As an active hiker and outdoors person, I naturally want to share my love for the wilder places with my daughter. Of course, a 12–18 month old can't really be expected to walk very far, and while our Bob Revolution Stroller is excellent for on-trail trips, most of my daily walks are on far more uneven terrain. While we were in Minneapolis, I started looking at the available child carriers, for something that would last a few years, and allow me to comfortably carry the little one into the hills.
There are a bunch of very similar-looking child backpacks on the market, and they all perform much the same functon. I asked around on twitter and amongst friends, and received several recommendations for the LittleLife Voyager S2. After finding it on sale in REI (where it sadly seems to no longer be available), we decided to buy one – even though Enni was only 3 months old: we knew we'd be using it plenty by the time she was 6 months and we were back in Finland.
The Voyager S2 a very sturdily-built, internal frame carrier with a few design features that set it apart from the (ahem) pack. Most immediately visible is the lack of an aluminum stand to support the pack while on the ground; instead, the S2 has an "anchor point" - essentially a hole in the base where you stick your foot.
Some may see this as a weak point in the design, but in use I've found it to be quite practical, and the carrier stands on it's own with the child in it anyway. I wouldn't leave Enni in it unattended, of course, but neither would I do so in any of the packs with the stands, as none of them seem much safer with a wriggling child inside.
From the carrying perspective
The Voyager S2 is specced as weighing a very competitive 2.9kg (6lb 6oz) – but mine weighs around 3.2kg (7lb) with all the bits and bobs. It can carry up to 20kg (44lbs), and is described as being suitable for ages 6 months to 3 years. I'd say that's about correct, although the starting age will depend a lot on your child.
The pack is fully adjustable for different torso lengths, and fits people from 5'2" to 6'4" (155 - 194cm approx.). The hip belt pivots, and is well padded. The shoulder straps are comfortable and feature load lifters. The sternum strap has an integrated whistle. For the carrier, it has all the features of a well-designed "serious" backpack. It is extremely well constructed, with solidly sewn seams, durable straps and materials, and ample, even extravagant, padding. There are also additional features which I'll cover later.
From the perspective of the person doing the carrying, I can say it is extremely comfortable 90% of the time. On odd occasions things don't seem to sit quite right, but I put this down mainly to the positioning of the child in the pack; with a growing child you have to make slight adjustments to maintain the most comfortable carry, but once you achieve this, the S2 is extremely comfortable, and never feels less than 100% secure – I can jump, stagger, shimmy and wriggle (all to the immense enjoyment of the passenger) safe in the knowledge that the pack, and the passenger, will remain in place.
From Child's perspective
The pack features an easily adjustable seat for your little critter, as well as well-padded shoulders traps that include a sternum strap of their own. The sides are also heavily padded, and once you pull the side straps to bring baby closer to your back, he/she is absolutely secure, but is able to move around quite happily.
The pack also comes with foot stirrups (useful for when the child gets a little taller/heavier to raise the legs a little), and a soft and cheerful little padded chin guard (which is removable, for washing, in case your darling dearest decides to projectile vomit on your head).
Once you have the little tyke installed, you have the joy of hauling 12kg of child, 2.5kg of backpack, plus whatever you have stored inside, onto your back. Child carrying is not an ultralight activity – although there is some joy to be had in realising that your typical ultralight backpack weight less than your daughter or son. And of course, carrying your child makes for excellent backpacking training.
Fortunately, LittleLife have made lifting the loaded pack quite easy with some intelligently placed lifting handles. You simply place your arm through one strap and grab the handle near the base (rejoice – the handles are on both sides, so lefties or righties are equally well-catered for). With your other hand, grab the shoulder strap and heave-ho. I can't say it's an entirely smooth motion for the precious fruit of your loins, but Enni at least seems to enjoy being tossed around while shouldering the pack.
I think it's fair to say that Enni has no complaints about the pack. In fact "backpack" is one of her favourite words at the moment, alongside "out". She'll often come running to find me, grab my finger and take me to "backpack". She even eagerly starts to climb in, so I count that as a success.
Additional child-friendly features include loops for attaching toys or other items that might inadvertently get dropped.
There's a sun shade / rain cover included, that attached easily by slipping into two pockets on the back (visible in the top left of the above photo). This, I feel, is a little bit of a weak point in the design as it feels more of an afterthought. It's adequate, but I suspect with extended use the seams may tear. The aluminium poles you insert into the pockets also stick a little on the way out. It's okay - it gets the job done.
Incidentally, the wording on the LittleLife website seems to suggest that the rain cover and sun canopy are separate ("Sun Shade & Rain Cover included") – unless the design has changed, this is not the case; they are one and the same, and as you can see above, rain protection would be pretty minimal.
There is also a handy, compact changing mat included for for when the wee nipper needs a diaper change. After he/she graduates to pull-ons, the pad becomes less necessary, but I've found it makes an excellent sit pat for winter use. There you go - a multi-use item!
Last but not least, the left hip-belt pocket houses a rear view mirror so you can check that your progeny has fallen asleep finally, just as you are about to get back to the car.
It could theoretically also be used to signal rescue aircraft in emergency situations! More multi-use items! This just keeps getting better and better!
The base of the pack has a fairly large storage capacity (claimed 20l), and there is also a detachable front pack, which can be used as a small (8l) day pack. There's ample room between the two for snacks, diapers, a small blanket, or an improvised, spooky mosquito net.
There are two additional pockets on each side of the base, one of which is insulated for carrying, for example, milk/formula. I've never found these particularly useful.
Lastly, the pack has a lot of reflective detailing making it visible at night – a good feature for those dark backcountry roads, or even urban night hiking.
All-in-all, I've been very happy with the Voyager S2. It's lasted very well, and is still in excellent condition even after using many times a week for over a year. Enni is very happy in it, and if it helps to engender an appreciation of the outdoors in a 19 month old, it's been a very worthwhile purchase. Packs like these are something of an investment, but hopefully, in another 18 months when it's time to sell it, it will have retained some of its value.
You can read more about the
We bought ours from REI, but unfortunately they no longer appear to carry them. In fact, un the USA at least, they seem to be a little hard to find at the moment.
In Europe they are much easier to find (LittleLife is a UK company). You can find them at
stock them, as does
There are many competing products in the child carrier marketplace. You can find many of the different models on
My friend Bob swears by his
– but I found these also a little hard to locate outside the UK (or New Zealand, where they originate).
Deuter and Osprey are the major competitors:
(Similar in spec to Voyager S2, weighs 3.5kg, but has a free teddy bear.