As my younger son gets stronger and stronger and better and better at walking it has become quite obvious that our hiking, over uneven terrain, roots, rocks, and logs has improved his gait, his stride and especially his balance. It has been a privilege to watch as he tackles each obstacle and challenge with a smile on his face. He can now march up to about 4.5km on his own (2.8 miles) even up some pretty big gradients.
His special needs do; however, often limit how far we can go or how much elevation change we can take on. I used to bring his stroller along but soon realized the limitations of steep slopes, narrow trails, and any number of obstacles we would face on trails that were not wheelchair or stroller friendly. I switched to just carrying him on my shoulders which was going well until he leaned too far on one of our hikes and I ended up with a sprained back.
Why not use a child carrier?
The issue was that I had not found one that would support the weight of a 5 year who weighs 57 lbs. That was until I found The Freeloader!
So what is it?
I will let you read their website for details, but basically The Freeloader is a fold down aluminum seat designed for lightweight versatility. You carry the Freeloader as a pack until you need it and then simply fold the seat down, load up your child and keep going. It is designed to carry kids over 2 1/2 years old that are between 33″ – 50″ in standing height. The best part though is that it can support up to 80 lbs!!!
So what did I think?
Well first off let me say that the company realizes the possibilities for the special needs community; however, also understands that parents of special needs kids also have struggles. They do offer a discount to parents of special needs children which instantly scores them points. When I ordered my Freeloader, customer service was quick and even though it was by email I could tell that they cared about my story and that is an awesome feeling.
But let’s look at the actual carrier.
- The carrier has a very simple, lightweight design, that is comfortable to wear as a pack.
- If your child is able-bodied you don’t even have to take the pack off to load them up.
- It has an ergonomic design that fits the shape of your back
- The hip, and shoulder pads are of an amazing quality and feel like high-end backpack straps with a good amount of padding.
- The design places most of the weight on your hips and saves your shoulders any unnecessary fatigue.
- The strapping for the child is strong and secure and you do not need to worry about them falling sideways off of the seat.
- The stirrups stop little feet from swinging into your sides or dangling down throwing off-balance.
- As a single dad I am the one carrying extra clothes, water, snacks, first aid equipment, camera, etc. The small hip pockets do not provide nearly enough storage.
- This problem can be solved with a chest, rib, or leg pack; however, it would be awesome if a clip on chest pack was sold as an accessory. Or a small pack could be clipped onto the back over the seat, when in pack mode, and then unclipped and clipped onto the front, when in carrier mode.
- It would also be great to integrate a hydration pack that could be accessible by both parent and child or at least a water bottle holder that can be reached by both.
- My son cannot get on the carrier on his own and it takes a little bit of work to get him onto the seat and strapped in.
- It would be great if the child’s shoulder straps could be places on the child (like a vest) and then clipped onto the front of the should straps of the carrier.
- Lastly, for those of us with special needs kids that don’t can’t stand on their own and don’t have someone to lift the child onto the carrier
- A folding integrated stand would be a great assistance in getting our kiddos on and off of the carrier. (yes, I know this would add weight)
Now, all this being said I cannot overstate how much I love this carrier. It is well made with all of the materials being of the best quality. I needed a carrier that was versatile enough to be easy to carry, while my son was hiking on his own, yet comfortable enough to carry a 57 lbs child over uneven ground, and up steep gradients without injuring my back. The Freeloader does all of this perfectly. Most of the things I put on the “cons” list are personal adjustments I would like to see; however, the things on the “pros” list are universal needs that any parent would want while carrying their child.
Really what it comes down to is would I recommend the Freeloader to parents travelling with their kids… yes! Would I recommend the Freeloader to parents who want to get their kids outdoors and trek longer distances… yes! And, would I recommend the Freeloader to parents of special needs children who deserve the opportunity to get to places not easily accessible by wheelchairs and strollers… yes!
At $299usd the Freeloader is an amazing versatile piece of equipment that has increased the ability for my boys and I to explore places that we could not easily reach before, without risking an unnecessary back injury. Thanks Freeloader!
The Walking Dad.