If you’re the type of new mum who prefers a remote location to a remote control then chances are you are in the market for a backpack-style child carrier, capable of tackling the rough as well as the smooth.
And when it comes to quality, Swedish household-name brands like Thule rarely produce anything that doesn’t merit that much overused tag. Consequently I was expecting a lot from the Thule Sapling Elite child carrier, so it’s good to report that overall, I wasn’t disappointed.
Thule is a name more familiar to most of us for their range of automotive carriages, storage products; roof bars, roof boxes, cycle carriers and the like.
But that type of fixing, securing and strapping know-how has plenty of other applications, and carrying that most precious cargo of all – children – seems like a logical move for the company.
The Thule Sapling Elite is a most definitely a quality piece if kit, aimed squarely at families who spend a lot of time in the outdoors and who appreciate style and functionality.
You can buy the Thule Sapling Carrier on Amazon
It offers comfort and adjustability along with a range of premium features. Retailing at £259.99, it sits at the top end of the baby backpack market, costing just a bit more than Deuter Kid Comfort 3 Child Carrier (£230) and almost double the Little Life Cross Country S3 Child Carrier (£125.99). Saying that, if you look around you can find the carrier on sale, I’ve seen a few websites that have them for almost £100 cheaper, so be on the look out for a deal.
Living in a relatively remote community on the west coast of Scotland where the nearest piece of pavement is several miles away, it turns out that a backpack child carrier is an essential piece of kit for me and my partner.
Even the most rugged all-terrain pram doesn’t get far on the rocky beaches or hillside tracks which constitute our daily walks.
Consequently the unboxing of the Thule Sapling Elite was undertaken with great anticipation.
What’s in the box?
Basically it is ready to go straight out of the box, so we lost no time in testing it against the marketing blurb I’d previously read online, which promised that the Sapling Elite: “safely and comfortably carries your precious cargo while on the trail and effortlessly transitions between parents with simple torso and hipbelt adjustments.” Just what we need.
The blurb goes on; “And with premium features like a child viewing mirror, removable backpack and roomy hipbelt pockets, you and your child will never want to leave the trail.” Even better, especially the bit about the viewing mirror, as I’ve often found myself mirror-less and resorting to trying to get a reflection in my smartphone glass to see what my daughter is up to.
I’m already familiar with a child carrier that I reckon is great quality, a LittleLife, so I felt that I had a pretty good bench mark to compare the Sapling Elite to.
Full review on the Thule Urban Glide pushchair
Is there any storage?
Yes! Tonnes. I found it was tempting to use all of that space and load the carrier with all bar the kitchen sink before a decent walk, but this is a temptation to be resisted as much as possible as there’s no point weighing yourself down with clobber.
The hip pockets were the one feature that I fell in love with straight away. They allow you to keep the essentials very handy; mobile, dog lead, dog treats and poo bags in my case.
Even when wearing a jacket with plenty of pockets, you tend to find that the carrier’s straps make them difficult and sometimes impossible to access, so the hip pockets get a double thumbs up.
The sleeve for a hydration bladder and the straps to route the tube over your left or right shoulder, as well as being mighty practical, are, it seems to me, a bit of a statement of intent on the part of Thule.
It’s a feature that suggests this is a serious piece of kit, designed for people who are serious about their outdoor pursuits. However, the reality is that no matter how much you might want put in a big day in the woods, the coast or the mountains, your child is unlikely to want to spend more than a couple of hours in a back carrier in any one stretch.
Is it comfy for you and your little one?
Yes, it is! This is one area where I rate the Thule very highly. All the pockets, sleeves and storage options in the world are of no use if child and parent are not physically comfortable when using this type of kit.
If all babies and all adults were all the same size it would be a piece of cake to make a comfortable back carrier.
But we’re not. So, easy adjustability is vital if you are to get the most out of any back carrier and the Sapling Elite has an – initially bewildering – array of belts, buckles, straps and sliders to allow you, your partner and your child to get a comfy fit.
Front or back carrier – which should you choose?
How easy is it to adjust between parents of different heights?
The main fitting points for the parent are the torso and hip. We found it to be a doddle to get these right for us and indeed quickly realised that we are close enough in size and shape not to need to readjust as we swapped over carrying duties.
That would probably not be the case for many couples, but the slider mechanism for the torso and Velcro straps on the hips make adjustments quick and easy. And once you know the settings which work for you – S,M,L for the hips, S,M,L,XL, for the torso – readjustment takes a matter of seconds.
Making adjustments for the height of a child is equally simply and involves using a side squeeze buckle to raise or lower the webbing on which the little one sits.
You know you’ve got the adjustment right when the child’s chin is level with the drool pad.
A pair of stirrups ensures little feet aren’t flapping too much around your hips and also allow a child to get leverage to readjust themselves during longer spells in the carrier.
Tell us about the child viewing mirror
Somehow on reading about the viewing mirror I imagined it was going to arch over from behind me on a bendy stalk, a combination of flexible table lamp arm and car rear view mirror.
Turns out it’s just a metal mirror that you fish out from one of the hip pockets. This was a bit of a disappointment, as I find that I like to check on Ava quite regularly and any old compact mirror stashed in a pocket will do that trick. But perhaps there are other issues that make a fixed rear view mirror impractical.
If not the mirror, the Sapling Elite’s stand out features are a separable backpack, a pocket for a 3l hydration bladder, a kick stand that allows the whole thing to stand upright, two extremely practical hip pockets and copious storage space.
What do you think of the removable backpack?
It is a nice feature, but we weren’t sure when we might use it. I guess if two of us were out for a walk, one could use the carrier and the other could use the removable back pack to carry bulky or heavier items.
Chances are you already have a day back pack, but at least this option keeps everything neat and self-contained.
Buyer’s guide to carriers
What do you think of the design?
The Sapling Elite looks great. I love the blue and grey combination, as did my partner. We also love the clever additional features, such as the sunshade and the stomp pad.
The sunshade, which comes as standard, stows flat in the backpack and springs open into a mini gazebo, providing good coverage from overhead sunlight, but inevitably compromising on protection from slanting rays to allow a child to see out.
The stomp pad is a little flap which normally sits Velcroed in place behind the base of your back but which, when flapped down and stood on, provides stability and leverage when lifting a child out of the carrier – otherwise they can rise off the ground as one.
Tell us about the kick-out legs.
The double kickstand baffled us at first as it did not seem to pull out as far as the pictures in the blurb suggested. It turned out we weren’t applying enough force to extend it fully, but once in position it greatly assists our daughter in or removing her from the carrier. When the carrier is on your back, you can reach behind you to retract the stand.
How robust did it seem?
Extremely. This is a really well made piece of kit. From the neat stitching to the strong zips, it has been manufactured with attention to detail and a focus on quality.
It’s sold as suitable for children from 6 months upwards. The minimum weight is 7kg and the maximum is 20. Our daughter is 15 months old and it’s perfect for her and there’s plenty of room for growth.
How does it compare to other carriers you have used?
When comparing it to the carrier we already have, we found the Thule to be neither noticeably more nor less comfortable that the LittleLife, but ultimately we both preferred the Thule of the basis of its overall versatility and practicality.
That’s why we’ll be making full use of the Thule Sapling Elite from now on, especially after we invest in the optional rain cover, which is essential if you wish to get the maximum use out of this product in the British climate.
Is the Thule Sapling Elite value for money?
At £259.99 plus around £32 for the optional rain cover, this carrier is a very expensive buy. And if you only use it occasionally as an alternative to a pram, perhaps to potter around the local park, it wouldn’t be good value for money as there are cheaper alternatives out there.
But for a parent or couple who wish, over the course of several years, to include their child in an active, outdoor lifestyle, then this product is a good investment. If you don’t plan to use the Thule Sapling Elite on a very regular basis, then something cheaper should be all you need.
If you love the great outdoors and do a lot of walking, then the Thule Sapling Elite is a great investment. But if you just head for the hills occasionally, you would be better off opting for something cheaper and with fewer features.