I took my two kids over multiple terrains in our neighborhood in several of the most popular models, including the Jeep stroller wagon and the Baby Trend wagon
By Anna Maltby
As a car-free parent raising two small children in a major city, I often say that our stroller is our “urban minivan.” We use it to cart around kids, groceries, library books, packages to be shipped, and picnic gear. We sometimes even use it to take our two cats to the veterinarian appointment: We’ll place one carrier in the seat and one carrier in the basket underneath and walk them over to the vet’s office with ease. And we only get a few, if any, strange looks along the way. It’s New York! Who cares?
Now that my children are 3 and 5, and mostly amenable to walking, we’re using the stroller less and less. But we still occasionally need a way to carry small people and/or heavy items from place to place. The perfect solution, I thought, would be a small collapsible wagon we could stick our park or beach gear into, toss into the trunk of a Lyft or rental car sometimes, and allow a kid to ride in if they got “so tired,” stashing it away easily in the small storage space down a flight of stairs in our apartment building’s common space.
I thought wrong. Evidently, this is the No. 1 mistake parents make when it comes to kids and wagons, according to Alisa Baer, MD, a pediatrician and co-founder of The Car Seat Lady: “The really big thing is to make sure that what you’re using is not just a wagon, but a stroller wagon, which is designed to specific safety standards to transport children,” Baer says. Wagons are great for carrying stuff around, but kids? Not so much.
“The child should be restrained in the wagon,” whether using built-in straps or a car seat securely attached to an adapter, Baer says. Frankly, the “whys” here get a little scary. These top-heavy little adventurers may lean or even try to climb out of the wagon, and tumble head first onto the pavement. Or, allowed to move around unrestrained, they could sneak an arm or a leg over the side and end up caught in a wheel or other moving part, says Ashita Kapoor, Consumer Reports’ associate director of product safety.
Another mistake: carrying cargo in the seating area of the wagon when children are inside. This is completely counter to how I see most people using wagons in my neighborhood—you can barely see the kid inside, they’re so surrounded by bags of farmers market produce. But it is a critical rule with some minor exceptions, per Baer and Kapoor: Think about whether the gear you’re putting next to your kid could pose a danger (cords, sharp objects, medication, or makeup, for example). If it’s just a diaper bag or some relatively benign groceries, it’s still breaking the rules, but you probably don’t have to flip completely out, especially if your kid is older or less sneaky.
Appropriately chastened, I set out to evaluate some of the most popular models of stroller wagons—not regular wagons, mind you—to see which options might work as a functional and safe upgrade to our urban minivan.
How I Evaluated These Stroller Wagons
I unpacked, assembled, measured, and closely examined each wagon, reading the instructions and safety warnings carefully, and took each one outside for a spin with my children: a 32-pound 3-year-old and a 45-pound 5-year-old. We experimented with the wagons on even terrain, on uneven and bumpy terrain, uphill, downhill, and on flat stretches of sidewalk. The first thing I realized is that not every stroller wagon is right for every family, so I organized my picks based on potential user profile.
I made my selections according to these criteria.
Does the Stroller Wagon Handle Well?
These devices tend to be quite large, and because they’re typically designed to accommodate more than one child, we’re talking about a pretty heavy load. Being able to push, pull, turn, and navigate the wagon on typical terrain is a central element of its user-friendliness. Spoiler: Some of them are really freaking hard to drive.
Are the Seats and Straps Comfortable and Secure?
Since restraining little passengers is essential to the safe use of stroller wagons, I kept a close eye on how easy it was to loosen and tighten seat belt straps and harnesses, and how securely the latches seemed to close. This wasn’t always easy, especially given that my kids were wearing bulky winter coats for each spin around the neighborhood. I also considered how comfortable the children felt in their seats.
How Does the Stroller Wagon Store?
Because storage space for kid gear is often at a premium, I looked at how large or small each wagon’s footprint was when folded up, how much space it might take up in a storage area, and whether it could pose a danger to children or pets when not in use.
How Grownup-Friendly Is the Stroller Wagon?
With some in the 50- or even 60-pound range (empty!) I considered the physical strain of carrying each wagon up or down a flight of stairs, such as a stoop or steps leading down to a basement storage area, or into and out of a vehicle. Frankly, some were so heavy that they seemed best suited for those with a street-level garage who plan to use them only for walking around their own neighborhood. (Or for people who are, or live with, a CrossFit enthusiast.)
How Cute Is the Stroller Wagon?
Life as a parent isn’t generally glamorous, and our focus, gearwise, is usually more on function than form. But many parents also don’t love the idea of using a large, hard-to-ignore device that looks, well, ridiculous. Honestly, even double strollers, the kind with side-by-side seats, will get you some side-eye in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Hey, we have narrow sidewalks! So I also considered how embarrassing (or, hopefully, not!) it felt to push each wagon around in public.
This was the third wagon I unpacked and assembled, but the first that piqued my interest. “I think this one might actually be . . . good?” I remarked to my husband. It’s on the larger side (40 pounds, and 42" L x 27" W x 44" H when open and unfolded) but still far sleeker and more streamlined than the other tanks I’d put together so far, and it just looks cool. It’s all black, with lots of neat features that make it a pleasure to use: a child tray with two cupholders and two snack holders, a parent organizer that attaches to the handlebar and can accommodate quite a few items (water bottle, keys, phone, hand sanitizer, snacks, wipes, bubbles?), a basket attachment that can hold a purse or small to medium diaper bag, and a sturdy detachable shade with hidden mosquito nets. Instead of folding for storage in the middle, as do the other products I checked out, this stroller wagon collapses and flattens, which means you don’t have to remove the snack tray or even the shade in order to put it away. It also comes with a car seat adapter with secure straps for safely attaching an infant car seat.
And the ride was so pleasant. The Baby Trend Expedition handles even tight curves, turns, and U-turns easily, and goes over bumps relatively smoothly. I loved the option to use a stroller-like pushing handle from the back, which I did most of the time, but appreciated the option to pull from the front using a wagon handle that slips away underneath the wagon when not in use, clicking into place. So fun! I used this feature to help navigate the wagon out of my apartment building, which takes a little finagling thanks to narrow hallways and a large bump in our front doorway, and then put the wagon handle away for our ride out in the city.
The kids had plenty of room, and loved having a special tray just for their stuff. And while it’s still pretty heavy and bulky, the Baby Trend folds and carries far more easily than the other products I tried in this size range (the Jeep and the Wonderfold—more about them below). If you do have to carry it up or down a flight of stairs for storage, or need to load it into a trunk, make sure you’ve been sticking with your weightlifting routine or that you have a strong fellow grownup’s help. I’d suggest storing this one either on a very strong, secure hook in an out-of-the way area, or flat on the ground—it may topple over if stored leaning against a wall.
At $300-ish, depending where you buy it, this device is a good deal—it’s really just as nice, and seems just as durable, as our Uppababy Cruz stroller but at less than half the price. It was the second cheapest wagon I tried.
My only complaint about the Baby Trend Expedition is that it’s heavy and a little hard to store. It may not be a great choice for apartment dwellers or others with limited storage, or for folks who’d have trouble lifting it into or out of a car or up or down stairs. It’s important to note that you should never store it by leaning it against a wall, as it may tip. Be sure to stash it somewhere safe to avoid accidents. But it’s a solid and enjoyable choice if you’re in the market for a stroller wagon and have the space and muscles for it.
This stroller wagon, a tricked-out version of the little red wagon you might have grown up playing with, was the closest thing to what I’d originally had in mind as a potential stroller replacement: It’s simple, small, and lightweight, and operates basically like a regular old wagon, but with those safety restraints our experts say are critical.
The Radio Flyer weighs just over 20 pounds, and it’s quite petite when folded up, according to my measurements: 9.5 inches long by 8.5 inches wide by 32.68 inches high. It would easily squeeze into our apartment building’s stroller storage area, and it’s a relative breeze to carry up and down a staircase or toss into the trunk of a car.
Kids and nostalgia-heads will love the cheerful, candy-apple red, retro-inspired design, and one side of the wagon unzips and folds down so that you can use it as a bench (though please note the 120-pound weight limit) or low table during, say, a picnic in the park. This wagon isn’t great for tiny or especially wriggly kids because it can’t accommodate a car seat and has only two-point harnesses rather than five-point harnesses. The wagon is recommended for ages 1.5 and up. And the simple and easy-to-adjust seat belts make it much easier to strap in bigger kids, particularly when they’re wearing bulky winter coats, as mine were during our ride.
Other potential downsides to note: This wagon comes with a canopy, but it attaches to the built-in, slide-away poles using very small and flimsy snaps. One big breeze and I’m pretty sure your canopy will be off to the races. I attached one of the four snaps and turned my back, and within a moment my cat had brushed against the canopy and the snap had come undone.
It’s also very bare-bones in terms of driving: It has very little shock absorption, which maybe your kids don’t mind, and the turning radius is tricky. Take too sharp a turn, and you may end up tipping the wagon over. This is also the most wagony wagon, with only a handle in the front for pulling, which means you don’t get to face your kids, and sensitive shoulders may get irritated pulling the wagon uphill. Finally, there’s minimal storage (two cupholder slots and one small storage slot), and with no stroller handle there’s not even a place to add a hook to hang a tote bag from.
That said, this is probably the most practical wagon of the bunch, and the best suited for parents like me whose main goals are stashing the device away compactly (and with very minimal risk of injury lugging it on a staircase or into the trunk of a car), and having a simple tool to haul items, and sometimes children, around.
If you’re looking for a device to travel with, this also seems the most practical due to the size and weight, although it’s important to note that not all travel destinations will let you use it. Disney parks, for example, do not allow wagons of any kind, including stroller wagons, although many zoos do. Stroller wagons can be checked either at the check-in desk or curbside as baggage on some airlines, though rules vary for gate-checking. Call your airline to find out specific regulations.
I’d liken the Radio Flyer 3-in-1 to the cheap umbrella stroller you keep around for vacations—it won’t last forever, but it does the job, and if it gets lost or damaged, it’s not the end of the world. At around $100, it’s the most affordable wagon in the bunch.
When I finished assembling the Evenflo Pivot Xplore, at first I thought I might have done something wrong or missed a part. It just looked so small, like a regular stroller. But no: This is just a very compact, foldable wagon, and it not only looks like a stroller, but it also operates the most like a stroller in terms of folding, storing, carrying, and driving. The passenger area is quite small, with two petite seats and a small footwell in between, and it sits pretty low to the ground, with relatively low “walls” of the wagon around it.
The adjustable-height stroller handle pulls out long enough so that the grownup’s feet have plenty of clearance for walking without kicking the rear axle. (This was an annoying issue for the Jeep and the Wonderfold, below.) It’s extremely easy to steer, and navigating around corners, through narrow parts of the sidewalk, and into and out of buildings is just as easy as, if not easier than, using a regular stroller. The handle also releases from the stroller-push position and pivots, hence the name, to the front in case you need to pull, which I found pretty delightful.
The other thing I noticed is children have to be teeny to fit into this stroller wagon. My kids exceeded the recommended 39-inch height limit. Unlike the flat wagons, where both kids can happily sit criss-cross applesauce, the wee footwell of this stroller means that only children with small legs and feet can comfortably sit together. All this tells me that the ideal passengers for this device are probably older babies, toddlers, and smaller preschoolers: say, 9 months to 3 years old. The recommended minimum age is 6 months, but the instructions also specify that only children who can sit upright unassisted and maintain good neck control should sit in the seats, likely because of the three-point harnesses and lack of shoulder straps. Car seat adapters (for either infant or toddler car seats) are sold separately, and only one can be accommodated at a time.
All told, this is a very popular wagon with great reviews, and given the compact size and easy driving, I do see why. But due to the size limitations, it likely won’t have the longevity you may be seeking if you’re hoping for a product you can use well beyond the stroller years.
Other Stroller Wagons We Evaluated
At 46 inches long by 29 inches wide by 38 inches deep open, not including the canopy, this stroller wagon is hilariously large, and definitely falls in the “embarrassing” category. With the canopy attached, it looks like a Conestoga wagon. It’s like a full-sized Pack ’n Play on wheels. And about three times as heavy: The Wonderfold weighs 55 pounds with no children inside, and even when folded up it’s 2.5 feet wide and up to my elbows. While you can theoretically collapse the wagon with the seats attached (according to strong and talented people on YouTube, anyway), neither my husband nor I could actually make this happen, and removing and reinserting the seats is quite an elbow-grease-filled ordeal itself. It nearly doesn’t fit on my street’s narrow sidewalks, and I found the seat belts a little tricky to use, although they did buckle securely once I got the hang of it.
It’s also designed to seat up to four children, but they better be pretty small and get along well because they’ll be squished up very close together. It’s hard to drive; even pushing on a flat, even sidewalk takes effort, and managing slopes and uneven terrain left me tired enough to ask my husband to take over for a few blocks. And challenging to navigate around curves and corners. I had to swing the wagon wide to turn corners, and getting the wagon out of our building took more than one multipoint turn. And because the handle doesn’t extend very far away from the wagon, I kept kicking the rear wheel axle while walking along.
At about $600, this product is quite an investment, and most cool gear, such as rain covers and bassinet attachments, are sold separately; there are no car seat adapters available for this product. Despite many positive online reviews I still have trouble envisioning who might actually find this model to be a good one—maybe someone who has three or four toddlers or a nanny share, lives in an extremely flat area, and has a street-level garage with lots of extra space. Or even an outdoor street-level storage space: I noticed a Wonderfold padlocked behind a neighbor’s front fence, tucked under a rain cover, a few days after my test drive—so at least one of my fellow city dwellers has found a way to make this device work for them. But this one is definitely not for me.
The Jeep stroller wagon was the first I tried, and it put a fairly sour taste in my mouth about the whole category. My kids loved it (how much of that was the novelty of their first ride in a stroller wagon, I’m not sure), but I found it utterly exhausting. This thing has so much drift that if you’re on a sidewalk with even a tiny slope, you’ll find yourself pushing with one hand while you pull with the other to course-correct. It’s also so heavy to push. I was slick with sweat and removing layers within a couple of blocks despite taking the Jeep out on a 40° F day. And that was after the 10 minutes my husband and I spent wrestling with the seat belts to expand them enough for our children to fit inside: They were extremely difficult to loosen or tighten, and in the end we were able to fasten only one half of the seat belt around my son. (His left leg was secure, but his right leg was loose.)
I found myself kicking the axle of the Jeep because of its lack of clearance, just as I did with the Wonderfold. And while it folds in half easily, it’s still very large when folded, and it tips over if you look at it sideways. Do not store this one by leaning it against a wall. It could fall over and potentially hurt children or pets.
I like the rugged, Jeep-y style, and the multiple storage spaces, but that’s about all I liked about it.
A Final Note About Stroller Wagons
I’ll admit that when the stroller wagon boxes started arriving at my apartment, my skepticism kicked in: I couldn’t believe how bulky and heavy these products were, and I expected to feel very surprised if I ended up liking them as much as or more than our trusty old stroller with the ride-on kickboard. I promise you I tried them with an open mind! But sadly, while my kids had a great time riding around—and we did enjoy being a bit more face-to-face and “having a conversation!” as my 3-year-old gleefully put it, I was overall not surprised or impressed.
This isn’t a product category that feels like a clear improvement to me from a regular double stroller, or a single stroller with a kickboard like we have, especially given the clear warnings not to carry items inside the wagons when kids are inside: I can cart a lot more stuff alongside my kids in our Uppababy Cruz (safely!) with the storage basket and hooks than I could in any of the products I evaluated, at least when following the rules. Plus, our stroller folds up so much smaller and is so much easier to store and travel with than most of the wagons.
We’re just one family, and there are plenty of glowing reviews of each of these products online: Your mileage may absolutely vary. But while some of the wagons were fun to use, with some cool bells and whistles, this overall isn’t a product category I can wholeheartedly endorse. I suppose when we outgrow our stroller, these kiddos are just going to have to walk.
This product evaluation is part of Consumer Reports’ Outside the Labs reviews program, which is separate from our laboratory testing and ratings. Our Outside the Labs reviews are performed at home and in other native settings by individuals, including our journalists, with specialized subject matter experience or familiarity and are designed to offer another important perspective for consumers as they shop. While the products or services mentioned in this article might not currently be in CR’s ratings, they could eventually be tested in our laboratories and rated according to an objective, scientific protocol.
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