Safety watch: child-carrying backpacks

Does it surprise you that toddler-carrying backpacks aren’t required to meet mandatory safety standards of any kind? It surprised me.

Standards do exist, set by the good folks at ASTM and JPMA … but they’re voluntary. And when you making safety standards optional for kids’ outdoor gear, it’s sort of like saying that feeding your kids is “optional.”

Since I started working with Kelty KIDS in 2002, I’ve watched them tackle safety issues with an eagerness that only a Volvo engineer could love. It’s true they’re not the cheapest items on the shelf, and occasionally they’re not the sexiest … but no one can ever doubt that for Kelty KIDS, safety always comes first.

Kelty child carriers are not only compliant with ASTM voluntary standards, they go far beyond what’s required. They also exceed JPMA’s standards, and they willingly subject themselves to testing by the Bureau of Veritas: an independent watchdog that makes sure certified products don’t change once they hit the stores.

As obvious as this sounds, it was sobering (and even depressing) to see other carriers on the shelves that don’t meet the basic safety standards that are out there.

If you’re looking at buying a new or used child carrier, you should know what some of those safety standards are. After all, this is your kid we’re talking about. Here’s a very brief list of some of the biggies to look out for:

Scissoring, Shearing, Pinching

Add the words “of my child’s hand” to any of the above, and you’ll see how essential this standard is. In carriers with a built-in support leg, there’s a high-risk “pinch area” right at the leg pivot hinge. Coincidentally, this is exactly the spot where a kid’s hands dangle down. Kelty has developed, tested and produced a pinchless hinge which provides zero risk, as a child cannot get their small fingers into the hinge, ever.

Unintentional Folding

With child carriers that stand by themselves, parents regularly place the carrier on the ground or a picnic table while they adjust the fit for their child. The minimum ASTM requirement is for that folding leg to able to resist 10 lbs of pressure and not fold up – pressure like when a child extends their legs during a big yawn. If it doesn’t resist that pressure, a child could unintentionally cause the carrier to fall backwards. Feeling that the ASTM requirement wasn’t strong enough here, Kelty beefed it up to 15 pounds … then exceeded it.

Leg Openings

In a child-carrying backpack, a kid sits in a “cockpit” that looks sort of like a big, roomy pair of shorts. You lower the child in, snug them up, and off you go. The leg openings need to be big enough to keep little Johnny comfortable, but small enough so that a child can’t pull their leg out of one opening, put it down the other, then slip through. ASTM’s standard uses a big ball –7 pounds and the size of one of those mega-softballs – and requires that the leg holes be able to keep the ball in the cockpit. Once again, Kelty easily meets this standard.

Strength & Loads

Making sure a child carrier can hold a full weight load may sound obvious, but it’s absolutely essential for the safe enjoyment of both the parent and child. Some of the weight tests that ASTM requires (and Kelty exeeds), includes weighing down the carrier with 40 pounds and bouncing it about 5 inches up and down, about 50,000 times; dropping a 40-pound bag of shot 500 times onto the seat from a height of 3 inches; and loading the the kids’ compartment to three times its capacity rating (120 pounds) while in use and while on the ground.


This is one of the easiest tests to replicate yourself in a store or at a garage sale. Stand a carrier on a 12 degree incline – frontwards, backwards, sideways – then load it up with 40 pounds and put the child’s cockpit as high as it can go. If it falls over, you fail. Not only does Kelty pass this test, they pass it with flying colors up to 20 degrees.

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