When you’re about to be a new parent and you’re looking at parenting gear, the question of which diaper bag to get can cause your head to spin. With so many options out there, where do you start? After years of experience having three children, I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion that the best diaper bag is a regular backpack from a reputable outdoor brand!
Many new parents might be tempted by dedicated diaper bags that have bottle coolers and wipe dispensers built in. Seems handy, right? Sure, they might come in handy – but these bags don’t give you the flexibility that a regular backpack will. Who needs a built in wipe dispenser when almost any and all wipes these days have a plastic dispenser-type opening? And who needs a built in cooler when there are a number of dedicated bottle coolers that you can throw into a regular backpack?
The fact of the matter is, you’ll really only need a bottle cooler for about the first year or so. After that, your kid will phase out formula / pumped breast milk and be moving onto solid foods. You still have a need for a diaper bag (unless you have a wonder kid that is potty trained super early!), but you’re left with a dedicated bottle space when you’re not using bottles anymore. Time flies, and you’ll find your diaper bag obsolete before you know it.
Therefore, instead of buying a dedicated diaper bag, you should be looking at a regular backpack from a reputable outdoor brand that has the space you need. That space may vary based on your family size, climate, and other factors so it’s near impossible for me to recommend a specific number of liters you should be looking at. For example, if you live in a colder climate you might need more space to stuff winter jackets of multiple children into when you head indoors.
Before you go buying anything new, think about what backpacks you might already have. That backpack from The North Face that you used in college might just do the trick! The best backpack might just be the backpack you already have.
But if you are in the market for a diaper bag and are intrigued by my suggestion to look at a regular backpack, let me share some of my recent experiences in options my family has actually used. I’ll share their respective pros and cons. I’m not sharing these to say that you should or shouldn’t buy these particular models – but to get you thinking about what types of features you might or might not need in a diaper bag backpack.
Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole 27L Tote Pack
My wife had a friend who was using the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole 27L Tote Pack as a diaper bag a few years ago. She was intrigued by the design and flexibility it provided, and so we gave it a shot. We probably used this for about 2 years before changing directions. Overall, this pack will make a great diaper bag but has some pitfalls that are worth sharing. Let’s run through the pros and cons and then I will expand a bit further.
- Spacious – this bag expands and can fit lots of stuff. We were frequently able to fit all three of our kids’ jackets when going indoors, such as trips to our local aquarium or kids museum.
- Large water bottle pockets – we could fit all three kids’ water bottles in these stretchy water bottle pockets. This was actually my favorite feature of this bag because it gave us easy access to all three water bottles on adventures.
- Durable – after two years of intensive use, this bag has held up. There are no holes or stitching failures. When it got a bit dirty, we threw it in the washer and dryer and we were back in business. I was extremely impressed with the durability of this pack.
- Clips for stroller – inside the bag are two straps with clips that can be used to attach to the handlebar of a stroller or shopping cart. This came in handy often. The downside to these clips is the bag has to be fully unzipped to function in this way, so you risk leaving your belongings open to easy access for thieves. Don’t keep your wallet or other valuables in there while strapping up in this way if you feel that is a risk.
- Smaller zip pockets – there are two smaller zip pockets, one on the outside and one on the inside, that help you organize smaller items for easy access.
- Stowable – This pack can stow down into a small size, which can come in handy if you’re traveling on an airplane and want to condense things down.
- Floppy – this pack lacks any sort of back support, and so unless it is packed full it feels extremely floppy on the back. While it might not matter that much just going around town on normal errands, if you take this on an extended outing such as a hike it might annoy the crap out of you like it did to me. The floppiness complaint extends to the shoulder straps too – they are floppy as well and don’t feel great with weight.
- Almost too spacious – I know this comes off as contradictory, but if we maximized the use of space on this pack, I found myself oftentimes getting frustrated while digging through trying to find something inside.
Obviously this pack has tons of benefits, but eventually the floppiness got to me and I had to convince my wife to try something else. Full disclosure, she still loves the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole 27L Tote Pack and would jump back to it as our standard diaper bag in a heartbeat. But because we live close to hiking trails and often hike with the kids the floppiness was too much – I needed more back support. If you don’t see yourself using your diaper bag on hikes or extended outings, then this might not be an issue for you. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this bag as a diaper bag, with the caveat of its floppiness.
Lowe Alpine Edge 18L Backpack
This is the bag we’re currently using as a diaper bag. Our youngest is now almost two, so we don’t need as many baby items as we used to. I felt it was time to downsize and get some back support. I shopped around for an affordable option and found a good deal on the Lowe Alpine Edge 18L Backpack. Because of our experience with the Patagonia, I needed external water bottle pockets. So let’s see how this bag is performing…
- Small – I was tired of humping around a ton of stuff just because we could. This bag has forced us to minimize what we bring down to the essentials, but has made for a much lighter and mobile diaper bag solution.
- Supportive – the back panel and shoulder straps provide adequate support and get rid of the floppiness I was experiencing with the Patagonia. This bag shines on a hike or extended outing that includes lots of walking.
- Smaller zip pockets – just like the Patagonia, this has two smaller zip pockets for stowing smaller items for easy access. These come in handy often.
- Durable – for the roughly two months we’ve been using this, there are no signs of wear on it. That’s not a lot of time, and I will update this if there are changes, but for now I’d say it seems durable.
- Smaller water bottle pockets – coming from the Patagonia, we can’t really fit all three kids’ bottles in the water bottle pockets on this bag. I’d be lying if I said this didn’t bother me. We have to keep the 7 year old’s water bottle (plus ours) inside of the bag. That’s fine, but I avoid using some bottles that might be prone to leakage with these bottle pockets because I don’t want the bag’s contents to get wet. I wish the bottle pockets had some more stretch to them like the Patagonia. I’d say this is the biggest con, by far.
- No way to attach to stroller – unlike the Patagonia and some dedicated diaper bags, there is no way to attach this to a stroller. But it’s so small and agile that you don’t really need to.
- Small – but wait a second, I thought I just listed this as a pro? Well, it’s both depending on the scenario. In the winter, it’s basically impossible to fit all three kids’ winter jackets into this pack. If you have a need to haul many or large items, this pack might not be ideal. But if you’re looking to minimize what you’re hauling like I was, then this shouldn’t be a huge issues especially in warmer months.
I’m happy with the change to the Lowe Alpine Edge 18L Backpack, but it didn’t come without sacrifices. I would be hard pressed to believe there is a perfect diaper bag backpack on the market, so every choice you make is going to include compromise and sacrifice. This is a great minimalist diaper bag backpack, especially if you don’t have a need for bringing baby bottles along (e.g. purely breastfed or kid has grown into a diaper-wearing toddler).
Don’t get baited by the temptation to buy a dedicated diaper bag. A regular backpack from a reputable outdoor brand will serve you just as well if not better, and will be useful to you for far longer than a dedicated diaper bag will. Look what you might already have on hand, or if you need to shop for a new bag then consider any number of brands you might be familiar and comfortable with like Patagonia, The North Face, Lowe Alpine, etc. There’s an option out there for you, and it’s not marketed as a “diaper bag.”