When my daughter started to outgrow our beloved Beco Gemini before she was a year old, I began scouring the internet for a bigger, better, soft-structured carrier (SSC) to use for her. At the time, we lived in a third-floor walk-up apartment and her daddy was stationed on a ship that was gone more often than it was home. Not wearing her was not an option, and I needed something that would last!
If you search any babywearing forum for toddler carriers, you’ll find lots of recommendations for Kinderpack and Tula carriers. If you are wearing a big kid and you don’t want to have a custom carrier made, a KP or a Tula is what you want. I love them both, but they fit quite differently!
Both manufacturers use 1″-thick foam for the padding on the straps. Kinderpack straps are wider than Tula straps, at 4.25″/3″ respectively. I am narrow-shouldered and sometimes find the width of the KP straps a bit much, but they are incredibly comfortable in spite of (or perhaps, due to) the bulk. Kinderpack straps are tapered to curve around your shoulder (think backpack straps) – they are thickest at the top of the shoulder and narrow about 2 inches before they attach to adjustable webbing and buckles under the arm. Tula straps also curve nicely around the shoulder, but they lack the same dramatic taper before meeting the webbing (probably because they are so much narrower to begin with).
Both Kinderpacks and Tulas come with “Perfect Fit Adjusters” (PFAs) on the shoulder straps, which allow you to cinch the shoulder straps to be shorter if necessary. Kinderpack straps also come in plus size, which are 4-5″ longer than the standard straps. Both standard and plus straps have PFAs. In the past, Kinderpacks have been available with petite straps, but those were discontinued with the advent of PFAs. As far as I know, all Tulas have the same length straps.
Aside from the width, the biggest difference between the KP and Tula straps is the underarm buckle. The Kinderpack has a dual-adjustable buckle which can be opened to allow for a hip carry or for the straps to be crossed in a front carry. You can also adjust the position of the buckle either toward the body or toward the strap of the carrier, so it is easy to adjust whether you are using a front or a back carry. The Tula has a Ladderloc buckle which does not open. The buckle is attached to the strap of the carrier, so it is easy to tighten in a front carry. Since you need to pull the webbing behind you to tighten it, it can be quite difficult in a back carry.
Both KPs and Tulas come with sleep hoods, but that is pretty much the end of the similarities with respect to the hoods! The Kinderpack has a hidden hood – it actually folds inside the headrest and forms a pocket in the body panel of the carrier when stored. It’s not a very big pocket, but works well to hold small items – a disposable diaper, a cell phone, a car key, etc. It appears quite large, but remember that whatever is put in this pocket will be right against baby’s back.
Depending on the style of Kinderpack, the hood may be hoodie-style or flat. Kinderpacks with solid body panels have hoodie hoods, while ones with mesh panels have flat hoods. The Tula has a removable, adjustable flat hood that attaches to the carrier with two snaps on the inside of the body panel.
To keep the hood up while in use, a Kinderpack has buckles while a Tula has a hook:
The waistbands are actually pretty similar on the Tula and Kinderpack. Both are sturdy foam and are contoured in three sections. The Kinderpack has a dual-adjustable buckle centered on the waistband, while the Tula has the female end of the buckle fixed at one end of the waistband so that it sits off-center while worn. The Tula also has a small pocket on the waistband, which can hold a cell phone, car key, or other small items. I often use it to stash the Tula hood, which we almost never use.
The style of the Kinderpack waistband has changed a few times over the years, and I am sure there is some variation in the sizing from style to style, but as far as I know, KP does not vary the size of the waistband with the body size of the carrier, nor does it change based on the strap length.
Up until recently (early 2014), toddler Tulas had larger waistbands than standard Tulas. That has changed and at the time of this writing, all new Tulas being produced have the standard waistband. The Tula pictured has the old toddler waistband; unfortunately at this time I do not have a standard Tula or a toddler with the new waistband for comparison.
Kinderpacks come in four sizes – infant, standard, toddler, and preschool. All KPs have a 2″ headrest that is not included in the measurements given below.
The infant KP is made to be used with babies from birth-18 months or so. It has an adjustable base, so you can cinch the seat to fit a small baby without an infant insert. The body panel measures 9-15″wide x 15″ high. I don’t currently have an infant KP available and since this post is primarily focused on toddler carriers, that’s all I’ll say about the infant KP today.
The standard KP is such a versatile size; it really lasts a long time! If you are looking for a “toddler” carrier because your baby is outgrowing the Beco, Ergo or Boba (just to name a few), a standard KP may be just what you need. The body panel measures 17″w x 16″h and the recommended age range is 8months – 3years. We got our standard when my daughter was 14 months old and I used it with her until she was nearly 3. I have been wearing my son in the standard KP since he was about 5 months old, but he was a big baby (>90%ile for height and weight). He is now 14 months old, about 31″ and 23lbs and the standard KP fits us perfectly. Note how he is supported from knee to knee without having extra fabric bunching under his seat. Also notice that the body of the carrier comes up high enough on his back to keep him from leaning, but not so high that his head is buried in the carrier.
A toddler KP is quite a bit larger than the standard. It measures 19″w x 18″h and is not recommended until your toddler is at least 25 lbs and 32″ tall. I do not have a toddler KP on hand for comparison pictures at the moment, but I tried one at a meeting when my daughter was just 25 lbs and 32″ tall, and it was HUGE on her! She has always been long and skinny, and it just swallowed her at that time. A toddler KP will easily last until your average child no longer wants/needs to be worn regularly.
A preschool KP is the largest carrier available without getting a custom made right now. It is enormous! The body measures 20″w x 20″h. The height/weight recommendation is 38″/35lbs. We purchased our preschool KP just before my daughter turned 3, and she was about 38″ tall and all leg (although she still isn’t 35 lbs). For the sake of the blog post, I put my 14mo in this carrier this morning, and it absolutely swallowed him. Here are the pictures for comparison sake:
Tulas only come in two sizes – standard and toddler, but they also have an infant insert for the standard size and they sell “Free to Grow” leg extenders, which can be used with either size* to widen the base for a kid who is outgrowing a knee-to-knee seat.
*As noted above, Tula has recently changed the waistband on their toddler carrier. The FTG extenders only fit on the standard and new toddler waists, not on the larger, old-style toddler waist.
The standard Tula is comparable in size to the infant Kinderpack, without the adjustable base. The body measures 14.5″w x 15.5″ h and is recommended for use from 15lbs. With the infant insert, the standard Tula should be able to be used from birth, or ~7lbs. I do not have a standard Tula on hand right now, and again, this post is primarily focusing on toddler carriers, so that’s all the info I have on standard Tulas for the time being.
The toddler Tula is significantly bigger than the standard. There is a really large gap between the time a child “outgrows” the standard Tula (by outgrows, I mean no longer being fully supported knee-to-knee) and when s/he fits into the toddler size. This is probably part of the reason Tula came up with the Free to Grow extenders! The toddler Tula is roughly the same size as the toddler Kinderpack, measuring 19″w x 18″h and is recommended after 25lbs. We currently use a toddler Tula with my son, but it is actually just a bit too big for him right now:
Just so you can see all three pictures side by side, here they are again:
Both Kinderpack and Tula make fantastic big-kid carriers, and you probably won’t go wrong with either of them. However, it’s important to remember that SSCs are the most wearer-specific carrier style available, and they really fit every body and every baby differently. They’re like a good pair of jeans or sneakers – you really need to try several to find what fits you best! If you’re on the market for a new SSC, join us at a meeting or seek out your own local BWI group and see if they have a few SSCs for you to try.
What’s your favorite SSC?