- permanently integrated, fast to assemble sun roof
- integrated, separately useable daypack in bottom compartment with inside pocket and the possibility to attach daypack on sternum strap
- mirror for view of the child on the back in hip pocket
- height-adjustable child's seat with varying cushion width according to age for a healthy seating position
- height-adjustable foot rests with adjustment to fit the child's feet
- different cover material in child's seating area: airy and soft in the comfort zone and robust and washable in the foot areas
- 3M reflector
- frame is covered with fabric in seating area
- the sturdy aluminium frame with broad platform is tip-over resistant – very helpful when getting into the seat
- setting the child carrier down is easy with its base that has a noticeable lock function
- key holder
- folds for transport