How to choose the right child carrier for Hong Kong family hikes

When it comes to hiking with your children, safety comes first, then comfort. The latest child carriers offer plenty of both. Parents offer their tips on what to buy and the factors to consider

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 January, 2016, 10:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2017, 2:47pm

Before I had my daughter, I ran almost every day on Hong Kong’s trails. During pregnancy I hardly let up either, trail running until the evening before my water bag broke. When she finally arrived in June 2014, I knew my life had changed forever, but I also knew I wanted to keep active in the mountains.

Initially I’d bundle her into the stroller and push her along paved mountain roads that had little or no traffic. From home in Happy Valley, there are routes up to Victoria Peak and Mount Parker, and around the Tai Tam and Aberdeen Country Parks. These were fun, but I missed dirt trails.

In August last year I bought a child-carrying backpack designed specifically for outdoor activities and it has allowed me to return to my old stomping grounds – and enjoy them with my daughter.

Perched on my back in the Deuter Kid Comfort III pack, she’s been – among many other places – up Needle Hill and around Shing Mun Reservoir; done loops of Peng Chau, Cheung Chau and Lamma Islands; scaled Hong Kong’s second highest summit Lantau Peak; and makes regular trips up Jardine’s Lookout and Violet Hill – and sometimes on to Stanley.

I’m pretty sure she loves our hikes together. She eagerly climbs into the seat, and she naps for an hour or two while in the carrier during every walk.

I usually pack food for a picnic and find a scenic spot for a pit stop during the hike. Sometimes I also take a beach mat and our swimming gear, and choose a route that passes or finishes at a beach.

Hiking with the baby makes for a fantastic workout. At the moment, my daughter weighs just over 10 kg, the backpack itself (empty) is 3.5kg, and our food, water and gear weighs at least 1.5kg. That’s a good 15kg or so to haul up and down the trails.

Interestingly, a recent Men’s Health magazine article named “rucking” the top fitness trend of 2015. The activity, which gets its name from “rucksack”, involves marching or walking while wearing a loaded backpack. Compared to walking without carrying a load, rucking is said to burn nearly three times the calories.

“For the average guy, a 30-minute walk burns about 125 calories, according to the Compendium of Physical Activities. But throw a weighted backpack on and take that exact same walk, and you burn about 325 calories,” the magazine article states.

But more than just a workout, being in nature with my daughter has mental and physical benefits for both of us. If you’re looking for a fun family fitness activity, I highly recommend getting a child-carrying backpack for hiking. As soon as a baby can sit up unassisted, they are ready to be placed in a carry pack.

There are quite a few carrier options. The Deuter Kid Comfort III scores for being fully adjustable and having ergonomic features like shaped shoulder straps and hip belt. There’s also lots of storage compartments and a built-in sunshade that accordions into a pocket. The child seat itself is extremely plush and roomy. A kickstand helps keep the pack stable when on the ground. My only gripe is the pack weighs a hefty 3.5kg.

There are lots of easy hiking routes all over the territory. Refer to the government’s hiking website hiking.gov.hk and look under “Family Walks” for easily accessibly hikes of 1km to 3.5km over gentle slopes. Check out the route without your child beforehand to ensure it’s suitable and look for possible resting spots.

I spoke to a few other parents who hike with their children and here are their recommendations.

Esther Au Yong, mother of two boys (15 months and 4 years)

Gear: Tula Baby Carrier (US$149, tulababycarriers.com)

Review: The carrier is light, washable and comes in lots of patterns. However, it’s not waterproof and lacks storage (only one small pocket for a phone and some cash). Some people may also find it expensive. I’ve been using it for my children since they were three months old. We’ve done walks of 2.5km to 7km, over relatively flat terrain in Singapore and moderate hills in New Zealand.

Tips: Get a carrier that’s light and ergonomic – it will help your child and you, especially since hikes can be long and you’re already having to carry the weight of your child. Better yet, get one that is waterproof.

Anna Champion, mother of two (3 and 5 years)

Gear: Osprey Poco Premium (US $320, racingtheplanet.com)

Review: It’s light, has lots of great features and plenty of storage space, is able to stand up alone (our kids went to sleep in it and sometimes we would stop and put the bag down), has a great sun shade and is adaptable so it fitted both my husband and myself. But after a while I did start to feel uncomfortable carrying it – which is natural from carrying a child in a carrier. We tried a few other carrier brands but the Osprey was of far better quality.

We bought it while we were living in Norway and there, hiking is a way of life regardless of the weather. We took our kids out in rain, sunshine and snow, for a couple hours, sometimes more, but would often give them time out of the carrier to run around.

Tips: Make sure the carrier is comfortable for both of you. We went for the most expensive option and it was worth it when we compared our experiences with others. But resale in Hong Kong is low for anything baby-related in my opinion, so it really is only worth it if you are going to hike a lot.

Sean Moran, father of one son (15 months)

Gear: Deuter Kid Comfort II (US $320, racingtheplanet.com)

Review: It’s pretty comfortable, has a fair amount of storage room, lots of room for the kid, and it’s easy to get the kid in and out with the side latch. The fittings are very easy to change, so if you’re swapping between a husband and wife carrying the pack it’s about 10 seconds to make the changes. Overall we’re pretty happy with it; our kid falls asleep in it all the time so it’s presumably pretty comfortable for him. We tried one of the Osprey packs; there was a lot less room for our kid in there and the fittings were a lot more fiddly.

We’ve used it all over the US, generally in warm weather (20 to 40 degrees Celsius) while hiking. Most of the hikes were around 10km or less. The terrain was pretty varied: we hiked up 250m-high sand dunes, climbed up and down ladders on cliffs, crossed the Rio Grande, did caving and lots of general hiking on well marked trails.

Tips: Try it on with your child before buying. A pack can have all the features that you want, but if it’s not comfortable for both of you then it’s not the right pack and you won’t use it.

Simon Chan, father of one boy (2 years 8 months old)

Gear: Deuter Kid Comfort Air (US $280, racingtheplanet.com)

Review: It’s lighter (2.7kg) than the other Deuter child carriers, but has fewer compartments. The bag only has basic features – no built-in sunroof. We bought the pack when my son was about one year old. He is excited and eager to ride in the carrier. It’s generally very easy for him to fall asleep during the hike. We usually go on easy paths in the country parks of less than 10km. My favourite route is up High West, as it’s highly accessible with good views.

Tips: Unless you are a serious hiker, I would not suggest buying one. The window of time to use it is short; there are only two or three “winters” to use it for your child – it’s not enjoyable to bring the child out in the carrier during the summer. Before buying one, borrow one from a friend to experience it first.