The Best Gear for Spring

Thule RideAlong

When temperatures rise and snow is no longer in the ten-day forecast, you can finally get out and about with your baby again. Countless hours were spent researching and testing, the end result being a list of great products that make hitting the trail easier, safer and more fun.

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Hiking Backpack

For those who seek high adventure or a hike into the woods, a normal soft-structured baby carrier just won’t cut it. What you need is a backpack carrier, complete with a metal frame, fabrics that stand up to mother nature and a support system that enables both you and your baby to make it through the most treacherous and rewarding hikes. Enter the backpack carrier.

The title alone gives away the main difference between a backpack carriers and your standard soft-structured carrier. These carriers work on your back, typically with older children, and are designed to provide more support, especially for longer trips. We chose five candidates based on lists of best sellers on Amazon.com, and REI. From our research, we found that while many companies make backpack carriers that might look the same, the difference lies in the execution, customization and fit. We figured that the best thing to do was to put the carriers on, and to see how comfortable and supportive they were. We had our testers endure a four hour “stress test” over varied terrain to see which carrier stood the test of time.
After our research and testing we’re confident in choosing the Osprey Poco Plus AG as the best backpack carrier. For the parent, the straps are supportive without feeling overwhelming or tactical. A mesh lining provides comfort and softness, while keeping things cool where it’s needed most. Pockets are everywhere on this carrier-you’ll see them on the back of the carrier, on the waist belt, and built into the side-walls. For different size adults, the carrier can switch into three height modes. Simply engage the rear clasp, and shift the body of the carrier into whichever position fits best. There’s a similar saddle height adjuster for the baby, based on their height in relation to the back of the carrier. Osprey goes the extra mile, building into their design a space that’s specially designed to fit a hydration sleeve, should you have one to throw in.

The baby sits in a cockpit-style seat, which also has mesh inserts for ventilation. Stirrups and a set of shoulder straps adorn the top of the carrier to keep your child in place. A built-in sunshade protects your child from the harsh sun, maybe even providing enough shade to let a restful nap set in. Everything on the carrier feels both well-made and in the right place. The frame is made of powder coated aluminum with injection-molded hinges. The carrier even self-stands when not in use to save space. There are easy to access straps at the front and the rear of the body to adjust. The Osprey Poco Plus AG retails for $290, including a hood, and it fits children up to 50 pounds.

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Bike Trailer

We like the Burley Bee, a well-designed and easy to use bike trailer that will fit one or two kids up to a maximum total weight of 100 pounds. The Bee retails for $300, less than half of the price of the leading competitor, the Thule Chariot Cougar. For this price, you don’t get the added flexibility of being able to convert your trailer into a stroller, but we feel that most parents already have one in the garage.946203_Bee-cargo-full_2000px

Structurally, the Bee has an all aluminum roll cage that sits on top of 20” wheels. The large diameter wheels offer a smooth ride at speed, performing much better than the other models that we tested. Your kids will be properly secured in an adjustable 5 point harness, and protected from harsh UV rays with a UPF 30+ sun protection rating. A favorite feature: behind the seats lies a storage area with a 44 liter capacity. The level of detail is apparent when you start to peel back the fabric, and look at the cage and components.

Structurally, the Bee has an all aluminum roll cage that sits on top of 20” wheels.

In general, trailers are for children between age 1 and 6, past that they’ll be on their own bike. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following, “Preferably ride with passengers in parks, on bike paths, or on quiet streets. Avoid busy thoroughfares and bad weather, and ride with maximum caution and at a reduced speed.”

We’re not in alone in choosing it, the Bee is Outdoor Gear Lab’s Best Buy for Bike Trailers, based on it’s lightweightedness, simple design and low price. It has 4.5 rating on Amazon.com, with 88% of reviewers giving it a 5 or 4 star rating. For us, the Burley Bee wins on execution, and price certainly plays a role in buying. $299 gets you a well-designed, smooth riding trailer for one or two kids. It was the easiest to install and packs up small when not in use.

Bike Seat

In certain situations, a bike trailer just isn’t feasible. When you’re in a small space, traveling, or if you’re just making a quick run to the shop around the corner, a bike seat works just as well, or better. We chose the Thule RideAlong Bike Seat because it is simple to install, fits a wide range of children and provides a comfortable ride.

414nMKpVLOLThe Thule RideAlong has a dual beam suspension system, this enables it to offset the shocks and bumps experienced while riding, and offers a smoother ride than the competition. The seat can be shifted back and forth depending on how you ride, and it also tilts up to 20 degrees, which is great for younger children. The seat detaches quickly, and can be cleaned easily.The padding is water-repellent, machine washable, and reversible, with removable buckle straps too. Recommend usage is from 9 months to 48.5 pounds.

Keeping safety in mind, it’s important that both you and your child be ready for this adventure.

This means sticking with the manufacturer recommendations for age and weight, and considering your own fitness level. Not only are you propelling yourself, you now have the added weight of a seat and your child. The International Bicycle Fund writes, “The primary concern for infants on bicycles is injury to their necks.” It’s also important to consider the act of dismounting. Once a simple process of hopping off your bike, a child adds some challenges to this. You must ensure that once you stop pedaling, that you still support the bike and the child.

Thule uses a Polypropylene base, which is supportive, while offering some flexibility. There are handles for your child to hold onto while turning, and reflectors for added safety. Installation is fast. Place the RideAlong base onto your bike’s frame, and click the seat into place. A key locks the seat down, where it can then be adjusted. A blue handle adjusts the angle, and the height of the straps, allowing you to properly secure the child.
The seat is built to last, and the manufacturer offers a 5 year warranty to back it up. Retail price for the Thule RideAlong Bike Seat is $200, which we feel is very reasonable for the feature set, and the build quality.

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Helmets

If you’re going to be biking with your kids, they’re going to need a helmet. Helmets are an essential piece of injury prevention, both for you and for your baby. According to the Bike Helmet Safety Institute, 75% of fatalities from bike-related accidents are due to complications from head injuries. So how do you purchase a helmet for your child?

Younger infants may not properly fit into a helmet due to the weight of the helmet and the strength of their neck. Consult the manufacturer’s recommendations as well as your pediatrician before engaging in bike riding with your child. We looked at ventilation, fit and price when choosing our top pick for helmets. Past that, all helmets that are on the market have met the CPSC standards, so they are all “safe”. What’s important though is if they fit properly and what they’re made out of. According to Two Wheeling Tots, there are two major options for helmets: in-mold and hardshell. They seem to favor in-mold helmets due to them being lighter, more durable and better ventilated. We agree with assertion, for all three reasons, but especially for the fact that they’re better ventilated.

We like the Specialized Small Fry Toddler Helmet because of how it adjusts to fit different head circumferences, and for its specific design for trailers and bike seats. The helmet can be dialed with an adjustment knob for optimal fit for toddlers up to age 3. It features a flattened back, so as not to press a toddler’s head forward when riding in a bike seat or trailer. There are also several vents to keep your child’s head cool.

Wrapping it Up

Getting some fresh air with your toddler has never been this much much fun or easy. They’ll enjoy being along for the ride, and the time spent together will serve as a great bonding experience

 

Sources

Backpack Carrier Buying Guide, Consumer Reports, 2016
The Best Hiking Carriers for Mountain Kids, Outsideonline.com, 8/21/13
7 great choices for backpack carriers, Babycenter.com, 2016
Baby Carrier Packs, Rei.com, 2016
Sizing and Fitting, Osprey Packs, 2016
Osprey Poco Premium Product Page, Amazon.com
Bike Trailer Safety, Healthychildren.org, 2016
Burley Bee Review, Outdoor Gear Lab, 2016
Thule RideAlong Bike Seat Product Page, Amazon.com
Bicycle, Trailer, Backpack, Child Carrier, Helmet & Bike Safety, ibike.org, 2016
A Bicycle Helmet for My Child, BHSI.org, 2016
What to look for, Two Wheeling Tots, 2016
Small Fry Helmet, Specialized.com
Bike Trailer Buying Guide, Consumer Reports, 2012
17 Outdoor Products for New Parents, Gear Patrol, 2015
Top 10 Gifts for Adventurous New Parents, Elevation Outdoors, 2014
Safety Standards for Bicycle Helmets, CPSC, 1998

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