Part 2 - I don't have a car but my stroller is boss (which stroller?)


See Part 1 - I don't have a car but my stroller is boss.

If you live in the city and don't have a car, you probably need a good stroller (though even this fact can be debated by some).  I knew this decision was super important, so when I was pregnant with my first baby, I approached this with the kind of methodical process I am used to implementing at work - a spreadsheet.  Looking back at the spreadsheet I created then (yes I still have it, yes I am a dork, you're welcome), here are the criteria I evaluated all potential strollers on:
  • - weight
  • - wheel type/quality
  • - storage basket quality
  • - fold-ability
  • - 2nd child accommodation
  • - adjustable handle height
  • - width 
  • - parent-facing infant
  • - accessories available 
Two kids and a bazillion million stroller trips later, I have to say, these are not a bad place to start when looking for your own stroller.  Many people will tell you that the long list of criteria is why there is no such thing as a perfect stroller.  That you need a different stroller for different occasions (a heavy duty stroller for every day, a light stroller for travel, a jogging stroller with big wheels for bad weather and exercise, a something stroller for something else... I don't know, I stop listening at this point).  Those people live in a place where they have somewhere to put their arsenal of strollers (and I guess are willing to spend a looooot of money on them for only occasional use).

Based on an insane amount of googling, review reading, trudging to 5 different baby stores, and soul searching we finally settled on the Valco Baby Snap*.  You've probably never heard of this company and that's a shame.  It's the only stroller we own and it has held up admirably.  Please allow me to sing their praises in the post below (no they haven't paid me for this post).

With experience, I would say by far the most important criteria are weight, wheel type/quality, storage basket quality, and to a lesser extent, fold-ability.  However, let's go through each of the criteria mentioned and discuss at length (the only way I know how).

Weight

This is your most important criteria, frankly.  Most of Boston's transit is accessible, which means that usually an elevator is an option.  I say usually because it is not always the case.  I have picked this stroller up, carried it, bounced it up and down stairs, on and off buses and and and and...  I can do this because it weighs 13lbs (though I believe the current model comes in at 15 lbs).  Many strollers sold weigh in at a hefty 25lb+.  You may be thinking that you can easily lift that much and I'm sure you can, but you're forgetting the baby.  And this baby, will not be a baby for long... fast forward a year and you'll be adding 20lbs+ of child to that chunky stroller as well.... and a diaper bag... and your coffee... and the rain attachments... and the groceries you're taking home in the stroller...  Get a heavy stroller over 20lbs and you will curse the day you were born.

Wheel type/Quality

This feature is important for 2 reasons -  weather and maneuverability.  We live in the north and have terrible weather.  The wheels on our stroller have gotten through snow, slush, standing water, and have lived to tell the tale.  The suspension on the stroller has also let us go over train tracks with an infant who doesn't even wake up to notice.  This is another place where some people will tell you that you need a "jogging stroller" for the bad weather days.  Nope.  You just need a regular stroller with high quality wheels.

Storage basket quality

The worst thing about your kid growing up and deciding to ditch the stroller is that you now have to carry all those groceries home yourself.  The basket is where you'll put your rain cover, your unstructured carrier for baby freak out emergencies, your groceries, and your older child's coat they decided to ditch.  A good basket that's easy to access is your super best friend.

Foldability

One could argue that foldability only matters for the suburbanites who have to fold and fit their stroller in the trunk of their car all the time.  However, we have definitely gone to restaurants that are very small in our area and had to fold our stroller in order to fit our family inside.  Also our stroller has fit nicely in the overhead shelving of Amtrak trains.  Finally, it can be carried by the conveniently placed handle (see picture).

Note: this feature is much more important if you live in NYC.  As you've likely noticed the only way to get on the subway in most stations is to bounce your stroller down the stairs, take the baby out, fold the stroller, go through the (not accessible) fare gates, put the baby back in, and proceed (or go through the emergency exit and set off the alarm).  For this reason, having a one handed fold may be very important to you and thus possibly worth considering getting the Britax B-Agile Stroller (discussed below) instead, as it has a slightly easier fold.

Second child accommodation

I am a planner by nature.  Prior to having any children I thought I wanted two and so that is why I put this criteria on the list.  Having now had two children I recognize the foolishness of this kind of planning.  Whenever someone tells me how many children they want to have and how close together I smile at them and usually mumble something along the lines of "start with one and see where you end up".  Life is messy and complicated and there's no way to know how hard a conception/pregnancy/delivery/infancy will be on a family.  Other parts of life can interfere too.  I know so many families who thought they would only ever have 1 to end up with 3 and vice versa.  So on this topic, I say, plan for the child you're pregnant with now and don't buy a stroller with a frame that will accommodate 2 sitting children (popular examples of this are the Britax B-Ready, the Baby Jogger City Select, and the UPPAbaby Vista).  Buying a stroller that you hope will pan out 2 years from now when you have a second will result in you hating it for the entire time you use it with your first because it's too heavy to get onto a train.  Even if you do end up with two kids your oldest may be willing to walk most places.  You may be able to pop the baby in the carrier you have in your storage basked and let the older kid ride when they get tired.  And finally, almost any stroller will accommodate a hitchiker so that is always an option too.

Adjustable handle height

Ok this one is real.  My family is lucky in that I am 5'4" and my partner is 5'3".  This means that any stroller that works for one of us works for both of us.  If one or both of you are tall, you're possibly going to need a stroller with an adjustable handle height.  Here are some urban friendly options you might consider
  1. 1. Buying a stroller handle bar extender like this one.

  2. 2. The UPPAbaby Cruz Stroller. This stroller is more expensive and the wheels are less good.  That said, it's light enough, and if you're tall, this may be one of your few options.

  3. 3. The Mountain Buggy Mini Travel system.  I don't know much about this stroller other than the fact that it made the rounds of the urban parent internet when it came out.  I know it's a high quality brand and the specs of this guy seem good.  If you're tall, this is certainly an option worth considering. 
  4.  
  5. 4. The Baby Jogger City Mini GT Single Stroller (don't confuse it with its not "GT" cousin the Baby Jogger City Mini Stroller, which does not have an adjustable handle and has crappier wheels). We are friends with a mixed height urban dwelling couple who have had good luck with this guy and you certainly see plenty of them walking around.  Definitely seems worth a test drive.

Other things on the list

  1. 1. Width - It turns out most (non-double) strollers are pretty much the same here.  Ours is on the narrow side, which is of course better but it's not much of a differentiator.

  2. 2. Parent-facing infant seat - This is certainly a nice to have, especially if you're a nervous parent.  That said, the importance of this feature shrinks when compared to others. 

  3. 3. Accessories - these are really important.  So important, in fact, that we will write a whole other post about them.
  4.  
  5. 4. Price.  You may have noticed this was missing from the original list of criteria and this is because I purposely omitted it.  I went into my search thinking that since we don't have a car we were going to live and die by our stroller choice so it was worth spending some dough on.  That said, the stroller we picked was actually THE CHEAPEST one we considered coming in at under $300 (the price varies based on your color choice).  Isn't that always a nice surprise?

That's all great but I just cannot buy a stroller without a test drive

If you live in the Boston area, Baby-Koo carries them in stock so feel free to head on over to them.  I'm sure most big cities have at least one retailer that does as well.  However, if you cannot find one, a really good runner up to the Valco Snap is the Britax B-Agile Stroller.  It's almost identical on features and price.  However, in the end we picked the Valco for the slightly better wheels and the fold that results in the seat being inside rather than out (so we don't have to worry about it getting dirty when folded and stashed in the back of a restaurant).  That said, if the Valco didn't exist, this would be my stroller of choice.

 * Note: we bought our stroller in 2012 and since then many new models of this same stroller have come out.  We have good friends who own the 2014 version and we remain convinced that this is an excellent stroller, especially for the price.


This post is the second in a series of posts about carfree living. Other posts include thoughts on strollers for urban use, necessary accessories, and whatever else we think to blog about!
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