Last year, we celebrated my two-year-old’s birthday with a family campout in the woods. Not only were we camping off grid, but we were also padding to an island to get there. I was questioning my sanity while loading our bags into a canoe, but as I reached for my trusty pack and play, I had no doubt that it was worth the space it took up in the boat.
These days there are more options than ever when it comes to portable play yards. Whether you’re looking for a playpen for daycare, a lightweight play yard for the beach or a camping-friendly sleeping space, I’ve compiled some of my favorite play yards so that you can choose the best baby playpen for you.
What to Look for in a Baby Play Yard
Baby play yards cover a lot of ground, so when you’re choosing one, think about how you plan to use it. Some play pens, often referred to as pack and plays, are meant to be used as portable cribs, giving your baby a safe space to sleep when you go to visit Grandma or sneak away for a weekend outside the city. Other play yards are designed for outdoor use. These are generally lighter weight and easier to carry, but they may not meet safe sleep requirements. When you’re shopping for a baby playpen, think about the following:
Where will you use it?
If it will be indoors, you can choose something heavier and more stationary, but if you’re on the go, you’ll want something lighter.
How long can you use it?
Most playpens have a maximum weight. Opt for one with a higher maximum weight to get more use as your baby grows, or consider being open in investing in a second one for older children.
How easy is it to get baby in and out?
If you plan to use your baby play pen with an infant, you’ll want one with a basinet insert, which makes it easier to lay your baby down to sleep without having to lower her all the way to the ground. Some playpens also come with bonus features, like changing tables that attach directly to the playpen—they’re lifesavers if you have a larger living area and need to keep a changing station in another area of the house.
How heavy is it?
Playpens can get heavy quickly. In general, the lighter, the better.
How easy is it to set up?
Oftentimes play pens are used when mom is away and a babysitter, grandparent or aunt is in charge. You’ll want to keep things simple.
How expensive is it?
If you’re only going to be using a playpen a few times a year, you might want to choose a cheaper option or borrow one from a friend.
Do You Really Need a Baby Playpen?
A playpen isn’t a necessity, but if you’re looking forward to spending some time outside or even away from home, it’s nice to have. By five months, your little one will likely be sitting and beginning to get ready to crawl. That means you can’t just set him on a blanket for tummy time anymore! Having a plan pen gives you a safe space to leave your baby while you garden, clean the house, or use the bathroom without interruption.
Another huge consideration is that certain playpens ensure that your baby always has a safe place to sleep. That way you won’t have to worry about whether your in-laws have a crib that meets the latest safety requirements — you can rest assured knowing your baby is sleeping in a familiar spot that you’re both comfortable with.
The Best Playpens
When I was packing for that camping trip, my trusty Graco Pack and Play was the play pen that I reached for. I didn’t want to spend too much on a playpen when I was pregnant with my second, since I didn’t know how often I would use it. At less than $90, the Pack and Play seemed like a good option.
Since buying it, I’ve used it way more than I thought. The Pack and Play went with my daughter to daycare, where she napped in it three days a week. If I needed a playpen for the weekend, it was simple for the daycare provider to pack up and hand it to me. I loved that the Pack and Play was easy to set up and disassemble, simple to wipe down, and light enough to take on trips — even in a canoe.
Features to Love
- Easy-fold button
- Carrying case for travel and storage
- Affordable price point
- 39 x 28 x 29 inches; 23 pounds
“I love this version of the Graco Pack n Play. No frills, just a nice streamlined play yard. I have one that is 5 years old and it still works perfectly even after the first two grandbabies… Lightweight and super easy to break down and store in the included carry bag.” –Amazon review
Remember, the Graco Pack and Play On The Go Playard is a no-frills option. It can only be used by babies and tots smaller than 25 pounds and 25 inches high, so if your child is on the larger side this might not be a good choice.
The Baby Trend Retreat Nursery Center is like the Cadillac of portable play pens. The center has three spaces wrapped into one. Of course, there’s the portable play pen area, which can be used by toddlers who weigh up to 30 pounds. Then there’s a changing table and separate portable basinet that fits over the top and can be used by babies that weigh 15 pounds or less.
If you’re considering the Nursery Center, realize that this isn’t a play pen you can easily pop up and down every day. However, it does have a long span of use: you can bring the portable basinet to different areas of your home or yard when your baby is young, and later use the portable crib portion.
Baby Trend Nursery Center Play Yard Features
- 41 x 29.25 x 29 inches
- 33 pounds
- Music and noise machine on both crib and basinet
- Storage for wipes, diapers, and other necessities
“The bassinet is deep so I don’t worry about her rolling out; it’s also soft so it’s comfy on her head. It also comes out super easily so she can sleep in it in different rooms. The basket holds a lot of diapers and two packs of wipes and anything else you need. The changing table is sturdy and easy to wipe down. I definitely recommend this to anyone and everyone. It was so easy to set up too unlike some other pack n plays I have used.” –Amazon review
The BABY JOY Baby Foldable Travel Crib has a lot going for it. It can be used from the infant stage through three years old, making it one of the more long-lasting play pen options. It weighs just 11 pounds, making it lighter to carry than the Graco Pack and Play, and its sleek modern look will fit in even the most minimalist homes.
The best part about the Foldable Travel Crib is the zipper. I know—at first it might seem like that defeats the purpose of a play pen. However, the zipper is great for versatility. You can pat your baby’s back or even nurse without having to be a contortionist. When it’s play time you can leave the zipper open, letting your little one crawl in and out and getting them more comfortable with the space.
Features to Love
- 5 x 31 x 27 inches
- Zipper opening
- Removable, washable mattress
- Safe for sleep
- Use through the toddler years
“I’m very short (5 foot) so I opted for a portable crib that had a zipper opening in the bottom so I can just slide her down instead of having to bend over the bars. The opening at the top as well as the zippered bottom is large and the mattress if very soft…Our 9-month-old has yet to try it but my 3-year-old fits so comfortably he’s been calling dibs to using it!” –Amazon review
Although this product is designed to be used by kids up to three years old, it’s only 27 inches high, which means some toddlers will be able to climb out. In addition, noise from the zipper closing could wake light sleepers.
The Alvantor Playpen Play Yard might look more like a tent than a play pen, but that’s part of its appeal. The hexagon base measure 7 feet across, giving your little one plenty of space to explore. In addition, the canopy is nearly four-feet high, making it comfortable for adults to sit in when your baby demands a visit. If you want a bit more sunshine—and easy access to the kids—you can remove the half cover, which reveals the Playpen’s open-air roof. The Alvantor is designed for indoor or outdoor use, but in the yard is where it really shines.
All the Praise for the Alvantor
- 7 pounds
- 7’ side by 44” tall
- Comes with removable shade cover
- Padded bottom
“Absolutely love this play pen…The bottom of it isn’t a thin fabric, but more like a soft mat which is nice when you have smaller little ones who are rolling around and crawling and are planning to use this outdoors like us. Was easy to set up and take down and even better part was I didn’t have to fight it to get it back in the bag. Excited to use it this summer!” –Amazon review
Keep in mind: although the Alvantor is almost fully enclosed with the cover, there is a small gap between the cover and the base, where bugs could enter. In addition, your kiddo might want to have a snooze in the fresh air, but this isn’t designed to be a dedicated safe sleep space. Since the zipper can be opened from the inside as well as the outside, your little one could escape.
The Fisher Price On-the-Go Baby Dome is baby’s first play pen. It can only be used by infants who cannot yet pull themselves up or crawl. Although it has a fairly short lifespan, the Baby Dome is very useful while it lasts, providing a light-weight, easy to use place for your baby to play and nap. The Baby Dome can be used outside, but is equally helpful in the house, especially if you have curious pets or older siblings who have trouble leaving your baby alone.
Baby Dome Features
- 7 x 31 x 21 inches
- 13 pounds
- Folds flat
- Machine-washable cover
- Shaded canopy
“This is awesome! It’s much more compact and less cumbersome than a pack and play, but it’s very sturdy and provides protection from the sun. My daughter naps in it all the time.” –Amazon review
One of the only downsides to the Fisher-Price On-the-Go Baby Dome is that once your baby can pull themselves up or crawl, it’s no longer safe to use.
The nice thing about the Superyard is that it allows you to customize your baby’s play pen: you can choose whether to put down a floor surface, change the area of the house or yard that baby has access to, and even change the shape of the play pen to expose your baby to new experiences.
The eight panels of the play yard clip together to form a large play space that you can fill with books, balls, stuffed animals, and other favorite toys. When it’s not in use (or, when you want to move it somewhere else), the 8 panels fold flat and have a strap for easy transportation. It can be used both indoors and outside.
Super Cool Superyard Features
- 5 x 2 x 26 inches (each panel is about 33 inches wide)
- 25 pounds
- Can be used by toddlers up to 2 years old
- Indoor/outdoor use
“Brought to our parent’s house for Thanksgiving—took less than 60 seconds to pack and secure. Same time to set up. My kiddo loves to cruise (walk while holding onto the fence). If it was possible to tear down, he would have done it already. Makes a great babyjail in our living room that we can tear down with 5 minutes notice if needed. Portable, rugged. Well worth it.” –Amazon review
Remember, the Superyard is for play, and isn’t a safe sleeping space. Some reviewers reported that their little ones got their fingers pinched in the panels while cruising around.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best baby play yard?
The best baby play yard is the one that meets your needs. First, consider whether you’re looking for a place for baby to sleep, or just a safe space to play. Next, think about how often you plan to move the play yard around. Finally, consider how old your baby is and their level of movement.
How long can a baby sleep in a play yard?
Some baby play yards are designed for safe sleep. Often, these are marketed as portable cribs. While it may seem harmless to leave a baby in a play yard that is not specifically designed for sleep, that can put your baby at risk. If you notice that your baby has fallen sleep in their play yard that is not a portable crib, move them to an area that is safe for sleep, like their crib.
Are playpens good for babies?
Playpens can allow babies to explore their environment in a safe and controlled way. Of course, it wouldn’t be good to leave a baby in a playpen all day, or to allow them to sleep in a play yard that is not a portable crib. However, leaving your baby to play for a few minutes while you’re being productive can encourage independence and age-appropriate exploration.
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