Thule Sapling Elite Baby Backpack: An Owner’s Review

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Today, we’ll show you how the Thule Sapling Elite Child Carrier had become an essential piece of travel gear we have.

Before we begin, here a few details to know about our test and usage:

Used successfully on: Spring and summer hikes, with uneven terrain, and crowded areas such as trains and festival activities in Japan.

Wearers profiles:

  • Eric (husband), 6’1, 225 lbs (102 kg);
  • Ada (wife), 5’1, 110 lbs (50kg)

Child: 12-23 months or 18-26 lbs (8-12 kg)

Disclaimer: Unlike other bloggers who are sent products for review, Thule never sends us anything.

This child carrier backpack was bought out of our own pocket as we needed a child carrier for our travels.

Realize that what we’re about to share with you is our honest and unbiased review.

See Current Price of Thule Sapling Elite on Amazon

The Hunt and Narrowing Down

During the search for the best child carrier backpack, we were choosing between these three:

  1. Deuter Kid Comfort III
  2. Thule Sapling Elite
  3. Osprey Poco AG Premium

Why we chose these three is based on our personal reasons:

  1. They are geared for older babies or early toddlers ages 10 months – 4 years old. Compared to Kelty child carriers backpacks which are more appropriate for infants or smaller babies 4 – 9 months and can be easily outgrown.
  2. They are all the latest versions of child carrier backpacks for these brands. And are known to be top of the line when it comes to developing outdoor products.

Why We Ended Up With Thule Sapling Elite

We dug deeper and researched all the 3 child carriers and found MANY issues associated with Osprey Poco AG Child Carriers and Deuter Kid Comfort.

These issues lead us to pick Thule Sapling Elite.

Here’s what we’ve found out about Osprey Poco AG child carriers:

1. A bad batch was released with defective shoulder buckles in early 2016.

Osprey Poco AG Premium looks really decent and the design is more visually appealing than the two other brands. In fact, it was the most popular child carrier. Thank their good marketing.

However, the same year I was searching for the right child carrier, Osprey released an official statement.

A batch of Poco AG backpacks was recalled due to defective shoulder strap buckles.

Osprey acted really fast and they offered an immediate replacement to customers, or full refund if they reported having the defective batch. But this issue was still a red flag for me.

2. Faulty hip belt design.

Aside from the defective buckles, many customers complained about their packs, claiming that their hips hurt and were even bruised after a long day of using the Osprey Poco AG during their travel or hiking because the hip belt was digging in.

“Looks great but bruised my hips,” said one reviewer on Amazon.

“I found the hip belt to be anything but comfortable, it digs into my sides and when it’s belted in feels uncomfortable to have around me,” said another.

3. The most expensive of all three.

The Osprey Poco AG costs between $330 and $400, and if you ask me, you can’t have a product sell for that much with known flaws in design.

These major complaints made me scratch Osprey Poco AG Premium out which left the Deuter Kid Comfort III and Thule Sapling Elite on the list.

Now the battle between Kid Comfort and Sapling…

Thule Sapling Elite vs Deuter Kid Comfort III

Both child carriers look nice, and both have passed child safety tests, with JPMA certified for Kid Comfort III, and GS Certified for Sapling Elite.

However, after reading reviews from Amazon, the brand website, and numerous blogs, the verdict was that the Sapling Elite provides a more support for both the wearer and the child, and offers better balance on uneven terrain.

It was also great for both short and taller wearers, unlike the Deuter model, which had many complaints from shorter wearers about the balance and comfort.

“My wife is 5’2 and fit, but dainty. This pack cannot fit her properly.” According to an Amazon reviewer.

Another reviewer said, “This pack is huge and not intended for short people, I am 5’2 and 108 lbs.”

We could not find any comfort or safety issue reviews about the Sapling Elite.

In fact, the only complaints that most customers have from Amazon is that they were receiving a wrong version, instead of Sapling Elite, they were instead receiving the old version, the Sapling.

The one positive thing I liked about both the Osprey Poco AG and Deuter Kid Comfort, which the Thule Sapling Elite doesn’t have, is the soft-padded chin pad.

The Thule Sapling Elite doesn’t really have a padded chin pad, but a drool pad instead.

Thule Sapling vs Thule Sapling Elite

There are two versions of Thule child carrier backpack, and the Sapling Elite is the latest version. The following table will show you the difference between the two:

Thule Sapling Elite
Thule Sapling Elite
  • 7.9 lbs
  • Max load: 48 lbs (22 kg)
  • Mirror included
  • Larger removable backpack
  • Extra room hip belt pocket
  • See the latest price
Thule Sapling
Thule Sapling
  • 7.5 lbs
  • Max load: 48 lbs (22 kg)
  • No mirror
  • See the latest price

What are the Main Features

We received the Sapling Elite in a big box and it came fully assembled with a user’s guide and instructions on how to use the carrier and adjust for proper fit for both wearer and child.

The following are the main features of Sapling Elite:

1. A fully adjustable back panel and hip belt to provide comfort and to make putting on and taking off the pack as quick and easy as possible.

Fully adjustable hipbelt and back panel

2. Plenty of storage space. Hey, it is a backpack after all.

Plenty of storage

3. Zippered hip belt pockets to keep essential items close at hand, e.g. money, phone, baby snacks or toys, etc.

Zippered hip belt pockets

4. A hand mirror to allow you to monitor your child. Unless you can turn your head 180° of course.

Thule Sapling Elite comes with mirror

5. Load stabilizer straps allow for on-the-go adjustments to the backpack’s center of gravity.

Thule Sapling Elite strap stabilizer

6. A deployable sunshade to keep your kid cool and out of direct sunlight for too long.

 

7. A seat which is ergonomically designed to keep your child comfortable for long periods of walking/hiking.

Ergonomically Seat Thule Sapling Elite

8. Dual access loading lets you place your child in the seat from either the top or side.

Seat

9. Removable stirrups to let your child readjust themselves in the seat, or just to allow them to pretend you’re a horse.

Stirrups

10. A breathable back panel which provides all important back support for you as well as letting airflow in to cool you.

Breathable Back Panel

What We Love: The Pros

After being acquainted with all the features of the products, it’s now time for us to share with you all the things we love about the Sapling Elite child carrier through many activities where we have used this carrier, like hiking, ordinary sightseeing, and crowded festivals in Japan.

1. Easy to Wear and Adjust

It’s very simple to adjust between wearers.

Just looking at the size difference between my wife and me, it’s clear that adjustments must be made between wearers.

Thankfully, this can be done quickly and easily, even while our child was still in the seat.

The shoulder pads and belt were quite comfortable, and the chest strap fits even my 50-inch chest.

2. Comfortable for the Wearer

My biggest concern with this item was that it was going to be uncomfortable and would dig into my shoulders or hurt my back.

Thankfully, the pack was very comfortable over extended periods of hiking and walking.

I would still suggest, as with any carrier pack, swapping out with someone occasionally if need to avoid back strain.

3. Child Comfort

Since I clearly can’t fit into the seat I will be basing this off of the reaction of our child.

So far I believe our child has fallen asleep while in the backpack every time we’ve gone anywhere with her.

She doesn’t seem fussy (well, any more than usual) while in it, and really only takes issue with being placed on the ground, or while actually placing her into the seat, which I will admit, is a bit difficult due it the tightness of the seat.

4. Storage

While not as much space as a normal backpack, the Sapling Elite does offer a few areas for basics like diapers, food, bottles, and other things.

The hip belt pockets are really the most useful of the spaces since you can’t reach any other while wearing the pack.

But in all honesty, when you’re carrying a 20+ lb toddler on your back up a mountain, how much more do you really want to carry?

5. The Mirror

This is probably a bit of a funny entry, but the mirror is actually quite helpful when trying to tell if your child is sleeping, to see what they’re doing, or if you simply want to play peek-a-boo with them.

Letting your kid just see your face in the mirror can help calm them if they’re being particularly fussy as well.

What We Don’t Like: The Cons

1. Deploying the kickstand

My wife had some issues deploying the kickstand by herself while still wearing the pack which I didn’t really notice myself, most likely due to my longer arms.

2. Raincover not included

Needs to bought separately, which costs another $35.

3. Sunshade was a little difficult to stow

The sunshade was easy to assemble but putting it back was a bit difficult as it’s hard to put in all the way down.

Again not really a deal breaker considering that it doesn’t really hinder comfort or child safety.

4. Taking it off alone

The only real issue I found with the pack was taking it off while alone when there was nowhere to set it down which was about hip level.

This is an issue since you’re basically at risk of dropping your kid if you aren’t strong and flexible enough to awkwardly take the pack off while letting it slide down your arms into your hands without dropping it and your child.

The best way is to deploy the stand and set the whole pack onto something, disconnect, and step out of the pack. But there simply isn’t always a place to do this.

5. Getting Hit in the Head, A Lot

Okay, this last one really only applies to hyper kids and is more of a joke than a real con.

The pack, when properly adjusted, will leave your head in the perfect striking range of your toddler to slap, pull, scratch, and poke to their heart’s content…

It can get VERY annoying (and painful).

So ensure they have something to keep them busy.

Some Usage Tips From Us

I definitely suggest buying a good set of hiking sticks if you plan on buying this (preferably carbon fiber hiking sticks for durability), or any other, carrier pack.

Not just for helping to take some of the stress off your legs while hiking, but also for the stability and safety.

Remember, if you trip and fall while wearing this pack, your kid will fare much worse than you will. I would suggest these sticks, as they’re the ones we use.

Other tips include storing the pack in a cool dry area to prevent mold, and washing it after use; the drool pad in particular.

I would also suggest purchasing the rain cover, even if it is really annoying that it costs extra.

It’s a lot better than letting your kid get sick from being stuck in the rain.

Lastly, your child must be at least 16 lbs (7.3 kg) and be able to sit upright independently to use this child carrier backpack.

Conclusion

Overall, the Thule Sapling Elite was one of the best purchases we’ve made for our child, as it allows us to recover some of the freedom lost from having a child in the first place.

We thought we’d need to wait a few more years for our daughter to get older before we could get back into hiking, or that we’d need to hire expensive babysitters for weekend getaways (no family nearby).

Then along came the carrier backpack which helped save us from years of being secluded in our house on the weekends.

Comfortable and easy to use, the Sapling Elite has only a few nitpicks compared to the other options we looked at.

And while the price may seem a bit steep for some, the reward is more than worth the price in our opinion.

Thule Sapling Elite Baby Backpack: An Owner’s Review
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5 thoughts on “Thule Sapling Elite Baby Backpack: An Owner’s Review”

    • Hi Susan, yes, we almost always use a small blanket to tuck under her chin whenever she falls asleep. Ideally, though, Thule’s instruction manual says that you should be adjusting the height of the seat, and the child’s chin should be level to the top of the drool pad.

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