The best stroller has

  • Basic safety features. At the very least, a five point harness, one-touch linked brakes and a secure buckle. A bumper (belly) bar and wrist strap are nice safety extras. Canopy hinges should not scissor. Also, it shouldn't have any recent recalls.
  • Car seat adaptability. For infants, the ability to accept a car seat is a necessity for most families.
  • Easy-to-use features. Car seats and other accessories should change out easily, and it should be easy to access the child. The stroller should fold and clean up easily.
  • A locking frame. There's nothing more irritating than folding a stroller, trying to pick it up, and having it unfold on you. Be sure the stroller you're buying has either an automatic or manual lock when folded, although an auto lock is best.
  • Sturdy construction. It does not tip easily in any direction and the wheels do not wobble.
  • A big canopy. They not only protect children from the sun and elements, they protect babies from prying eyes and poking fingers.

Know before you go

Prior to picking a stroller, consider the following:

The dimensions of your trunk or closet. Whether you live in the city or suburbs, the stroller has to be stored and/or transported. Measure the trunk of your car or the closet it will be stored in so that you can be sure the stroller you purchase fits inside. Folded specs are available for virtually all strollers on the manufacturer's website or by calling customer service. If you're shopping in person, take a tape measure.

Your strength. Be sure you know how much weight you can lift and whether you can comfortably lift that weight multiple times in a day if necessary. City folk may want to be sure they can carry 17 or more pounds in one hand, while cradling an imaginary infant in the other as they pretend to get on a bus or walk stairs. Also, be sure there is some comfortable way to carry it -- a strap, handle, etc.

Number of years you expect to own the stroller. The upper and lower weight ratings on a stroller are an important guide to when you can start using your stroller and how long you can use it. Some strollers won't accommodate an infant without a car seat or bassinet, so the stroller seat may not be able to be used until 3 to 6 months. If your children tend to be taller or larger, you want to look for a higher weight rating so they won't outgrow it by age 3.

Frequency and duration of stroller usage. If your child is going to be in the stroller a lot, look for comfort features, such as a well-padded seat for older children. Infants should not be in a car seat for long periods of time, so look for a bassinet. If your children are closely spaced, an optional standing board is a great feature.

Your environment and circumstances. Some strollers only work well on smooth terrain. If you have to walk over gravel, in light snow, on playground mulch, or through grass, look for a stroller that does well on more challenging terrains -- generally sturdy, hard rubber or foam wheels that can lock. If you take your baby on a lot of errands, choose a more compact stroller with a narrow wheel base that is easy to maneuver even in smaller shops. Ample storage is a plus, too. If you walk long distances on sidewalks, look for all-wheel suspension for baby and an easy push for you. If you take public transport, be sure you can fold and lift the stroller easily with one hand. A standing fold would be a handy feature for public transport as well.

Buying tactics and strategies

These are a few tips based upon the most common "buyer's remorse" postings we see on consumer review sites:

  • Go to the store if you are height challenged. Many of the top-selling strollers are not available in stores, or only on a limited basis. If you are particularly tall or particularly short, it's best to either buy an adjustable handlebar, or don't buy a stroller unless you can try it out first.
  • Get last year's model cheap. Stroller manufacturers often update models yearly, or at least frequently. Like a car, a brand-new stroller that is last year's model can often be found at a deep discount.
  • Check the manual. Stroller websites can be annoyingly inaccurate when it comes to weight ratings. Many sites will say a model is suitable for newborns, but the instruction sheet warns you not to use the stroller for infants under 3 or 6 months -- a disappointing shock to many a new parent. Others will have one upper weight rating on the website, one on the instruction sheet. Verify the weights with customer service. If you can't get a straight answer, think of that as a harbinger of what could happen with future issues. Virtually all stroller manufacturers have the instruction sheet available as a download on their websites.
  • Don't buy used strollers. Tempting as it may be, especially for a high-end stroller, strollers are often subject to recalls. Even high-end strollers aren't immune, Bugaboo, Peg Perego and Maclaren strollers have been involved in recalls. The older the stroller, the more likely it is to have been involved in a recall since they're often retroactive for a few years. Also, if you buy a stroller new, your product registration will alert you to recalls as soon as they're announced. If you're set on buying a used stroller, check for recalls at the Consumer Product Safety Commission website, www.cpsc.gov.

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