A Soft Structured Carrier or Buckle Carrier is a backpack style carrier (although often also used on your front) that fastens with buckles. They are suitable for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers and even newborns too, depending on the individual carrier.
There is no one ‘best’ soft structured carrier – it is very much down to personal preference. Each carrier offers different features and some are more suited to larger or smaller babies and larger or smaller parents. Soft structured carriers are often bulkier than other types of sling and can take up more room when not in use.
Soft structured carriers are often favoured by dads. This style of carrier is quick to put on, easy to adjust and a good practical option, but they are less adjustable than woven and stretchy wraps, meh dais and other panel carriers. This means that not every buckle carrier will create a good comfortable fit for every person, and trying a few can be a good way to tell which you get on with and what features you like.
Some buckle carriers have shoulder straps that can be worn crossed or back pack style. Back pack style is where each shoulder strap goes over a shoulder and back under the same armpit. Some carriers only allow backpack style. Crossed straps are usually only applicable when carrying your child on your front. The way you like to have the shoulder straps on a buckle carrier is very much personal preference.
Structured / Unstructured Waist
Totally unstructured waistbands have no padding at the waist, the body of the carrier comes down the baby’s back and all the way under their seat to the front, creating a pocket for the child to sit in, and the panel can be gathered or cinched to make it narrower for newborn babies. Gathering the panel also shortens it somewhat. These are good for adjusting to fit newborn babies, and are often less expensive than “adjustable” buckle carriers which adjust using built in methods. We have unstructured carriers such as the Integra, Connecta and Pouchlings.
Most soft structured carriers have some level of padding to the waist band, for the comfort of the person carrying and to help position the child where they sit on the waistband. Some have soft padding, and others have a more rigid waistband which can help direct weight down through the hips of the carrying person. It is very much personal preference which style of waist you and your child may prefer.
Dual Adjust Buckle
If the buckles are dual adjust, or two-way adjust, it is possible to tighten by pulling either forwards and upwards, or backwards and downwards when tightening the carrier. One way adjust buckles mean you have to pull backwards and down in a front carry, and forwards and up in a back carry. Some people find one or other of these movements easier, and so it is a benefit to be able to use that preferred movement in whichever position you are using the carrier.
Safety buckles have an extra button to press to release the buckle. This is designed to make them tamper proof so children cannot undo them whilst they are in use. They can make them much harder to undo one handed, and for people with any issues with strength, grip or manipulation this can make a carrier much harder to use.
Hoods can be attached to the carrier or completely detachable. They can often fold into a pocket or part of the carrier itself when not in use. When in use they can be secured to the shoulder straps by poppers, elastic loops, Velcro or buttons. Hoods come in several styles – they can be flat, sweat (like in a hoody) or pixie (over sized, pointy) style.
Many buckle carriers have pockets. Some have a small pocket in waistband, often suitable for a purse. Others have a larger pocket on the main part of the carrier which is suitable for a couple of disposable nappies and small wipes. You need to consider how comfortable anything you carry in this pocket will be against your child’s back.
Leg padding is extra padding on the main part of the carrier where the child’s legs come out of either side of the panel of the carrier. It is designed to make your child more comfortable.
Perfect Fit Adjustors
These are additional adjusters on the shoulder straps where they meet the body of the carrier. Perfect fit adjusters (PFAs) are designed to reduce and lengthen the padded section of the shoulder straps to enable smaller people to be able to get a well tightened fit. If the padded strap is too long a petite person may be unable to tighten the straps well enough for it to be supportive. These may make carrying a more comfortable experience for the wearer and can have safety implications for the child as an insufficiently tightened carry could allow the baby to slump, which may result in compromised airways. Perfect fit adjusters replace the need for petite, standard and extra large versions of carrier straps.
Strap tidies are small loops of elastic on the end of buckle strap webbing. You can roll up any unused webbing and use the strap tidy to keep it out of the way. This stops excess straps dangling.
Adjustable Height / Width
The height and width of some carriers can be adjusted with toggles, poppers, webbing and velcro. This enables them to be used with smaller or larger babies without needing additional accessories. Particularly useful for carrying 2 or more children individually without needing to buy 2 different sizes of carriers, or for adapting the carrier with our baby as they grow.
Integrated Infant Harness
Used with newborn babies, the harness secures the baby in a safe position, ensuring they are higher up in the carrier without the top of the panel obstructing their face, and so their legs can be kept inside the carrier to avoid over-extending their hips.
These can be a cushion to boost a child inside the carrier and make the panel a better length on the baby. They also mean that the baby’s legs are positioned either side of the cushion inside the carrier, so their legs are not painfully overspread by the panel being too wide. They also take the form of a padded wrap around with a cushion in the base. The wrap around section helps to make the panel more supportive over all of the baby’s back.
Perfect for holidays and summer weather, UV protection is built in to the fabric of the carrier. The UV protection can fade with repeated washing, so our rental carriers may not offer as high a degree of protection as a new carrier would.
Again, perfect for warmer weather. Breathable mesh fabric is used in the panel of the carrier to allow for maximum air circulation throughout to help keep baby cool.
Most buckle carriers can be worn two at a time – one one the front and one on the back. Because the shoulder straps will overlap, it’s best to use brands of carriers with less shoulder padding, as heavier padding can feel uncomfortable and bulky for the wearer. Many people find it easier to put the baby you’ll be wearing on the back on first, and then the baby on the front afterwards.
There are a couple of brands of carriers that are specifically designed to hold two children in at once. We stock the Weego Twin, the Twingo and Twingo Lite, as well as the MiniMonkey Twin. These can be as described above (one child on the back and one on the front), or with both babies side by side on the front.
Lightweight / Ultra Lightweight
A lightweight carrier such as an Integra, Connecta or Boba Air is a great sling to have around if you won’t be using it all the time. They fold up really small so can easily be carried in your bag, or stored under the buggy etc. Ultra Lightweight carriers are like the “Pack-a-Mac” of the carrying world, and fold up in to their own pocket, some as small as a pencil case, like the Boba Air. Perfect for travelling, or keeping around “just in case” your child needs to be carried.