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Buying Guide: Strollers

December 2014

You and baby have places to go and people to see! Unless you plan on never leaving your house, you'll probably need a stroller (especially as baby gets bigger and starts wanting to interact with the outside world). Chances are your stroller will be one of the bigger-ticket investments you'll make, and there is a dizzying array of products on the market (with many categories overlapping one another), so it's worth researching your options to make sure you pick the right one.

CONTENTS:

When you're done here, also see our detailed recommendations for best strollers by subcategory:

Note: This guide may contain affiliate links, meaning we may receive a small commission on any purchases that you make (at no cost to you); see our full disclosure.

Types

First, let's get basic terminology straight. When you boil it down, there are six basic types of strollers. We'll help you understand what they are and how they match up to terms you may have heard elsewhere.

Full-featured strollers

These are your typical everyday strollers, well suited for daily urban or suburban use. They tend to be larger, heavier, and more expensive than umbrella strollers; in exchange, you get more bells & whistles (e.g. cushier seat, more ample sunshade, larger storage basket, etc.) They range from reasonably lightweight (e.g. ~17 lbs. for the City Mini and B-Agile) to pretty darn heavy (~26 lbs. for multi-configuration luxury strollers). Most full-featured strollers have a reclining seat (great for naps), but precious few offer a true "flat recline" seat suitable for a newborn. Some, especially higher-end brands, offer optional car seat adapters and/or bassinet attachments to accommodate newborns. Some full-featured strollers are also designated as "all-terrain" strollers, meaning they offer larger wheels, foam- or air-filled tires, suspension, and/or superior maneuverability. "Luxury strollers" are higher-end full-featured strollers with premium features (e.g. reversible seat), arguably nicer design, and greater flexibility (e.g. ability to swap in a bassinet, add a second seat or a hop-on board, and/or configure in multiple ways). The term "convertible stroller" typically refers to a stroller that can be converted from single seat to double seat, but it is sometimes also used to refer to a single seat that can be swapped out for a bassinet or used together with a car seat.

Full-featured strollers feature more bells and whistles, at the cost of a larger footprint and heavier weight. Credit: Baby Jogger

Umbrella strollers

This category of stroller (so named because of its umbrella-like handles) is defined by its ability to fold up very compactly (these strollers fold along two dimensions, rather than one, like many full-featured strollers). They are typically more lightweight (8-17 lbs.) and sparser on features; for example, they typically have smaller sunshades and storage baskets. Umbrella strollers are ideal for hopping in and out of the car, navigating tight spaces (like narrow store aisles), and travel. Because most umbrella strollers are not carseat-compatible, and do not recline fully, they cannot be used until baby is about six months old.

Lightweight umbrella strollers are great for quick trips and travel. Credit: UPPAbaby

Jogging strollers

These strollers are designed for serious runners — with three large wheels, shocks, a hand brake and wrist safety strap, and an aerodynamic design — and are suitable for either trail or street running. It's also common to see jogging strollers used just for strolling around town (the front wheel can often be switched from fixed to swivel mode, and the large wheels make them easier to push than the typical full-featured stroller). However, we do not recommend full-fledged jogging strollers for anyone who does not plan to do actual running. If you're looking for the stroller equivalent of an SUV, you're better off opting for an all-terrain stroller instead — they are also easy to push, but will be less bulky and more maneuverable around town.

Jogging strollers are a must if you plan to run with baby; some of them, with lockable front swivel wheels (not shown here), also double as great all-terrain strollers around town. Credit: BOB

Travel systems

A travel system is a bundle including a full-featured stroller, an infant car seat, and a car seat base that is intended to grow with your baby. The idea is that during the infant stage, you can easily move your baby between the car and the stroller (the car seat clicks into the top of the stroller seat). Then, after your baby outgrows the infant car seat, you can continue to use the stroller as a regular full-featured stroller until your child outgrows it. This might sound attractive in theory, but in reality we do not recommend them for most parents; see below.

Travel systems typically consist of a stroller and car seat that are designed to work well together. Credit: Britax

Car seat stroller frames

A car seat stroller frame is a collapsible, four-wheeled frame into which an infant car seat clicks. It doesn't have a seat of its own, so it's not a true stroller. This is a great, lightweight, cost-effective option for strolling around with a newborn (as opposed to using a car seat adapter atop a full-size stroller, or purchasing an optional bassinet that will only be used for a few months). The Snap 'N' Go was the pioneer in this category — a universal stroller frame that accommodated most popular car seats. Since then, car seat manufacturers (e.g. Chicco, Graco) have started making their own versions, which are optimized for use with their respective car seats.

Stroller frames are designed to accommodate infant car seats to create an instant, lightweight "travel system." Credit: Graco

Double and tandem strollers

If you have twins or multiple stroller-age children, you have several options. Double strollers feature two seats side-by-side, while tandem strollers (also known as in-line) have stadium-style seats (one seat in front of the other). Kids typically prefer the side-by-side configuration (no one likes to be in back!), but tandems are better for tight spaces. There are also sit-and-stand strollers (also affectionately called "strollers-and-a-half"), which provide a bench seat or standing option for a toddler. If you've got a bigger brood, there are also triple strollers and even quads available.

Double strollers (left) feature side-by-side seating; tandem strollers (right) feature stadium or in-line seating. Credit: Baby Jogger, Contours

Convertible strollers

If you don't yet need a stroller for multiples, but you anticipate potentially needing one in the future for your growing family, a convertible full-featured stroller might be a good option. The main defining feature of a convertible stroller is that it can transform from a one-seater to a two-seater. However, many convertibles can also accommodate a car seat, a hop-on board (for a toddler), multiple seat configurations, etc.

The Baby Jogger City Select demonstrates the extreme versatility of some convertible strollers with its wide range of configurations. Credit: Baby Jogger

Buying advice

Do I really need a stroller? How many do I need?

You might not need a stroller if...

There's no absolute requirement that you have to get a stroller — think about your lifestyle and how you plan to get around with baby. Some parents who do a lot of babywearing find that they can get by with one all-purpose stroller, or even no stroller at all.

The streamlined solution: One stroller

That said, the vast majority of families do opt to get at least one stroller — and in retrospect can’t imagine life without one. Strolling around with your baby is simply easier than carrying her around all of the time (especially after she gets heavier). It's also pretty convenient to have a stroller that can carry all of your stuff — not just your keys and coffee, but also your diaper bag, light groceries, etc.

If you want to try to get by with just one stroller, be thoughtful about your selection. Unless you never plan to travel with it, don't opt for something big and heavy. On the other hand, don't go for overly lightweight/streamlined either, or you'll be cursing yourself on longer walks. You probably want to pick something that is a good compromise between having a full set of features and being lightweight and compact enough for car and air travel.

The most popular solution: Two strollers

It's most common for parents to buy two strollers to use for the period from six months to three-plus years — one for primary use and one for secondary use.

In addition, since most regular strollers are not newborn-compatible, you will probably also need to buy an optional bassinet or car seat adapter (for use with your primary stroller) or a separate stroller frame (into which your car seat can be snapped) for the first six months of your baby's life. That may mean three strollers total.

It might sound ridiculous to spend hundreds of dollars on a stroller, let alone hundreds of dollars on each of two or three strollers, but most parents find them worth the investment given the long period of usefulness and the extent to which having a good stroller makes life with a little one easier. It makes a lot more sense to invest a bit more in a great stroller than to buy your baby an outfit, a toy, or a piece of gear that she will only use a few times.

When do I need it?

There are two main periods of baby's life for which you will probably need some sort of stroller solution: the newborn period (approximately birth to six months) and the infant/toddler stage (approximately six months to three-plus years). Babies can't sit upright in a traditional stroller until approximately six months, when they develop good head/neck control; until then, they need to be in a car seat or lying flat. (Some strollers with deep — but not full — reclines are suitable from about three months.)

Our advice is not to get ahead of yourself — instead, simply buy for each phase as it comes. Depending what newborn solution you opt for, you may be able to postpone purchasing your "real" stroller until baby is five or six months old. This will allow you to get some basic firsthand experience strolling around with baby and figure out what your needs really are, so you can make a wiser decision when it comes time to make your big investment.

Even if you do choose to buy a full-featured stroller up front (for use with a car seat adapter or bassinet), you almost certainly won't need to buy an umbrella stroller until three to six months (since very few of them have a flat recline or offer a car seat adapter). If you buy early, you risk potentially missing out on the latest and greatest new release. So unless you need to fill up your registry with another big-ticket item, resist buying an umbrella stroller early.

Choosing a newborn stroller solution

For the newborn period — you have four basic options. The first three all involve leaving baby in her car seat while strolling around. This is highly recommended as it makes transitions easier and doesn't require you ever to wake your sleeping baby.

  • Option #1: Car seat stroller frame: Get a car seat stroller frame, a.k.a. caddy (preferably the same brand as your car seat, otherwise a universal one). If you can afford it, this is our recommended option. Stroller frames are the lightest (approx. 12-14 lbs.), most nimble option for strolling around with your newborn. If you can, get a frame that allows you to "click in" your car seat, instead of a "strap in" (slower for you and less secure). Here are our top picks for car seat stroller frames/caddies.
Car seat stroller frames are a super convenient way to push around your newborn or infant. Look for one with a click-in connection (as shown here) rather than a strap, for greatest security. Credit: Chicco
  • Option #2: Regular stroller + car seat adapter: Buy an accessory (car seat adapter or bassinet) that allows you to use your car seat with your primary stroller. This might be a good option for parents who plan to spend a lot of time walking with their newborns, in particular if you'll be getting a higher-end stroller with larger and/or all-terrain wheels. Bassinets are a nice luxury option, but they tend to only get a few months of use, so in our view they don’t offer great value. Some luxury strollers (e.g. UPPAbaby Vista, Bugaboo Chameleon) come with a bassinet included. Here are our top picks for full-featured strollers.
Car seat adapters (left) and bassinets (right) allow you to use your primary stroller with your newborn. Credit: Baby Jogger (left), Mountain Buggy (right)
  • Option #3: Prepackaged travel system: Buy a stroller and car seat that are packaged together as a travel system. Unless you're getting a hand-me-down for free (or you happen to be buying a combination that happens to include a top-rated car seat as well as a top-rated stroller, such as the UPPAbaby Vista/Mesa or the Britax B-Agile/B-Safe), we don't recommend this. Although the travel system concept sounds attractive in theory, in reality there is simply no need. It's unnecessary to lock yourself into a certain preset car seat/stroller set, when most strollers can (with the right adapter) host any car seat. Here are our picks for the best pre-packaged travel systems.
  • Option #4: Newborn-friendly stroller: Get a primary stroller with a true "flat recline" seat, in which your baby can be placed from birth (without any optional accessories). This, in our opinion, is only a good option if you can find a flat-recline stroller that truly meets all of your longer-term stroller. Otherwise, it's just not worth compromising on other features just to get the flat-recline seat (given that you’ll be using the stroller for several more years). Here are our top picks for full-featured strollers (we've tried to note the ones that have flat or near-flat reclines) and umbrella strollers with flat reclines.

If you choose option 2, 3 or 4, then it makes sense to put your primary stroller (and related accessories) on your registry (or buy it yourself) prior to your baby's birth. If you opt for option 1, however, you only need to get a car seat stroller frame prior to baby's birth. This allows you to re-evaluate your stroller-buying needs after a few months of actually getting out and about with baby, so you'll be able to make a more informed purchase decision when it comes time to buy your "real" stroller.

Choosing a primary vs. secondary stroller

Most parents end up buying two strollers to use for the period from six months to three-plus years: one for primary and one for secondary use. The most typical combination is a full-featured stroller (for everyday use and/or strolling from home) and a lightweight umbrella stroller (for travel and/or to leave in the trunk of your car). Serious runners might opt for a jogging stroller (doubling as a stroller for about-town), plus a lightweight/travel stroller. The most important thing is to figure out what type(s) of strollers you need, then whittle it down to the specific model from there.

Figuring out what kind of stroller you need: Lifestyle considerations

What type of stroller is the best fit for you depends in large part on your lifestyle and how you plan to use it.

  • Do you live in a dense urban environment, and/or will you need to navigate small spaces, take stairs, or take public transportation regularly? If so, consider getting a higher-end umbrella stroller (e.g. UPPAbaby G-Lite/G-Luxe or a Maclaren) that is lightweight, is easy to fold, and can be easily carried with one hand as your primary stroller. Alternatively, if you want something a little more pumped up, a lightweight full-featured stroller such as a B-Agile or City Mini might be a good option.
  • Live in a small space, with no garage? Look for something that can be easily folded up and stowed away in a corner or closet (e.g. a lightweight full-featured stroller or a higher-end umbrella stroller) as your primary stroller.
  • Will you need to navigate small or crowded spaces (e.g. store aisles, amusement parks) regularly? Either pay special attention to width when buying your primary stroller (some strollers don't fit through doorways and can cause traffic jams), or plan on getting a secondary umbrella stroller for those days.
  • Do you plan to do most of your strolling from home, or will you be popping in and out of the car? If the former, you might be willing to trade off a little more size and weight for better design and features. If the latter, get something that is light enough to haul in and out of the car, is easy to fold and unfold, and fits easily in your trunk (e.g. a lightweight full-featured stroller or umbrella stroller).
  • Will you almost always be on pavement, or do you plan to go off-road (dirt, snow, sand) regularly? If the latter, bigger wheels and all-terrain tires are key.
  • Do you anticipate growing your family within the next couple of years? If so, consider getting a convertible stroller (to which you have the option to add a second seat or hop-on board).

Where to buy

There is no substitute for seeing and testing out strollers in person. We highly recommend going to a local retailer to see all the strollers you're considering. And don't only look at them — load them up with 20-30 pounds, test out the reclining seat mechanisms, see if they can handle your fully-loaded diaper bag without tipping, push them around one-handed, etc.

Big retailers like Babies 'R' Us, Buy Buy Baby, Walmart, and Target carry many lower-end and mid-range strollers and only occasionally higher-end strollers. Baby boutiques are usually your best bet for higher-end strollers. You can usually find local retailers on a manufacturer's website.

When it comes time to buy, unless you're absolutely certain about the model you want to purchase, it is often worthwhile to buy from a local retailer with a liberal return policy. Cheaper prices are often available online, but most online retailers will only accept returns on new and unopened items, and return shipping prices are often prohibitive in any case.

Amazon and Diapers.com are two delightful exceptions. Amazon offers free returns within 90 days on most baby products fulfilled by Amazon, and Diapers.com has a 365-day return policy. Technically both retailers require returned items to be new and unused, however many parents report having no problems returning items that have been assembled and lightly tested (indoors) prior to return. Just make sure they are in the original packaging and are in resalable condition.

Features

Here are some of the key features to look for when evaluating strollers. Figure out which ones matter most to you, and don't compromise!

Size

  • Open dimensions: Will it be able to easily navigate your intended destinations?
  • Folded dimensions: Consider where you will be storing it in your home, and how it fits in your trunk (whether it fits at all, and what proportion of cargo space it takes up). If you can't actually try it out in your trunk, compare the depth dimension for the folded stroller to the depth of your trunk.
  • Height/weight capacity: This determines how long you will be able to use your stroller. Practically speaking, the differences are not so stark that they should probably sway your decision, but this might be worth considering if you're buying for an older child or your baby has freakishly tall genes.

Ease of use

  • Easy/one-hand fold: Many strollers advertise an easy fold or one-hand fold (in theory the one-hand fold allows you to hold the baby in one arm while folding up your stroller with the other arm), but in practice they vary a lot in execution. Be sure to test out in person before committing.
    The Baby Jogger "Quick Fold" is an example of a best-in-class one-hand fold mechanism. Credit: Baby Jogger
  • Easy-to-clean material: Also consider the material and make sure it's easy to clean (at a minimum wipe-clean; machine-washable would be a big plus).

Child comfort

  • Comfortable seat: Some brands/models offer more padded, cushy seats.
  • Reclining (or flat recline) seat: Most full-size strollers and many lightweight strollers will allow you to recline the seat so your child can rest or nap. The mechanisms differ (e.g. set number of fixed positions vs. continuous spectrum), and some are easier to close than others, so be sure to test it out on your preferred model before buying. "Flat recline" seats are in theory those that recline all the way (i.e. 180 degrees), but in practice many manufacturers use this term loosely. A newborn should only be placed in a stroller that inclines at most 10 degrees.
    Reclining seats are great for naps. For a newborn, look for a totally flat (180-degree) recline. Credit: Bumbleride
  • Reversible seat: This allows you to reverse the seat so baby can face you as well as outward (especially nice for the first few months).
    A reversible seat is a convenient feature, especially for use with newborns and younger infants. Credit: Mountain Buggy
  • High seat height: This allows you to be closer (even "face to face") to your baby; in conjunction with a reversible seat, it is especially nice for the first few months.
  • Large, adjustable sun shade: Consider not only size, but also adjustability. Full-featured strollers tend to offer much bigger sunshades than umbrella strollers. If you have your heart set on a stroller with an inadequate sun shade, there are optional aftermarket sunshades as well.
    Check out the huge difference in sun canopy coverage between this City Mini (lightweight full-featured stroller) and First Years Jet (lightweight umbrella stroller). Credit: Baby Jogger (left), The FIrst Years (right)
  • Child storage: Does it come with a belly bar, child tray, or drink holder? If not, are they available as accessories?

Adult comfort

  • Handlebar type: Many full-size strollers have one long handlebar, while umbrella strollers usually have two curved handles. Long handlebars are easier to push with one hand, but mean that the stroller can only collapse along one dimension (resulting in a larger folded size).
  • Comfortable, adjustable handlebar height: Make sure the handlebar height is comfortable for everyone who will be pushing the stroller regularly. Higher-end strollers offer adjustable handlebars, which can really make a difference if you’re much taller or shorter than your spouse or nanny.
  • Ample leg room: Test whether the stroller provides enough leg room for your stride (and anyone else who will be pushing the stroller), so you won’t be kicking it with every step.
  • Ample parent storage: Most strollers come with a storage basket, but they vary immensely in size and accessibility. Trust us — go for as big and accessible a basket as possible. Also, shockingly few top-rated strollers come with a parent console or cup holder; however, these are easy to find as optional accessories (either OEM or aftermarket).

Maneuverability

  • Small stroller footprint (length and width): The smaller your stroller, the more easily you will be able to maneuver in small or crowded spaces. In particular, note the width between the rear wheels. Anything 24" or wider (e.g. UPPAbaby Vista, Quinny Buzz, Orbit) is likely to run into occasional issues with doorways and store aisles. Length is also a relevant consideration, as longer strollers (such as jogging and all-terrain strollers) will be harder to maneuver around crowded places.
  • Three vs. four wheels: Try out both — it largely just comes down to personal preference. Generally three-wheeled strollers will have a smaller turning radius, but they can also be more difficult for navigating curbs.
  • Wheel size and composition: Traditional full-featured strollers have small, hard plastic wheels — these help maintain a smaller profile, but require more effort to push over long distances and are only really suited for paved roads. Jogging, all-terrain, and luxury strollers tend to have large, air-filled (pneumatic) or foam-filled tires. Air-filled tires (the norm for jogging strollers) provide the smoothest ride, but can go flat and are a pain to repair. Foam-filled tires ("never-flat"; the norm for many all-terrain and luxury strollers) are an excellent compromise.
  • Fixed vs. swivel front wheels: Swivel wheels make it easier to turn on a dime, but fixed wheels are better for going longer distances in a straight line. Some strollers will let you switch between the two.
    Compare the lockable front swivel wheel of a BOB Revolution Flex (left) vs. the fixed front wheel of a BOB Ironman (right). A lockable front swivel wheel is most versatile if you plan to use your stroller around town, but a fixed front wheel is best for serious jogging. Credit: BOB

Safety

  • Secure, easy-to-open harness: All full strollers sold in the U.S. are required to have a safety harness, but they differ in type and latch mechanisms. We recommend a five-point harness and a latch that you find easy to open (but your child won't!).
  • Easy-to-operate brakes: Test out the brakes and make sure the mechanism works for you. Some foot-operated brakes can be difficult to flip in sandals. Hand brakes are convenient, but obviously require you to have a free hand.
  • Stable weight distribution: Make sure you test out stability, especially if you plan to load the stroller up with a diaper bag, storage hooks, etc. Some strollers are much easier to tip than others. If a stroller can't accommodate a diaper bag on the handlebars, it’s that much more important to get a large storage basket.
  • Flame retardants: Strollers manufactured prior to December 2010 (when strollers were exempted from the flammability requirements of CA TB 117) are very likely to contain flame retardants. And while many strollers manufactured after that date do not contain them, there is no guarantee, so you should definitely double check if that is important to you.

Special considerations

  • Newborn compatibility: If you want to use a full-featured or umbrella stroller with a newborn, make sure it has a true "flat-recline" seat, and/or has a car seat adapter or bassinet accessory available.
  • Car seat compatibility: If applicable, plan ahead and make sure the stroller manufacturer makes an adapter compatible with your car seat. Also consider how the car seat attaches to the stroller (e.g. click-in vs. less secure strap).
  • Jogging stroller features: Test out the suspension, and look for a stroller that seems to glide forward on its own. All joggers come with a fixed front wheel; if you plan to use your jogger around town as well, look for one that also converts to a swivel wheel. Also consider the availability of replacement parts and service in your area.
  • Convertible stroller features: If you’re shopping for a convertible stroller, consider the relative size of the second seat, the possible seat configurations, the availability of a hop-on board, and the required position to ride the hop-on board (e.g head inside the stroller handle).
  • Multiple seat configurations: Some convertible strollers also offer a variety of seat configurations (e.g. bassinet and seat, car seat and seat, one seat facing forward and one backward, both seats facing forward, etc.). This flexibility is nice, but usually comes at the cost of greater size and weight.

Usage tips & safety

  • Use the safety harness: It might seem obvious, but many parents get lax about this, especially with older babies. Be extra vigilant in trafficked areas and when ascending/descending curbs.
  • Never push or carry baby up/down stairs in your stroller: If there isn't an elevator, remove baby from the stroller and carry her up the stairs in your arms.
  • Manage weight distribution carefully: Many stroller injuries are due to tipping. Be sure you don't hang diaper bags on your handlebar unless your stroller can handle it. And if you're going to load up your stroller with additional hooks and bags, be wary of weight distribution. Keep in mind that even if your stroller load seems balanced with your little one inside, it may still tip if she gets out.
  • Open the stroller securely before placing a child inside: Make sure your stroller is securely locked in the open position — whether that is by listening for the "click," securing the crossbar, etc. — to avoid the stroller closing up on your baby or pinching a finger or leg.
  • Keep baby away when folding: Several recent recalls (e.g. Kolcraft, Maclaren) have been due to risk of finger amputation when folding.
  • Only jog with baby when appropriate: Never run with baby in a stroller that is not specifically designed to be a jogging stroller, and never use a jogging stroller prior to eight months of age (or as recommended by the manufacturer or your doctor).

Accessories

There's no shortage of accessories available for strollers!

  • Parent console and/or cup holder: It's a crime that many strollers don't come with these built in; but where else are you going to put your keys, phone and coffee? Universal ones are often better rated than ones produced by the manufacturer, so look around.
  • Bag hooks/clips: Great for hanging light grocery bags from your stroller (just be sure not to overload it!).
  • Stroller blanket or footmuff: Any small blanket will do — just make sure it's machine washable. Another popular option is to buy a "footmuff" that connects to the stroller and can't be kicked off.
  • Sunshade: If your stroller comes with an inadequate built-in sunshade, there are highly-rated aftermarket options available.
  • Rain cover and/or mosquito netting: Rarely included, but available separately (either from the manufacturer or as a universal option), should you need them where you live.
  • Infant head support: Depending on the amount of cushioning your stroller comes with, you might want to get a cushioned insert to hold your younger infant’s head in place.
  • Stroller travel bag: If you’ll be traveling a lot and taking a stroller as checked baggage, you may want to invest in a travel bag to minimize damage. Universal options tend to be a lot cheaper, but usually won’t fit as well.
  • Car seat adapter: Rarely included with the stroller. Make sure you research compatibility before you buy.
  • Bassinet: Available as an optional or included accessory with some high-end strollers — the ones where the seat can be removed from the frame.
  • Hop-on boards: Also called "rumble," "glider," or "wheeled" boards, these allow an older child to ride along on the back of a younger sibling's stroller.

Note: All featured products and brands are editorially selected by our editors; we do not accept compensation in exchange for coverage. This post does contain affiliate links, meaning we may receive a small proportion of any purchases you make after clicking on them (at no cost to you); thanks for your support! See our full Editorial Policy & Affiliate Disclosure here.