Storage is Key
When searching for the perfect diaper bag, your first consideration is storage. By "storage" we mean not just the capacity to carry all you need but also the organization of it as well. If you are a first-time mom, you may be surprised at the amount of stuff you're going to be hauling around to support both baby and you're needs. Here's our list of what you will typically find in a well-stocked bag:
Items for baby:
- rash cream
- sacks for dirty diapers
- changing pad
- burp cloths
- change of clothes
- nursing cover
- bottle(s) or sippy cup(s)
- binkies and toys
Items for mom:
- water bottle
- hand sanitizer
- cell phone
- makeup and sunscreen
- reading material
Skip Hop Chelsea is a good example of such a bag.
Keep in mind that you're mileage may vary when it comes to storage needs. For example, you will need a larger bag if you have more than one in diapers, or for overnight and multi-day trips. A large bag like the BEABA Stockholm is ideal if you'll need more storage on a regular basis.
Ease of Use
This brings us to our next key consideration which is ease of use. There will be times when you will have your baby up on a public changing table primed for a diaper change only to realize in the middle of it that you have forgotten to grab, let's say, the diaper cream. If you are able to have one hand on the baby while using the other to retrieve the cream without breaking a sweat, that is the holy grail. You also want to have a bag that has a lightly colored interior and opens widely so that you can see and access the contents inside easily. We found bags that have deep interiors with narrow openings and dark lining to be like trying to find something in a black hole. In this situation it doesn't matter how many organizational pockets there are inside. If you can't easily see anything or grab what you need quickly, we guarantee you will be frustrated.
Why You Should Fear the Velcro
In our opinion, bags without velcro are a big plus, and here are the 3 reasons why:
- Velcro is noisy which can be an issue as it can be loud enough to wake your sleeping baby
- Velcro sticks to fabrics which can and will ruin any soft material it attaches itself to
- Velcro wears out which is an issue when you consider that you are going to be using an item like this for a long time.
Once the velcro has been sticking to everything and anything, it's covered with little balls of material which means that with heavy use, pockets may not close correctly. Unfortunately, many changing pad covers include small velcro closures, but as we found in our testing, even these are significantly loud.
Consider Your Needs Too
Also, when considering ease of use, we recommend picking a bag that has space for personal items. Not only is it cumbersome to carry a purse and a diaper bag simultaneously, but with a great diaper bag, it won't be necessary. All of our Award Winners included separate pockets for cell phones & wallets, key clips for keys, and accessory bags for makeup.
Quality & Cost
Skip Hop Forma impresses us with its quality at $50. On the other spectrum, we are not impressed with the quality of the two high end bags we tested, the LeSportsac Ryan and Storksak Bobby.
Fit & Style
The tote is similar to a large handbag which you can carry from a top handle or two. Many come with a detachable messenger style strap. A messenger bag has a long strap that you can carry over the shoulder or across the body. A backpack is, well, a backpack. Many bags come equipped with or are compatible with separately sold stroller strap attachments which allow the bag to hang by the back of the stroller's handlebar. However, the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association warns against hanging anything on the back of the stoller because the excess weight may cause the stroller to tip backwards. We agree that this is a no no. If you are strolling, this means either you carry the bag yourself or place it in the undercarriage of the stroller. If you embark on an outing without a stroller, a backpack like our Most Versatile Pick, the Petunia Pickle Bottom Sashay Satchel, could be just the ticket for you and your posture.
As you can see, which style is right for you is highly personal. If you want to be hands-free while carrying your things, consider either a backpack or messenger bag. Ergonomically, we found the backpack to be particularly comfortable as all of the weight rests equally on both shoulders and the back. However, you need to take the bag off in order to access anything. Whereas, you can hold a baby in one arm while taking a bottle out with the other while carrying a messenger bag. And, if a messenger has nice padding in the strap, it can be quite comfortable as well. Of course, men will probably prefer a messenger or backpack while women may be drawn to a tote with more purse-like qualities.
cradle-to-cradle certified, meaning healthy for you and the environment.
This brings us to eco-friendly products. Several of the mid range and high end bags we tested and reviewed incorporate eco-friendly materials into them. Both the Skip Hop Chelsea and BEABA Stockholm are BPA free and the Petunia Pickle Bottom Sashay Satchel is made exclusively of organic cotton materials.
We think that this is a big plus. Considering that you will be stuffing your baby's belongings inside of the bag and that babies like to put anything and everything into their mouths, minimizing chemical exposure to your baby is a no- brainer.
A material that we particularly do not enjoy in diaper bags is polyvinyl chloride plastic, also called PVC or vinyl. PVC can be found in the bags as a soft plastic typically used for interior or changing pad linings and sometimes as accessory pouches which creates a flexible, water-resistant surface that is easy to wipe clean. Seems like a great material, right? However, PVC is far from perfect. To make hard PVC soft, plasticizers, also known as phthalates are added. Widespread concern surrounds the effect of exposure to plasticizers on health. Just take a good whiff of soft PVC. It gives off a very strong chemical smell. Doesn't seem to us like anything appropriate to have around developing babies and children. In fact, the Environmental Working Group has a plethora of information surrounding plasticizers and concern for exposure of children to them. "In general, the EU considers many plasticizers safe for use with the caveat that they may not be used in children's items." While the subject of chemical plasticizers' effect on health is a very complex one, there are PVC-free options out there, even in the low-end realm. Additionally, there can be potential durability issues with soft PVC as it can crack with age, particularly when exposed consistently to cold temperatures.
Features & Accessories
A diaper bag's features and additional accessories like an awesomely large, cushy, wipeable changing pad can really make or break your overall satisfaction with the bag. Features like insulated bottle holders, comfy padding on shoulder straps, key clips, and luggage feet can make your day-to-day routine so much easier. Accessories that are often included are a changing pad, an insulated storage for a bottle or snacks, a wipes case, and an accessory pouch or compartment for make-up or soiled clothes. Although you can always substitute out subpar accessories and replace them with ones you love, a diaper bag that gets it right off the bat can make a big difference.
For example, we put the changing pads of all of the diaper bags in our review head-to-head and in the end, really came out with 4 of 10 that excelled due to a combination of size, padding, materials, and quality. As you can see, they really do vary in size both folded and unfolded which can make a big difference both in the diaper bag and when fully unfolded and laid out for baby's diaper change. Though Petunia Pickle Bottom Sashay Satchel's changing pad could use a little more padding, we loved it for its big size, small fold, and supremely wipeable exterior.
Try it before you buy it
Our last piece of advice when purchasing a this type of item is to try it before you buy it. Or, if you buy online, buy from a retailer with a liberal return policy. Have all of your essentials handy, pack it up, and see how it feels. See if you can get to things easily with just one hand. See if often used items are easily accessible. Also, check to make sure that the bag is comfortable completely packed. At the end of the day, a diaper bag that is functional, comfortable, and durable will make a big difference. Remember that your diaper bag will need to go the distance with you.