Hotel rooms and rented apartments are rarely child proof and toddler play areas can be few and far between. That means it can be really handy to bring your own safe space for your child to play. If you will be travelling with a toddler and you can find the space in your luggage a portable playpen can be a great addition to your baby travel gear.
This page will go through the reasons for travelling with a portable play yard, what factors to consider when selecting one and then we will go through some specific models that we like the look of.
- 1 Should You Travel With A Portable Playpen?
- 2 Best Portable Playpen Comparison Chart
- 3 How Do You Choose The Best Portable Playpen?
- 4 Portable Playpen Reviews
- 4.1 Portable Playpens We Do Not Like
- 4.2 Portable Playpens We Love
- 4.3 Portable Playpens We Like
Should You Travel With A Portable Playpen?
Firstly, is it even worth lugging another thing along with you on your travels? In our case, our daughter Zoe has always been very active. From the moment she was mobile she has just never stopped walking, running, climbing and exploring. We spend a lot of time in hotels and short term apartment rentals and they are just never suitable for her. There are always electrical cables that cannot be tucked away, furniture with pointy eye-level corners, glass and other fragile or dangerous stuff that cannot easily be moved. In the interest of her safety and our peace of mind we decided to bring a baby play yard with us.
The downside of this is the additional weight and volume. A lightweight travel playpen can be very light but it never weighs nothing. It can pack up small but it still takes up some space.
Whether you should travel with a portable playpen will depend on your luggage limits, your budget for additional baby gear and how long you will be staying in each location. If you are staying for months you can spend the time baby proofing but if you are only going to be in a spot for days or even weeks then serious bona fide baby proofing is not going to be possible making a portable playpen much more useful.
Best Portable Playpen Comparison Chart
Below is table containing some of the many play yards for babies that are available.
Price Guide: $ = under $100, $$$ = over $200
|Pack 'n Play Playard||20 lbs||$||4.7|
|Hexagonal TikkTokk Pokano Playpen & Mat||11 lbs||$||4.3|
|Phil & Ted's Portable Traveller Crib||7 lbs||$$$||4.1|
|Summer Infant Pop 'n Play Portable Playard||12 lbs||$||4.6|
|Graco Pack 'n Play Sport Parkside||11.5 lbs||$$||4.8|
|Guava Family Lotus Travel Crib and Portable Baby Playard||11 lbs||$$$||4.8|
Now that you have an idea of what is out there how do you pick the best portable playpen for you?
How Do You Choose The Best Portable Playpen?
These are the factors that we think are particularly important when selecting a portable playpen, emphasis on the word "portable". A great portable playpen needs to be a great playpen AND easy to take with you.
If you will be traveling by any means apart from maybe a road trip in a very large vehicle you are inevitably going to have to carry your portable playpen. Bear in mind you will be carrying it while also carrying other luggage and possibly a child. Weight is really important. You cannot pay too much attention to keeping your luggage weight down.
Size When Set Up
Something smaller may be fine if your child is young or you only anticipate occasional use. For an active toddler or if you will be using it every day you probably want something more spacious. Ideally there would be room for an adult to climb in there with the child to make interactive yet safely contained play easier.
Size When Folded Up
Particularly if you will be flying or otherwise hoping to keep your luggage volume manageable you will need to think about how your baby play yard will add to your luggage. Will it be an extra bag that needs to be carried or can it fit inside one of your existing bags? What shape is it when folded up?
How easy is it to climb out of? Some playpens like the Summer Infant Pop 'n Play have metal tubes that provide convenient foot rests for an adventurous toddler attempting to escape. We ultimately stopped using the Summer Infant when it became obvious that Zoe was on the verge of clambering over the side.
Both the base and the sides may be padded. The more padding there is, the less likely your child is to bang their head or otherwise hurt themselves. Unfortunately, the more padding there is the heavier and bulkier the playpen will be so there is a trade off required here.
Particularly if you will be staying in apartments or in one spot for quite a while you can supplement the padding by putting blankets or similar things underneath it. That lets you keep your weight down but you could potentially get caught short in a tiled apartment with no extra soft stuff.
Portable Playpen Reviews
We have separated this into playpens we recommend and those we do NOT recommend. Let's get the ones we do not like out of the way before moving onto some better options.
Portable Playpens We Do Not Like
Pack 'n Play Playard Review
This style of playpen is really common in hotels for some reason. Perhaps hotels like them because they are just portable enough for the staff to haul from room to room and pack up just small enough to get wedged in a storeroom when not in use.
Weighing in in the region of 20 pounds (9 kg) these are heavy. They also do not pack up small. They are really only portable in the sense that you could lug it to the trunk of your car. If you are going any further than that do not get one. Do not be fooled by claims that they are great for travel.
Pack and Plays are fine if you will be taking a road trip and have a very large vehicle. They are also fine if you just want something you can move from room to room. For any other scenario, avoid.Click here if you still want to see more info and the current price
Hexagonal TikkTokk Pokano Playpen & Mat Review
If you want a playpen that you will leave semi-permanently set up the TikkTokk is actually pretty great. It is awesomely large meaning that two adults and a child can be in there are once. It is extremely well padded so there should be no tears when someone takes a tumble. If you will never move it it's pretty wonderful but as soon as you shift location its downsides become apparent.
It is really huge when packed up. Not only does it go in a separate bag but it is a really big bag. It is also a real pain to set up. I do not think we ever got it assembled in less than five minutes and there was usually swearing involved. Finally, it weighs in at a hefty 11 pounds (5 kg). This is only portable if you only need to carry it as far as your car and hopefully you have a big car.
Portable Playpens We Love
Phil & Ted's Portable Traveller Crib Review
If you need a single unit that will double as travel playpen and travel cot this is a great option. It is stable, light, quick to set up and take down. You can of course just use it as a cot/crib but it does well as a playpen for a very young child or a stopgap playpen for a toddler.
It packs up small enough that it will probably fit inside your bag so you do not need to carry an extra thing. We LOVE this thing and have used it very heavily as a travel crib and occasional play pen.Click here for more info and the current price
Summer Infant Pop 'n Play Portable Playard Review
The Summer Infant Pop 'n Play is a very handy portable play yard although it is not perfect. We traveled with one of these for a good long while.
Although it is large enough when packed that it goes in its own bag it is reasonably light at 12 pounds (5.5 kg). It has the great advantage of being exceptionally fast to set up. Once you know how it is done you can have it set up in thirty seconds.
A child and an adult can fit comfortably. Two adults is getting a bit squishy.
Owing to its light weight it has the disadvantage that it essentially has zero padding. The base is tough but not padded at all. That makes it unsuitable to put directly on a tile floor for example. This is compounded by the material the base is made of slipping around on smooth floors like tile or wood. If you place the Summer Infant Pop 'n Play down directly on a wood or tile floor it is quite dangerous.
We stayed at a few places with tile floors and opted to place something soft under it. Blankets, yoga mats, whatever was on hand. This solved both the lack of padding and the slipperiness. It is not perfect but it is pretty good.Click here for more info and current prices
Portable Playpens We Like
We have not personally used the following portable playpens but they look like good options to consider.
Graco Pack 'n Play Sport Parkside Review
Weighing in at 11 pounds this offers a significantly smaller play area than the Summer Infant Pop 'n Play but it adds a canopy that keeps the sun off and helps keep mosquitoes and other bugs at bay. Something to bear in mind if you anticipate ever using it outside.
The floor is very lightly padded so you will need to put something soft under it if you will be setting it up on a hard floor. Setting it up is also very easy.Click here for more info and current prices
Guava Family Lotus Travel Crib and Portable Baby Playard Review
Weighs in at 11 pounds. It is extremely fast to set up although it is too large when packed to easily fit into another bag so you will be adding an extra thing to carry to your luggage.
If is on the small side so it will be fine for a baby, a young toddler or very occasional use with an older child. For an everyday playpen for an active toddler however you will want something bigger.Click here for more info and to get the current price