Soft structured carriers: What are they, who might like one, and the differences between different types
Image caption: Model holds baby in Lenny Upgrade soft structured baby carrier (SSC, baby backpack), in print Rainbow Baby. The print features large horizontal gradient rainbow stripes.
Soft structured carriers are very popular baby carriers for babywearing children, from newborns into school age. In countries like the US, this might be the only style of carrier you've seen when out and about! But why is this? Why do people love them? Would you like one? Let's find out!
What is a soft structured carrier?
A soft structured carrier is a baby carrier with a pre-built panel with a defined, buckle waistband and arm straps like a backpack. Most also have a chest clip. Additional options available in some soft structured carriers (or SSCs) include a hood (attached or removable), a pocket, the ability to cross straps (as opposed to only backpack straps – this also allows for hip carrying), and/or a lumbar support pad. Some SSCs are what we call fixed panel SSCs – this means that the panel height and width is set and cannot be changed. Your child will need to fall within a more narrow height range to comfortably fit in a fixed panel carrier, according to its dimensions, as you won’t be able to adjust the panel to fit. In contrast, a fully adjustable soft structured carrier has a panel that can be modified. The width can be made smaller or larger, often via Velcro adjustments on the inner portion of the waistband or via a pull-string, and the height can be shortened or lengthened via various methods including buttons or pull tabs. Some even have custom adjustment options to more tightly fit around a newborn for added head support and body stability. Others offer separate infant inserts instead of adjusting around the newborn. SSCs can be made from soft and moldable wrap conversions, canvas, and even mesh panel options.
Why would I want a soft structured carrier?
SSCs are the most familiar style of baby carrier for many families, especially families in the US. These “baby backpacks” go on like a traditional backpack – buckle the waist, place baby in the panel, pull panel up over baby, put your arms through the straps and clip the chest clip. No tying or knots required! Many parents new to babywearing feel more at ease and more comfortable with the familiarity of a backpack style when learning to carry their little one. Back carrying is also familiar as well – you do the same motion, just with baby on your back instead! SSCs that offer cross strap options can also be worn as crossed straps for added comfort or as hip carries, maximizing the use of this carrier style. This provides a range of comfort options as well as some security in already knowing the motion required.
A soft structured carrier’s biggest benefit is that the “seat” is already set up for you – although you do have to make sure baby is properly seated in the carrier and that the height and width are set properly, you don’t have to worry about the bottom “falling out,” which is a big fear for many parents as they learn carriers like long woven wraps, stretchy wraps, and ring slings.
There are so many types! What’s the difference?
Let’s take a look at a few main differences.
Image caption: Model holds baby in Lenny Lamb fixed panel soft structured carrier LennyGo in print Rainbow Baby. In comparison to the Lenny Upgrade featured earlier in this article, the LennyGo hood is attached, the LennyGo does not have the magnetic pocket that the Lenny Upgrade has, and it also does not have the lumbar pad the Upgrade has. The Upgrade can be used from 4 weeks to 2.5 years and has an adjustable panel. The LennyGo has 2 fixed panel sizes, one (baby/standard) from 4 months to 2T pants and another (toddler) from 2T pants and up.
Fully adjustable versus fixed panel
As mentioned above, a fully adjustable SSC has a way to change the panel height and width, whereas the fixed panel style SSC can only adjust the straps for the wearer, not the panel for the child in the carrier. This typically means that a fully adjustable SSC can last much longer than a fixed panel, and you can get a more customized fit. For some families, it even means that you can use the same carrier for multiple children, adjusting the panel as needed each time.
However, there are benefits to the fixed panel SSC as well! A fixed panel means no fiddling or fussing – if the child is an appropriate size for that carrier, in they go! Oftentimes we don’t have to be terribly precise on fit, especially as our little one gets older, so this can be a great time-saver. It can also make it easy for the carrier to go from one caregiver to another or even from one child to another, if both fit within that carrier’s range. They can still have a pretty wide range – for example, the LennyGo in baby/standard size fits well from about 4-6 months into 2T pants, and even a little longer for some children.
Wrap conversion versus canvas/polyester
Wrap conversion SSCs often make the most comfortable and breathable SSCs. When the woven fabric is sewn into a baby backpack shape, it retains the breathability, softness, strength, and moldability of a wrap but in a shape conducive to buckles! It’s a great wrap to get some qualities of wrapping while retaining the familiarity of a backpack. These carriers can be washed according to the instructions provided for the material they are made from – cotton, linen, etc. Canvas and other polyester fabric carriers can be easier to wipe down, but are often hot, tough, and not as snuggly, making for a less comfortable fit.
Some carriers offer a mesh panel option – this can be great for babies who “run hot” and for warm weather.
What other features do you need in a carrier? Look for features like pockets, hoods (do you want it to be removable, or do you prefer it to stay on so it can’t get lost?), lumbar support (is it removable? Is this important to you?), and more.
- Soft structured carriers are also called SSCs or baby backpacks
- Depending on the style, they can be used as front, back, and sometimes hip carry
- Each carrier style has its own height / weight restrictions. Some are designed to grow with your baby with an adjustable panel, and some are meant to feel more “one size” with a fixed panel
- Wrap conversions tend to be the coziest of the options available
- SSCs are often familiar to caregivers and that can give you confidence in babywearing
You might like an SSC if you:
- Don’t like long pieces of fabric hanging down
- Want something super quick
- Want something easy to learn and easy to pass between caregivers
- Want something familiar and don’t want to learn how to tie
You might not like an SSC if you:
- Need customization of fit due to injuries or sensitivities – a long woven wrap would likely be a better choice for you
Sound like the carrier for you? See all our available SSCs here: https://mama-roo.com/collections/soft-structured-carriers