An excellent backpack carrier with an impressive amount of storage for a day out with the little one. It’s unique sitting position is something baby really seems to enjoy and the carrier is also very comfortable for adult. It’s a shame the raincover is sold separately. When added, the whole package is also very expensive, but then you can't put a price on your child's comfort.
Comfortable sitting position for child
Removable, washable parts
Raincover sold separately
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Thule Sapling: first impressions
Most backpack carriers look like a hiking backpack. For me, Thule’s Sapling is a little different. It has a classy aesthetic that wouldn’t look out of place on safari, especially in the Agave Green colorway I had for test. I image that if Alan Grant of Jurassic Park fame had kids, he’d go for the Thule Sapling. It’d match his style. Ian Malcolm would undoubtedly plump for the black option though.
It's not just in appearance that the Sapling is a little different. With little one’s experience in mind, Thule have designed a seat that not only features the traditional support under the child’s bottom but also underneath their thighs. This better disperses the child’s weight, making for a more comfortable ride.
It’s hard to gauge exactly how content a tiny child is with what you’ve sat them in, as there are many contributing factors to their mood. My daughter was between 6 and 10 months old during the testing period and obviously couldn’t vocalize her thoughts on the matter. However, she always seemed very happy while sat in the Sapling. I tested several child carriers during this period and I strongly suspect that she found this one the most comfortable.
One drawback is that there’s no raincover, which has to be bought separately. This seems a shame, especially given the Sapling's high price point. However, with this additional investment, you'll end up with a carrier that does it all and is comfortable for child and parent alike.
RRP: $430 (US) / £380 (UK) / €441 (EU)
Weight: 3.2kg / 7.1 lbs
Age range: 6 months and up
Weight limit: 22kg / 48.5lbs (child plus items in storage)
Materials: 70D Bluesign approved Nylon
Accessories included: Sunshade (UPF 50)
Colors: Agave green, black
The seat is well cushioned and there’s plenty of mesh ventilation to keep child cool. The way the seat supports little one’s legs means there’s no need for foot stirrups. Instead, her legs hang slightly out to the side of the carrier. A little lever behind the drool pad makes adjusting the seat’s height straightforward.
Yes, that’s all very well, I hear you say, but what about my own comfort? There’s a padded mesh backsystem to keep you cool and a padded hipbelt to take weight off your shoulders. All of this, as well as the chest strap, is fully adjustable, allowing you to find your ideal fit, just like with a normal hiking backpack.
There’s a whopping 26 liters of storage, as much as most daypacks and enough for everything you need for the little one and your own items too. The main compartment is designed to be accessed from the side, meaning you can access it while wearing the carrier. The other large compartment sits at the bottom and you'll need your significant other to open it on the move. As usual, there are two zippered hipbelt pockets too.
The main compartment also features a slot for a drink tube if you wanted to add a hydration bladder, which is a good thing as lumbering another human around all day is thirsty work. The tube can be threaded through loops on the carrier’s sides.
There’s no little mirror for checking on baby, but this is a very minor gripe. When testing carriers, I found myself using my phone’s camera to do this most of the time anyway. Most child carriers feature a removable drool pad but Thule go a step further by making the main seat fully removable and washable too.
There’s a sunshade, which is lightweight, minimal but provides plenty of shade. It’s not built into the pack as on other carriers but is a separate little unit that twists and folds up tidily, stowing away in the main compartment. When the time comes for deployment, you unclip it and the shade springs into shape, ready for its bendy wire frame to be threaded into slots on the sides of the child’s seat.
As mentioned, the raincover is sold separately, which makes the fully featured setup very expensive. However, it’s arguably worth the investment for one of the best performing carriers around. Thule also sell a compatible sling pack, which gives an additional 10 liters of storage and can be worn separately or attached to the back of the pack.
On the trails
The Sapling feels nice and compact on the trails. It’s reassuringly solid and very comfortable to carry too, a good option for longer days. Carrying a child around can be sweaty inducing but I found the backsystem provided a good level of ventilation and adjusting it was straightforward too. It’s just a case of pulling it away from the Velcro and moving it up and down the fabric runners.
Placing the little one in the harness isn’t quite as easy as in some carriers, especially if alone. I first had to direct her feet to the openings on either side before I could let her bum rest on the seat. Then, it was a case of fishing the harness straps out from under her and threading her arms through, before clipping the two straps together.
Once she was in, lofting the carrier up onto my shoulders was really easy thanks to the grab handle and the top bar of the carrier’s frame. The kickstand is easily deployed for loading and unloading and it’s also easy to retract while walking, unlike on other leading child carriers from Kelty and Deuter.
Its large capacity is a real boon, though it’s only got an average number of storage options, with the two larger compartments and two hipbelt pockets. However, all of these are accessible while loaded up, with the exception of the compartment on the back of the pack. This meant I could use the side zips to get into the main compartment, allowing me to grab and stow items like my hiking gloves while on the move.
I like the way all the buckles have an additional little safety clip that stops my daughter from unclipping herself. Admittedly, it’s not such an issue yet, but this is a welcome touch for when she’s older and more curious… or mischievous.
As mentioned, this was the carrier I suspect my daughter enjoyed the most and she always seemed content while sitting in it, even for extended periods. If your child's comfort is your top priority, the Sapling is a no brainer.
Alex is a freelance adventure writer and mountain leader with an insatiable passion for the mountains. A Cumbrian born and bred, his native English Lake District has a special place in his heart, though he is at least equally happy in North Wales, the Scottish Highlands or the European Alps. Through his hiking, mountaineering, climbing and trail running adventures, Alex aims to inspire others to get outdoors. He is currently President of the London Mountaineering Club, training to become a winter mountain leader, looking to finally finish bagging all the Wainwright fells of the Lake District and hoping to scale more Alpine 4000ers when circumstances allow. Find out more at www.alexfoxfield.com