(The Gear Loop) - Anyone who likes to hike with the family will have experienced a mid-walk meltdown, where one of the children decides his or her legs don’t work anymore. This is where a child or baby carrier can be a lifesaver.
Although there are plenty on the market to choose from, we’ve rarely encountered a child carrier that is as well thought-out as this hiking beast from US outdoors experts Kelty. In short, the Kelty Journey PerfectFIT is a robust, child-carrying machine that places both comfort and safety at the forefront of its design.
Underpinning the backpack is a neat aluminium "roll cage", complete with kickstand, which not only keeps the structure rigid and safe, but also means an unladen pack weighs just over 3kg. It’s not exactly featherweight, but it’s impressive given the number of pockets and stowage departments.
Large, comfortable and very safe, Kelty’s Journey PerfectFIT is a great addition to the armoury if you love walking with the family but have a small person that often refuses to put in the miles.
The huge range of adjustability means almost all body sizes can find a comfortable fit, while the fantastically malleable child seat area ensures this investment will grow with the child.
It’s built like a tank, too, with tough zips and handles, and we can imagine it’s the kind of thing that will be happily passed down the siblings, or handed over to friends once your kids are too big to enjoy the services of a parental sherpa.
Perhaps the only thing we noticed was the slight lack of venting, which can lead to a sweaty back when wearing an insulated jacket. We also imagine this would get quite hot when tackling those longer summer walks.
That said, what it lacks in venting it more than makes up for with extra padding and comfort features. The fact we managed a lazy Sunday walk with an 18kg monster on our backs is testament to the clever design featured here.
Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Signature
- Clever design
- Comfortable fit for heavy loads
- Plenty of pockets and features
- Kick-stand tricky to reach
- It’s bulky with older kids in tow
- Takes time to master getting it on and off
Designed to pacify
Available in standard, Signature and Elite models, the Journey PerfectFIT covers a fairly wide price range, with the most expensive iterants costing almost £100/€100/$100 more than the most basic offering.
The key difference between the products is the number of pockets and stash points they pack, as well as the ability to house a hydration bladder and whether Kelty’s cool sunshade comes included in the pack or not.
The model we tested here was the mid-point Signature pack, complete with sunshade but not boasting the gubbins to stash a hydration bladder for those really long hikes.
Straight off the bat, it’s a sizeable unit and looks more akin to some of the largest, multi-day hiking backpacks we’ve tested than the more dainty baby and toddler carriers that strap on to a parent’s front.
This is because in this case, the little ones essentially get a squishy throne to sit in, complete with myriad safety straps, adjustable chin pads and stirrups to ensure little legs don’t suffer from poor blood flow on the trails.
Back to basics
Setting up the Kelty Journey PerfectFIT is fairly simple, because (the clue is in the name) there’s a clever solution for getting the most comfortable fit for both big and little people.
With the kick stand out and bag on level surface, it’s merely a case of loosening off all the straps and adjusting the kiddy seat depending on the size of your child. There are a couple of straps that firm up the frame, too.
The kids slide in fairly easily, although larger units (like our beast of a child) do take a bit of wiggling to get legs in place. Admittedly, our youngest is almost at the weight limit of the pack, so smaller fleshy packages will undoubtedly be easier to wrestle in to place.
Once settled, the child then slips his or her feet into adjustable stirrups for the most comfortable seating experience. Plus, there are adjustable shoulder straps to keep them in place and a plush “drool pad” the protects the chin and mops up any slumber-y slobber that might leak out.
Big on features
We took the Journey PerfectFIT on a number of family dog walks to really get to know it and were immediately impressed with how comfortable it felt on our back. With over 20kg weighing heavy on the shoulders, it would normally be easy for this to become a burden.
Like any decent backpack, the big Kelty rests on the hip bones and when adjusted properly, reduces any impingement on the shoulders and proves perfectly comfortable enough to drag a dozing toddler around for many miles.
Of course, the bigger the kid, the more difficult the pack is to get on and off. We found slipping it off to be relatively easy, thanks to the numerous reinforced grab handles dotted all over the pack, but getting it on with a kid in place takes some getting used to.
The best method is to find a sturdy bench or raised surface, perch your precious cargo on said surface and then slide the bag onto your back. Otherwise, it’s a case of deep-squatting 20-odd kilos from the ground, which is a task in itself.
This Signature model also packed enough stowage for spare clothes, dog leads, snacks, a chunky DSLR camera and all manner of other family accoutrements. There are even a couple of pockets on the hip belt for stashing a phone and emergency snacks, perfect for reaching into and tossing over your shoulder to feed hangry little tikes.
There was little need to use the built-in sunshade during a British winter, but we tested it nonetheless. It’s easy to install and offers ample coverage for little ones, although it is fairly easy for them to pull it off, should a sudden strop take over.
And as for the hydration bladder, we can't comment, as our pack didn't come with one, but we imagine it could be a nice addition if you are thinking of covering some serious miles with a child in tow.
With a max payload of 22kg and enough pockets to transport an entire day’s worth of snack and supplies, this is one of the sturdiest and most ingenious kid carriers we’ve tested. It’s not cheap but it’s built like a tank and boasts safety features that go above and beyond much of the competition. If you like hiking with the kids in tow, this is a must-have.