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I'm a keen hiker, in South Africa. Or, I was...
But then our delightful darling daughter was born 7 months ago, and my hiking hobby got replaced with a new hobby. Anyway, my wife and I are very keen to get hiking again, but we would also like to consider taking our daughter with us (instead of always leaving her with the grandparents for the weekend). I'm aware of those backpacks that have a shaded seat on top for small children, so my question is: are those any good? What should I look for?

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Yes! This is a rewarding and awesome experience. I have three children that I take hiking all the time. My youngest is almost a month old and he hasn't been out yet, but will as soon as he has a bit of neck control. I was also raised going on many hikes in my father's pack.

I have the old pack that I was carried in and let me tell you, they have made leaps and bounds since then. Things to look for now:

  • Waist belt to support most of the weight - this should be obvious to a hiker.
  • Insert for infants so they ride up higher - If they can see they tend to fuss less.
  • Get something with a pop out stand so that you can set the back down with the baby in it. You will love this feature. Some packs require you to put the pack half on then the child in then finish putting the pack on, those are a pain to deal with.
  • Minimum and Maximum of supported weight for the child - At what point do you want them to be walking on their own? If you go for the whole weekend, you will need to do some carrying at up to 40 pounds.
  • Extra storage space on the pack - Do you want one person with the pack and another will all gear or do you want to carry some?
  • Adjustable to you and your partner - My wife is very petite, and we had to have both of us try on packs to find one that was comfortable for both.
  • How physically close the child is to you - The closer they are, the warmer they will keep you. For better or worse.
  • Overall weight - Again this should be obvious to a hiker.
  • Pouch for a water bladder - nice to have, if there isn't you will probably need to get a long tube and toss a bladder in another pocket.
  • Machine washable - Every once in a while there is a problem, or the drool just builds up.
  • Removable Foot stirrups - If adjusted right, they can really help with the child's comfort and stop them from kicking you as much, however, my middle child has learned that is he stands up in one, he can put me off weight and make me hobble around. (He thinks this is hilarious)

Looking for something with a shade is not as important. I rub some sunscreen on them and reapply after a few hours. This works well enough in the Sonoran desert.

For infants we have used and liked the Beco butterfly but it offers no storage, it's just great with infants. It has the added benefit of, when we need/want to cover ground quickly, allowing my wife to carry the infant front and breastfeed while hiking.

When they are crawling on their own and starting to pull themselves up we switch to our larger pack. Which is a Kelty, but an older model that I can't find online right now.

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I think we would need a larger pack with storage (like the Kelty you recommended) - is this ok for a child between 7-12 months though? (say, hiking for a few hours) –  baldric Mar 1 '13 at 6:52
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and, great tips on backpacks, by the way :) thanks! –  baldric Mar 1 '13 at 6:52
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Additionally, try a few different models. I got one that is a traditional rucksack construction, with aluminium tubing frame and I find it really comfortable as it puts all the weight on my shoulders, but my wife ended up getting her own one which put the weight more on her hips as that is more comfortable for her. –  Rory Alsop Mar 1 '13 at 7:50
    
@baldric Yeah the bigger Kelty packs work fine for that age. Definitely try on a few if you can. –  MaskedPlant Mar 4 '13 at 14:04
    
Make sure there's a mechanism for a water bladder. My Kealty II lacks it, I had to rig something and it's less than ideal. THe plus side, my kid loves drinking from a water bladder. –  furtive Mar 4 '13 at 18:07
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We used an Ergo baby carrier when our now 5 year old daughter was too small to walk. I am fairly small (5'2" with a narrow frame), so the bigger backpacks with frames like Kelty didn't fit me.

One thing to consider is that once she can walk, your daughter is likely to want in and out frequently so you want something that is easy to so.

It's totally worth it to include her in your hiking - my daughter now loves the outdoors and was very proud to do her first two overnight backpackign trips last summer.

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