When our son was an infant, we toted him around in a baby carrier. It worked great when he was tiny, but as he grew, it became too uncomfortable. We wanted to be able to carry him on hikes and other outdoor adventures, so with that goal in mind, we recently put the Chicco Smart Support backpack to the test.
As a general rule of thumb, there are a few types of baby carriers. There are wraps and slings, which are basically just sheets of fabric that you use to secure the baby. Then there are what’s called “soft structured carriers”, which is what most people think of when they see baby Bjorns or Ergos. Finally, there are frame carriers that are used for hiking and other all-day events, and that’s where the Smart Support Backpack falls in a lineup.
While the Smart Support Backpack looks rather intimidating at first glance, it’s quite simple to use. You set the baby up in their seat, and they are strapped in with both a lap belt and shoulder straps, and the baby’s harness can be adjusted to grow with them. However, there is room for the child to move their arms and hands, and I have noticed that it gave my son enough freedom to raise his arms, point out exciting things, and even put his head forward and take a nap!
Luckily, the main support bar that extends in front of the baby is padded. There is a kickstand that lets the whole backpack stand alone, and that makes this significantly safer and easier for loading and unloading alone than any other carrier we’ve tried. We can get the baby secured in the carrier while the kickstand is out, make sure the harness is tight, then secure the backpack to whoever is wearing him.
Now, here’s the thing about wearing a baby on your back: it’s an adjustment no matter how great the carrier is, unless you routinely carry heavy weight on your back. However, the Smart Support pack has a sturdy sternum strap and waist belt that help dissipate a great deal of the weight and pressure; my wife, Sarah, and I have both worn our son in the pack for hours at a time and only felt mildly sore at first.
My one criticism of the sternum strap is that it’s sewn in place, so if you have an exceptionally long or short torso you may find it doesn’t lay exactly right for you. Neither Sarah nor I had any major complaints, but I did find myself wishing it could just be a tiny bit lower a few times. Sarah also pointed out that while the shoulder straps are quite secure, they are so tight you can’t adjust it at all with the baby on your back. This means that swapping who carries the baby means making sure you can stop and offload the carrier to adjust the straps. The waist belt, sternum strap and shoulder straps all have adjustable lengths and fits, so you can tweak it until you feel most comfortable. We both wished the waist strap was slightly more padded, but it wasn’t a dealbreaker.
More important than our comfort, though, is whether the baby likes it! In order to best illustrate that, I need to explain when I started trying the carrier. Sarah was out of town for a few days, and the Smart Support backpack had just arrived for review. I needed to walk the dog (a 100 pound labrador), and I needed both hands, so I popped our son in the Smart Support backpack for all the dog’s walks that weekend. Once Sarah was back, I went to walk the dog without the baby, and I was startled by the sound of a sobbing toddler rapidly crawling towards the Smart Support backpack. He saw me go for the dog’s leash, and had become accustomed to riding on my back during the walks! Judging from the near-constant cooing and cries of “Doggy!” that I get while wearing him, I think he likes it!
But the Smart Support pack is for far more than just walking the dog. On our family vacation we used it when walking around small shops and places where a stroller would have been too tight; it also came in handy since it was smaller to carry without the baby in it when he decided he wanted to practice walking alongside us. We were able to bring the baby to the local stream to splash in the water, which was inaccessible by stroller due to the short, steep climb down to the banks. Finally, we put the Smart Support to a serious test and hiked Overlook Mountain wearing it (with our son in it!)
When Sarah picked this hike, she thought it would be fun and worth it for the great views. Plus it was only 5 miles round trip, so it wasn’t terribly long either. What we didn’t realize was that to get to the great views, we had to hike up 2.5 miles, with an elevation change of around 1,400 feet. So it was uphill for a while, and then uphill some more. All while carrying 30 pounds of baby and carrier (and the baby took advantage of the situation to take a nice nap partway up-I was jealous!). It hurt, for sure, but not from carrying my son. The straps didn’t budge or loosen at all, and while I know I was significantly slower and working far harder from carrying extra weight, the Chicco Smart Support Backpack was quite comfortable. We were able to pull the sunshade up to block wind and sun, and I didn’t have any unusual soreness or irritations from the pack. It was easily as comfortable as a quality hiking backpack, just with far more precious cargo!
As you can tell, the Smart Support backpack has been a huge hit in our house. Aside from some niggles about the straps, we really only had one other complaint, and that was the lack of pockets and storage on the pack. For a short walk it wasn’t a problem, and obviously if both of us were out walking or hiking whoever wasn’t wearing the carrier could wear our diaper backpack. But for walks alone, there are a few essentials we need, and not having pockets creates a little bit of a logistical dilemma. (Sarah says this does not justify cargo pants, sadly).
If you’re an active family, whether it’s the jungles of suburbia or hiking a wild trail, how to transport the baby is always a juggling act. The Chicco Smart Support Backpack makes it super easy for parents to carry growing little ones, and the tiny people love being on the same level as the big ones. Best of all, at only $99.99 it’s hardly a wallet-buster! It is well-made, easy to use, sturdy, and relatively compact for what it does … and if your child is anything like mine, he will love riding in it!
Source: Manufacturer provided review sample
What I Like: Comfortable to wear for long periods; kickstand makes loading the baby in safely easy; sternum and waist strap help offload some of the weight pressure; sunshade is nice for long walks; pack itself is relatively lightweight
What Needs Improvement: The Chicco Smart Support Backpack’s sternum strap location is fixed in place; waist belt could have more padding; difficult to adjust shoulder straps on the fly; no pockets.