Mini cribs are space-savers in tight spaces
Babies come with a lot of space-hogging gear. When space is already at a premium, a mini crib can help parents reclaim some square footage. Mini cribs are ideal for parents who simply don't have room for a full-size crib but still want traditional-looking wood furniture. Some mini cribs fold up so they can be stashed in a corner or a closet, and many come with wheels so they can be moved from room to room. A mini crib may even convert to a toddler or twin bed with the addition of bed rails and, in the case of a twin bed, a new mattress. With many models available around $100, they can be relatively inexpensive compared to full-size cribs. As always, you'll pay more for extra features or a more modern design.
Portable cribs and play yards blend function, convenience
Portable cribs, or play yards, occupy a middle ground between traditional-looking mini cribs and lightweight travel cribs. You may also hear portable cribs and play yards referred to as pack Ôn plays or play pens -- although "Pack 'n Play" is a registered trademark of Graco, which dominates the market in this category, and we use don't use that term generically, but only when we refer to a Graco product. Some parents even refer to them, facetiously, as "play jail."
At its most basic, a portable crib or play yard is a foldable crib with breathable mesh sides and a thin mattress on the bottom. Paying a bit more -- closer to $100 than $50 -- may add a zip-in bassinet for newborns and even a removable diaper-changing station. The flashiest models that top $200 may have a removable vibrating infant seat, music or nature sounds, and supply organizers for parents.
Play yards are popular for a number of reasons. Some parents opt for one from the very beginning and never buy a traditional crib. Others may use a traditional crib in the nursery, but keep a portable crib elsewhere in the home for naps, diaper changes or a safe place to put their increasingly mobile babies. Grandparents, sitters, or other occasional caregivers often use portable cribs as a cheaper -- and smaller alternative to a traditional crib. Portable cribs are also good for infrequent travel. "Infrequent" is the key word here, though -- at roughly 20 to 30 pounds, most of these play yards are still quite heavy. And while they do fold into their own carrying cases, setting up and taking down play yards can be cumbersome and time-consuming.
A couple other cons to be aware of: Just like a mini crib, babies and toddlers will outgrow portable cribs faster than standard cribs. And parents are often unimpressed with the hard, thin sleeping pads that come with these play yards, saying they just don't seem comfortable for more than occasional use.
Travel cribs focus on portability, ease of use
While occasional travelers may get away with using a portable crib, true road warriors often invest in a travel crib, and for good reason. These cribs are light enough to tote through an airport or schlep from your car to a hotel room without breaking your back. Many travel cribs are also carry-on friendly so you won't get socked with a checked bag fee. They also focus much more on making setup and takedown as seamless as possible. While putting up a portable crib can be a frustrating multi-step affair, most travel cribs make it quick and easy.
The main downside of travel cribs is that they can be quite pricey, especially if you won't often use them. The best models top $200 -- as much as many parents pay for a traditional crib -- and that doesn't include special sheets made to fit their mattresses or sleeping pads. And, as with all portable cribs, parents sometimes grouse that their kids may outgrow travel cribs quickly or that the mattress doesn't seem comfortable.
As always, check for recalls of portable cribs
All new mini cribs meet strict federal standards for safety established in 2011. That includes a ban on drop sides, improved slat strength, and stronger hardware and mattress supports. Portable cribs and travel cribs are subject to a different set of standards that took effect in 2013. As with any baby product, parents should be vigilant about checking for recalls, particularly when using older, secondhand products. About 10,000 Dream on Me Incredible Play Yard units were recalled at the end of 2014 because their rails were prone to collapse. And about 200,000 popular tent-like travel cribs, the KidCo PeaPod and the PeaPod Plus, were recalled in 2012 after the suffocation death of a baby.
For more safety-conscious baby product picks, check out our reports on baby monitors and baby safety gates.
How we chose the best small cribs
There are a number of expert reviews and roundups that focus on portable cribs and travel cribs. Mini cribs, on the other hand, haven't been subject to expert scrutiny like their more popular counterparts have been. The best sources included "Baby Bargains," an expert book on a range of baby gear, as well as hands-on tests by BabyGearLab.com and TheNightlight.com. Also helpful were in-depth reviews and comparative roundups by BabyCenter.com, BabyGizmo.com and LuciesList.com. We compared those opinions with crucial real-world feedback from reviewers at Amazon.com, BabiesRUs.com, Target.com and Walmart.com. When evaluating sources, we focused on features, ease of use and safety to find the best portable cribs.
The best mini cribs
Parents who want a traditional, solidly made mini crib like the DaVinci Kalani 2-in-1 Mini Crib and Twin Bed (Est. $150). This pine crib has gently curved sides and is part of a larger collection that includes dressers, a changing table and a full-size crib. It's available in seven finishes including white, black, gray, cherry and espresso.
As its name suggests, the Kalani mini crib is convertible to a twin bed with the addition of DaVinci Conversion Rails (Est. $90), but parents will still need to purchase a twin size mattress and box spring separately. Unlike some other mini cribs, the Kalani does not have casters and it does not fold up for storage. Parents dislike the included 1-inch waterproof mattress pad, which they say is too thin. Many opt to purchase the DaVinci Crescent Mini Crib Universal Fit Waterproof 50-Coil Mattress (Est. $65) to use instead.
Reviewers say the Kalani mini crib is easy to put together with clear directions. Most say it's a great way to save space for babies with small nurseries -- or no nursery at all. The crib measures 40 inches long, 28.5 inches wide and 35 inches tall, and a handful of parents say their children could use the crib until around the age of 2. There are four height settings for the mattress, which parents appreciate.
DaVinci cautions against using any mattress with the Kalani not made specifically for DaVinci mini cribs and limits mattress thickness to 5 inches. Parents should discontinue use once their children reach 35 inches tall or are able to climb out -- whichever comes first. All in all, owners say the crib feels quite sturdy, but experts warn that pine can scratch and dent easily. Assembled, the crib weighs 37 pounds and has a slat strength of 149 pounds. There is a one-year warranty.
If you're looking for something a little more sleek -- and you're willing to pay a little more for a modern design -- check out the Babyletto Origami Mini Crib (Est. $250). The pine crib's clean lines will fit well in any modern home, and it's available in four colors: teal, gray, white and black.
Unlike the DaVinci Kalani Mini Crib, the Origami Mini does not convert into a larger bed. However, it does have lockable wheels that allow parents to move it more easily from place to place, and the hinged sides are able to collapse for storage. Like the Kalani, the Origami Mini comes with a 1-inch mattress pad that reviewers find too thin, and some purchase the Babyletto Pure Core Non-Toxic Mini Crib Mattress with Dry Organic Cotton Cover (Est. $100) as a replacement.
For the most part, reviewers say the Origami Mini is easy to assemble, but some say low-quality screws make for some frustrating moments. Like the Kalani, this crib gets kudos for sliding seamlessly into small living spaces, and reviewers love that it can fold up and roll from room to room. The crib measures 39 inches long, a bit over 25 inches wide and 33.5 inches tall, making it slightly smaller than the DaVinci Kalani -- potentially a pro for those without much space to spare, but a con for anyone who wants their baby to stay in the crib as long as possible. There are also just two height settings for the mattress compared with four on the Kalani.
Like DaVinci, Babyletto cautions against the use of any third-party mattresses in its mini cribs, and says no mattress more than 5 inches thick should be used. It also recommends parents discontinue use of the crib once the child reaches 35 inches or can climb out. Owners say they find the crib sturdy, but some say the paint chips too easily. Like all pine furniture, the wood can also scratch and dent relatively easily. Assembled, the crib weighs 62 pounds -- quite a bit more than the 37-pound Kalani -- and has slat strength of 149 pounds. There is a one-year warranty.
Mini cribs are quickly outgrown, so many parents want an economical option. Reviewers say the Delta Children Portable Mini Crib (Est. $120) is a lightweight, space-saving mini crib that's easy on the wallet. It's available in three traditional finishes: cherry, natural and white. Like the Babyletto Origami, the Delta Mini Crib does not convert into a twin-size bed, but it does fold for easy storage and has wheels that let parents move it from room to room. It comes with a 1-inch mattress pad that many parents dislike because it's so thin.
Owners say the Delta Mini Crib is easy to put together and to fold for storage, though a few say the directions were a little too vague. When folded, the crib is just 6 inches wide -- a feature reviewers love, especially if they are not full-time caregivers. Some even say they store it under a bed when it's not in use. This mini crib fits through most doorways when not folded. The crib measures 39 inches long, 25 inches wide and a bit over 37 inches tall, and there are two height settings for the mattress.
Delta discourages the use of third-party mini crib mattresses, and says any mattress used in this crib should be no more than 2 inches thick. It doesn't appear that Delta makes a thicker mini crib mattress than the one that comes with the crib, however. Parents should stop using the crib when their children reach 35 inches tall or can climb out. Most reviewers are happy with the quality for the price, but some say the finish chips too easily and the board that supports the mattress seems flimsy. Assembled, the crib weighs 35 pounds, and it has a one-year warranty.