What is the best pack and play for travel?

QWhat is the best pack and play for travel?

I need something light and preferably that works with a mattress for overnight stays in hotels.

AThe Answer

The Best Pack & Play For Travel (and Life)

How to Choose a Pack and Play That’s Lightweight, Easy to Use, and Actually Comfortable for Your Child
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Despite what the term “Pack and Play” calls to mind, for most families, this piece of (decidedly modern) hardware will not in fact be frequently packed up at all for the first few months of your child’s life: for many families, the pack and play is actually the full-time sleeping spot for newborns and is often used will into infancy, as well.

Before a child is ready for a regular crib, they need a safe place to sleep, and ideally that place can be located conveniently close to his or her parents (especially if the mother is breastfeeding). Therefore while at first blush you might consider the most important attributes of a good pack and play to be its ease of use, its weight, and how compactly it breaks down for storage, in fact you need to consider quality and comfort every bit as much.

Investing in a high quality pack and play can mean not buying a separate bassinet, infant cradle, and other pieces of baby furniture, so you might actually end up saving money in the long run by spending a chunk of money on your pack and play.
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On the other hand, a pack and play is pretty much pointless if it can’t actually be packed up quickly and easily and then swiftly setup when it’s time for slumber or for a safe place to put your baby when away from home. Finding the right pack and play for your family means first considering who will be its primary users. (That means your little one… and you!)

So, Who Is Going To Use This Pack and Play?

Is the child who will be the primary user of your new pack and play…

  • A newborn? (0 to 3 months old)
  • An infant? (up to a year of age)
  • A toddler? (1 to 2 or even 3; “toddler” is a more fluid term these days)

  • If the answer is a newborn, then it’s essential that your pack and play comes with (or can be fitted with) a bassinet attachment specifically designed for the littles babies. This will not only help keep them safer and more comfortable, but it also raises them closer to the parent who will be frequently bending over their child when it’s time for a new diaper, a feeding, or just some snuggles and comfort.

    At some point during the first year (AKA infancy), your child is going to start sitting up, crawling, and likely standing (and in some cases climbing!). That means your pack and play also needs to be deep enough and sturdy enough to keep a budding gymnast safe when they’re awake and playful and comfortable when it’s time for sleeping.

    Most toddlers have their own cribs or even beds, but many pack and plays are large enough to serve as the full time sleeping arrangement for “bigger” little kids, and are certainly sufficient for temporary slumber during travel. But as your kid grows… the pack and play stays the same size! So if you think you’re thinking long term, the difference of, say five inches (which happens to the difference in length between two options on our list) might mean many more months of use out of one pack and play compared to another.

    Ah, but what about the pack and play’s other user?

    Your baby may be the one who will sleep or play in the pack and play, but the kid’s not going to set up, collapse, or lug the thing around by themselves! So ask yourself…

  • Will you be transporting/using the pack and play by yourself?
  • Is your travel mostly by car (and if so, rather local) or by plane/train/etc.?
  • Will this be a full-time sleeper for extended periods of time (in other words, might you be looking at this pack and play for days at a time, or is it for just one or two nights here and there)?


  • At least one of the pack and plays on our list is pretty darn heavy (great quality… but very heavy); in fact it’s heavy enough that many people might not be able to safely lift or use it, essentially ruling it out for them (hint: it’s the otherwise stellar 4Moms Breeze Playard). And at least one of the pack and plays discussed here is not exactly aesthetically pleasing, so if you’re going to be selecting a full-time sleeper for your baby, you may want to select a different option (we’ll try not to bias you much with our style opinions, though).
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    For the record, this article is focused on pack and plays that are great for travel and as such weight, compact size, and ease of use will received the heaviest consideration. But we’re going to keep coming back to the larger discussion of quality construction and design and the potential long-term use of each option as well, because the more use you get out of your purchase, the more value you’ve achieved.

    Now Let’s Get Down to the Business of Picking a Pack and Play!

    Decide for yourself if it’s all about the portability, design, or all about the years of service, but here’s the lowdown on a few pack and plays that have stood the test of time (and stood up to testy toddlers) to become the go-to for many parents out there in the trenches.

    The Basic Option…
    The Graco Pack ‘n Play Playard
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    You’ll find this pack and play set up in houses all across America and around the world; you’ll find it in the corner of grandma’s house and you’ll often find it waiting for you in the hotel room if you made a special request ahead of time for a baby sleeper. The Graco Playard is the old standby, and for many families it is a fine choice. Now let’s break things down:

    Pros
    Compact When Folded
    Wheeled for Easy Moving When Setup
    Low Priced Option
    Decent Weight for Travel

    Cons
    Setup Can Be Finicky
    Subject to Jams and Breaking
    Not Suitable for Larger Toddlers
    Not Aesthetically Pleasing

    The Takeaway
    The Graco Pack ‘n Play Playard is a fine choice for smaller babies who will use it infrequently. It’s priced low enough to justify its purchase even if it’s only used sporadically, but it’s quality is too low to consider it for more regular use (for example as a full-time sleeper for those first months). Its floor is too flimsy to support heavier kids, so by the time your child is walking and stomping and playing more vigorously, it will be time to put this pack and play away. The setup and collapsing processes are usually smooth and simple, but over time some of the joints can warp and cease to respond properly, leading to frustration. So again, the bottom line is to consider this Graco option only as an infrequent and/or temporary sleeper/play area.

    The Compromise Choice…
    Graco Nimble Nook
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    Right off the bat you can see that this Graco pack and play is markedly more attractive than its aforementioned (and rather lower priced) associate. The Nimble Nook comes in demure colors and subtle patterns, and its gently sloping lines create an almost elegant outline that will look just fine in the corner of mom and dad’s bedroom even for extended use. It’s also light and compact enough for use by the frequent travelers. The Nimble Nook is great for newborns and infants and it’s suitable for smaller toddlers, so you’ll get a decent amount of use out of this affordably priced option. Here’s the 4-1-1 on the Nimble Nook:

    Pros
    Handsome Design
    Lightweight and Compact
    Recessed Wheels for Easy Moving
    Suitable for Plural Ages

    Cons
    Same Issues With Graco’s Finicky Joints
    Too Small for Many Toddlers

    The Takeaway
    For a pack and play that costs well under a hundred bucks, you can’t do much better than the Graco Nimble Nook. So why do we call it a “compromise?” Because your kid will outgrow it sooner than she will come other models, but because it will serve adroitly before that happens. The Nimble Nook’s bassinet attachment comes with two gentle vibration settings, there’s an overhead bar for hanging toys or animals to soothe newborns and amuse older babies, it looks good, it works well (until a joint gives out, as tends to happen with Graco products that see heavy use), and it’s compact both when folded up for storage or “deployed” for sleep or play. The main drawback with this pack and play is that it’s not large enough for kids as they grow from baby to toddler and beyond, but the use you’ll get out of it at home and away before they outgrow it make the Nimble Nook a fine option for your family to consider.

    The Heavy Hitter…
    The 4Moms Breeze Playard
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    Listen, we can’t really stress this enough, but we’re going to try… the 4Moms Breeze Playard pack and play is very… very… heavy. As in around 30 pounds. As in lifting it above your head (when folded up for storage, not when a kid’s in it, for god’s sake) is hard and potentially impossible for many people! So this is probably a bad choice to leave at grandma’s house or for the parent whose slighter of build and will be traveling alone with junior. If we’re so hung up on the Breeze Playard’s weight, then why is it on our list, you might ask? Because that heavy weight is this pack and play’s only drawback: it is superlatively easy to use, solid, and overall high quality. Now for the lowdown:

    Pros
    Extremely Easy Setup
    Suitable for Newborns Up to Larger Toddlers
    High Quality Construction

    Cons
    Darned Heavy
    Requires Custom Sheets/Pads
    Expensive

    The Takeaway
    The 4Moms Breeze Playard Pack and Play will serve you well should it be your child’s only sleeping area from the time they are a little newborn all the way into the toddler days. (In fact it’s probably large enough to serve as the only sleeper a child ever uses before they move to a bed if need be, though things will get a bit tight near the transition time if you bypass a regular crib.) We have never seen a pack and play that sets up and breaks down more easily: you literally just push down on the column in its center to deploy it and then pull up on a loop of fabric to collapse it. The mattress encloses the frame before it slides into its carry bag so the Breeze stays safe and sound during transport, even in the clutches of the dreaded airline baggage handler. The bassinet is safe and secure and larger than that included with many other pack and plays, and the larger, lower area measures a generous 46 by 32 inches. The 4Moms specs say the Breeze Playard is suitable for children weighing up to 30 pounds, but you could likely rely on it for kids even a bit bigger than that. (Which you’ll appreciate, given that it costs more than any other pack and play on our list.)

    So this is a great pack and play, see? And if it weren’t so heavy, you can bet it would be our number one choice! But instead, now here’s…

    Our Runner Up
    The BabyBjörn Travel Crib Lightpackplay_7

    OK, remember how our main complaint about the 4Moms Breeze Playard was its heavy weight? Well our main point of celebrating the BabyBjörn Travel Crib is the opposite: this truly travel-ready sleeper weighs in at a mere 13 pounds! That’s around 40% of the weight of our runner-up, and it’s just about the lightest unit we’re discussing today. This is perhaps not a great everyday option the way the 4Moms Breeze could be, as indeed the Travel Crib Light sacrifices a bit of sturdiness in slashing all those pounds, but for a truly portable sleeping spot (and isn’t that where our discussion began?), this is one of the best choices on the market today.

    Pros
    Wildly Lightweight
    Easy to Setup
    Wide Age Range

    Cons

    Not Quite as Sturdy as Some Options
    A Bit Pricey

    The Takeaway

    The BabyBjörn Travel Crib Light is suitable for kids ranging from the first days of life all the way into their third year here on planet earth. That means that even though this highly portable crib is not an ideal option for everyday use, being not as sturdy as a pack and play needs to be when a kid gets rowdy, you’ll get years and years of use out of it as a place to nap or sleep your child, making it worth the price tag. The Travel Crib Light collapses into one of the most compact packages we’ve seen out of any crib or pack and play, folding down into a shape more like a suitcase than the standard large rectangular shape.

    The bottom line is that for the frequent traveler, size and weight matters. If you want a quality, easily portable, well-made place to sleep your baby (and you don’t mind shelling out more than 225 bucks), then this is a great choice. If you need more of a portable play area than a safe sleep spot, then you might want to consider another option for larger toddlers, but you likely won’t be disappointed if you end up choosing the BabyBjörn Travel Crib Light.

    Our Number One Choice
    The Lotus Travel Crib and Portable Baby Playard
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    This Lotus Travel Crib weighs the same as the BabyBjörn Travel Crib Light: a mere 13 pounds. That means it’s easy to carry it from room to room while it’s setup and easy to carry it all across town or around the globe when it’s packed away. Unlike the BabyBjörn Travel Crib, this Lotus pack and play is just about as sturdy as other heavier options on our list. It also has a unique feature of a zip down sidewall (much as many campers know and love from their tents) that allows your child to crawl in and out of the playard or which can be sealed up to create that safe spot for sleep or play you need from the product. And while the BabyBjörn folds up into a suitcase shape for easy carrying, the Lotus outdoes them: it folds up into a compact rectangular shape you can wear on your back like backpack using built-in straps.

    Pros
    Very Light Weight
    Backpack Style Carry System
    Machine Washable Fabric
    Easy Set Up/Breakdown

    Cons
    Interior Is a Bit On the Smaller Side

    The Takeaway
    It’s cheaper than the BabyBjörn (though not by much), it weighs the same amount of pounds, it’s sturdier, it’s got a zip down mesh wall, it’s got a backpack style carrying system… what can we say here, really, other than this is a great choice? The only drawback is that at 42″ long by 24″ wide, the mattress area is smaller than other options on the list, and at 25″ high, it’s a good deal shorter than others, too. So your toddler will outgrow this Lotus Travel Crib pack and play faster than a larger unit… but you’ll sure take pleasure in this one before that happens.

    So There You Have It! Now Remember…

    Consider your child’s age, the frequency with which you’ll use the pack and play, who has to set up, collapse, and lug the thing around, and whether or not you care about looks. Chances are you can find the perfect pack and play for your family on our list, but if not, hopefully at least this has given you some pointers and plenty to think about as you research on!