The best mini crib has:
- Breathable sides. While mini cribs have traditional wooden slats on all sides, most pack ‘n plays, play yards, and travel cribs use mesh to maintain airflow. Make sure at least three -- and ideally four -- sides of the crib are mesh for proper ventilation.
- A sturdy frame. While traditional mini cribs are usually made of wood, that's not the case with portable cribs, which are usually made of mesh and may have lower sides than regular cribs. That makes it even more important to make sure the frame can withstand a beating, particularly if your child is older and more mobile. The crib should not tip over, and any buttons used to fold or collapse the crib should be impossible for a child to press, or better yet, be out of reach of little hands.
- A firm, well-fitting mattress or mattress pad. There should be very little gap between the mattress or mattress pad and the sides of the small crib. If there's too much space, babies can roll into the gap and suffocate. And as always, experts say the sleep surface should be relatively firm. Soft, cushy bedding may raise the risk of suffocation or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- Travel-friendly or space-saving features. A mini crib should be small enough to fit in tight spaces; look for models that can be folded during storage to save even more space. Pack ‘n plays, portable cribs, play yards, and travel cribs should come with carrying cases with straps. They should be light enough for one person to manage without help; travel cribs in particular should be compact enough to easily stow in a trunk or, ideally, carry on an airplane.
Know before you go
Do you need more than a basic spot for sleeping and short play sessions? If you just need a place for your baby to sleep and hang out, a basic portable crib or play yard will meet your needs -- there's no need to overspend on features you don't need, such as a diaper changer or bassinet.
Do you plan to move the crib from room to room? If so, you'll want to note how wide the crib is before buying. Most standard interior doors are 30 inches wide. That means a 30-inch-wide pack ‘n play like the Graco Everest will have to be disassembled if you need to move it -- a major inconvenience. Some mini cribs or portable cribs may also have wheels that make moving them easier, but make sure they have a secure locking mechanism, particularly if the crib will be in an uncarpeted room.
Do you plan to travel frequently? A portable crib might be fine for an occasional trip to grandma's, but many models are heavy -- some more than 30 pounds -- and take several minutes (and some muscle) to set up. A true travel crib may only weigh half that, with a more durable, easy-to-carry case and a setup that can be accomplished in just a few minutes. Another option, if you'll be staying at a hotel: Call ahead to reserve a portable crib. Most reputable hotels have at least a few on hand, and some will set them up in your room before you arrive.
Steer clear of third-party mattress and bedding. Several manufacturers make sheets and mattresses for portable cribs. In particular, parents are often tempted to use third-party mattresses that are thicker and more plush in portable cribs and play yards that come with very firm, thin sleeping pads. Experts say these products may not be sized precisely for your crib, and any ill-fitting mattress or bedding can raise the risk of a young child suffocating.