Chances are, you already have a crib or a bassinet. Perhaps one that you meticulously researched and ranked according to your top priorities, whether they be aesthetic, safety, or size. But if you ever want to leave your house again, you’ll likely want a portable play or nap area to safely contain your little one in a new space. Whether you’re traveling across the country or simply setting up shop at a friend’s place for the day, an easy-to-carry, simple-to-set-up pack and play is a must.
After researching some of the most popular models on the market, we’ve ranked them with the most important characteristic being portability. Because what’s the point of a second sleeping space if you’re not going somewhere with it—even if that’s just to the kitchen while you prep dinner? Our overall pick is the Nuna Sena Aire(available at Nordstrom). Its sleek design lends itself to any space in the home, it’s sturdy and spacious enough for sleeping or playing, and while it’s not the most lightweight option (it’s also not the heaviest), it’s functionality is intuitive, and it’s easy to unfold and repack in its carrying case.
The Chicco Alfa Lite (available at Buy Buy Baby) was a close second, but for vastly different reasons. Not only is it a more budget-friendly option—which is always appealing—but it’s incredibly lightweight and easy to set up and break down. It has a clean design, is simple to assemble, and the front-zip feature allows it to transform from sleep space to play place.
These are the best playards we tested, ranked in order:
Nuna Sena Aire
Chicco Alfa Lite
Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light
Century Play On 2-in-1
Delta LX Deluxe
4Moms Breeze Plus
Chicco Lullaby Primo Organic
Nuna Sena Aire
We chose the Nuna Sena Aire as the best pack and play for its overall performance. Aesthetes, look no further: This model has an attractive, yet durable design. It comes in soothing, neutral colorways and offers limited-edition patterns on its website through a collaboration with Pottery Barn Kids.
It includes a no-fuss, fold-out, clip-in mattress that’s slim enough for simple repacking, but cushy enough for sleeping. And while it weighed in at roughly 22 pounds, it was not cumbersome, and was easily maneuvered to multiple locations. It’s easy to clean, with a zip-off, dryer-safe mattress cover and GOTS organic sheet. Its skid-proof feet offered a sturdiness capable of handling the most expressive little ones. This model was also the easiest to convert to a bassinet, with a seamless add-on feature.
The biggest downside? It’s pricey. There is no front zip feature, like many of the travel playards, and the changer accessory is sold separately. All in all, we feel the Sena Aire’s long list of benefits outweigh the cons.
Weighing in at 13 pounds—making it exceptionally portable—the Chicco Alfa Lite is not only lighter and more affordable than the Sena Aire, but it also has a clean, simple design. The zip-front feature is great for crawling tots and there’s a zip-off, machine-washable mattress cover. It is Greenguard Gold-certified for low carbon emissions. The best part, though? It’s incredibly simple and straightforward to unfold and repack.
Because of its clean design and lightweight feel, however, it may be slightly less sturdy than other options. Like most playards, it’s recommended for children up to 30 pounds and 35 inches tall. There are no additional features, like a bassinet, diaper caddy, or changing table add-on, but for on-the-go parents who want an attractive, space-efficient option without breaking the bank, the Alfa Lite is an excellent choice.
Hi, I'm Deenie. As a first-time mom, faced with an onslaught of new parenting advice, a wickedly unpredictable schedule, and the influx of baby gear that began covering the inside of our modest home like kudzu, I felt passionately that postpartum purchases should be simple. Effective, yes. Safe, of course. But while I watched from the stovetop or a hotel bathroom as my baby kicked and cooed from each pack and play mattress, I knew we had more important things to do than spend 10 minutes putting together and breaking down a playard. There was a whole world out there, and we were going to see it together.
When it comes to playards, most parents have the same set of requirements: they want something lightweight, easy to fold, and durable.
We started by compiling a list of the most popular models from the most well-known brands and whittled that list down after reading reviews, and analyzing top-selling products across major websites.
After settling on our eight finalists, we established our test procedures and gave every model the same thorough examination. We wanted to see which playards had the highest concentration of the attributes parents find most important. We spent time with each model, using them in real-world situations, including packing, unpacking, and setting each model up.
What You Should Know About Buying a Playard
Playards and Pack 'n Plays are the same thing
Playards—often known by Graco's trademark name, the Pack 'n Play—come in all different shapes and sizes, with a myriad of options to choose from. Nearly all playards include the same basic features: a frame that will fold up when not in use, a mattress pad, and a carrying case to keep everything together when on the move. Designs can vary wildly from one manufacturer to the next, but they all function in this basic way.
Add-ons are available
Some playards offer add-ons designed for infants, such as napping and changing stations. Many of these changer/napper stations are a single, reversible piece that snaps onto the top of the playard. One side is usually waterproof (for changing the baby) while the other is a little more padded and cozy, ideal for a newborn baby to nap in. These accessories can be handy, but most of them have a weight limit of 15 pounds or less and are only suitable for babies that can't roll over—meaning they are only good for the first 6 months or so.
Safety is key
Make sure you know what your playard model's weight limits are. This also extends to mattresses and sheets—many parents want to use them with their playard, but most manufacturers sharply recommend against it. Both the CPSC and the American Academy of Pediatrics specify that you should only use the included mattress with your playard because there's just no guarantee a third-party product will fit safely. Though portable crib mattresses are very popular, buyer beware.
You'll be glad to have a playard
There are a lot of products that parents are looking for when they’re preparing for a new member of the family. While a playard might not be the first thing to come to mind, it’s a piece of gear that can make your life easier, while not breaking the bank. It especially helps fill in the blanks in those tough times when more dedicated long-term solutions, like a crib, or a baby-safe play room, or a changing table, just aren't available.
Other Playards We Tested
Babybjörn Travel Crib Light
The Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light acquired its points by being lightweight (only 13 pounds), extremely easy to unfold and assemble, and one of the easiest options to repack in its carrying case. It is one of the best designs for not only moving around the house, but also for getting in and out of the trunk of a car. It has a simple, sleek design, and like the Chicco Alfa Lite, it has a small footprint, making it an optimal choice for both air travel and hotel stays. Ultimately, its ranking is due to its being intuitive and hassle free.
However, this easy-to-use crib lost points for price, because it feels a bit steep for a no-frills option without a bassinet or changing table component, front zip closure, or playtime add-ons. Though, the materials do meet the requirements for Oeko-Tex Standard 100, Class 1, which means they are “kind to sensitive skin” and “safe to taste.” If these classifications are important to you, this could be an option for your growing family.
If the Sena Aire and the Alfa Lite had a baby, it would be the Guava Lotus. It has a sleek, yet sturdy design, with an easy-to-clip-in mattress and zipper door. At 13 pounds, it is lightweight enough to move around the house, and relatively easy to pack back into its carrying case, which has a backpack feature.
The mattress, which lies flush against the ground, was not particularly comfortable; this may be less of an issue if the playard is set up on carpet. The initial set up and breakdown is not as intuitive as one would hope, but a quick glance at the instruction manual will explain its simple pop-out function. It is also one of the pricier options, and does not come with additional features, but we still think it's a stylish, high-quality choice for napping (or playing) on the go.
Century Play On 2-in-1 Playard and Activity Center
There was a lot to love about the Century Play On 2-in-1 playard. Literally. Though it wasn’t particularly heavy, it was the largest playard we tested. It includes a multitude of fun features, like a Playscape wall with removable Velcro toys, a zipper door, and plenty of room for rolling, crawling, and playing. Fabrics are made from recyclable materials. Due to its size, however, it is nearly impossible to comfortably use this model in smaller homes or apartments, and has the potential to be more cumbersome during air travel.
The setup and breakdown are easy, the mattress is conveniently foldable yet still comfortable enough for sleeping, and the entire model feels secure and durable. This would be an optimal choice for a large space or outdoors, and for mobile babies who would appreciate the extra square footage.
Of all the playards we tested with additional features such as a bassinet, changer, and storage caddy, the Delta LX Deluxe was by far the most lightweight, the least cumbersome, and the easiest to unfold and assemble. A clip-on mobile is a sweet addition for infants. It has lock-enabled wheels for safety, and moves easily around the house. Plus, it comes in under $100, making it one of the more cost effective options.
Due to the multiple parts, it can be somewhat of a challenge to effectively repack the playard into the carrying case. The additional parts also add weight, making it less portable when traveling. But if you’re not traveling often, or going mostly by car, this could be a great option for taking your kids from infant to toddler years.
The highlight of the 4Moms Breeze Plus is its “one push open, one pull close” functionality. It’s simple and intuitive, and possible to open and close the frame with one hand. If you don’t intend to use the included add-ons, then one hand is nearly all one would need. However, the diaper caddy, changing table, and infant insert (which uses the 2-in-1 mattress with zip-off panels) require a bit more time and effort to assemble, making this one of the more cumbersome set ups.
This is a less portable option because it’s heavy, slightly clunky to move around the house, and somewhat difficult to properly repack each piece inside the carrying case. But if you love a convertible design with lots of options, then the Breeze Plus could be a good pick.
The Chicco Lullaby Primo Organic pack and play is most like a traditional pack and play, but on steroids. It unfolds and collapses like most standard models (by locking the sides before flattening the bottom all the way); has a snap-on changer, diaper caddy, and portable mobile; and is made from soft, organic materials––including the mattress, change covers, and top rail fabric. It is Greenguard Gold-certified, which means it’s been tested for low chemical emissions, and wheels on one side make it easy to maneuver.
The reason for its ranking is because it is one of the heaviest, and its multiple parts not only make it more difficult to efficiently repack in its carrying case, they also make it heavier and more cumbersome when moving from place to place. At $299.99, it’s not the most affordable option, but if you’re interested in an organic option with all the bells and whistles, this would make a great choice.
Deenie Hartzog-Mislock is a writer specializing in lifestyle, beauty & wellness, fashion, and food. She is the former copy director at Vogue magazine and currently works with Virtue Labs. Her work has been published in the New York Times Modern Love column, Glamour.com, Refinery29, Longreads, and more. Find her on Instagram @deenkat.
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