As a family, we’ve been using the Thule Sapling Elite backpack carrier for about 2 months. About two weeks ago though, I realized something (quite obvious) that’s almost become a game changer in my thinking and motivation in getting outdoors, particularly on the trail, with the kids. With the Thule Sapling Elite, I can go on adventures with both kids (age 4 & 10 months) and carry along everything we need all by myself. PLUS, I have two happy kids: One on my back, and one by my side. I find myself daydreaming often about the next time we get to lose ourselves in the beauty of our Pacific Northwest forests. We have a system now, and it makes the whole process just seem so much easier.
What is the Thule Sapling Elite?
The Thule Sapling Elite is a backpacking style child carrier designed for children beginning at 16 pounds. The maximum load for the carrier, which is the combined weight of gear and child, is 48 pounds.
The features of the backpack carrier include:
- Fully adjustable back panel to accommodate users of various heights (S, M, L, XL)
- Fully adjustable hipbelt (S, M, L)
- Storage throughout including large zippered compartment at the base, side compartments, sleeves for water bottles, and a removable backpack.
- Hydration sleeve (reservoir not included)
How does the Thule Sapling Elite Work?
The Thule Sapling Elite comes fully assembled. It’s first important to spend some time fitting the carrier to your particular body type and size to ensure the most comfortable carrying situation. The back panel shifts up and down and has 6 inches (15 cm) of adjustibility. The hipbelt should fit directly over the hipbones, and the top of the shoulder pad should sit just below the base of the neck. The hipbelt adjusts from side to side and has 3 inches (7.5 cm) of adjustment on each side. Padding should fully wrap around the hipbones.
After fitting the carrier for the adult, adjustments should then be made for the child. Webbing adjusts the seat up and down to accommodate height, a shoulder harness tightens and loosens to adjust to child’s size, and leg loops adjust to accommodate leg size. The side wings of the carrier can also be loosened and tightened for a snug fit.
What’s to Love?
Adjustable Torso AND Hipbelt
Both Slaed (my husband) and I utilize the carrier, so I love that we are able to easily adjust the torso and hip components in order to fit the pack to each of our bodies comfortably.
Funny story. Early on in our testing, while I was very pleased with the way the pack was feeling on my back, shoulders, and hips, Slaed complained, and felt the Thule wasn’t up to par with the other backpack carriers that we have tried. Soon after, I started digging into the instruction manual and reading up on the Thule website, and found that in addition to the torso adjustment, which we knew about right away, there’s also the option to adjust the hipbelt (S, M, L)! The next day, he switched the hipbelt to the appropriate setting for his body (it was originally set for small–good for me, not for him) and tried it out carrying Georgia around on a walk. This adjustment made all the difference!
As I hinted at in the intro, there is a TON of storage in the Thule Sapling Elite. There are compartments (big & small) all over the place for water bottles, snacks, extra clothing, toys, and other hiking essentials. I love that I can hike alone with the kids, and have the ability to comfortably carry Georgia and our gear.
Clips on the side of the pack can be released in order to load and unload the child to the side, in addition to loading from the top. So far it seems easiest to load Georgia in from the top, but I like this extra option. It provides us with more room as we load her and adjust her fit, and as she gets older (and bigger) I think it’ll be a more comfortable way of getting her into the pack.
Georgia’s little legs aren’t yet long enough to utilize the foot stirrups, but I’m so glad to see these as a feature on the Thule Sapling. As she grows, she’ll have a place to rest her legs and prevent them from falling asleep. Thanks to the stirrups, she’ll also be able to adjust herself (by pushing down on them) to get more comfortable.
Unlike other backpack carriers, the kickstand (deployed when you want to set the pack down for loading and unloading) is independent from the rest of the pack. This means that when folded back into the carrier the large storage compartment is NOT squeezed or shrunken! With many other backpack carriers, the kickstand is incorporated into the storage compartment, so every time you go to fold it back into the carrier, food can get smushed OR if filled, the compartment won’t close! Not so with the Thule Elite–plenty of room for all of our gear, and the kickstand closes easily every time.
Breathable and durable fabric
The pack is made of Cordura Nylon, which makes it super durable and resistant to ripping and tearing. The back panel is also designed with a breathable fabric to help keep the wearer cool as they hike or walk. Carrying a child in a backpack and hiking or walking is hard work, so I appreciate the help with air circulation!
Accessories and Extras
- Hydration sleeve–You can easily install a hydration reservoir in the compartment between the wearer & child.
- Sunshade–Great for shading the child from the sun, but we’ve found it’s also helpful in the rain. So far in light rain, Georgia stays completely dry with the sunshade deployed. Heavy rain? Not the case–we’ve tried! Separate rain cover is available.
- Stomp pad–A little tab comes down at the bottom of the back panel. Place your foot on top, and it stabilizes the carrier while you take the child out.
- Mirror–In the right side compartment, there’s a small mirror. I love that I can grab the mirror and check on how Georgia is doing!
What’s to be Desired?
We are so happy with this product and have very little to complain about with the Sapling Elite Carrier, but our vigorous testing did result in a couple of “wishes” or aspects we’d change:
- The child shoulder straps seem a bit thin compared to other backpack carriers we have used and tested.
- This just may be our user error as we work to find a more fluid system of loading Georgia into the pack, but it’s always awkward when buckling her in. We seem to be squeezing her was we adjust and attach the straps and fiddle with the clips, and she almost always gets upset. As soon as she’s all strapped in, she’s completely content, so it may just be a matter or figuring out the best system for loading her, but I wanted to make sure this was noted! To other parents of babies 12 months and under especially—make sure to allow for plenty of time to figure out harness/straps, and be aware of what you are doing before loading your child!
- To begin riding in the Thule Sapling Elite, children must be at least 16 pounds and able to sit up independently.
- Rain Cover is is also available as an additional accessory.
- I mentioned this above, but I want to emphasize how important it is to take the time to fit the carrier to your body, and find the settings that work best for you.
To Purchase the Thule Sapling Elite (approx. $320)
We’re big fans of the Thule Sapling Elite & highly recommend it for families on the go!
A very special thanks to the folks at Thule for providing us with an Sapling Elite Carrier for purposes of review. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.