March 15, 2010

How to Buy a Baby Stroller

Stroller Introduction

There’s no rule saying you have to have a stroller, but it’s hard to imagine not having one if you’re ever planning on leaving the house. And as your child starts to feel more and more like a large and wiggly sack of potatoes, you’ll really appreciate the extra mobility.

This is one of your bigger-ticket items, so you’ll want to make sure you pick the right one. And there are a lot more choices on the market than there used to be in terms of style, price, and function. In the past, you just picked the upholstery you liked best and made sure it rolled in a forward direction. But now buying a stroller is more like buying a high-performance bicycle or other piece of equipment — which is why more dads get involved in stroller purchases than any other category of baby products.

Most parents end up buying two strollers: one for their primary use, and one to fulfill whatever need the first one doesn’t. For example, you might get a full-size stroller and then add a lightweight, collapsible one. Or you might want to add a jogger that can’t be used every day, but will let you get out and get some exercise.

More and more models are trying to be all things to all people — the one stroller that does it all. This means that the different categories of stroller have started to overlap. The problem with that is, by trying to do it all, they don’t do their original job quite as well. A lightweight, collapsible stroller might add fully reclining seats so that it can be used in the infant stage, but suddenly it’s not as lightweight or collapsible anymore.

Sound complicated? Well, it is. But once you have an understanding of the different types, their benefits, and how that matches up to your needs as a parent, you can really start to hone in on what you want.

Strollers Buying Guide Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. Your Basic Choices
    1. full-size strollers
    2. umbrella strollers
    3. universal systems
    4. travel systems
    5. all-terrain strollers
    6. joggers.
    7. doubles and triples
  3. General Guidance
    1. for your primary stroller
    2. for your secondary stroller
    3. other factors to consider
  4. Features to Look for
  5. Stage Considerations
  6. Lifestyle Considerations
  7. Usage Tips
  8. Accessories
  9. Additional Information

your basic choices

full-size strollers
These are the larger, sturdier and more expensive strollers, also referred to as standard strollers, prams or carriages. Most have a bassinet stage, allowing the baby to lie flat, as well as a reclinable seat for when the child is old enough to sit. Usually fully-loaded, they’re all about adaptability and the child’s comfort.

umbrella strollers
These folding strollers are called umbrella strollers for their curved, umbrella-like handles and easy, single-handed folding. They’re the best option for a high-quality, lightweight, durable stroller that’s ideal for hopping in and out of cars, traveling or navigating small spaces. The umbrella stroller is most parents’ must-have second stroller — and for most, it’s the preferred choice for the toddler stage.

universal systems
A universal stroller system is a collapsible, four-wheel frame that you can click your infant car seat into — more like a wheeled accessory for your car seat, rather than a true stroller. It’s called a universal system because it’s made to work with any infant car seat. While relatively inexpensive, you may not need one if your full-size stroller comes with universal functionality.

travel systems
Similar to the universal system, travel systems have a universal frame that can hold a car seat, but also come with a simple toddler seat that will work as a lightweight stroller until the child is around four years old. Sometimes referred to as “convenience strollers,” they’re also similar to an umbrella stroller, although often not quite as lightweight or durable.

all-terrain strollers
These are the sport utility vehicles of the stroller world, and a great alternative to buying both a full-sized stroller and a separate jogger. Typically, they have all the features of a full-size stroller, including a bassinet stage. But they also offer easier maneuvering, durability and lightweight, full-suspension wheels. Most include a universal functionality that lets you use them with your infant car seat.

joggers
These three-wheeled strollers are aerodynamically designed for the serious runner. Made for either trail or street running, they’re relatively lightweight and include a hand brake and a safety strap for the parent’s wrist. They tend to be a bit less maneuverable in small spaces than an all-terrain, as a trade-off to their more aerodynamic design.

doubles and triples
You can only push one stroller at a time — but what if you have more than one child? For twins, or if you have more than one stroller-aged child, a double stroller is a good solution. One style is a side-by-side stroller, which is good for togetherness but bad for fitting through the checkout line at the store, and the other is an inline stroller that places one child in front of the other. Both are available in a lightweight umbrella style or a sturdier full-size style. If you have triplets, you can even get a three-seater.

general guidance

Most couples end up with at least two strollers, no matter what they think they’ll buy at the beginning. We’ll give you plenty of advice for picking a model later, but first you’ll need to figure out what kind of stroller you want. Here are our observations based on popular choice that will help you predict which stroller may be right for you.

for your primary stroller:
•    If you’re only going to be walking a few blocks at a time, will use your car to get around, and want more cargo space for your bags and your child’s things, you’ll likely prefer a full-sized, fully-loaded stroller as your primary stroller.
•    If you want all the bells and whistles of a full-size stroller but you’re an active parent who likes to be outdoors a lot, and if you normally use your car to get around (rather than having to navigate public transportation), you’ll get the highest value and fit with an all-terrain stroller for your primary stroller.
•    If you’re going to be taking public transportation a lot and need the portability, or if you’re a minimalist who would prefer to carry your child as much as possible, you may be able to get away with just an umbrella stroller that you can start using a few months into parenthood. Few can do this, however, and most who do still end up getting a universal as a back-up for use with their car seat, particularly if they live in a suburban area.

for your secondary stroller:
•    Almost all parents who have a full-size or all-terrain stroller also end up buying an umbrella stroller. For some, this is a must-have travel companion, and for others, it offers ease and flexibility for quick jaunts. Some parents end up ditching their full-size altogether and use this as their main stroller from about two years old on.
•    No matter what their primary stroller choice, serious runners will typically also invest in a jogger. Increasingly, joggers are more and more like regular strollers, offering things like adapters for infant car seats. However, the more features like this it offers, the less likely it’s ideal for the serious jogger.
•    Travel systems are purchased mostly by frequent travelers, although with the greater durability of umbrella strollers — not to mention the option of renting a car seat along with your rental car — many busy travelers are quite satisfied with umbrellas for most of their needs and don’t invest in an entire travel set-up.
•    Double strollers often become a second stroller for parents with more than one child. Most still prefer the single-stroller option for one-on-one time, but need the two-kid set-up for single-parent outings with multiple kids.

other factors to consider:

Now that you’ve thought about what kind of stroller you want, you can start to focus in on what you should look for. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you get started:

  • Are you a city dweller who has to navigate curbs, rough surfaces and public transportation? Think small and lightweight, but durable.
  • Are you a suburban mom who drives most places and only uses the stroller on smooth, paved surfaces? You have room for a lot more stroller, but you’ll still need to be able to lift it in and out of a car easily.
  • Are there stairs in your daily life? Don’t forget that you’ll probably be climbing the stairs with a stroller in one hand and a baby in the other, so factor weight and collapsibility into your purchase decision.

For the most part, you’ll find there’s a tradeoff between a stroller’s size and weight and its durability. If you live in the city and want something that’s easy to get around with, you may want a stroller that’s smaller, leaner and easier to handle — even if you might have to replace it in a year. However, if you don’t have to navigate stairs and storage isn’t an issue, you might want a bigger, sturdy stroller that can take a lot more abuse and will last for more than one child.

Any stroller you buy will take some training, but make sure you’re able to collapse, adjust and maneuver it with ease before committing to purchase. It might take some instruction, as well as some trial and error, but if you still find it hard to handle after a few tries, you should find a model that’s easier for you. You’ll be opening, closing and steering your stroller with one hand — often when you’re in a hurry or juggling too much in a crowded place — so it’s important to make it easy on yourself.

features to look for

Ready to go deeper? Here are the specific features you’ll want to take into account to make sure you get a stroller you’ll love!

  • Car seat compatibility. If you’re going to spend a lot on a full-size or all-terrain stroller, look for one that’s compatible with your car seat, especially if you’re going to be in and out of your car a lot.
  • Adjustable handlebars. Handlebar height adjustability can be among the more important features for comfortable use over time, particularly for parents with very different heights.
  • Type of handlebar. While most full-size strollers have one straight handlebar, most umbrella strollers have two curved handles (much like umbrellas). The straight handlebar makes navigating a little easier, but the two curved bars make the stroller more collapsible, so consider the tradeoff.
  • Leg room (yours!). Spend some time testing how comfortable you are striding behind different strollers and make sure you have a good fit. The size of the wheels, angle of the seat and handlebar positions all affect the leg room for the parent.
  • Expandability. Some strollers offer multi-baby or multi-stage options that will allow you to keep adding to your growing family with your first investment.
  • Durability. With any luck, you might be able to use your stroller for more than one child. Be sure to consider wheel construction, as plastic wheels can begin to stick and become difficult to maneuver over time.
  • Washability. Make sure you consider the stickiness factor and get a stroller that’s easy to clean if you’re looking to the long run.
  • Cargo space. Just about every stroller comes with a storage basket, though the size and style can vary almost as much as the strollers themselves. Decide if you’re a pack rat or a minimalist, and choose your stroller accordingly.
  • Seat reversibility. Many full-sized and all-terrain strollers give you the choice of which direction to face the baby. You’ll probably want to start out with your baby facing you, which can make all the difference between feeling like you spent time with your baby rather than just pushing a stroller.
  • Brakes. This safety feature keeps your stroller from rolling away when you’re not moving. Look for brakes that are conveniently located for when your hands are full. If you live in a hilly city, you might also want resistance brakes that will slow your stroller down on an incline.
  • Locking front wheels. Normally, wheels are made to rotate from side to side independently for maximum maneuverability, but many four-wheel all-terrain strollers will have front wheels that lock off so that they roll together, allowing it to operate more like a jogger and making it easier to go in a straight line.
  • Adjustable seat position. In most full-size and all-terrain strollers, the seat will have multiple positions so that your child can sit straight up, recline slightly or stretch out for a nap while you walk.
  • Jogger features. If you’re buying a jogger, you should consider collapsibility, overall weight, size and style of the wheels, and the availability of replacement parts and service.
  • Safety strap. All strollers come with a strap located near the handle bars so you can attach it around your wrist for extra security. No more runaway prams! As crazy as it sounds, it can happen.

stage considerations

More and more, you can find one stroller to accommodate different stages, rather than having to buy different strollers at different ages. In general, strollers will work for up to around 40 pounds or 4 years. Joggers tend to be used longer — up to 50 pounds on average.

  • As a general rule, a stroller is only appropriate for a newborn if it has a fully reclined position, whether it’s a bassinet or just a seat that reclines all the way. You’ll use your stroller in the fully-reclined position for the first six months of a baby’s life. After that, your child will be in the toddler seat (taking advantage of the different levels of recline) until he or she outgrows strollers altogether.
  • There are more deluxe models of umbrella strollers that fully recline and offer enough head support for infants, but in all cases, consumers should check the recommended age profile for each stroller.
  • Some joggers are offering full recline or a bassinet stage, but it is generally not recommended to use them for high impact activity or jogging until the baby is at least six months old.
  • Strollers should not be used on uneven surfaces during the first six months in the bassinet stage. That’s why all-terrain strollers typically have a feature to lock out the suspension in the first stage to keep the stroller from bouncing as it absorbs shock.
  • Most double strollers have seats that recline individually, meaning one baby can lay back while the other sits up. This is key when you have children at different ages.

lifestyle considerations

  • Space. If you live in an apartment and don’t have a garage, you’ll really appreciate having a small umbrella stroller that can be folded up and put in a corner. For the early stages (before an umbrella can be used) a travel or universal system is best.
  • Bells & whistles. If you like lots of features, the standard full-size or all-terrain stroller might be for you. The tradeoff is in price and portability.
  • Multi-stage. Most full-size and all-terrain strollers come equipped with the settings and accessories you need to get you all the way through your child’s stroller career. All-terrain strollers also have a multi-function benefit, in that they can save you from having to buy a separate jogger.
  • On the go. You have a lot of options when it comes to travel. You can get a universal system that lets you carry the baby in a car seat and also attach it to wheels, a travel system, or an easily folded umbrella stroller. Some people prefer a travel system, but they’re not really necessary if you already have a stroller with universal functionality. Our best tip? Get a lightweight umbrella stroller. After the first six months, it’s the easiest to travel with.
  • Style. It’s easy to want the coolest looking stroller, since you’ll be seen out and about with it. But remember, in the long run, it’s really about your lifestyle, so make sure you’re not choosing form over function.

usage tips

Most stroller tips involve safety, although there are a few that involve general use. Here’s our recommended list:

  • Always use the harness system. When your baby gets older, it’s tempting to just let them sit in the seat without the belt on, but trust us, you don’t want to learn your lesson the hard way (such as suffering a spill coming off a street corner).
  • Hang diaper bags, grocery bags, purses, backpacks and other items off the back of your stroller carefully; strollers can tip, especially with little ones in them.
  • Strollers are for sitting or lying down. Don’t let your child stand in the stroller for any reason.
  • Make sure your stroller is fully open before putting baby in. Partially collapsed strollers can not only scare your baby, but also pinch a hand or leg. Whether you’re opening or closing the stroller, do it completely and without baby parts in or around the activity.
  • Be careful on hills. Just like bicycles, strollers can gain speed. Busy parents with busy hands should use extra caution down hills, particular as hills descend into intersections. This might be a good time to put on that safety strap!
  • Just like regular oil checks for your car, periodic maintenance for strollers is a good idea. This is especially true as strollers have become fancier, offer more options and are built more like a high-tech bicycle than an old-style pram. Air-filled tires mean tires that can go flat. (Too bad there aren’t Oil & Lube shops for strollers.)

accessories

  • Rain cover. This is a must-have in case you get caught in a rain storm. They’re included with most full-size and all-terrain strollers, but if not, you can get a universal cover that will work with any of them.
  • Sunshade or canopy. If you walk outside a lot, an adjustable sun shield is a good way to protect your baby from the sun — especially if she loves to play the pull-the-hat-off game.
  • Mosquito netting. Few people actually use this, but depending on where you live, this may be important to you. You also might consider it if you like to camp. Most full-sized and all-terrain strollers come with them.
  • Infant head support. Depending on the amount of cushioning  your stroller comes with, you might want to get a cushioned insert to hold your child’s head in place — particularly when your baby is young.
  • Cup and food holders. Your stroller might come equipped with these or offer them as an option, but if not, it’s easy to add on universal holders that work with any stroller.
  • Bag clips. These are great for hanging groceries from your stroller handlebars, and will either come with your stroller or be purchased separately. (Just be careful not to overload the stroller).
  • Stroller blanket. Though a standard crib blanket will do, many strollers include fitted foot muffs or “boots” for snuggly cruising, especially for the bassinet stage. You can also find stroller blankets that hook on to the stroller and work with the harness. These are both great because they’re impossible to kick off.
  • Stroller travel bag. If you’ll be traveling with your stroller, you might want a bag designed to carry it in. But wait until you’ve gone on your first trip before making the investment — you’ll know a lot more about your parent-travel style by that time and be able to make a more informed choice.
  • Stroller-hanging toys. Whether it’s a toy that has a Velcro closure for hanging from a crib, or something you can attach with a strap, it’s nice to have something your child can play with but not lose.
  • Car seat adapter. If you buy a stroller with car seat capability, you’ll more than likely need an adapter that works with the frame. They’re seldom included in the initial purchase, though some fully-loaded stroller options don’t require an adapter at all.
  • Wheeled boards. Have an older child who’s past the stroller stage but every once in a while needs a lift? Wheeled boards allow an older sibling to ride along on the back of their younger sibling’s stroller. Few kids use them regularly, and they can be awkward, but they’re a fun addition for some families.

This baby gear guide was written by Ali Wing, baby product expert, author of giggle guide to baby gear and founder of giggle.  Follow Ali on Twitter and the Giggle Fan Page on Facebook.