17 April 2007

Stroller shopping: a checklist

Snap-n-goI ignored plenty of good advice when I was pregnant with my first child. One tip I ignored at my peril: "Wait till after your baby arrives to buy the stroller." In my haste to get everything ready (and to answer the grandparents' insistent requests for things to buy), we got a stroller and dutifully stowed it away with all the other baby paraphernalia.

The stroller we picked looked perfectly useful in the store, but once filled with an actual baby, barely functioned. We ended up pitching it for a Baby Trend Snap-n-Go (a wheeled frame into which you snap the infant car seat), and then bought another stroller when our son was about six months old and could sit up.

Karen suggests keeping the following details in mind:

When I was pregnant and stroller-shopping, I looked at price, weight, and how easy it was to fold up and unfold. Some other things to look for: Is there a handle or other easy part to grab to pick up the folded stroller? What is up and what is down when it's folded? Mine is good on this count, but there are strollers that, when folded, put the tray on the ground. Yuck!

Also:

  • Can you steer the stroller with one hand?
  • Is the handle height adjustable to accommodate taller parents? Our first stroller killed my husband's back.
  • Can an older child get in and out by herself? Some kids reject the stroller soon after they can walk. Others (like my almost four year old) will still happily hitch a ride when tired.

Anything to add?

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Look for handle height adjustment even if there are no tall people in the picture. On a long walk, adjusting the handle helps avoid shoulder fatigue no matter how tall you are. This has been true for me and I am almost 5'3".

Can you steer the stroller with one hand?

Sharp push -- turn away from hand. Steady push then slight yank -- turn towards hand.

Is the handle height adjustable to accommodate taller parents?

Haven't seen one of these. We got a MacLaren primarily for the height. Back pain is one aspect; another is not wishing to be forced to take baby steps in order to avoid kicking the back of the stroller.

Both of these can be ameliorated by tilting the stroller onto its back wheels; now there's lots of stepping room, and having one's hands hang rather than holding them at an uncomfortable height is much nicer. Also baby can look up at you if baby wants.

Make sure the wheels are big enough as to not get stuck on every little pebble or sidewalk crack.

Another things to consider is what you will be using it for primarily. I have a huge double jogging stroller that I love. I use is it primarily for walking around town and running to the grocery store and library. I do not put in in the car or take it to places that are packed with people as it is to unwieldy. If I wanted something to easily stow in the car and that I could use in the mall it would be a nightmare. You have consider how much you will use your stroller and in what conditions.
We do keep a cheap-o umbrella stroller in the car for the rare mall type excursion. It works great for us, but only because we use it rarely.

I was given a pricy pricy Bugaboo stroller as a shower gift from my office. It turned out to be a wonderful thing for lots of reasons - big wheels climb curbs, easy to steer, great recline feature, and the bassinet for the tiny babe. And I was able to internally justify the obscene cost when I was able to sell it on Craig's list for $500 after 2 1/2 years of use.

Some reviews here
http://strollers.baby-gaga.com/
Any other review sites? I'm looking for a single jogger myself, as our son is rapidly outgrowing our (excellent) above-mentioned Snap-N-Go/Graco Snugride carseat.

I ended up with a snap n' go and a Valco Runabout Tri-Mode (2007, super awesome) since our neighorhood is very bumpy and we like to go hiking. I will probably get a smaller stroller like a McLaren for when the babe is out of his car seat, for the car, doctor trips, etc.

As a former Nanny who has road-tested many strollers, my wants in a stroller were:
-Easy to push & maneuver
-Not too heavy (Valco is 22 pounds I believe)
-Good size storage basket & easy accessibility (put the seat all the way reclined & see if you can still get things out of the storage basket)
-Off road capability
-Shocks & suspension (so baby stays asleep and doesn't get tossed around)
-Car seat adaptable
-Cup holder adaptable (most of the new jogger/SUV models have snap on cup holders available or are compatible with another brand of cup holder)

You can get a jogging/"SUV" stroller for cheap here: http://returnsforsale.com/cart.php?m=product_list&c=6
They always have lots of Urban Buggy's, and an assortment of other high-end brands.

www.joggingstroller.com had a really good comparison chart, but I can't get the link to work right now; hopefully you can find it on their site.
www.letsgostrolling.com is awesome too -- we went to the showroom and they were so helpful in making a final decision. I hear they do great phone consultations as well.

epinions has some good reviews as well.

Also, check out the websites of the manufacturer -- lots of cool pics and info to help you decide.

Good luck!

Oh, the stroller - I'm in the throws of stroller angst right now. We have FOUR for our 7 month old (luckily they are all gift or hand me downs). I got a Peg Perego Aira as a shower gift - it's the one we picked and the least used. It's a great stroller, but not for our use. We used snap n' go (a free hand me down) almost exclusively until about 2 months ago when she started sitting up and not liking being reclined when strolling. Now we use our Chicco Capri (also a shower gift) a lot and keep it in the trunk. However, after struggling with all the strollers in our bumpy neighborhood on evening walks, I borrowed a jogging stroller from a friend who has older kids.

Really think about what you will use your stroller for before buying. Better yet, try to borrow someone's and test it out before buying. I never thought I'd use a jogger and can't believe how much I use the borrowed one!

My wife and I did a LOT of research as we travel a lot and the Quinny line of strollers fold up extremely small, especially our choice, the Zap. Their being sold in the US and Canada now, but if you look at the European sites they have some handy features we don't get(psst...like mounting a carseat on the frame) ...but with some clever ebaying you can get everything you need. The great thing about the Quinny Zap is that it is small, lightweight and you could conceivably fit it into an overhead bin on most airplanes.

When my son was an infant, we bought a stupid $30 umbrella stroller at Sears. Then we went to REI and bought a BOB-brand off-road three-wheeler. Five years and another child later, we still have _both_ strollers, and they're both in good enough condition that we'll be donating them once my daughter is another year old or so. My point? You can go through a _lot_ of $30 umbrella strollers for the price of some of the choices out there, and they're very convenient (small, light, etc.). As with most markets that are aimed at first-time buyers, more $$$$ doesn't necessarily mean better.

We did lots of research as well, a good amount online, but mostly at the mall, asking people as they went by what they thought of there stroller, the reactions varied widely. Our criteria was fairly basic, maneuvering in stores, dog-park walks, and longevity. We were initially in love with the Bugaboo after seeing it on the Blue Ant blog, I have to say at this point that we are both design whores, we just love well designed products. The most loved at the mall was the B.O.B. Revolution. I put in an RSS feed link for a month on craigslist to find one and got not results, so I think that most people are very happy with them so they aren't selling them. The best recommendation was from a woman who had 2 kids, 9 and 5 I think, she said "we have 7 other strollers and really only use the BOB, it will carry everything and our 5 year old and breaks down so easy you can do it blindfolded". The Bugaboo while gorgeous was just to pricey for what you got, especially in person. In the showroom we went to they were really flimsy and loose. Needless to say we ended up with the BOB Revolution, I found it online for way less than retail, the baby seat adaptor works great, he doesn't even blink an eye in the transition from car to stroller, it maneuvers so easy it's like a magic carpet, especially on rough pavement and pretty well in stores. The build quality is excellent, very solid, the instructions though were way to complicated for how simple it is, I guess they are lawyer-shy.
My wife did end up getting a Graco car seat stroller a few days ago for small size factor, to ease short errands, the BOB can be a little cumbersome. I haven't used this yet but it seems pretty well designed and fold down very small.

I hope this helps

we loved our graco metrolite. not too fancy, ($150-ish 5 years ago) or featureladen but it really worked for us. Light enough for me to dump in the trunk with little difficulty, easy to assemble/ disassemble. pretty easy to clean. big storage bag on bottom, drink holder on top. It held a carseat for the first few months, then converted to a regular stroller. we used it hard for 3 years, and it still looks great.

Our backup was a $15 umbrella stroller gotten free from CVS with diaper purchace. it was the best for crowded shopping times in the mall, or street festival.

Once our kid could walk well- she wanted nothing to do with the stroller.

As a new mom, I spent a lot of time wandering around the mall- not for shopping, but for indoor entertainment. and to see other grown-ups. (bebee was born in the hot Washington summer) the metrolite was easy to maneuver, comfortable to push and lock, and well balanced. (if I did stick packages in the bottom, or off the handle it wouldn't tip over.)

Sooooo I guess all I really have to add is try them all out in the store. try lifting it with one hand. try folding it one handed. try locking the wheels while not really looking at them. and the most expensive baby things are not always the most useful. (we learned that the hard way on some other items) HTH, MKZ

If you are a taller parent (I'm a 6'2" mom), also consider your stride when you walk. I have long legs and found myself stepping on the back of the stroller (the bottom brace) and had to specifically find something without bars between the rear wheels. Take a brisk walk around the store when testing out a model so you can check on where your leg ends up when pushing. And stroller extenders are great (the ones that lock on to and extend the handles).

After having three kids, I feel like a stroller whore. At one point, we had something like four or five (umbrella, full-on reclining "luxury," snap & go, double, jogging, etc.).

My own personal feature list:

- must recline, especially for kids under 18 mos.
- adjustable handles for parent comfort
- good wheels! My mom got a Graco stroller just to have something, and its plastic hollow wheels were awful -- noisy, flimsy, and with no shock absorbsion.
- Are the surfaces and fabric washable? If the tray is removable, could you even put it in the dishwasher?
- What kind of canopy does it have?
- Can you get a plastic stroller cover for wind, rain and snow?
- What kind of buzz is there on the manufacturer's customer service?

The one stroller that's made it through all three of our kids and is still going strong is the Peg Perego Venezia. I picked it from reviews in Baby Bargains (by Alan & Denise Fields) in late '99 before our first child was born, and of course after playing with one in a store. It has a boot for bassinet-style strolling, full recline, big canopy, big basket, great wheels, reversible handle, etc.

Can the stroller back recline easily? If your child is falling asleep you are going to want to recline it at least 3/4, some strollers do this more easily than others.
To steering with one hand I have to add: Are you able to FOLD it with one hand? There are just times where you have to be able to fold your stroller and pick it up with just one hand because your baby is in the other arm.
We started with the Graco Metrolight which worked fine as long as the baby was in her car seat. Then it quickly became too cumbersome. We were off for a long trip and we invested in a Maclaren. We've never looked back.

We just acquired our 5th stroller, a Quinny Zap for all the reasons mentioned above.

Our 2.25 year-old is reasonably content to sit, as long as moving (FAST, if possible), and he has run away in a parking lot and on a chaotic street. He'd rather sit, it seems, than hold hands. We think he'll be sitting in a stroller at least some of the time, e.g., in parking lots, on sidewalks, for at least one more year so we took the plunge. At about CAD$200 (less if you buy on Sears Scratch-and-Save, as we did), the Quinny Zap is good value.

Other strollers that have held our little guy:

>> $40 used Graco as an even cheaper alternative to a Snap-and-Go for the 3+ months he was in a bucket car seat (borrowed from my sister, who had succumbed and bought one of those 'sets' fit for walking in a mall and not much else; we benefited from the error of her ways)

>> $50 used Peg Perego with a large canopy, reasonable storage, reclining seat, one-hand fold-up, and *reversible handle*. The flip-flop handle is a great feature for babies that is rare and under-appreciated. We could have eye contact when he was a smaller baby, but too tall for the bucket car seat, and we could keep sun out of his eyes when walking outdoors. We could have used this instead of the Graco mentioned above, to hold the bucket car seat, but we didn't find it in time. We're about to give away or sell to a second-hand store as it is still very usable. (If you happen to live in Calgary, AB, Canada and would like this stroller, email melanie.j.rock@gmail.com)

>> $45 'cheapo-deluxe' umbrella-style stroller (reasonably sturdy frame, some storage, tall handles, canopy, etc., but terrible wheels and steering; purchased to leave at daycare for occasional use, e.g., bus rides home)

>> Baby Jogger purchased second-hand for about $70 at a Mountain Equipment Coop gear-swap, from someone who had been using it up until then with his 5-year-old. These are great machines. Huge wheels make walking up hills a breeze. We even used it as a beach chair when our son was still a baby, as it will torque through sand. We park it in our garage and we'll probably use this stroller for at least one more year, to go for walks in our very hilly environs. But as noted in a previous comment, to be good at what they do, such strollers are cumbersome and not suitable for use in stores, public transit, or crowds.

Waiting to buy a stroller until AFTER the baby is born is probably the best advice I received. Had I purchased (or registered prior), I would have ended up with a "travel" system, which would have been wildly unsuitable for our purposes.

I am in love with our Valco. Very high quality. We use it hard and it still looks brand new. The wheels are large enough for off-road/rough streets yet small enough not to be cumbersome in tight areas. The front wheel also has the option of being fixed or swivel.

Our stroller fleet of two:

* Car-seat frame Graco Snugrider- When I found out I HAD to deliver by c-section, my stroller research changed. Suddenly, I wasn't going to be able to lift as much as if I had a non-surgical delivery. The car seat frames are EASY TO USE if you get a well-matched car seat, easy to collapse, and they weigh almost nothing. I confirmed these assumptions while pregnant with a nice young mum at the Oakbrook, IL CA Pizza Kitchen (thank you, if you're reading this!) who was using one for her infant daughter.

I met a woman in an elevator using the Snap-N-Go twin version of the stroller (there were very few people using them in our area, so we started discussing the strollers and the babies and she's now one of my closest friends).

* From online reviews, a MacLaren seemed the thing for slightly taller than average people. Their strollers are reasonably lightweight, have features (like telescoping legrests and sunshades that many umbrellas lack), and they fold up compactly. We love, love, love our MacLaren for many outings (we have a Vogue which I think has been discontinued).

We're considering a jogging stroller for more outdoorsy stuff and the sidewalk-free portion of our walk to the library or city pool, but I can't decide. The joggers seem huge folded (and we both have mid to small Japanese cars). I keep thinking about a BOB (I saw one at Once Upon A Child for $65, but didn't know the brand... how I kick myself over that decision), but can't decide on a single or a double. Plus, the price is a sticking point. This keeps us at 2 strollers for now with no plans of replacement or upgrade for future babies.

Love this stroller! Even better than my Bugaboo! My 8 mo old still uses it and it will be a sad day when we have to give it up. The basket is big , cup holders are great and it is so lightweight and best of all so easy to open and close. A must buy for every new parent!

As a mother of twins there were several things that I didn't think about when buying a stroller thankfully, I went with my gut and it worked out well.

We started out with a double snap-and-go. The basket was big enough that it held all of my groceries for the first five months of the babies lives.

At six months we switched to a MacClaren. Aside from the basics, folding, weight, stability, here are the reasons I love it for twins:

The seats are side-by-side so it works as high chairs when we are at the park, visiting friends, eating anywhere with out having high chairs.

Also the open ended handles allowed me to carry the babies car seats while walking through the airport. I can also easily strap my backpack/diaper bag onto the handles.

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