How to Buy a Baby Stroller

Stroller Shopping

When it comes to selecting baby gear, choosing a stroller is one of the most significant buying decisions you'll make. Few pieces of gear get such an intensive workout over the course of several years.

Parents have far more choices now than they did when we started evaluating strollers 20-plus years ago. There are more stroller types, brands, styles, and bells and whistles. There's a wider price range, too. Since the universe of strollers is much more complex to sift through, the key is to narrow the field.

It goes without saying: you want a stroller that is safe, sturdy, comfortable, and easy to manage. You want a good value. But—this part's trickier—you also want a stroller that can meet the demands of your particular world and complement your family's lifestyle. In other words, you want a stroller that, well, rolls the way you do.

What Type of Stroller Works for You?

Strollers are classified both by their weight and distinguishing features. Although they're grouped under a variety of labels, most fall under these major categories:

Conventional Strollers

Conventional strollers come in a range of weights and sizes, from larger, heavier carriage strollers (with bassinet-style seats that convert to an upright seat later)—to mid-weight or standard strollers (which often include many luxury features)—to increasingly-popular lightweight strollers (which also boast cool features, and perhaps a feather-light aluminum frame). They come equipped with all kinds of conveniences, including reclining seats, canopies, child and parent trays, easy folding systems, and more.

Umbrella or Travel Strollers

These lightweight, inexpensive strollers are a snap to maneuver, fold, and zip around in. They consist of a pouch-like seat slung across a light metal frame, but often lack basic extras like a canopy or basket. They're handy for jaunts and vacations, but generally offer limited durability and support, making these good secondary strollers once baby can sit up on his own.

Travel Systems

These car seat/stroller combos feature an infant car seat that locks securely onto a standard stroller. The advantage: instead of moving baby back and forth between her infant car seat and stroller—which can make infants understandably cranky—you transfer her, car seat and all, to the stroller frame. Later, you'll use the stroller alone. (Travel systems are sold as sets and as individual pieces.)

Modular or Multi-Component Strollers

Relatively new to the stroller market, upscale modular strollers offer parents the ultimate in versatility, via interchangeable seats (bassinets, single seats, second seats, etc.) that snap into a single stroller chassis. Often, the seats can face either forward or backward, giving parents even more options. Generally, the pieces are purchased individually, so you buy what you need or as you go.

Jogging Strollers

These smooth-rolling, lightweight strollers are truly designed for jogging and running, with three large, bicycle-like tires, smooth-riding shock absorbers, excellent brakes, and oversized canopies. They're a must if you eventually plan to jog with your child (note that most don't offer enough support for newborns). However, they aren't very maneuverable in tight spaces, so consider these specialized, secondary strollers.

Twin or Double Strollers

A must if you have two young children, twin strollers come in two styles: tandem strollers (which feature one seat behind the other, so they're longer) and side-by-side strollers (which feature two adjacent seats, so they're wider). No matter which type you choose, look for individually adjustable seats and canopies for each baby. Ditto for triple strollers and quad strollers. Rule of thumb: when shopping side-by-side strollers, make sure they fit through standard 30" doorways.

And that's not all. There are car seat carrier stroller frames, all-terrain strollers, and other options, too. You may find that a single stroller won't meet all your needs. Many families opt for a primary, everyday stroller and a secondary stroller for special activities, such as travel or jogging.

Determining What Kind of Stroller You Need

A quick way to narrow your stroller choices is to think about where you live and how you'll be using it. For example:

Double Stroller

City dwellers - If you will be navigating curbs and stairs, a lightweight, urban stroller, perhaps with a rugged but lightweight aluminum frame, is a smart choice. Larger wheels are helpful when negotiating rough ground; swivel wheels provide maneuverability. If your home is small and your storage is limited, you'll also need a stroller that folds compactly, so check folded dimensions.

Suburbanites - If you spend a fair amount of time hopping in and out of the car, a travel system or stroller frame used with your car seat might save you time and keep your infant happier in the beginning. A roomy storage basket is helpful if you're frequently running errands.

Warm Climates - If you live in a warm, sunny area, a generous, adjustable sun canopy and breathable upholstery will help keep baby cooler, happier, and better protected from heat and sun. Plan on adding insect netting as an accessory

Cold Climates - Babies quickly chill riding low and still in a stroller. For northern climates and winter babies, well-padded upholstery, a weather shield, and even a boot (i.e., snap-on leg cover) can help keep little ones warm.

What to Look for In a Stroller

Obviously, you want a safe, comfortable, well-constructed stroller that delivers good value for the money, whatever your budget. In addition, there are numerous features to consider. Some we consider essential; others a matter of preference. Either way, making your own checklist can help you identify your best choices. Here's what our buyers look for when assessing strollers:

Essential Stroller Features

  • A multi-position reclining seat, so kids can be comfortably supported as they grow.
  • A five-point harness (as opposed to a three-point restraint). A five-point harness secures babies at the shoulders, waist, and crotch, which prevents against "submarining," or slipping under the belt.
  • A sun canopy, preferably with a viewing window. Good sun protection starts early!
  • Maneuverability. Swivel wheels are a must in a primary stroller; one-handed steering is a plus. A stroller should make life easier, not harder.
  • An easy folding system, preferably a one-hand fold. Who wants to wrestle with baby gear every day?
  • Good suspension, for a smooth ride.
  • A roomy basket or stroller bag for storage.
  • Easy to clean upholstery. Removable, washable covers are a plus.
  • A weight maximum of at least 40 lbs., so you'll get more use from your stroller.

Nice-to-Have Conveniences

  • Adjustable handles, especially if you're tall or petite. Hunching over a stroller puts strain on your back.
  • One-touch brakes. Trustworthy brakes are essential, but an integrated brake—where you lock both rear brakes with one step—offer a little extra security and ease.
  • An adjustable footrest, to keep kids comfortable as they grow.
  • A snack or play tray to keep baby entertained. (If your stroller doesn't include one, you can add one later.)
  • A parents' tray or cup holder to keep you more comfortable. (Again, these can be purchased as accessories.)

More Buying Tips

  • Factor a stroller's dimensions and weight into your buying equation. If a stroller is too big or heavy to be comfortable, you won't use it. Plus, if you'll be storing it in the trunk of your car, make sure it will fit before you buy.
  • Read online customer reviews; they're a tremendous resource for consumers. Learning about other parents' experiences is a great way to determine if a stroller is right for you
  • Make sure the seller has a generous return policy, just in case the stroller doesn't work out as expected. (We do!)
  • Remember that many stroller accessories are also available separately. If a stroller seems perfect except for the lack of a say, parents' tray or weather shield, that's a very quick fix.

Ready to start evaluating strollers? Go shopping!

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