The best umbrella strollers have

  • Basic safety features. Five-point harness with a secure buckle, rear brakes on both wheels (one-touch linked brakes are a bonus), and canopy hinges should not scissor. Also, the stroller shouldn't have any recent recalls that have not been remedied.
  • Easy-to-use features. Compact, one-handed fold that locks closed, one-handed opening, low weight -- from 8 to 15 pounds (though more fully featured umbrella strollers may weigh slightly more). Carry handle and/or shoulder strap is included.
  • Stability. Lightweight umbrella strollers can be more prone to tipping over backwards. You can test for this by hanging a bag over the back handle of the stroller and gradually adding weight. If it tips back quickly, it may indicate stability problems. Wheels should not wobble.
  • A canopy. Size will vary, but most umbrella strollers have them. Adjustable/removable is good when you want to go low weight. UV-protected fabric is a bonus.
  • Recline. Unless you're making short trips, babies and younger toddlers will probably need a nap. The more recline the better for small infants.

Know before you go

Prior to picking an umbrella stroller, consider the following:

What size is 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 every stroller on its manufacturer's website or by calling customer service. If you're shopping in person, take a tape measure.

How much can you lift? 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.

How long do 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 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.

How often will you use the stroller? 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.

Where will you push the stroller? 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 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:

  • Try it out first. It's tempting to buy a hot, new stroller off the Internet, but many a parent has been disappointed to find that a stroller they buy sight unseen does not work for them. It's best if you can push it around the store and see if it feels okay. If you're buying a stroller for an older baby or toddler, bring them along for the tryout.
  • Verify upper and lower weight ratings. Stroller manufacturers' websites and vendor websites can be annoyingly inaccurate when it comes to weight ratings and other details. It is disappointing to discover that your stroller isn't newborn-friendly after you pull it out of the box. However, most manufacturers' websites will allow you to download the manual directly from the website. If there are inconsistencies, call the company to verify the correct information. If you can't get a straight answer, think of that as a harbinger of what could happen with future issues.
  • Get last year's model or fabric style cheap. Stroller manufacturers update models frequently. Like a car, a brand-new stroller that is last year's model or in last year's colors can often be found at a deep discount. Look out for recalls if buying an older model. Recalls (found at CPSC.gov) will list model numbers and manufacturing dates, which can be located on packaging or on the stroller itself. Be particularly vigilant about make and model when buying a stroller online where you are not able to personally verify these details.
  • Don't buy used strollers. Tempting as it may be, especially if you're purchasing a second stroller, strollers are often subject to recalls. Even high-end strollers aren't immune; Bugaboo, Peg Perego and Maclaren strollers have been involved in recent 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, when you buy a new stroller, 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.

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