All to often we buy something for our little ones knowing full well they'll have grown out of it in seemingly no time at all. So its not a surprise at all that when parents are trying on different carriers with me one of their key criteria is how long it will last them.
The good news is most buckle carriers will last well into toddlerhood. While buckle carriers are rarely my first suggestion for a newborn, they can be absolutely great for babies from around 4-5 months onward. In baby stuff terms, something that will do 4-ish months to toddler is pretty amazing! But what does 'well into toddlerhood' look like? Are there some that are better than others?
To help me answer this my son Tom kindly agreed to get into each of the library's baby sized buckle carriers. Tom has just turned 3, and at 97.5cm (3'2'') and 14.7kg (32lb) he is just above the 50th percentile for height and weight. He's been walking for more than 18 months now so his own two feet are his main mode of transport, but he'll still request a carry a few times a week when he gets tired on his way home from a playgroup or if we are off out on a longer excursion.
As we look at him in each carrier pay close attention to 1) how far up his back each goes – for a safe carry, the carrier should not be any lower than directly below his armpits, and 2) how well his legs are supported. Is his knees at least as high as his hips? Many people talk about knee-to-knee but for a buckle carrier where the seat is shaped this is less important than whether a comfortable ergonomic position is achieved. This also matters less for a 3 year old where you generally carry them for short periods of time only compared to a younger baby you might carry for a couple of hours at a time. But still worth comparing across the carriers as the more ergonomic position will usually translate to more comfortable.
Looking at each in turn ; the Beco Gemini faired the least well in terms of leg support. The infant head support does extend the back panel all the way to the top of his shoulders but this lack of leg support did make Tom uncomfortable. Of all the carriers this was the only one he complained was tight and hurt his legs. Its also worth noting the weight limit for the Gemini is 15.4kg (34lb). So I think its fair to say that at 3 Tom no longer fits well in Gemini.
In contrast the Boba 4G supports his legs very well, curtsey of their ingenious stirrups. Tom absolutely loved these and it was hard to get a photo where he wasn't swinging or kicking his legs in them! The weight limit is 20kg (45lb) but the back panel is very short and didn't feel secure to me. I do have the option of use the hood extend the back panel but as the hood is elasticated and attached by poppers it just doesn't feel secure to do this to me - feels like too much give.
The Connecta faired considerably better, supporting fairly high up his back and giving support to at least mid-thigh. They do of course sell a toddler which fits Tom much better but all in all the standard size Connecta did pretty well. Weight limit is a very generous 24kg (53lb).
The Ergo 360 suffered in a similar way to the Gemini in that while the back height of the carrier was very good due to the integrated infant head support, the base is pretty narrow and so supports only his upper thighs. That said it did fare much better than the Gemini because of the shape of the bucket seat helped give much more support to his legs. Tom named this his favourite because "the noisy velcro is really funny!" Not sure that's a great reason but it did seem to amuse him! However, again Tom was right on the weight limit for this carrier - 15kg (33lb), and as such this not something I would use for him.
In stark contrast the Ergo Original has a wider base but the back panel is very short. While the weight limit is 20kg (45lb), the low back panel meant that it did not feel very secure to me - comparable to the Boba 4G but without the added bonus of the stirrups. Like with with the Boba 4G I could use the hood to support further up but again the hood is elasticated and attached by poppers so this doesn't feel secure enough to me.
Of all the baby size carriers Tom and I tested, the Lillebaby Complete All Seasons fitted Tom the best. It has the widest base, and the integrated infant head support reached all the way to the top of his shoulders and felt very secure. The weight limit is 20kg (45lb). If I didn't have access to toddler size carriers and other options this would be the carrier I'd reach for on pure fit for Tom.
Manduca sell a toddler insert called the Ex-tend, so I have depicted this carrier twice; without (top) and with (bottom) this insert. Without the insert the Manduca supports Tom's legs to around mid-thigh so pretty average. With the insert his legs are supported almost knee to knee and he certainly does achieve a better position - better even than in the Lillebaby. This insert is sold separately and costs ~£20. Is it worth it? Well on the one hand £20 is considerably cheaper than purchasing a brand new toddler sized carrier, on the other hand this insert is a bit flimsy - one of the elastics on mine snapped within a few hours on its first use! On his back, the Manduca comes just about far enough up that it still feels secure and is the highest of the carriers lacking an integrated infant neck support. Weight limit is 20kg (45lb), and my husband Dave still uses this carrier regularly with Tom.
The Moby Aria comes with a 'head rest for extended toddler support'. I have shown the carrier without (top) and with (bottom) this head rest and it does indeed extend the back panel and make a big difference when carrying a larger toddler. However, it is removable and attaches with a thin strip of Velcro. The removable aspect means that, for me at least, this doesn't feel as secure as something that is integrated like the extending back panels of the Manduca or the Lillebaby. Also given Tom's sheer glee at the sound of ripping Velcro I really would worry about him ripping it off! The adjustable seat is one of the widest, almost as wide as the Lillebaby seat and as such Tom's legs are supported fairly well and the weight limit is 20kg (45lb).
And finally we have the Storchenwiege Half-Buckle. While this carrier doesn't have a particularly wide seat, the tie straps mean it is possible to effectively extend the seat of the carrier and achieve a very good leg position. The back panel is one of the shortest, but as the hood is not at all elasticated it feels very secure to put this up and use it to make the back panel of the carrier longer. The adjust-ability of the hood also means you can set this to the right length for your growing toddler. However, with a weight limit of 15kg (33lb) Tom is right on the limit for this carrier, and we wouldn't use this going forward.
Of course the biggest factor in how long you can continue to carry for is your own comfort. You should always listen to your own body and respect what it can and can't do. However, with a well fitting carrier the vast majority of people can continue to carry. For many people it is simply a case of a few small tweaks to the fit of their carrier or a carrier that fits their body better makes all the difference between feeling your 6 month old is too heavy verses still carrying at 3 years and counting.