There are a number of Toddler carriers on the market, and confusingly they vary HUGELY between brands! In particular, they vary most in terms of size! Both in terms of how old your baby needs to be before they are big enough and in terms of how long they will last for.
The library has variously owned 9 different toddler carriers - including some of the best known brands. To help me compare them on size and longevity. I have enlisted the help of both my children. For the majority of photos shown here Rachel is 18 months, 80cm tall and 11.5kg and she represents roughly the age I most commonly see parents starting to entertain looking for a toddler sling. Tom by contrast gives an idea of the absolute upper end! He is 5 years old, 116cm tall and just over 20kg. I stopped regularly carrying Tom at around 3.5 years old, and have only really carried him very occasionally on holidays or long trips since then. Many people find carrying naturally peters out sometime between 2 and 4 years old. That said there is a significant number of families for whom carrying may well last a lot longer than this - particularly for a child with additional needs such a developmental delay, low muscle tone, ongoing medical treatment that might cause fatigue etc. Tom helps give an idea of those carriers that are a bit more roomy for those who might want to carry a much older child. A couple of the carriers shown have been added later and I give the ages and sizes of the child shown for those where relavent!
Taking a look at each in turn...
Connecta Toddler or Integra Size 2
Connecta advertise their toddler size as being "suitable from 12kg to 24kg and giving a supportive and comfortable fit for most children from 18 months until around 3.5 years or older."
The panel is a fixed size and doesn't adjust or grow with the child, but despite this I do completely agree with the advertised age range. Rachel is supported all the way knee to knee and all the way upto the back of her neck, so there is plenty of growing room for her and I agree that this carrier wouldn't have fitted her well much before 18 months. Tom despite being 5 is still supported reasonably well. Yes the carrier is only just about supporting him to mid thigh (and so wouldn't be as comfortable for him over longer periods), it is supporting him right the way up his back to under his armpits so it's still a safe secure carry. It is worth noting that Connecta also make a pre-school size so if I were still carrying a child Tom's size I'd select that carrier over the toddler size. But it is clear this carrier will comfortably manage from 18 months to at least 3.5 years old as advertised.
Compared to others here, the Connecta is the most lightweight and folds up the absolute smallest. I have to say I love how small it folds... Rachel wants to walk everywhere so having a carrier that folds up small enough to slip into the change bag while we are not wearing it is an absolute boon. I also love how comfortable it is - until I tried a Connecta for the first time, I always used to equate padding with comfort. However, it's simply not the case with this carrier, despite the lack of padding this nifty little carrier makes great contact with your body to give a perfect fit and brilliant weight distribution ... even with 20kg of Tom.
This carrier can be worn on the front, back or hip. When worn on the front, straps cross across the parents back. When worn on the back, straps are worn ruck sack style and the accessory strap can be used as a chest strap to hold the two shoulder straps in place. I have to say I never find this strap the most comfortable and am often forgetting it at home anyway so I often don't bother! But it can be helpful for some shoulder types and to make the carrier feel a little more secure if you have a very wiggly toddler. Full review of the Toddler Connecta can be viewed here. Since writing this article Connecta have become Integra and the Toddler size has been renamed the "size 2", all of the above in terms of sizing and how the carrier fits is identical between the Connect and the Integra. Cost is between £85 and £120 depending on material, and we have one of these available to try before you buy or book for a holiday hire.
Isara Toddler (now the Isara Trendsetter Toddler Carrier)
The Isara is so clever in its sizing. Both the width and length of the carrier can be adjusted, allowing this carrier to very smoothly adjust incrementally from around 10 months (minimum of 8 or 9kg) all the way through to 4 years (max of 20kg). It's just a fab size range and one that works really well... particularly for those who are moving on from one of the smaller carriers on the market (like the Bjorn, Stokke, Izmi baby etc) and are looking for something that will fit now but last as long as possible. The adjustable seat means that it will fit earlier than most other toddler carriers on the market and last longer.
The Isara can be worn on the front, back or hip. When front carrying the straps can be worn crossed over the parents back or worn rucksack style. Padding wise, it has a relatively firm wide waistband and softer well cushioned shoulder straps. Consequently, the Isara doesn't fold up as small as the Connecta or Izmi, but the increased padding will be more comfortable for some. It's a good option for those who carry for long periods, where the carrier spends less time folded up in a bag or under a buggy! The material is lovely and soft and there is also very soft light padding at the leg holes to ensure toddler comfort.
It fits Rachel absolutely beautifully and is an option I am starting to use a lot for her. At 18 months old she is roughly at the halfway point sizing wise - in the photo above I have both the velcro adjustment on the waist and the buckle that adjusts the height set at the roughly halfway point. So this carrier will go considerably smaller than her. I do think 10 months to a year is realistic. For the photo with Tom the carrier is on its biggest setting. And you can see that even though he is beyond the upper age range and weight, he still fits reasonably well - he is supported to at least mid thigh with his bottom lower than his knees. The back panel is a little too short for him as it doesn't quite reach to under his armpits, but it would have definitely still fitted him well at 4 so this is not really a criticism! Since writing this article orginally Isara has updated this carrier and re-released it as the Isara Trendsetter carrier. In terms of the sizing and adjustments this carrier is almost identical to the older model, the difference is in the material. While the older model was made of a canvas material the newer ones are made from Isara's woven wrap fabric and are ultra soft and really very lovely. The Isara Trendsetter Toddler costs approximately £140 depending on material and print.
The Izmi Toddler carrier is also adjustable and also covers a huge age range from 9 months/1 year ish (or 8kg) through to roughly 4 years old. It's weight tested to a staggering 27kg (or 60lb)!!
Unlike the Isara the adjustment isn't smooth/incremental but stepped. There is a narrower seat setting and a wider seat setting. The narrower setting works from 9 months and will take you through till about 18/20 months. Rachel is shown on the narrower setting and its supporting her to a little past mid thigh and still giving a lovely M shape. She is close to being able to move to the wider setting - she'll be ready when she can sit in it without the material passing the backs of her knees. Tom is shown in the wider setting and on this wider setting he is supported to at least mid-thigh and again has a great seated position with his bottom lower than his knees.
The height of back panel on this carrier doesn't adjust. For Rachel it supports all the way up to the top of her shoulders/base of her neck. Which does mean she struggles to get her arms out, which is always a bit of a source of frustration for her! For Tom the panel is a bit short for him... similar to the Isara ... but this would have been plenty long enough when he was 4.
The Izmi is another lightweight option. Like the Connecta it folds up relatively small and doesn't weigh much and so is a good option for independent toddlers who are up and down alot and thus you end up carrying the sling empty as much as you actually use it! The Izmi toddler has a very softly padded waistband which is shaped so that its very wide in the centre and then quickly tapers. I find this shape really comfortable - gives support where you need it without bulk and as its so soft it moulds perfectly. At the shoulders there is no padding at all but instead has spreadable fabric straps. The Izmi toddler can be worn on the front, hip or back. When I am wearing it on the front or hip I find spreading the straps make this carrier superior on comfort - it really works well for me and I don't miss padding at all. For the back carry however, its more difficult to spread and use the chest strap and while I am still comfortable enough on shorter journeys... I start to miss the padding if I am carrying for more like an hour or so! Cost is £60-80, which makes the Izmi the lowest cost toddler carrier on our list (and that I know of) and certainly makes it amazing value for money! Best prices are usually found on Amazon and you can use this link (and earn me a small commission in the process). We have 2 of these available to hire both to try before you buy or to reserve for an upcoming holiday or trip.
Not technically a toddler carrier the KiBi is the most adjustable carrier I've ever come across. It smoothly adjusts to accommodate children anywhere from 6 months old all they way to beyond 5 years of age.
The offers front, hip and back carrying positions and its possible to wear the straps either crossed on in rucksack configuration when carrying on the front. It has a relatively firm but thin padding at the waist and wide but softly padded shoulder straps. Its superbly adjustable - not only for the child but also for the parent with 3 points of adjustment for the shoulder straps ensuring a great fit for a really wide range of adults. For the child, the flexibility comes from the ability to adjust both the width and the height of the carrier. The width has 4 poppered settings and a drawstring to give fine tuning between each of the poppered settings. Rachel is shown on the third popper, Tom on the forth. The height of the panel then adjusts in two ways - there's a ladder lock buckle that adjusts at the leg openings, and then the top half of the panel can be pulled up or scrunched down as needed. I love that the two adjustments are separate - you can really get a great supportive fit on a wide range of different sized children as a result. It means that Rachel is just as well supported as Tom. And the fact I can squash down the back panel means Rachel can have her arms out if she wants and then I can work it upwards once she is ready to sleep.
While it's only weight tested to 20kg this carrier is perfectly capable of carrying a much larger child. As can be seen with Tom - he's legs are supported to at least mid thigh, in a good M shape and his back is supported all the way to the top of his shoulders. The KiBi is a great choice for anyone looking for a carrier that will last a long time. In particular, this would be a fab choice for close in age siblings where both are still regularly carried - because this is a carrier that can easily be used to carry either. Giving you the flexibility to carry either while the other walks or is in the pram as needed. This carrier is also a great option for anyone looking for a carrier that will last longer in order to continue carrying a child with additional needs. While many of the carriers on this list will carry an older child, the KiBi is a great choice for a child with low muscle tone and/or a developmental delay because the back panel is so high - this means even if they are tired and now struggling to support their upper torso etc the carrier will fully support them. With many other toddler carriers, it's often that lack of upper back support that can prove difficult in additional needs situations (depending on the individual need of the child). Cost is £99 and full review of this carrier, including photos with a 6 month old can be viewed here. We no longer have this in the library collection however due to the current difficulties sourcing one in the UK.
Lillebaby Carry On
Of all the toddler carriers I've tried the Lillebaby CarryOn has the smallest range in terms of ages/sizes it can be used for. As can be seen on the photos above its too wide for Rachel at 18 months. The material is rouching at her knees and her legs are close to being over extended (the one on the right side in particular is not able to bend to give completely free range of motion). It's also too wide at the top which means she is able to lean back and her weight is pulling away from me (making it heavier for me).
In reality most children won't fit the Lillebaby Complete until they are 2 years old. Or as a general guide until they can fit into size 2-3 trousers. Then because this carrier doesn't adjust at all and is fairly fixed (i.e less flexible that the Connecta) it doesn't last as long either. We can see that for Tom his legs are right on the border of still being supported upto mid thigh and the panel is only reaching to his mid back... its way way below the safe region of right under the arms pits. So really he doesn't still fit in this... if he wasn't fairly compliant when it comes to being carried, this could potentially be dangerous.
Lillebaby market this carrier as "a roomy carrier made specifically for growing toddlers from 20-60 lbs (9-27kg)" and a "versatile, ergonomic and comfortable way to carry your child for many years". However, I think more realistically this carrier only really works from aged 2 through to 3.5 maybe 4 but certainly no older. And 27 kg seems honestly optimistic!!! Good option for those on the upper centile lines, but for Tom who is on the 50th centile and weighs 21kg... there's absolutely no way he could be safely carried in this carrier when he reaches 27kg!!
In terms of parent comfort this carrier is one of the bulkiest I've looked at here, with pretty pretty wide firm shoulder padding and a wide firm waist band. Consequently it's a fairly large bundle when folded up and is a bit warmer for the parent to wear. This particular model is their airflow mesh so it is pretty breezy for the child at least. And surprisingly bouncy... the mesh is pretty springy so gives the carrier a little bit of "bounce" for the child as you walk! Cost is around £125 to £150 depending on material and print. Again we no longer have this one in the library collection due to the current difficulties purchasing one in the UK.
Neko Switch Toddler
Of all the carriers compared here the Neko Switch is the biggest! Or at least has the capacity to become the biggest. Like the Isara and KiBi both the height and width of this carrier can be adjusted. Where it differs from these two is it's a bigger carrier to start with.
Rachel is shown on the absolute smallest setting. The width alters via a series of poppers, while the height can be adjusted via a drawstring. Widthwise she is near knee to knee on this setting (but slightly over extended on the next setting up), while the absolute smallest height setting barely allows her to get one arm out!! So this is definitely a carrier that won't fit before roughly 18 months.
But once it does fit... my does it have growing room! It will grow and grow and grow... all the way to a carrier that will carry Tom with absolute ease. Tom is supported way past mid thigh in a lovely deep squat, and then all the way up his back to his shoulders. He shows no sign of growing out this carrier for sometime to come. I could see this still working for a 7 or 8 year old, possibly even more. It's weight tested to 27kg (60lb) so certainly has the strength to carry a 7 or 8 year old too. Making the Neko switch a great option for anyone who wants a carrier that will last as long as possible. In particular this is a fantastic option for a child with additional needs - for any child over about 18 months/2 years where there is a reason they might need to be carried for longer, i.e. developmental delay, on-going medical conditions or low muscle tone. As discussed for the KiBi, this is a great carrier for a child with low muscle tone because the back panel is so high. There is also a detachable hood that can be used to support sleeping heads!
The Switch is made from Neko's really lovely woven wrap material, which makes this carrier very soft and also really pretty! It comes in a huge range of gorgeous designs. In terms of positions the Neko offers a front carry and a back carry (unlike each of the others, a hip position is not easily possible). Straps can be worn rucksack style only (they don't cross), which means while this carrier works a treat on my back, neither me or my husband like wearing it on our fronts - we find our daughter too heavy without the ability to cross the straps across our back. However, on the back its really comfy with fairly firm padding at the waist and shoulders. Cost is £135 and the Neko Toddler Switch can be purchased from Slumber Roo. We have 1 of these availiable to try before you buy, hire for a holiday and we can order these on demand for clients too!
Beco Toddler Carrier
The Beco Toddler carrier is another one with a fixed panel (it doesn't adjust) and it's relatively large. So large that Rachel - aged 21 months and 84cm tall only *just* fits. The material is reaching all the way into her knee pits and possibly a little further, but its soft and light enough she can squish it down and still move her legs freely so that she isn't over extended. The panel reaches all the way to the top of her neck, which does mean she can't get her arms out which she doesn't love but does mean she could sleep very comfortably without needing to put the hood up. It's worth noting that Rachel is tall for her age... most babies won't fit well before 2. And Rachel certainly wouldn't have fitted prior to 21 months old - she has had a huge growth spurt over the summer jumping from 80cm to 84 in just 3 months and this has made all the difference in terms of fitting the Beco Toddler.
So while this carrier is unlikely to fit much before 2 years of age... it will last and last. The shape of the seat means that Tom aged 5.5 years still has beautiful support well past his mid thigh - giving a great M shape - and the back panel reaches all the way upto right under his armpits. In fact he could get his arms in too but he choose not to as he said arms out is more comfy mummy! Plus there is a detachable hood that can be added to support his head while he slept if needed. So he is still held very safely and securely and is still way below the very generous weight limit of 27kg (60lb).
In terms of parent comfort, like all Beco carriers this carrier has a relatively firmly padded waist band that feels very secure and supportive. While the shoulder straps are relatively wide but very softly padded which means the shoulder straps do not feel overly bulky and fit very comfortably over the shoulders. Additionally there are perfect fit adjusters on the shoulder straps which allow more petite parents to get a nice snug fit while back carrying. The Beco toddler offers front, hip and back carrying positions and it is possible to wear the straps either crossed or in rucksack configuration when carrying on the front. The main strap pulls in one direction only, which does mean that while its easy to tighten this carrier when back carrying, its a little harder when wearing on your front. Cost is £125 and can be bought from the Sheen Slings webshop or through Amazon here. We have one of these available to hire to try before you buy or reserve for an upcoming holiday.
Tula Toddler Carrier
Like the Beco Toddler the Tula Toddler carrier features a fixed panel and is BIG! Slightly wider than the Beco Toddler but slightly less long back panel. The Tula toddler generally works once a child is in age 2 trousers and will last easily to 4 or even 5. The photos above show Rachel aged 4.5, measuring 112cm tall, 20kg in weight and wearing size 5-6 clothes. As you can see she is still supported to at least mid thigh and has a really comfortable seated position. The panel isn't quite as long as the Beco or other carriers discussed here ... and so only just about reaches under her arms but it is high enough to ensure she is completely safe. So this gives you a great idea of the upper end of this carrier. It is worth noting that Tula have recently brought out a preschooler size which is bigger still and would be the better choice for carrying Rachel going forward!
In terms of parent comfort the Tula Toddler has a wide firmly padded waistband and relatively well padded shoulder straps so this is definitely one that feels really supportive. It is very simple to use with very few buckles to do up, simply just the waistband and the chest strap. Consequently this carrier doesn't offer the option to cross the straps across the caregivers back when wearing on the front, but as most parents using this carrier will be back carrying anyway this isn't really a problem. In fact, most prefer the simplicity! It does have perfect fit adjusters allowing for a nice high and tight back carry for petite parents - in fact the main difference between this and the Beco Toddler above is that the padded section of the straps are shorter which allows this carrier to give a better fit to more petite parents. The straps are also extremely long which means this carrier works really well for plus sized parents too. It is a great option for couples of very different sizes looking to share a carrier.
The Tula Toddler costs approximately £130 and is available from Wear My Baby and you can use the code SHEEN5 for a cheeky 5% off. We have 1 of these in the library collection for hire to try before you buy or to reserve for an upcoming holiday or trip.
Sleepy Nico Toddler Carrier
Another fixed sized panel, the Sleepy Nico panel is a chunk smaller than the Beco and Tula carriers, consequently this generally fits earlier. Typically fitting from around 15 months or so through to about 3.5 maybe 4 years of age. In the photos shown Tom has just turned 3 and you can see he is fitting well but doesn't really have much growing room left.
The real beauty of this particular carrier is in how soft it is. It features a wide softly padded waistband and softly padded shoulder straps. The padding is light and squishy which means it moulds around different shapes and sizes really comfortably. This carrier is definitely somewhere between the very lightweight almost unpadded Connecta/Integra and Izmi carriers and the much more padded Beco and Tula carriers. Great if you'd like padding but still want it to be light and packs down small. Cost is £93 and can be bought from Sleepy Nico direct.
It is worth noting there are also several "standard sized" carriers that do last a good long time.
In fact many standard carriers last a lot longer than you might think... but if you have an older baby who isn't quite ready for toddler carrier but needs something that will last a good year or two it's well worth investigating the Manduca XT, the Boba X, the JPMBB Physio carrier and the Lillebaby Complete.