Choosing a Stroller
Who, What, Where and When

Stroller Types

The Right Fit For Your Family

Will You Need More than One?

Second in importance only to the car seat, the stroller is a critical piece of gear for babies and young children. Pick the right one and it will make maneuvering your baby through malls, to doctor’s appointments and on myriad trips to the park effortless. Pick the wrong one and you face the misery of using a faulty stroller or the guilt of spending money to replace the insufficient item.

Time was, if you were having a baby, you either got a stroller as a gift or chose from three or four models at the local store. That’s pretty much how it was when I had my first son seven years ago. But things have changed a lot since then. These days, in addition to baby boutiques and superstores, stroller shoppers have a world of online resources to explore, including store and manufacturer Web sites and parent discussion boards (see Resources).

This wealth of information can be both a blessing and a curse. Now expecting my second child, I spent several full days online researching stroller manufacturers and particular models, browsing the features, interacting with other parents and checking for possible recall information. But buying a stroller doesn’t have to be an enormous chore. Answer a few key questions before you step into a store or go online, and you’ll start your search armed with a clear picture of just what you’re looking for.

Who, What, Where and When

Spend some time thinking realistically about the answers to these questions, then put them in order of priority for your family.

• Who will ride in it? Infant or toddler? One child or two?

• Who will push it? The comfort of the adult pushing the stroller matters, too. Some strollers have telescopic handlebars to adjust to adult heights. Some specialty catalogs sell handle-bar extenders to make it more comfortable for tall caregivers.

• How often will you use it? Will you unpack your stroller occasionally from your automobile’s trunk and use it in the mall? If so, then choose an easy folding and lightweight model over a more durability but heavy one. Do you walk everywhere? Ask other parents which strollers keep their wheels and maintain their ease of steering over the long haul.

• Where will you use it? Consider climate (will you try to stroll in the snow?) and the state of your roads. Dirt road? City curbs? Choose larger, heavy-duty wheels. The mall? Well-maintained suburban sidewalks? You may prefer something lightweight with small wheels.

• Where will you store it? Will you have to fold it every day, twice a day? Fit it into a small spot? Carry it up stairs? Weight and portability will matter if you answer yes to any of these.

• What are you willing to spend? As with any major purchase, you’ll have to balance cost against quality.

Stroller Types

Now spend some time thinking about what type of stroller will best fit your family’s needs:

• Universal stroller frames for infant car seats – These are frames on wheels (sometimes available with storage baskets) that accept a wide range of infant car seats. They allow you to move a baby from the car to a set of wheels without disturbing him or her, but they’re not the best choice for people who are primarily on foot.

• Car seat/stroller combinations (also called travel systems) – Especially convenient for the youngest babies, these systems allow you to move a sleeping baby from car seat to stroller and back again. The most ambitious travel systems (priced at $300 and up) contain an infant car seat, a convertible car seat for an older child, and a convertible carriage-stroller to be used with newborns and toddlers. For my money, that’s putting too much faith in one brand. It’s hard to know how your needs might change in the next year or so.

• Lightweight strollers (including umbrella strollers) – Weighing under 12 lbs., these compact and easy-to-fold strollers are a breeze to handle and easy on the wallet. Few recline fully, however, making them less well-suited for infants. Their size and weight make them de rigueur for children over a year in age.

• Standard-size strollers: At 12 lbs. and over, these strollers are often more comfortable than their lighter counterparts, though bulkier and harder to transport. Many do recline fully for infants. If at all possible, try out this type of stroller in a store before buying to ensure you can handle it.

• Double (and triple) strollers – These carry babies and toddlers comfortably side by side or front to back. Those designed for triplets are front to back in design (otherwise they would be too wide). The double-width variety are typically no more than 30 inches across to fit through standard doorways. Tandems need not break your back. Some are as light as 8 pounds.

• Jogging strollers – All-terrain wheels on this type of stroller take you over grass, sand, dirt, bumpy sidewalks and curbs. Their purpose is to let the adult get some exercise (running or race-walking) while the baby sleeps or takes in the sights. Many families who walk to get where they’re going choose these for the ease with which they take on city streets. Few recline fully for infants.

Whatever you choose, look for the peace of mind that a five-point harness closure system brings with its two shoulder straps, two hip straps and one crotch strap.

The Right Fit for Your Family

Once you’ve decided what general category of stroller you’re seeking, you can begin looking for the right model. Trade-offs come with any product and much will depend on your own needs and taste. Most families must consider a mix of factors.

Halfway into her second pregnancy, Suzanne McCarthy discovered she was having twins. She was delighted to receive a front-to-back double stroller for her shower, but once she started using it, she discovered the stroller was unbearably heavy and took up the entire trunk of her mini-van. The storage basket broke after a few uses. “The stroller was making every outing with the twins a miserable time for me,” she says.

After agonizing over abandoning the gift and researching her choices carefully online, McCarthy purchased a side-by-side stroller on sale for $140. For McCarthy – as for many parents – the key factor was weight. The one she found was much lighter than the first stroller.

Karyn Price, who is expecting her second child, was committed to finding a stroller that met her needs without breaking the bank. After becoming pregnant, Price embarked on a four-month search for a double stroller. She perused discussion boards, manufacturer Web sites and online baby stores before choosing a Graco DuoRider for about $150.

Price’s main concern was weight, but she also wanted reclining seats, well-made wheels, an easy fold-up mechanism (a very important factor), cup holders and a sunshade. At a featherweight 8 pounds, the DuoRider fit the bill perfectly. Price advises parents to research thoroughly online and not to get hung up on brand names.

• Standard-size strollers: At 12 lbs. and over, these strollers are often more comfortable than their lighter counterparts, though bulkier and harder to transport. Many do recline fully for infants. If at all possible, try out this type of stroller in a store before buying to en

“There’s no reason to blow your whole baby allowance on a super deluxe stroller when you can get something very nice in the under-$200 price range,” she says.

Will You Need More than One? You might be tempted to buy a stroller system that purports to be “the only stroller you’ll ever need.” After all, who wants to buy a new, larger stroller just months after you’ve picked up an infant-suitable stroller?

But the danger in going with a convertible stroller system is that your needs may change. You may decide you’re not as fond of the brand as you thought. You won’t be able to spread out the investment over time. Also, you’ll often pay more for the high-end system than you would for the individual components.

In the end, I settled on a stroller car-seat frame for the infant months, and a lightweight and stylish stroller whose features fit my needs for the toddler years. Call me crazy for buying so far in advance, but at least I won’t have to do all the research again when our baby is ready for an upgrade.

Lauren Gibbons Paul is a freelance writer and mother.

See also:

Buying a Used Stroller