When someone is having a baby, they aren’t just welcoming a tiny human — they’re also welcoming an endless amount of stuff into their home. And although parents quickly learn that not all baby gear marketed as a “must-have” is actually essential, there’s one category that definitely is: the stroller. However, when going to buy one for the first time or adding one to a registry, parents quickly learn another parenting truth: A stroller isn’t just a stroller.
There are many distinct types of strollers at different price points and each is intended for a specific lifestyle or need. We consulted experts to learn more about the various types of strollers and what stroller features you should be considering, plus got some specific expert recommendations.
What to know before shopping for a stroller
Although there are many factors to consider when buying a stroller, Natalie Diaz of Twiniversity, a resource for parents of multiples, explained that shoppers should always start with size before anything else. “Families need to first measure their trunk, doorway and stroller storage area to see what size might work best,” she said.
Then they need to think about how the stroller is going to be used. “If it’s for daily use, where do you live? Will you be on concrete, gravel, grass, dirt path? Then narrow it down,” she added.
Next, consider whether you plan to expand your family anytime soon. “Will you want a stroller to grow with you and your family or will you just buy another one?” Diaz said. And then there’s the budget: Not everyone can afford the “best” on the market, “but many might be surprised to find out that the ‘best’ might not be the best anyway after thinking about the above scenarios,” she added.
Baby gear expert Jamie Grayson of the Baby Guy Gear Guide said that two other essential aspects to consider are where you live and your lifestyle. “In an urban environment your stroller is your car — you’re using it all day not only to walk with your kids, but also to schlep your groceries and goods around,” he noted. “So investing in a great stroller in an urban environment can be more important than investing if you are in and out of a car constantly in the suburbs.”
Different types of strollers to shop
As Grayson noted, not all strollers are created equal, so it’s important to know the difference between stroller types to ensure you are looking at models in the category that best fits your needs.
- Jogging stroller. Typically, this is a three-wheeled stroller made for multiple terrains and fast movement, explained Diaz.
- Travel system stroller. This versatile stroller first accommodates an infant car seat and then converts into a typical single stroller as your child grows. “Travel strollers are just as convenient as car seat carriers, but offer more versatility, with a full-size stroller that includes a detachable car seat,” said Grayson. “Parents can choose if they want a standard size with extra storage, a lightweight [stroller] or even a jogging stroller travel system.”
- Convertible travel system stroller. This stroller does all of the above “but has the ability to convert and add a second seat if you expand your family,” explained Diaz.
- Umbrella stroller. This is the lightest and easiest option for parents or caregivers who can’t lug around bulky baby gear. “They are the most portable wherever you go and fold up into a slender umbrella that is easy to carry around,” said Grayson.
- Full-size stroller. This is typically a four-wheeled, all-in-one convertible stroller, so you can use it from birth up to 50 pounds, depending on the recline level. “They offer ample storage space and accessories to accommodate your growing child, but may be a bit bulky,” said Grayson.
- Side-by-side double stroller. This wider stroller seats two children conveniently next to each other. “Double strollers are a must for life with two little ones,” added Grayson. “Whether it’s to safely accommodate twins or a baby and toddler, these strollers remove the challenge of pushing one child in a stroller while trying to manage another child by hand.”
- Inline double stroller. This is a double stroller that has two children “stadium seated,” or one below the other, Diaz explained.
- Infant or car seat carrier stroller. These metal frame strollers include a base that connects to hold one or two infant car seats in a snap. “They are compact and convenient for traveling with infants when you need support carrying a baby in a heavy car seat,” said Grayson. You might also see them referred to as Snap n’ Go strollers.
Best strollers to shop 2021
We asked the pros to recommend the best strollers on the market across categories and used their guidance and experience to compile a list of top options.
Best overall all-terrain and side-by-side double stroller: Bumbleride
All of our experts agreed that Bumbleride is the gold standard of strollers. As Grayson put it: “If you know, you know.” You can convert this beloved all-terrain stroller into a modular system by purchasing a bassinet or infant car seat. “Bonus: it’s eco-friendly,” he added.
And if you have a new addition or are a twin parent, Diaz called out the Indie Twin as the best side-by-side double stroller she’s encountered. Both models have large storage baskets, one-handed backrest reclines and UPF 45+ canopies.
Best car seat and stroller hybrid: Doona
Diaz told us there is only one hybrid stroller like this. In car seat mode, it works as rear-facing only and the stroller’s adjustable handlebar serves as an anti-rebound bar.
“While it is one of the heaviest infant seats on the market due to the mechanics involved that turn it into a stroller, when it comes to convenience for travel and for people with limited space in their home, the Doona is a great product,” added Grayson. This car seat and stroller combo is suitable for babies weighing from 4 to 35 pounds and comes with a two-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Best stroller for newborns: UPPAbaby
In addition to being compatible with the MESA infant car seat, this travel system also comes with a bassinet and bassinet bug shield so your newborn can stroll safely and comfortably. When you get home, the stroller folds into upright storage. There’s also a bassinet stand option for a seamless transition from outdoors to indoors or for traveling. Ana Taney, a maternal health advocate and postpartum doula, also noted this expandable stroller’s long-term appeal, as it can convert to carry up to three with a ride along board as your family expands.
Best for growing families on the go: CYBEX
If you invest in this versatile stroller with your first (or twins), you may still be glad you did by the time you welcome your second or third. This 3-in-1 travel system supports over 20 single, sibling and twin modes, whether you’re looking to stroll with an infant cot or a CYBEX infant car seat. It weighs 27.7 pounds and has machine-washable fabric, a detachable shopping basket, a multi-position recline, an extendable UPF 50+ sun canopy and all-wheel suspension.
Best affordable single-to-double stroller: Evenflo
“For [under] $400, you get a stroller that converts from a single to a double and the car seat is included,” noted Grayson. “You also don’t need extra adapters or parts, so you get quite a bit of bang for relatively little buck here.”
In addition to a self-standing fold and 22 conﬁgurations, this versatile stroller comes with a toddler seat that accommodates up to 55 pounds. “Fairly new to the market, this stroller and car seat combo has all the newest bells and whistles,” added Diaz.
Best high-end stroller: Bugaboo
An upgraded version of the popular Fox, the Fox 2 model weighs 21.8 pounds and has large “puncture-proof” wheels plus a new sun canopy. “Aside from the fashion component to this stroller, it truly pushes like a dream so you are able to have an incredibly smooth ride and one cute stroller,” Grayson said. “Bugaboo is also one of the only companies that truly engineers every single part of their stroller and nothing ever really goes wrong with them, which means they hold a very high resale value if that’s something you’re thinking about.” If something does go wrong or you’re not satisfied, the stroller comes with a 100-day trial period and a 3-year warranty (as long as you register online).
Best stroller for running: Thule
Freda Singletary, MD, a pediatrician in North Carolina, recommended this sleek all-terrain stroller for parents on the move, as it allows for a one-handed, compact fold at the end of an adventure.
It can be used from birth with the Thule Bassinet, and when your little one is older and you’re ready to run, you’ll both appreciate the smooth suspension and convenient twist handbrake for controlled braking. “Thule is known for their recreational gear, so the next step into the juvenile industry just made sense,” added Grayson. “It features a handbrake, a great fold and a covered undercarriage basket to keep your belongings inside and the elements out — just a terrific product.”
Best high-end stroller travel system: Nuna
This luxe travel system accommodates children from birth to 50 pounds with four different mode options: bassinet, car seat, parent facing or world facing. With all-wheel suspension and one-hand five-position recline, your little one might even snooze on the go. The oversized canopy’s coverage is secured with convenient magnets, offering UPF 50+ sun protection from head to toe. It also boasts an adjustable pushbar for personalized height, a compact standing folding mechanism no matter which position the seat is in and a self-guiding magnetic buckle to make clipping in squirming bodies much easier.
Best umbrella stroller: Summer Infant
This durable stroller weighs 14 pounds, bringing convenience to everyday use. It has a one-hand, multi-position recline as well as cup holders for both parent and child. The oversized canopy has a peek-a-boo window and there’s a zip-close pocket as well as a roomy basket for storage. “It’s a small fold, [it’s] super light and [it’s] easy to carry with an attached shoulder strap,” said Diaz.
Best high-end stroller for expanding families: Silver Cross
This is one of the few convertible strollers that allows a bassinet in the upper position, and the additional seat has a weight limit of 45 pounds, which is one of the highest on the market. “There are plenty of strollers that convert from a single to a double, but a few things set the Coast apart,” Grayson explained. “Instead of having to buy a few extra accessories and adapters to make this stroller a double, you can use it as a double out of the box, which is rad, and the upper seat adapters are integrated into the frame so you never lose them.”
However, updated for 2021, the new Wave Double Stroller is also worth noting for growing families or twin parents. This double travel system can create up to 30 modes depending on your little ones’ ages and preferences, and it comes with a tandem seat that holds up to 55 pounds.
Best lightweight stroller: UPPAbaby
Taney’s top pick was the MINU stroller, which is lightweight yet robust at 14.8 pounds. Despite having a roomy interior for your little one, this stroller with shock-absorbing, all-wheel suspension doesn’t feel bulky or cumbersome. Instead, the one-handed fold, built-in carry handle and shoulder strap make it conducive to a busy lifestyle.
In addition to the MESA infant car seat, this stroller is also compatible with the Maxi-Cosi, Nuna and Cybex models. It’s recommended for babies aged 3 months to 50 pounds — however, the From Birth Kit allows you to utilize the MINU from day one by transforming it into a completely flat resting place for your newborn.
Best affordable stroller travel system: Chicco
Both Taney and Grayson recommended Chicco when it comes to a quality travel system at an affordable price. The 3-in-1 Bravo Trio comes with the KeyFit 30 infant car seat, a lightweight stroller frame and a stroller seat that accommodates up to 50 pounds.
“There are a few variations in this Bravo line, but at the core, you get a very solid car seat, a solid frame and a great toddler seat,” said Grayson. “The stroller has a one-handed fold and the canopy is terrific — especially when you’re using the included Keyfit infant seat. The undercarriage basket is also very large, so if you’re looking for a travel system, this one should be high up on your list.”
Stroller features to consider
When looking for strollers, Singletary said it’s all about looking for convenience. “Bringing the baby home is already stressful, and planning can make this transition much smoother,” she said. So with that in mind, here are different aspects to consider depending on your needs.
- Wheels. ”Remember you are buying a stroller to push, so check those wheels and suspension,” said Grayson. “Larger, air-filled tires typically give a much smoother ride than smaller plastic wheels.”
- Handlebar. A solid handle makes it easier to push one-handed, Grason noted. However, that usually means it will not fold as compactly as an umbrella stroller with two handles.
- Seating configurations. Not all strollers have the option to switch up seating configurations as the child grows or your family expands. “I am a big fan of reversible seats because it’s nice to have the option of your child facing you or facing out,” Grayson added.
- Brakes. If you like to wear sandals, Grayson strongly recommended looking for “flip-flop-friendly” brakes. “If it hurts your feet to engage them, you’re less inclined to use them and brakes are there for a reason,” he said.
- Weight. When considering how heavy a stroller is, Diaz reminded shoppers consider who will be behind it. “Will grandma and grandpa help you with the baby? Can they lift the stroller?”
- Bells and whistles. Undercarriage basket size, adjustable handle height, canopy size, rain shields (they’re for more than just rain, Grayson noted), cup holders and the ability to hold an infant car seat are all other features to consider.
Singletary said she understands how hard it can be hard to pick just one stroller because of the features factored into finding the best unit for your family. “Start with combining two or three features that are must-haves and compare the best of each, [then] pick the one that fits the family,” she suggested.
Catch up on the latest from NBC News Shopping guides and recommendations and download the NBC News app for full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.