Wheels Deals and Fun how to Choose a Baby Stroller

A pushchair, buggy or pram are going to be one of the most important baby purchases you will make, unless you are one of these rare people that manage just with a sling. It’s also likely to be one of the most expensive items you buy, so choosing a right one is important.

This review attempts to give some general information on types of baby transport available, features on what’s good and what’s bad (and what’s pointless).

Throughout  ‘buggy’ will be used as a general term for a baby carriage. The text is divided into ‘Things To Consider’ and ‘Main Types Available’ and is largely based on a few online buying guides (they often try to sell you something though) to make sure nothing was missed. 

Things to consider

What you need depends on your particular needs and personal preferences. What works for your best friend will not necessarily work for you! It’s often actually rather difficult to work out your baby lifestyle prior to the birth, especially with the first baby. You might imagine yourself going for long walks and find that you go everywhere by car, or you might imagine yourself spending lot’s of time going round shops while in fact you discover new passion for trekking through fields and beaches.

Waiting till the baby is born is actually not such a bad idea.  For the first few weeks most babies travel happily in a soft sling and are light enough to not to be a big burden. But regardless of when you make the purchase, you have to think about what you will actually use the buggy for and take into account your living circumstances. One thing to remember is that newborns and up to about 6 month babies need a buggy in which they can lie completely flat, either all the time or between times when they sit.

Space

In your house/flat; in the boot of a car if you are going to carry the buggy; on public transport vehicles if you are going to use these.  Are you going to use the buggy in the house (for sleeping, for rocking, as an extra seat)? Where? Where is it going to be stored while inside (in the hall, kitchen, bedroom, porch, balcony)? Will it fit in the boot? Will it leave any room for other stuff? How well will it fit in the space provided on the bus you are going to use?

Folding

Will you need to fold it and unfold frequently and/or fast, possibly with one hand? This is the case if you are going to use traditional British style buses with a door wide enough for a buggy but unfortunately way inexplicably blocked by a rail .  If you use public transport and are lucky enough to have on your line these European style buses that allow for buggies on board without the barbaric need to fold and take the baby out the problem doesn’t exist.

In most other cases the speed of unfolding is not of such essence, as the baby can stay safely in the car seat while you fumble with the buggy, though it’s handy when getting out of the car in the rain.

Will it need to be folded while inside? If yes, sometimes or pretty much every time?  The more often you need to fold and unfold it, the more important it is to have an easy, simple and robust folding mechanism.

Chassis type

This relates to the folding issue. There are broadly two types of chassis:

The first one is an older fashioned pram type or cross-chassis; often called ‘classic’ – this can be seen if you look for example at mamas-papas-ultima-3-in-1-combination-with-sportline-chassis on google.

This type simply collapses flat down on pressing abutton/removal of the fixtures. It’s actually possible to collapse such a pram with the top in place (though it would take more space and probably won’t fit in most boots so usually you will need to take the top off).

The biggest advantage and the reason I am a huge fan of these is the fact that buggies with a cross chassis are rockable, as the links that connect the chassis to the axles act as springs. This is a fantastic bonus especially in the early days when the baby often needs just few rocks in the pram to go from the state of maximum fussiness to sleep. Get yourself something with a well-sprung, bouncy cross chassis, even if just for the house/garden.

The second one is ‘linear’ type chassis as in mamas-papas-ultima-3-in-1-with-mpx-chassis.

This folds to smaller space than the cross chassis and most of the smaller buggies, pushchairs and three-wheelers (apart from those with their own specific folding actions) have one like that. It is related to the umbrella-folding action of a light stroller but not necessarily easier to perform than with a cross-chassis. This type of chassis allows for swivel wheels while a cross-chassis doesn’t; so if you are set on swivel wheels, this is your only option.

Top

Assuming you are looking for a buggy suitable from birth, you can have a carrycot top or an adjustable backrest seat .

A carrycot, is easily and without any problems doubles as a Moses basket/crib (and made more portable by the chassis). Unless you have no room for an unfolded pram in your dwelling, I would definitely recommend solution with a carrycot, regardless of the chassis type.

Wheels

Two issues here:  Material. Wheels can be made from plastic, solid rubber or have pneumatic tyres. My personal preference is always for the bounciest type which means large ones with pneumatic tyres, but I have never suffered from a puncture so might be biased! Generally, the more likely you are to go off smooth tarmac/shopping centre floor marble/good paving, the more I would recommend going for larger, bouncier wheels (solid rubber or pneumatic), and mudguards.

Swivel versus fixed wheels. Swivel wheels are easier to manoeuvre in small spaces but more likely to veer off track. Fixed wheels are easier to keep on track, especially when steering one handed, but require you to raise the front of the buggy at any sharpish turn, and your turning circle is likely to be much bigger.

Many people swear by swivel wheels. The more likely you are to need to maneuver in small spaces (inside shops smaller than large supermarkets for example) the more likely you are to appreciate swivel wheels. The stronger you are, the less of a strain would be to maneuver a buggy without swivel wheels (but you would still need more room). However, for three-wheelers used off-road on rough terrain, fixed wheels are definitely better option, and they perform better than locked swivel wheels. Also, benefits of a rocking cross-chassis (these have fixed wheels) outweigh the swivel wheel advantage.

Weight

Do you live in a house? A ground floor apartment? Or on a third floor without a lift? Will you use train or underground stations without lifts/escalators? (yes, a lot of buggies go on escalators without any problems and although it looks precarious it is reasonably safe unless you have a tendency to faint or loose grip suddenly). In other words, will you need to carry the contraption on a regular basis, with or without the baby inside? If yes, make all other considerations secondary and make buying the lightest possible buggy your priority.

Fixtures, accessories and add-ons

Some buggies come with some or all of necessary accessories included, for some you will need to buy them separately – and they can add a lot to the total cost.

In order of necessity the most common accessories are:

Rain cover.

Definite necessity in British climate. They can be soft, supported by the pushchair construction and hood; or have their own frame for strollers and hoodless pushchairs.  Avoid covers that just clip to the edge of the hood as even if the hood is plastic-lined you don’t really want the outer cover soaked. A window in the front of the cover is a good thing that allows access without letting much rain in, important especially for small-baby prams and three-wheelers.

Sun parasol/canopy for the summer

Especially with a smaller child, a useful thing, as the hood will often not provide enough coverage, though not a substitute for a sun hat.

Foot muff/cosy toes

Covers the lower body in a pushchair in cold weather and much neater than blankets (if it’s really cold blankets can be stuffed inside anyway). If zipped onto the liner rather than just connecting with poppers or Velcro can be used to store stuff when the baby is small and its legs are nowhere near the bottom of the foot muff.

Liner/sleeping bag

An extended muff covering more of the baby, good for bigger babies and small toddlers in the coldest winters.

Changing bag

No need to buy a matching one unless the coordinated look is important to you, but a useful thing to have. Go for large, securely fastening one with several pockets. 

Head hugger

For newborns to stop the head lolling about. Only useful if your buggy is not completely flat (and it should be for a newborn).

Fixtures to consider include:

Shopping tray/basket

Wire trays allow for piling up a lot of stuff under the pram body, usually much, much more than the recommended tonnage ;-), without risking the buggy tipping over.

Adjustable handle

Important if you are very tall, very short or a man.

Carry bag

Useful if you are to fly with your buggy, though many airlines have special heavy duty plastic sacks.

Brakes

Do you have to brake each wheel seperately or is it one bar to push down to brake and to push up to release? How secure are the brakes?

Ability to face you or outwards

With a small baby it’s nice and handy to have the baby facing you. Prams with carrycot normally face you or allow for both directions, pushchair tops in 3 or 2-in-1 allow for both directions; standard pushchairs and most three-wheelers face outwards. The change might mean taking the top off or just tilting the handle over.

Main types available:

Three-in-one Two-in-One pram and pushchair combinations

3-in-1 means a carrycot and a pushchair seat which can either face you or face outwards, 2-in-1 is the same but without separate solid carrycot. These are suitable for transporting newborn babies to toddlers and of course the carrycot replaces a crib or Moses basket.  Choose one with a chassis and wheels that will suit you most and go for a carrycot if you can afford it!

A new 2-in-1 from a reputable brand (SilverCross, Mamas and Papas) is likely to cost in a region 400-450, if you add separate carrycot that can go as high as 600. Cheaper brands will probably be available for around 250 for 3-in-1 and less than 200 for a 2-in-1. However, it’s probably reasonably easy to buy the whole caboodle from the more expensive brands for less than 150 second hand. And sometimes possible to get one free (I did from freecycle!).

Pushchairs

The most common and the biggest category of four-wheeled buggies, normally suitable for newborn babies to toddlers and an oft-chosen budget option. I am personally not a great fan, as I am of strong belief that a product that does 5 things cannot possibly do all of them as well as 5 products designed separately.

These normally have a reclining seat, plastic swivel wheels, shopping basket and a front bar/foot rest for bigger babies/toddlers.

A pushchair like that will do you for the whole period of transporting the child, but it will not be as comfortable or nice as a pram/carrycot/2-in-1 for a small baby, and it will be much heavier (IMO unnecessarily) than a light stroller for a toddler.

The price range here varies enormously, from around 100 to 200+; or even more. Second hand they are very common and can be had for around 50-100 easily.

Three-wheelers

There is no reason to use a three wheeler in normal urban environment even though a lot of them are designed for that (swivel front wheels are a clue to an urban three-wheeler). They are long, longer than any other buggy, heavy and wide, and just don’t make sense.

However, if you go off road then a three wheeler comes to its fore. In fact, even on gravel/dirt tracks a three wheeler (an all terrain one, not a city one) performs immensely better than any other buggy.

With a good all-terrain three wheeler you will not perhaps be able to climb mountains (though the track parallel to the railway line up Snowdon might be just about possible) but dirt tracks, grassy paths, bumpy meadows and beaches become much more negotiable.

They are also great if you are one of these fitness-mad people who want to actually run with the baby (but then running would need to be done on smooth surface..

Look for robust pneumatic large wheels (you don’t want to spend your life mending punctures), adjustable handle, reliable brakes (including possibly ‘slow down’ front wheel hand brake if you live in a hilly area) and hood with decent coverage and good rain cover. Attempt to have a try before you buy (unless you can find a good review you trust) as a good ‘feel’ is very important for an all-terrain buggy if it’s to be used as intended.

A new truly all-terrain three-wheeler will set you off well in excess of 300, and can go over 500 if you need to buy accessories separately. It’s very worth looking for second hand product. These seem to retain their value better than other types –  Mountain Buggies (very, very good New Zealand brand) go on eBay for 120+ plus postage. 

Travel systems

These are combinations of a pushchair and a car seat, or a chassis only and a car seat. Some all-terrain three wheelers have an attachment that will allow for clipping the car seat on. The idea is that instead of transferring the baby from the car seat into the buggy you transfer the whole car seat onto the wheels. 

Buying a travel system can mean that you can get a good car seat for less money as it usually works out cheaper than buying the pushchair separately. If you are considering getting a from-birth pushchair, you might as well buy a travel system as it will probably save you money.

The cost depends heavily on the brand here, and for a pushchair and a car seat combination (without a carrycot) can vary from about 120-150 for cheaper brands like Graco or Britax to well over 300 for Mamas and Papas.

Next stage: Strollers

Regardless of what buggy you get for your newborn, you will probably find yourself looking for a lightweight, simple umbrella-folding stroller some time after they start sitting well (8 months old and above) and almost certainly when they start walking (normally 1 year old plus). This will last till the child stops using a buggy altogether, which will be some time after they are 2-2.5 years old. I have seen children that looked well over 3 years old in strollers but I think unless you need to walk very far and very quickly children of nursery age should walk as much as possible and a stroller shouldn’t be used as means of confining them (that’s just personal opinion though and of course what you need depends on personal circumstances).

Theoretically you can use a pushchair part of a 3-in-1, or a travel system, or a from-birth pushchair up to the nursery age, but as the child starts to spend less time in the buggy and, crucially, sleeps less in the day, the advantages of a light stroller start to outweigh any pluses other buggies might have.

This is unless you are walking off road, then if you want a buggy you will still need your all terrain three-wheeler: though a child backpack carrier might be a much better option for toddler transportation when walking outside cities (be it off road or along the road in the countryside).

All in all, and bit paradoxically, you are likely to use a stroller for as long (or longer!) as you used your ‘main’ buggy and thus it’s important to choose a reliable, robust one. I feel that strollers age less well (and get grubby more with their covers being harder to clean) than prams, three-wheelers or bigger from-birth pushchairs and buying a new one might be a better option here than looking for a second hand one of good enough quality, but it’s always worth a try.

There is massive variety of light strollers available, with prices starting s low as 20, and plenty of mid-range decent ones available around 50 mark.

On top of robust build, look out for as low weight as possible, smooth running wheels (some of the cheaper ones are vary hard to push) hood/canopy against the sun, reliable rain cover (not just one that clips on front of the hood unless the hood is waterproof or you never go out in the rain) and a decent shopping basket as a stroller has much smaller capacity for sticking your stuff around the baby and hanging it on the handles.