Like anything involving your kids, buying a stroller is a lot more complicated than it should be. You’ll want something that fits both your car trunk and your budget, but that’s just the beginning of factors to consider — and the constant upgrades, innovations and recalls from the stroller industry don’t make things any simpler. The important thing is to know what kind of stroller will suit your needs, and the questions narrow down from there.
In the beginning, strollers were a one-piece affair: Take the baby out of the car seat, put them in the stroller and walk. While some traditional strollers still sport that self-contained design, the default these days is the broad category of a car seat carrier. In this case, you have a car seat that’s secured to your car by a base. The car seat lifts out of the base and can be locked directly into the stroller. Some face forward, some face back, but most have the option to do either one. Some strollers have the option to install a car seat for infants (sometimes with adapters), but still have an integral seat to accommodate larger toddlers.
Jogging strollers can also incorporate car seats, and they’re popular with active parents in both rural or urban settings. This smaller design usually has three wheels for quicker maneuverability. Their tires are suited to the environment and can sometimes be switched out. There are knobby ones for off-road areas, as well as models with inflated tires with a tight grip for mommy marathons on asphalt or indoor floors. In most cases, these strollers aren’t recommended for children under 6 months.
Then there’s the lightweight, or umbrella, stroller. Small both in profile and price, these are the ultimate in portability. A good umbrella stroller can weigh as little as 10 pounds, folds up quickly and should fit into just about any car. Most of them can also use a car seat, but bear in mind, they are not generally good for newborns, especially if you’re simply using the integrated seat.
There’s a lot of variation among all these types, and we’ve recently begun to see car seats that incorporate the entire stroller, wheels and all, into the base. A popular, if more expensive, option is a “travel system” that gives you a car seat and base along with a compatible stroller. Others have a bassinet as their default carrier. If there’s a common selling point among modern strollers, it’s adaptability. A carrier that might be perfect for you one year is going to be useless by the next year unless it can change to handle your rapidly growing child.
You’ll want your stroller to get you from point A to B easily, but also safely. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has a raft of new federal requirements that strengthen the standards on things like non-pinching hinges, latch mechanisms, seat belts and detachable wheels. If reliability is a key concern, definitely look for strollers made after those standards were enacted in September 2015. You can also look for certification by the JMPA (Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association), which ensures that products for children meet those federal guidelines as well as their own.
Strollers of any type can vary widely in weight, from 10 pounds on umbrella models up to 30 pounds or more. And that’s just the beginning of the variety: Bells and whistles these days might include bench seats so that larger kids can ride upright and extensive compartment space and cup holders. But don’t sweat the small stuff to begin with. The best thing is to first determine if it will fit your child and car, then explore your perks from there.