How to Shop for a Baby Stroller Travel System
As an expecting parent, you have a lot of decisions to make when it comes to getting ready for your child. Two of the bigger items you will have to decide on are the car seat and a baby stroller. For many parents, the idea of getting these in a package deal is very enticing. The way that you do this is by purchasing a stroller travel system.
The appeal of this type of system is that you don’t have to worry about getting a stroller and a car seat that aren’t compatible. These are specifically designed to work together. These systems also usually come with one or two base units that stay in the vehicle, which makes it very easy to move the car seat from place to place.
One other thing that makes these stroller travel systems appealing is you generally can get all of the items cheaper when you purchase them as a group, instead of buying a car seat with a base, a stroller and possibly a second base if you have two vehicles.
Now that you have an idea of what a stroller travel system is, let’s take a look at what features are available with these types of systems, along with any benefits or disadvantages.
Baby Stroller Features
When it comes to the features of a stroller travel system, the main thing you will be looking at is the stroller. Most car seats in a travel system should have the appropriate padding, harness, head cradle adjustable handle and canopy. The stroller, however, can vary significantly depending on the manufacturer. Before we get in to all the stroller features, let’s take a look at the size and weight.
Size and Weight
Generally, when you are looking at a stroller, one of your primary concerns is how big it is and how much it weighs. With a travel system, the stroller that comes with it generally falls in with the size of a full feature stroller. Some travel systems do have strollers that come near the size of lightweight models, but in general, you will find a travel system stroller falls in the following range:
- Length: (front to back): 44” to 54”
- Width: (side to side): 20” to 26”
- Height: (ground to top of handle): 40” to 48”
Of course, these sizes are for the stroller by itself. Depending on the model, snapping in a car seat could add a little to the length, width or height. This varies for each manufacturer, but overall, it shouldn’t change the dimensions too much. What you will ultimately need to do is to make sure that strollers in this size range can fit in your vehicle.
One other thing that you will need to consider is the weight. Being that it is similar to a full feature model, you can figure on the stroller weighing in at around 20 to 30 pounds. There are a few exceptions to this though. Several manufacturers are targeting people who want a Lightweight travel system, so may find a stroller that weighs in the 15 to 20 pound range. On the other end, you will also find a few strollers that may breach the 30 pound threshold (which gets pretty heavy to load and unload).
The next thing to consider is how your child will utilize the stroller. At the infant stage, your child will be using the car seat, which makes life a little easier on you. You can put the child in the car seat inside your house, then lock in the car seat in the base and you are ready to go. Once you arrive at your destination, all you need to do is unfold the stroller and then move the car seat from the base to the stroller. Nothing beats this setup with an infant.
Once your child gets a little older, somewhere in the 6 to 12 month age range, you will be ready to set them in the stroller without the car seat. The biggest thing to watch for here is to make sure that your child has full control of his or her head and neck. Also, be sure to follow manufacturer recommendations when it comes to lower age, weight and height limits.
There is one other thing to watch out for when looking at the stroller. The first thing is to check is the weight limit, so you have an idea of how long you will be able to utilize it. Somewhere between 40 to 50 pounds is a normal range.
For the most part, the seats in this category are fairly good. You will find some that just have a straight back to them while others provide some padding. The ones with padding are usually able to accept a child at a younger age, as they provide some bracing for the head and neck.
Another thing to look at is to see if the seat reclines. Some seats recline at a few select positions. Others have the ability to recline at almost any position through the use of some type of drawstring system. One of the best features you can with a reclining seat is one that reclines nearly flat. This allows the child to sleep in a natural position and is a requirement for those younger occupants that still need head and neck support.
As far as securing the baby, the stroller usually comes with a three or five point harness. Sometimes the harness is convertible, so you start with a five-point and change over to a three-point as the child gets older.
Another useful thing to look for is to see if the fabric that makes up the seat is removable so that it can be washed. Believe it or not, you baby could be slightly messy on occasion. It never hurts to be able to run a cover through the washer.
Canopies and Covers
There is a good chance you will end up with a couple canopies with a stroller travel system. The first of these is on the car seat itself. This will help shield the child not only in the stroller but is also useful in the car if the sun is shining directly on him or her. You should also expect to find a canopy on the stroller. This is useful not only for when the child sits in the stroller, but also when you have the car seat on it, as you can shield the baby from both directions.
While not as common as on some full feature strollers, you may find some canopies that can be rotated. This isn’t really all that helpful when the child is in the car seat, but it can be useful once the child is sitting in the stroller.
On some models, either included or as an accessory, you may find an additional weather cover. This can be useful when it is raining, but in all likelihood, you would avoid going out with the child in bad weather.
Suspension and Ground Clearance
When stroller travel systems first came out, they usually came with sets of 4” wheels and very little in the way of suspension. As the years have passed, manufacturers have started coming out with systems that have larger wheels and some types of the suspension system.
It is becoming more common for some travel systems to have three wheels instead of four and each wheel being around 8” in height. These usually also have sealed bearings with the wheels, which makes them easier to push and provides a smoother ride.
These taller wheels provide several advantages. First off, the baby is higher off the ground, making it easier for you to provide assistance. Secondly, the bigger wheels mean a higher ground clearance, so you have a little more flexibility as to where the stroller can go.
One other thing to look for if you end up considering a three-wheeled travel system is to see if the front wheel locks in the forward position. This lock prevents the bounce effect, where the wheel wobbles slightly back and forth if you push at a brisk pace.
Being that most of these strollers that come in travel systems are the size of a full feature stroller, they all handle fairly well. You shouldn’t have any problems navigating in stores with this size stroller, except in small boutique shops, where only the lightweight strollers can usually go.
There are a couple other things to look for. One is to see how the brakes work on the stroller. Most strollers in this class come with individual foot pedal brakes on each rear tire. If you can find one, it is a little handier if one-foot pedal controls both brakes. An even better situation is if you can find one that has a hand control, so you can quickly lock it into place.
One other thing to look at is the handle height. The importance of this will depend on the height difference of you and your spouse. If you are both around the same height, you just need to find a stroller that has the handles sitting at a comfortable position.
If you have a great difference in height, an adjustable handle is ideal. It isn’t very common to find adjustable handles with a travel system, but if you do find one, you may want to consider it if you think you and your spouse will both be using the stroller a lot.
Storage and Trays
In this class of stroller, you should expect a large storage bin at the bottom of the stroller. It should have fairly good access to. On some models, you may find some storage on the rear of the stroller, but that is not quite as common on travel systems.
You should definitely have an upper tray for the parent to store a drink and a set of keys. On most models, you will also find a child’s tray that also offers a cup holder and an area for snacks. This is also a great place to attach some toys or teething items for your child to use, but at the same time preventing them from falling on the floor.
For most travel systems, the stroller will fold up, but it will still be fairly large. You want to make sure you have adequate trunk space for one of these. If you can find one, it is also handy if the stroller will stay standing after you fold it up. This really saves your back in the long run.
Overall, a stroller travel system can be a good way to start out with an all in one package for your child. This is the way that we started out. It was very handy until our son started to push the limits of the car seat and we had to get a bigger one. At that point, we purchased a jogging stroller and a lightweight stroller, which meant the stroller that came with the travel system didn’t get much use as an actual stroller. If I had to do it over again, I would probably focus on finding a travel system that still had a fairly lightweight frame and good ground clearance, so that we would get more use out of it.
Hopefully, this information has helped you to decide if a travel system is right for you. If you are ready to check out some specific models, please visit some of the other articles on our site and check back often as we are constantly adding information on other strollers.