For the past six years, as I parented two young boys from babyhood to kindergarten, I have pushed some rugged, fully loaded strollers over the trails of the Northeast. Now, after countless miles of roots, rocks, and radical stroller techniques, here’s what I’ve learned—and what you should look for when gearing up for your own off-road stroller adventures.
There are limits, of course, to the types of outings these strollers can handle. Narrow, rocky, and steep trails are out. Instead you’ll want wide, moderate paths with minimal obstacles and short climbs and descents. Always choose trails that can handle stroller use without damage.
Three Wheels Down
First, forget any stroller with four wheels. A three-wheeled stroller is essential for maneuverability over rough and bumpy trails. These strollers—often referred to as jogging, all-terrain, or sport utility strollers—generally feature large, inflatable tires for a smooth ride and easy travel over uneven surfaces.
For navigating rough trails, it’s crucial that the front wheel locks easily and securely into place and does not swivel. It also has to be strong enough to handle a “wheelbarrow roll” when you tip the stroller forward to thread a one-wheel line between obstacles. One important note: Three-wheel designs are prone to tipping. Make sure to hold the stroller steady while your young passenger climbs in and out.
Every stroller has some sort of locking mechanism for the back wheels. You will use it regularly, so look for a system that is easy to operate. Some high-end strollers also feature an additional cable-operated hand brake, which can be helpful for steep downhill sections. A safety leash that connects the stroller to your wrist is standard issue on most of these strollers.
You’ll want to secure young riders in their seats, especially if you’ll be traveling over bumpy paths. A variety of lap belts and harness systems exist. Look for an easy-to-operate system with a minimum of buckles, and pay close attention to where the lower straps and buckles are positioned. It’s maddening to constantly dig out a lap buckle from underneath your child. Some strollers can be adapted to hold car seats for the youngest riders.
For shorter outings and everyday use, you’ll want strollers with as much storage as possible. Jackets, food, diaper bags, toys, gear: It’s remarkable how much equipment you’ll end up wheeling around. Storage pockets and compartments that provide easy access are a big plus.
Fold and Go
You’ll almost certainly be transporting the three-wheeled beast in your vehicle, which means regularly folding it down and back up again. Models that require you to remove the wheels or otherwise perform some disassembly are less desirable. You’ll also want to consider the size of your vehicle when selecting a stroller. Make sure you have sufficient space to transport it.
Higher-end models feature built-in shock absorbers that help minimize the terrain’s impact on your bouncing progeny. Fold-down canopies help protect from sun and rain—a nice feature. Pockets next to the child’s seat are useful for holding a snack or drink at the ready.
A few of the highest-end models give you the flexibility to switch between three wheels for trails, four wheels for sidewalks, and two wheels for bike-trailer mode.
The Price You Pay
Off-road strollers range pretty dramatically in price, from less than $200 to $350 and up, with the highest-end models running north of $500. As a general rule, the more you pay, the more rugged, durable, and feature-rich the stroller will be. If you expect to hit the trails frequently, invest in the best. If you’re only an occasional trail pusher, a more affordable model should meet your needs.