Soft structured baby carriers (or buckle carriers) are a modernized version of the mei tai that borrows from hiking pack technology to create a quick, more structured carrier. They are probably the most widely used carrier at the moment with new brands becoming available rapidly and well known brands making their way into more mainstream/big box stores.
What Should You Know About Soft Structured Carriers
- Structured carriers can be used for front carries from birth and for back carries from about 5-6 months (when baby can sit unassisted). They can be used for hip carries although most find them a bit awkward for that position (with the exception of dedicated hip carry buckles).
- If the idea of wrangling a long piece of fabric or dragging mei tai straps around doesn’t appeal to you, you’d probably love a soft structured carrier.
- Structured carriers are considered the most “daddy friendly” carrier (although I think that’s a bit unfair as I know plenty of daddies who use other carrier types!). They are generally available in fairly plain designs.
- Many wearers find structured carriers to be a great choice for outdoor activities such as hiking or for wearing in rain or snow since they make for easy ons and offs without dragging.
- They are a bit more intuitive to use since most of us have worn a backpack of some sort. They are also a bit more “error proof” in that you have to try pretty hard to get an unsafe carry in buckles.
- They can be trickier to fit both wearer and baby and may not fit as wide a size range of both wearer and child – see details below.
- While some structured carriers do have features such as infant harnesses or inserts or cinchable waists that make them newborn friendly, newborns will need to be worn “legs in” in most buckle carriers. Some newborns decide they don’t like this position before they are large enough to go legs out.
- As noted above, structured carriers can not (in general) be used for high back carries. This means baby will sit lower on your back and may not be able to see over your shoulder. Because of this, babies who can not yet sit on their own should not be worn in a back carry in a buckle carrier in order to make sure they are not slumping and compromising their airway.
- That said, many find structured carriers easier to back carry in since you don’t have to tie anything.
- Many find those carriers the most convenient carrier for children who are walking as they make for “quick ups and downs.” I usually just leave mine buckled around my waist and hanging down if kiddo decides to walk. There are a number of easy to find structured carriers that have large bodies suitable for toddlers making wearing kiddo easy and comfortable well past the baby stage.
Best Soft Structured Baby Carriers
Soft structured carriers are among the easiest to find quality carriers. However, there are quite a few less than stellar carriers out there – everything with buckles is not created equal (check out our recommendations on how to choose a baby carrier and why some buckle carriers available at big box retailers should be avoided).
I have listed here brands that I have personally tried or owned and therefore feel comfortable recommending. Some are available at various retailers and others only through the manufacturer.
My Five Favorite Structured Carriers
- Happy Baby Carrier. HBC is a favorite carrier for lots of moms and dads. Though obtaining one can be hard, I think it is absolutely worth it’s retail value. Of course, the priced-above retail used and the cult of HBC are a bit ridiculous. Anyway, it’s a great year-round all weather carrier, and it’s the easiest carrier for multiple people to use.
- Ergobaby Omni Dream. Widely available (Amazon, Target, GoodBuy, etc.) and pretend to be a true bestseller. It works literally from birth and until your baby is 1.5-2 years. Natural fabric works great for a hot climate or in summer. Besides, if you’re looking for a good ergonomic front-facing carrier, take this one. In Ergo Baby Dream your baby’s legs won’t dangle down, and they won’t feel as burdensome compared to outward-facing options like BabyBjorn or Infantino.
- Tula. The brand has cult-like popularity in the US. Has add on leg supports for larger children because it’s wider and taller than most other carriers. Tula baby carriers might be priced slightly higher than others, but they are of high quality and come with adorable patterns.
- Kinderpack. Оnly available through Kindercarry. Taller body is better for larger infants and toddlers. Available in toddler, preschool and infant sizes as well.
- Chimparoo Trek and Multi. Internal infant harness plus features to support older child’s longer legs.
Top-Quality Structured Carriers Under $100
- Lillebaby Complete. Full of nice addons like lumbar support, well padded shoulder straps, neck support for tiny ones. All at a very reasonable price. Great for newborns, and no infant insert needed. Good choice if you prefer to stick to one same carrier from early days to toddlerhood. Multiple carry positions.
- Catbird Baby Pikkolo. Available from various retailers. Unstructured waist and built in cinched make it ideal for small babies; has optional add on support belt.
- Beco. Widely available at retailers. Internal harness for an easier back carry (Butterfly).
My Favorite Soft Structured Carriers for a Toddler
- Boba. Available at various retailers. Taller body is better for larger infants or toddlers. Great option for hiking. Two of four carry positions. Boba Air, an ultra-lightweight water-friendly carrier, is also available.
- Babyhawk Oh Snap. Available through various retailers. Taller body is better for larger infants and toddlers. Additional straps may be slightly confusing but it allows you to get a really good customized fit. Overall, it’s a comfortable and safe carrier, one of those I highly recommend for toddlers.
- Tula Toddler. Suitable for forward in and back carries. Quite comfortable, for plus size moms too. It may seem it’s too wide for your kid’s legs, but the position is totally ergonomic. What is also great about this carrier, it’s available in cotton/linen blend.
Check out my guide on carriers for toddlers to learn more about what makes a good toddler carrier, and what are my favorites, including onbuhimo type of carrier that’s a good option when you’re pregnant but still love to wear your toddler.
Top Soft Structured Carriers for a Newborn
- Beco Gemini. Narrower base for small babies. Very easy to nurse in.
- Tula Free-to-Grow Coast Mesh is great for summer or hot climates, is a newborn-friendly option with no need for an infant insert.
- Kanga. Оnly available through Bloo Kangaroo. Available in infant, standard, toddler, and preschool sizes.
- Ergobaby Embrace Cozy Newborn doesn’t require an infant insert for newborns and small infants.
Check out my guide on carriers for newborns to learn more about what makes a good newborn carrier, and what are my favorites, including wraps and onbuhimos.
Best 4-Position Structured Carrier
Erbaby Omni 360 is a four-position carrier. A bit pricey, but extremely comfortable and versatile. Ergobaby Omni Breeze feels less bulky compared to the Ergobaby Omni 360, but I don’t like its non-natural fabric.
Best Structured Carrier for a Plus Size Mom
Olives and Applesauce. Available from various retailers. Several size options and internal harness option available. This carrier can be a good option for a plus size moms. It’s soft and easy to break in and is super lightweight.
Top Chic & Fashionable Structured Carriers
- Bamberoo carrier. They are custom made from woven wraps. Hands down the most comfortable and breathable carrier I’ve ever owned. Only available through Bamberoo Etsy Shop. Taller body is better for larger infants and toddlers; infant size also available. Used Bamberoo carriers can be found on Poshmark and Mercari.
- Artipoppe Zeitgeist. The ultimate fashion-forward choice for babywearing. Expensive, but with a variety of eye-catching prints to choose from. Slightly more difficult to adjust due to straps crossed at the back.
- Ocah. Only available through Ocah. Specializes in wrap conversions. Several sizing options available.
How to Choose Which Soft Structured Carrier is Right For Me?
Out of all the carrier types, soft structured carriers are the most wearer specific in terms of fit – what one person loves and finds super comfy, another hates. The boom in buckle carrier brands in recent years means you have more choices than ever and a better chance of finding a great fit. The ideal option is to try the carrier on with your child before you buy but there are a few other things to keep in mind that may help you narrow down your choices.
Size of child
Some structured carriers are better suited for smaller infants; others are designed specifically for toddlers or even preschoolers.
Size of wearers
If you are outside of the average size range, you may find many off the shelf carriers don’t fit as well; trying before you buy is even more important.
For very petite folks, some carriers will be too big in the waist or, more commonly, it will be difficult to cinch the shoulder straps to get a snug fit.
Plus size folks (or even just tall or broad shouldered ones) may find that some straps rub under the arms because the padded portion isn’t long enough.
Some makers (particularly the “boutique” brands) offer special sizing to help everyone get a better fit. It’s also worth considering that if you and your partner are of very different sizes, you may find it difficult to find an carrier that is a great fit for you both.
Front carrier strap position
If you plan to front carry in your soft structured carrier, this is an important consideration. Some carriers are designed to be worn like a mei tai in a front carry – that is with the straps crossing on your back. Others are designed to be worn like a “reverse backpack” with the chest clip snapped behind you. These positions feel pretty different so it is worth trying out both to see which you find more comfortable.
Most structired carriers have a structured waist (thus the name) – this means it will feel more firm than a padded waist.
In general soft structured carriers are designed to be worn on the hips (like the support belt of a hiking pack) although some are designed to be worn wherever feels most comfortable.
Some carriers have straight waists; some have curved waists. Depending on your shape, one may sit better on your waist/hips than another.
Structured carriers come with a range of additional features: sleep hoods, pouches for storage, internal harnesses, infant inserts, special materials (like mesh) for ventilation in hot weather, various adjustability features, and so on.
Mom of 3-year-old superhero Michael and 7-year-old princess Stasia. 👩👧👦
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