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planetFear - Rock Climbing, Adventure Racing, Mountain Biking

Macpac Vamoose

Review by Review
Saturday 16th September 2006

We decided on a Vamoose after an unhealthy dose of research over a number of late nights. Don't bother with a bulky pram or all terrain push chair, get a decent child carrier and a lightweight pushchair and you're covered for pretty much anything is what we were advised. So that's what we did; the Vamoose is the top of the range child carrier from Macpac, one of the world's leading manufacturers of rucksacks.

Apart from his cot it is the biggest single item we have and for that reason is a bit of a bone of contention. Weighing in at 2.9kg (before child!) it actually seems incredibly light when you pick it up - that shows how big it is (try putting 2 bags of sugar in a lightweight daysac and pick it up - they'll weigh the same, but you'll perceive it to be much heavier than the Vamoose - clever). It's a whopper, and like it or not, it's going to take up a large proportion of your car boot or broom cupboard!

So what does it have to justify its bulk and not insubstantial weight, whilst still remaining one of our favourite bits of kit? Read on...

Storage

Firstly it has 35 litres of storage capacity in addition to where your kid sits. This means we can head out for the day with his stuff, lunch, some water, maps and waterproofs, without the need to carry an extra bag. For the hardcore it even includes a set of decent clip-fastening compression straps at the base which could easily carry a tent or a couple of Thermarests for an overnighter. Of this 35l, 25l  falls within the zipped base pocket and is accessible only after unbuckling the compression straps - a minor irritation. The remaining 10l is in a handy removable daysack. This zips to the rear of the pack, so is out of reach whilst walking. However if you need to be able to access stuff whilst on the move it features a couple of clips to attach it to the shoulder straps on your front - a neat idea. This mini sac also has single compression strap, useful for strapping on a wet towel or similar.

Comfort

It has a supremely comfortable waist belt and set of shoulder straps, all made of very chunky foam, and lined on the inside (the bits that touch you) with a soft mesh fabric. All are fully adjustable as is the back length. I am 6 foot 5 and my wife is 5 foot 6. We actually use the pack on the same setting without any grief, testament to its good design and high comfort levels. The littlun has never complained so we assume he is cosy!

Comfortable Baby & Comfortable Dad

The bit where the kid sits

As for the bit where the kid sits, well I only wish somebody would invent something as comfortable-looking for me to be lugged around in! It's bright orange, and super soft, very adjustable, with removable head, chin and shoulder pads for washing. Most people will tell you that you can't put a child in a carrier until he or she is 3, or even 6 months old. These dates seem pretty arbitrary and a bit of common sense is needed. If they can hold their head up well enough then use one. If they can't, wait and use a sling instead.

Getting it on and off & Stability

More difficult than it sounds, the pack sits some 70cm high, with his head projecting further still so it is pretty top heavy. There are 4 hefty webbing straps to aid in lifting. Two at the top, front and back and an equivalent two stabilisers at the bottom which are designed to stand or kneel on whilst putting in or taking out the kid. Personally I'd like to have seen two more at the top, one on each side, to help when taking it off. I have taken to grasping the compression strap (that is designed to pull the child carrying area together) when unloading as it's more easily grabbable than the designated handles.

Once off your back and on the ground it stays upright and is not too easy to topple because of the internal aluminium frame. Inside the base pocket the frame folds down and locks into place to create a solid footprint. We tend to leave the frame locked in place and rarely fold it up, though this would be useful if the pack needed to be less bulky.

Extra Features

On one side of the waist belt is a slender pocket for a hand held plastic mirror (included). Very useful for checking on the state of play without having to take the thing off. Thinking of just about everything this mirror can be securely buttoned in place so you don't lose it! On the other side is a similarly slender pocket, but with a zip. Supposedly for your keys this is actually a little on the small and tight side for anything larger than a few keys. It also has an elasticated mesh pocket for a dummy, another good idea. An improvement here may be to provide some sort of dummy lanyard to stop it hitting the floor when it is invariably spat out.

Inside the base pocket are a couple of bottle loops for milk or water bottles, designed to keep the bottles upright.

On the outside of the pack are 2 sets of walking pole buckles.

Also on the outside is another parent induced idea: a mesh pocket on the outside for wet clothes and nappies.

It comes with two add-ons, a Sombrero and a Rainbow. The Rainbow will not work without the Sombrero. The Sombrero is, as you would guess, a detachable sun and shower guard that affixes to the top of the pack by poking the plastic coated metal arms into a couple of very tight tubes on the pack. Once in place you need to stop the material from flapping around by fixing the elasticated loops to the relevant plastic buckles on the pack. Whilst this is perfectly practical it has three drawbacks. Firstly it isn't easy to tie back these side panels of material to allow your kid to look around whilst being protected from the overhead sun or a light shower. Secondly the back panel does not affix to the pack, riding up to let sun through. And perhaps more importantly it is likely that at some time you will either let go of an elasticated loop, or one will detach itself from its buckle and may well clip your kid's face or even eye. This happened on our first outing as the rain started to fall, fortunately with no tears. The Sombrero also has a roll-away plastic front section so it is possible to completely encase your kid in the event of heavy rain, wind, snow or insects. Our main gripe with the Sombrero was its storage when not in use. You obviously want to take it with you, in case it rains. However the only place it will fit is in the back of the base pocket. Thus if you need it in a hurry you need to unpack the whole pocket to remove it - not practical. Perhaps by making the (Sombrero) frame articulated instead of fixed, it might be less bulky and storable in a smaller designated pocket. The Rainbow is a fairly basic waterproof shell which is fixed to the Sombrero via more elasticated loops and a toggle. It will cover the entire pack, leaving just the shoulder straps projecting, and does very well at keeping your kid 100% dry.

The Sombrero in action.

Build quality

Whilst they haven't used the latest in rucksack material technology it is nonetheless excellently built with absolutely nothing to complain about. Macpac design very good kit. In addition a lot of thought has obviously gone into the well designed parent friendly extras described above.

How it performed on test

Excellently. Very comfortable over long distances and rough ground as well as around town. The littlun has yet to grumble and we have plenty of photos of him looking very content! Kept him completely dry for a rainy day in the Peak.

Value for money

Retail cost £190. You're not going to use it for 20 years - though the build quality is such that it will no doubt still be around in that time - but when you do use it you want it to work reliably and comfortably, and you most certainly don’t want to be lugging around a crying baby, so I think it is worth paying good money for. There are more than enough extras thought up by parents over the years to keep you happy.

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