Taking littles out into the world is a daunting task at the best of times. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about important diaper bag essentials because, given the level of bonkers the world is these days, now is not the best of times. Which means that veteran and new parents alike are struggling when it comes to heading out of the house. But I’ve realized that all the essentials in the world don’t matter if you don’t have something to carry them in. Therefore, a real-talk guide to picking the perfect diaper bag seemed like a logical next step.
Maybe you are a shiny new parent trying to pick your first diaper bag. Maybe you are grabbing your diaper bag for the first time in months and realizing the decades have turned it to dust while we have all been living the quarantine dream. Or you discovered an unidentifiable snack (is it a banana?) that fossilized in your old bag since you used it last. Either way, picking a bag that is going to work best for you and your kiddos is both challenging and essential (much like the kegel exercises your doctor suggested). And getting it wrong can lead to chaos, headaches, and unnecessary stress (also like the kegels).
Picking the Perfect Diaper Bag: Does such a thing even exist?
The short answer?
The slightly longer answer: I mean, maybe it does. But if so I haven’t found it yet. Much like unicorns and calorie-free but equally delicious potato chips, I really want them to be out there somewhere. But we haven’t crossed paths yet.
The even longer answer: Perfect is kinda subjective. Chances are, you will find something that you like about pretty much every bag you look at. But odds are, there’s also likely to be something that doesn’t work for you. And you may not realize it until you’ve already bought the bag, tried using it, and discovered it’s shortcomings a lil too late.
Think Big Picture: Pick the Perfect Diaper Bag FOR YOU
I know this is easier said than done. Especially for new parents. Everything is so overwhelming when you are trying to get ready to bring a whole other person into the world that first time.
But looking back now, I realize that I got very caught up in the fancy features of some of the bags I was looking at and didn’t really put enough thought into how I needed my bag to function.
A really good diaper bag is one that is going to work perfectly for you on your average day. There are always going to be weird outlier days or special trips but I don’t suggest buying a bag with those kind of days in mind. If you do, you will likely end up spending too much money or getting a bag that is too big. Focus instead on features that are going to help you get through your most common outings and use another bag for the weird one-off trips where special equipment is required.
So when you are narrowing down the list of essential features for picking your perfect diaper bag, ask yourself:
- How often will you actually go out with your baby?
- How long will you be out most days?
- What is your list of must-have items for you and baby to stay clean and fed?
Getting a handle on the answers to these questions (again think your AVERAGE day) will help you figure out the size and features you need in your bag.
Picking the Perfect Diaper Bag Style: Choose Your Own Adventure
Once you answer the above questions, you can start thinking about the type or style of bag that is going to suit your needs. Here is a run down of some of the more common types of diaper bags, who they might work for, and some other things to consider.
The Giant Tote Bag
Who it’s best for: Parents of newborns or who have a long list of essentials.
How it works: We’ve probably all owned some version of this bag. It is basically a giant gaping chasm of open space waiting to be filled with all your stuff. Most tote style bags have few compartments. The Skip-Hop Duo is a super popular example of a tote-style bag (although it has quite a few external compartments).
Pros: Obviously, the space. With no pockets or compartments to contend with, you have a lot of wide-open space. If you travel with a lot of bulky items (like cloth diapers) this unencumbered space can be really great. This type of bag also leaves things wide-open (literally) for you to organize how you like.
Cons: That organization point above can bite both ways. As a hot-mess mom from way back, I quickly learned that without the proper organization a tote bag can quickly devolve into madness. Think a black-hole. You’re sure you put your things in there but they all seem to have fallen to the bottom or disappeared. If you aren’t naturally organized (or even if you are) I highly recommend getting some smaller bags to help keep your essentials organized and easy to get at.
The Backpack Diaper Bag
Who it’s best for: Parents who have or plan to have more than one child. Or folks who just like to be able to use both their arms as they were intended to function.
How it works: Again, I think most people are familiar with the concept of this type of bag. There are plenty of baby-specific backpacks out there these days, as it is an insanely popular style. But, really, any backpack will do. Load it with your stuff, strap it on your back, and enjoy the ability to carry your baby while still having a free hand to grab your escape-artist toddler who is darting off on you. There are a million different versions of this bag out there. I have this one and really love it.
Pros: As mentioned above, the hands-free aspect of this bag is really it’s top feature. Comfort is also a big plus. Yes, most other diaper bags have a long messenger strap that can be used to free your hands. But you will soon realize that that strap falls off if you move too fast or attempts to remove your shoulder from it’s socket if you have too much stuff packed. Most backpacks also have a combo of both open space and built in pockets to give you organization and flexibility.
Cons: Even though there are some nice ones out there, they aren’t as stylish looking as a messenger bag. Also, depending on your space requirements, this may not be enough bag for you. If you spend long periods out of the house with one or more kids, you need a pretty big bag. Getting a backpack to accommodate that may leave you looking (and feeling) like you are headed on some ill-fated trek up a mountain with your offspring.
The Diaper Clutch
Who it’s best for: Folks with older kids, who travel super light, who don’t go out often, or who make short trips.
How it works: If you don’t actually leave the house all that often with your offspring in tow, you may be able to skip a formal diaper bag altogether. Something like our Wet/Dry Bag can function as an excellent light travel bag. Pack it with a few diapers, wipes, a change of clothes and your wallet and head out the door.
Pros: Losing a bulky bag will do wonders for your back. Especially when your kids start getting bigger but still insist on being carried.
Cons: Space, obvs. This method leaves little room for error or emergencies, which can be a bit risky.
The Grab-n’-Go Car Kit
Who it’s best for: Parents who spend a big chunk of the day out and about. Anyone who does not want to have to lug a giant bag and is okay with making a trip or two back to the car.
How it works: This is one that I have recently discovered is perfect for trips to the park or longer days out. I stuff a giant Utility Tote from Thirty One full of everything I think I might need for the day. When we get to where we are going, we grab only what we need right away and put it into a small bag (or just carry it). We head back to the car as needed to restock. Bonus: most of the essentials can stay in the bag in the car all the time. Meaning you only need to restock consumables and not repack the whole thing every time.
Pros: You can bring all. The. Things. This is a great method if you want to be fully prepared for anything the day may throw your way. It is also a good option if you often go places (like the park) where you don’t want to carry a bag, don’t want to leave a bag sitting unattended, but still have need of a variety of different items to get through the day.
Cons: Trips back and forth to the car. This is probably a better option for parents of slightly older babes who don’t have as many immediate needs. Newborns come with a lot of stuff to cart around but there is a good chance that they won’t be chill with a walk back to the car when they have decided to go from content to famished in .45 seconds.
The Bag You Already Have
Who it’s best for: The budget conscious parent or someone with too many bags in their house already.
How it works: At a certain point, a bag is a bag. And you will quickly learn that you pay a lot more with anything that has the word diaper or baby attached to it. This despite the fact that it is functionally no different. So, sometimes, picking the perfect diaper bag means heading to the closet and using what you’ve already got.
Pros: No special trips to the store or spending money. When you are bringing a new human into the world, both of these things are a real bonus. It is also the adult, eco-conscious choice to make, so go you.
Cons: There are a few cool features that I’ve only ever seen on diaper bags. My backpack-style bag, for example, has a really cool “access hatch” in the back that makes getting at the bottom of the bag waaaaay easier. Such things really should be available in all bags, but for whatever reason they aren’t. Meaning you might miss out on something that will make your life easier if you grab what you have.
A Few More Things to Keep in Mind...
- Change mats: Most diaper bags come with change mats. Most of them also suck. Do yourself a favour and upgrade to a better one.
- Techy accessories: A lot of bags out there come with very fancy bells and whistles. Built in phone chargers, headphone jacks, all that jazz. It all seems really fun and necessary but may not actually be worth the extra price. Again, picture that average day and decide whether it’s worth it to you.
- You’re never locked in: I suggest putting some thought into picking your perfect diaper bag. But don’t stress about it either. It is possible that you end up with a bag that doesn’t work for you and that’s not the end of the world. Pass it along to a fellow parent who wants or needs it and get something more to your liking.
What do you think? Does the perfect bag exist? What did you consider when picking your diaper bag? Let us know in the comments.
About the Author
Amanda is a teacher and mom of two from small-town Ontario. When she isn’t struggling to keep up with her boys, you can find her reading, crocheting, or writing poop-jokes for Lil Helper’s website, emails, and blog.