Why Soft Structured Carriers?
Soft structured (SSC) or buckle carriers are a modernized version of the mei tai that borrows from hiking pack technology to create a quick, more structured carrier. They are probably the most widely used carrier at the moment with new brands becoming available rapidly and well known brands making their way into more mainstream/big box stores. What should you know about SSCs?
- SSCs can be used for front carries from birth and for back carries from about 5-6 months (when baby can sit unassisted). They can be used for hip carries although most find them a bit awkward for that position (with the exception of dedicated hip carry buckles).
- If the idea of wrangling a long piece of fabric or dragging mei tai straps around doesn’t appeal to you, you’d probably love an SSC.
- SSCs are considered the most “daddy friendly” carrier (although I think that’s a bit unfair as I know plenty of daddies who use other carrier types!). They are generally available in fairly plain designs.
- Many wearers find SSCs to be a great choice for outdoor activities such as hiking or for wearing in rain or snow since they make for easy ons and offs without dragging.
- They are a bit more intuitive to use since most of us have worn a backpack of some sort. They are also a bit more “error proof” in that you have to try pretty hard to get an unsafe carry in buckles.
- They can be trickier to fit both wearer and baby and may not fit as wide a size range of both wearer and child – see details below.
- While some SSCs do have features such as infant harnesses or inserts or cinchable waists that make them newborn friendly, newborns will need to be worn “legs in” in most SSCs. Some newborns decide they don’t like this position before they are large enough to go legs out.
- As noted above, SSCs can not (in general) be used for high back carries. This means baby will sit lower on your back and may not be able to see over your shoulder. Because of this, babies who can not yet sit on their own should not be worn in a back carry in an SSC in order to make sure they are not slumping and compromising their airway.
- That said, many find SSCs easier to back carry in since you don’t have to tie anything.
- Many find SSCs the most convenient carrier for children who are walking as they make for “quick ups and downs.” I usually just leave mine buckled around my waist and hanging down if kiddo decides to walk. There are a number of easy to find SSCs that have large bodies suitable for toddlers making wearing kiddo easy and comfortable well past the baby stage.
Which SSC is Right For Me?
Out of all the carrier types, SSCs are the most wearer specific in terms of fit – what one person loves and finds super comfy, another hates. The boom in SSC brands in recent years means you have more choices than ever and a better chance of finding a great fit. The ideal option is to try the carrier on with your child before you buy but there are a few other things to keep in mind that may help you narrow down your choices:
- Size of child: Some SSCs are better suited for smaller infants; others are designed specifically for toddlers or even preschoolers.
- You should never wear a newborn in an SSC designed for an older baby/toddler. It is very important that newborns be held snuggly in a carrier to maintain an upright position and a clear airway; a carrier designed for an older child will have too large a body to safely snug a newborn. Some SSCs are better suited for newborns/small infants because they have less structured waists, waists that cinch or snap in, or built in harnesses designed to ensure a snug fit for a smaller baby. Newborns will need to be worn legs in in most SSCs as those with structured waists are not able to be cinched like an unpadded waist mei tai can be.
- While you can wear a bigger kid in a carrier designed for a smaller one (assuming he is still within the weight range specified by the manufacturer), a carrier with a body that doesn’t come up high enough on your child’s back and doesn’t extend close enough to the knee to maintain the “sit squat”/knees slightly higher than the bum position will not be as comfortable as a carrier that is large enough. For example, Eleanor really loves to lean; if she’s in a carrier that doesn’t come up to her shoulders, it really pulls on my back when she tries to lean out. It’s not unsafe (assuming you have everything on properly!), but it isn’t particularly comfortable. Some SSCs are now designed with features like stirrups to support a taller child’s legs.
- Size of wearers: If you are outside of the average size range, you may find many off the shelf carriers don’t fit as well; trying before you buy is even more important. For very petite folks, some carriers will be too big in the waist or, more commonly, it will be difficult to cinch the shoulder straps to get a snug fit. Plus size folks (or even just tall or broad shouldered ones) may find that some straps rub under the arms because the padded portion isn’t long enough. Some makers (particularly the “boutique” brands) offer special sizing to help everyone get a better fit. It’s also worth considering that if you and your partner are of very different sizes, you may find it difficult to find an SSC that is a great fit for you both.
- Front carrier strap position: If you plan to front carry in your SSC, this is an important consideration. Some SSCs are designed to be worn like a mei tai in a front carry – that is with the straps crossing on your back. Others are designed to be worn like a “reverse backpack” with the chest clip snapped behind you. These positions feel pretty different so it is worth trying out both to see which you find more comfortable.
- Waist: Most SSCs have a structured waist (thus the name) – this means it will feel more firm than a padded waist. In general SSCs are designed to be worn on the hips (like the support belt of a hiking pack) although some are designed to be worn wherever feels most comfortable. Some SSCs have straight waists; some have curved waists. Depending on your shape, one may sit better on your waist/hips than another.
- Additional features: SSCs come with a range of additional features: sleep hoods, pouches for storage, internal harnesses, infant inserts, special materials (like mesh) for ventilation in hot weather, various adjustability features, and so on.
Brands of SSCs
SSCs are among the easiest to find quality carriers. However, there are quite a few less than stellar carriers out there – everything with buckles is not created equal (check out our post here for more information on many buckle carriers available at big box retailers should be avoided). I have listed here brands that I have personally tried or owned and therefore feel comfortable recommending; some are available at various retailers and others only through the manufacturer. If you are interested in a brand not listed here, we recommend you check reviews at TheBabyWearer before purchasing. Links provided are to manufacturers’ pages.
- Action Baby Carrier: available through various retailers; lighter weight SSC with a padded waist instead of a structured one; standard and toddler size – see our review!
- Babyhawk Oh Snap: available through various retailers; taller body is better for larger infants and toddlers
- Bamberoo SSC: only available through Bamberoo; taller body is better for larger infants and toddlers; infant size also available
- Beco: widely available at retailers; internal harness for an easier back carry (Butterfly) or with a narrower base for small babies (Gemini)
- Boba: available at various retailers; taller body is better for larger infants or toddlers; Boba Air is also available – an ultra-lightweight water friendly carrier
- Catbird Baby Pikkolo: available from various retailers; unstructured waist and built in cinched make it ideal for small babies; has optional add on support belt
- Chimparoo Trek and Multi: internal infant harness plus features to support older child’s longer legs
- Connecta: unstructured waist makes it a nice choice for smaller babies; lightweight for an SSC
- Dream Carriers: only available through Dream Carriers; several size available including toddler/preschool sizes
- Ergo: widely available; requires an infant insert for newborns and small infants; shorter body makes it not as big toddler friendly as other options
- Kanga: only available through Bloo Kangaroo; available in infant, standard, toddler, and preschool sizes
- Kinderpack: only available through Kindercarry; taller body is better for larger infants and toddlers; available in toddler, preschool and infant sizes as well
- Ocah: only available through Ocah; specializes in wrap conversions; several sizing options available
- Olives and Applesauce: available from various retailers; several size options and internal harness option available
- Tula: available in two size options; has add on leg supports for larger children
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