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There is a current trend to carry babies in a pack on your front (Wikipedia does not show it but Google images has lots of hits 'front baby carrier')

If you are hiking with a backpack, is including a frontpack (with a baby or just gear) a practice you should consider?

What are the considerations for combining a frontpack with a backpack while hiking?

  • 1
    You see an integrated front back design in some soldier packs. – paparazzo Dec 28 '17 at 17:20
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    @Paparazzi can you make an answer from that? When I was a soldier, we ran in combat boots (I hear they do PT in soft shoes now) and carried duffle bags on our backs. Sometimes both at the same time. – James Jenkins Dec 28 '17 at 17:23
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    Tried it for a short time when assisting a lost person out of the bush, but went back to carrying the extra bag on top of my backpack. Problem I had was we were using a boulder stream to get back to a track, and the backpack in front obscured vision so I was unable to see where my feet were being placed. Would only attempt it on smooth, well formed paths. – user5330 Dec 29 '17 at 0:48
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All conventional backpacks are unbalanced

Here's the problem with conventional backpacks - they are inherently unbalanced. So once you are carrying any kind of non-trivial weight, you have to lean forwards to counterbalance the additional weight on your back. This throws out your natural walking posture, causing fatigue and discomfort. It's simply a law of physics.

enter image description here

Well designed front pockets can solve this issue

There is a small New Zealand company called Aarn that has been working with a respected ergonomics lab to offer an alternative. By adding pockets to the front using an integrated suspension system, you can counterbalance the load and regain a balanced and natural walking posture.

Here are the forces at play, as measured in the lab:

enter image description here

And here's a practical illustration of the difference this makes:

enter image description here

I can tell you from personal experience that the benefits over a long day are striking - less fatigue, complete freedom from pain in the back and shoulders, and significantly improved agility and balance. You also enjoy easy access to your gear.

The downside is increased complexity - it takes effort and experimentation to get the system dialed-in and it's a bit more hassle to get your pack on and off.

So what makes for an effective frontpack design?

There are obvious challenges to designing a frontpack system:

  • You need to ensure good visibility for the feet
  • You need to provide adequate ventilation for the chest and accommodate the female anatomy.
  • You need to transfer the weight off the shoulders and down to the hip-belt.

Most frontpacks on the market don't do a great job with this. Here's the Zpacks offering, for example:

enter image description here

It obscures your view of your feet, sits directly on your chest, and hangs off the shoulder-straps, increasing the weight on your shoulders and spine.

But Aarn has pretty much solved these issues with his framed front pockets that offer good visibility and air-circulation, and transfer the weight directly to the hip belt:

enter image description here

enter image description here

He also offers pockets that will integrate with a conventional child-carrier to make life a little more bearable (pun intended):

enter image description here

I'm very interested in backpack design and am currently building my own version of the Aarn bodypack. I've searched extensively for innovations in the field, and the frontpack concept is the only approach with the potential to revolutionise the load-carrying experience. But doing it ad-hoc is unlikely to work well for you - the elements need to be carefully designed to work together as a system.

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I have hauled a backpack and a baby in a front carrier, while also walking two dogs. I wouldn't "recommend" it to anyone, however, I will continue doing it, because it is my only practical option. I have a Bjorn brand carrier, so other baby carriers might be easier to deal with, but I'm doubtful.

It's a serious hassle to get set up. You have to put the baby carrier on, with the backpack on over that. You also have to put the baby in the carrier before you can put the backpack on. Other brands might be doable to put the baby in second, but in my carrier, there are these little clips that clip the front panel to the harness, that are covered by the backpack straps.

It is surprisingly challenging to clip in the backpack waist buckles with little baby feet hanging in the way, and you can't see what you're doing because there is a baby head blocking your view. You also have to be careful slinging the backpack over your shoulders, because the little one probably won't appreciate you flinging your upper body about to swing the backpack around, nor do you want to bonk his noggin with it.

If you are hauling gear instead of a baby, apart from a camera I can't think of anything you'd want out in front of you instead of in the backpack. Obviously with gear you can be more forceful getting saddled up, but if you have a bunch of gear, just get a bigger backpack.

I use the front carrier because our baby is only 5 months old, and he doesn't have the neck strength to even be facing outwards in the carrier. The moment he's old enough and strong enough to ride in a backpack carrier, that's where he is going to go. Of course, probably shortly after that happens there will be another baby and then I'll be hauling two of them.

Edit: When I am out and about with this setup, I am typically running errands, going to the grocery store, etc. My alternative would be to go to the store in one trip, and walk the dogs in a different trip. When I get to the store, I have to take the backpack off to load it up, and put it back one with my stuff. So despite saying it's a "serious hassle", it's not so much of a hassle that I make two trips.

  • I found that a similar approach was all but impossible without another adult present – Chris H Dec 28 '17 at 22:20

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