A pack n play (aka playard or portable travel crib) is a flexible sleeping arrangement for a baby. These products are ideal either for short-term placement in a parent’s bedroom or to pack up to go for a picnic or to a friend’s house. Rather than being a permanent fixture as a cot, often the best pack and play is both durable and adaptable to suit new parents who are able to use it in a number of interesting ways.
Pack and Play: Design Basics
The basic design of a playard is a place for the baby to play or sleep safely. They typically have a rectangular design and use mesh for breathability and visibility of the child for the parent without needing to look over the top of the playard to check how they are doing. The playard lower platform is either adjacent with the floor or a little elevated above it to let air flow beneath.
These products come in numerous configurations to suit the needs of each parent and what baby gear they already own. A playard with a bassinet adds a crib at the top that creates a second, raised platform in a basket-like shape that ensures the baby lies there safely and securely. As such, parents are able to lay their baby down while they prepare for work. The baby can sleep happily in a comfortable position swaddled up so they feel protected.
Other options include a separate rocking seat to get your baby off to sleep more easily and a place to change their diaper. There are actually many product iterations which allow parents to choose between them easily.
Pack and Play: Best Age to Use?
A pack and play are often perfectly fine for a newborn right up to approximately three years of age. With most sizes, the height of the pack and play is suitable for a child who hasn’t yet reached 35-inches in height. Alternatively, if they’re able to get out of the protective area, then it’s time to stop using it at that point for safety reasons.
Is a Pack n Play Required?
We can honestly confirm that a pack n play isn’t a necessity. A basic mat for the baby to crawl around on and an enclosed area to keep the little one contained is a makeshift option too. With that said, the design of the best pack and play, with a bassinet or without it, offers complete flexibility and a worry-free play area designed with this purpose in mind. No protective gates falling down or the baby crawling off the mat unnoticed here.
Co-sleeping with your young baby runs the risk of rolling over the child and smothering them accidentally. All parents need to at least have a baby in a crib, but with a travel crib, one has a greater range of options in the home and outside of it without needing to buy a crib and a travel crib.
Freedom of Travel with Newborn In-Tow
When looking for the best pack and play for travel, many of the models are suitable choices. Both Fisher-Price and Graco offer excellent playards which pack up quickly ready for trips to the grandparents and to see other relatives. Many of the products have travel bags to pack down the pack and play, place it into the bag, zip it up, and off one goes.
This flexibility is something that all parents will enjoy as it gives them their freedom back to go on trips and set up a safe area for their baby even when they’re away from their baby cot or nursery. New places where the electrical outlets haven’t been made safe and ornaments could be knocked down, are no longer an issue when packing a pack and play. It takes many of the worries out of the picture for new parents who can get some quality time in with their parents while the baby is in the same room prepared in a protective environment away from danger.
When traveling and staying in hotels, one is at the mercy of whatever arrangements each hotel chain has made for parents with little ones. The supplied cribs are often not ideal with some falling outside of modern, regulation approved designs that are considered safe. Your baby gets used to their own environment, so the ability to take their mobile crib with them whenever they travel avoids a disruption to their sleep pattern which could affect the baby and their parent(s).
Pack and Play: Setup Time
The good news here is that a pack and play is lightweight, simple to disassemble and then re-assemble after arrival at your chosen destination. Unlike a heavier wooden crib, these models are custom designed for either a man or a woman to pack and carry out to their vehicle for trips. The re-assembly is simple and fast too.
Choosing the Best Play n Play for your Baby
The number of product choices here could well be quite baffling. There are many options to consider and pick through in order to choose the right model for you. Here are a few of the considerations:
When shopping for a pack and play, the basic models skip the bells and whistles and stick to the essentials only. With the more advanced models, there are multiple additions and premium features to consider. At its most basic, a portable crib is a place for the baby to sleep or move around in a safe spot with the flexibility to pack it up and quickly relocate the crib in a second location.
Quick Tip: For newborns, models with an adjustable mattress are better. Lifting your baby back up into your arms and placing them back into the Play and Play is easier with this type of mattress.
The premium features found in the more expensive products include:
- A baby changing area
- A bassinet or sleeping area
- Multiple hanging toys to keep your baby’s eyes and mind occupied
With each premium feature, the price of the product tends to increase correspondingly.
Ease of Packing & Re-assembly
For parents who expect to travel to see friends, relatives or on frequent business trips with their child, the ease to fold up the pack and play, and re-assemble it quickly at their destination is a critical point.
In many cases, buttons are convenient places that unlock the frame which allows it to begin to collapse down. Most buttons don’t require much effort to depress them, but a few are stiffer than expected. A few models have either castor wheels or feet that will fold up to pack down to a smaller size.
There’s Portable, and there’s Portable…
Not every pack and play is designed the same way. Depending on the model, they each have different premium features and design variances that often changes how the pack down and re-assemble. Some models are designed to pack and roll through an airport lounge, whereas others need to be carried off the ground.
One should also consider the dimensions of the product when packed up and its weight, as these are both factors when flying either domestic or international. Typically, with each premium feature added on with the selection of a nicer model, the size, and weight increases. As such, the convenience is a tradeoff that each parent has to weigh up carefully.
Swivel Wheels or Fixed Position?
A pack and play with casters wheels that swivel or two wheels allowing the rolling of the pack through the hotel reception or the airport is an ideal scenario. The wheels should be lockable too, to keep the pack in place when needed too. Not every pack and play is roll-able, but it sure makes it easier to travel.
The U.S. regulations for safety (governed by the CPSC) were changed in 2013 in the following ways:
- Stronger brackets on each corner to cover any cracks or rail failure
- Rails on each side must not create a “V” shape at any point which represents a strangulation risk factor
- More durable mattresses for each floor to avoid accidents
A few pack and play products have the added feature of additional storage to make it easier to store items while the crib is being used. These include:
- Pockets on the side with zippers
- Bags to keep organized
- Shelves made of comfortable fabric
- Storage pouches that hook onto the crib
It is fair to say that storage is not a deal breaker when choosing between pack and plays. They are useful for busy moms who want to cut down the number of trips to the nursery. The most important thing with storage bags or pouches is that they’re large enough to store what you need. Nothing is more annoying than pouches that are too small to really be useful.
Safety Tip: Storage bags should be out of reach of your little one to avoid them tipping up the bag and the items landing on top of them.
Fast Cheat Sheet for a Pack and Play
What are the best features to look out for when comparing pack and play products:
Weight – The lighter, the better. Bigger cribs are nice to have, but a pack ‘n play intended for travel should be light enough to be portable.
Simple to Setup – A travel crib should be fast to collapse and pack away, and equally smooth to set it up in a new location. The fewer pieces and least number of steps, the better.
Comfy – The fabrics must be soft and well-padded to make it gentle for your baby’s skin. The amount of padding is also a factor here. If your baby isn’t comfortable, getting to sleep is a challenge.
Hazards – The number one consideration is safety. Design and construction must be done in a way to maintain safety at all times. The revised rules from the CPSC have added additional protections to avoid problems in design.
Durability – While a travel crib isn’t going to have the same support present as a wooden crib in a fixed position, the product must provide sufficient support. Skimping on the basics creates a poorly fitting, uncomfortable sleeping or play area for your baby.
Bag/Case – The carry case should be easy to access, pack the pack and play inside, zip it up, and go. Whether it has wheels and it’s able to roll along or shoulder straps to carry it the shoulder, the case is an important aspect to its ability to travel with it.
Price – Thankfully, good brands have products that offer credible features at a reasonable price. The price of pack and play is considerably lower than a wooden crib.
The Graco Pack N Play Playard Bassinet Automatic is a basic pack n play model from one of the busiest producers of this kind of product; Graco. The model comes in either Aspery or Carnival color schemes.
The Aspery is a multi-colored bubble spots pattern across the top border of the playard and the raised floor inside it. The material covering the pillars on all four pillars have a brown color, with curved corner protective covers in black. The white see-through mesh offsets the darker palette. The immobile legs at the front and the wheels at the back are black colored.
The Carnival is an altogether more colorful affair. The pattern around the frame at the top uses a series of cartoon-like simple images of a giraffe and other animals. This time, the pillars are black colored to match the legs and wheels on the model.
The Pack N Play playard is designed for the baby to be laid down inside. From there, they can be viewed at any angle in the room (either in person or viewing via a remote camera system). The mesh has numerous holes to ensure good air flow to keep the baby cooler on hot days.
The playard’s flooring is raised above the home’s rug, carpet or wooden floor. It is padded for comfort and easy to crawl around on for the baby. A baby can stand up inside the playard. It is strongly recommended that no baby taller than 35 inches or one strong enough to climb out of the pack and play continue using this product.
For a safe place for your baby to lie down, play or nap, this pack ‘n play is a good basic option. The push button initiates the folding up of the pack ‘n play to take it out on the road. The whole package folds down neatly, with the wheels folding beneath the frame, to become a compact package. A carry bag is also provided to store the product inside and make it ready for trips or visits to Nana.
There is a storage pouch with a white mesh netting to see what’s inside, that clips to the right side of the product when setup. This model lacks any hanging toys to amuse the child. It also doesn’t have a bassinet to lay the child down to sleep in a cocoon-like environment. Nor does it have a diaper changing area. Therefore, this Pack N Play Playard Bassinet Automatic product represents a simple model for new parents who are on a budget. The quality is still up to the usual Graco standards, but it skips several of the extras (described above) that other more expensive models often provide.
- Affordable playpen for new parents
- Two attractive color schemes
- Safe area for the toddler to safely move around in
- Push button system to collapse the pack and play quickly
- Carry bag to store or transport it easily to relatives or on vacation
- Pad height is not adjustable which disappoints some parents
- A separate mattress is a good idea for a better sleeper as the one included with the crib is not the most comfortable
- No hanging toys to distract or amuse the child
- No bassinet as a sleeping area
- No changing platform for easier diaper changes in a new environment
The Graco Pack N Play Playard Bassinet is a quality playard product that offers several useful features not available in the previously reviewed model.
Firstly, there is a wider choice of seven color schemes. The frame and cover are either black or brown color, depending on the rest of the fabric. Many of the fabric coverings are patterned to create a comforting, fun environment for the child who is attracted to patterns.
The colors schemes are:
- Go Green
- Little Hoot
The unit is made from a mixture of metal, plastic, and polyester. The corners are designed with protective curves to remove any sharp edges. The playpen itself is a soft mesh that is see through for parents wishing to keep an eye on their little one. There are also hanging mesh pockets to store items inside without needing additional storage areas nearby.
The product comprises the pack and play function which has a push button process to collapse and then expands it back up again in a new location. A supplied carry bag is there when the product has been folded down to transport it easily and keep it free from dust and debris while doing so. The playard is suitable for babies who are not yet 35 inches tall and/or who cannot climb out from it. Standing up is fine, but they must stay contained within the frame otherwise it’s time to change playpen.
There is a supplied nest bassinet which fits lengthwise along the full length of the pack and play. It has an attractive arch over it near where the baby’s head will be. There are several hanging toys to distract the baby and calm him or her down before bedtime. The arch and toys match the color scheme well and don’t look out of place. The bassinet is intended only for babies who weigh less than 15 pounds. Your baby should not be able to push up and out of the bassinet otherwise, it will be too shallow for them. This is very important for safety reasons.
- Contained playpen and removable bassinet
- 7 Lovely color schemes
- Toy bar with 3 toys
- Nest bassinet that doubles as a flat changing area
- Netting pockets attached to store diaper supplies
- Push button fold up system including feet that fold up automatically
- Zipper bag to carry the pack and play
- Babies must be under 15 pounds to use the bassinet
- Babies must be under 35 inches tall to use the playpen
The Graco Pack ‘n Play Playard with Reversible Napper is a useful multi-purpose product that comes in a choice of Basin, Forecaster or Nyssa color schemes. All three color choices are fairly dark with a dash of brighter colors on the toy line and baby mattress on the changing station level.
The Reversible Napper is designed to offer the best of all worlds. At the bottom, it’s a playpen for adventurous babies who like to crawl around and explore a little bit. There is a mesh surround that makes sure they won’t go far.
Higher up, the flat, padded surface is a good one for changing diapers. There is also an arched, napper that holds the baby at a slight incline for easier sleeping. Every side of it is nicely padded to help the baby feel comforted while they drift off to sleep.
There are several storage pockets available to use for diapers, cloths and other essentials. Three hanging toys are situated overhead to amuse the baby too.
Both the bassinet and table for changing are ideal for babies who weigh less than 15 pounds. The napper for sleeping is likely okay for babies under 12 weeks who aren’t yet able to roll on their front. With the playard below, it is good for babies who aren’t yet 35 inches tall or cannot climb up and out of the playpen. Parents must use good sense about when their child has grown too large or strong to escape this pack and play to maintain its safety.
The push button system works well to collapse the frame down, ready to pack into the supplied carry bag. All the fabrics are designed to be easy to wipe off spills and little accidents without a problem.
- First Graco pack and pack with a reversible napper and changing area
- Playpen below for the baby to crawl around safely
- Napper sleeping area that slots into the top of the frame
- Padded frame throughout for safety
- Breathable mesh to allow good airflow and visibility
- Packs down quickly and easily into a carry bag
- Parents must ensure their child is neither too large or too strong to use this product
- Assembly is a little tricky; watch YouTube videos for assistance
The Graco Pack ‘n Play Playard Bassinet Changer is an expansive product that serves several purposes in one. It comes in either a black Rittenhouse color scheme with a touch of peach inside the sleeping and changing areas or Winslet which is gray with a touch of cyan/light blue that’s perhaps more suited to boys.
Firstly, there is a good size playard at the bottom which is padded and suitable for babies still shorter than 35 inches to crawl around in as long as they cannot lift themselves up too far.
At the top level, a changing table that slots into the unit perfectly. It has a soft surface and arched sides to keep your baby in place while completing their change. To the right, down the side, are three openings leading to netted pockets to keep spare diapers, cleaning wipes, and other necessities of daily life with your baby.
Still on the top level, on the left is the partially covered seat. It is able to rock safely back and forth to help your baby get off to sleep. There is a control module at the front of the pack and play to control the vibrations and movement of the rocket. Find a setting that your baby enjoys the most. To avoid the bright lights in the room waking them up, a canopy creates a shaded space for their developing eyes. The fabric lining the rocker is gentle on the skin too.
The rocking seat is designed to hold babies no heavier than 15 pounds who are not yet able to roll over on their own. Typically, babies under 3 months fit these requirements, but each baby is different as we all know. For the bassinet, again 15 pounds is the suggested limit with babies now able to lift themselves up being too powerful to use the bassinet any longer. The changing table is ok for babies up to 25 pounds.
- Playard, rocking seat and changing station in a single pack and play
- Control module at the front to alter the level of vibration for the rocking seat
- Three pouches accessible from the changing station for storing supplies
- Push button collapsing product to pack for travel quickly
- Changer has quilted fabrics for added comfort
- Carrying bag included
- The user’s manual is hard to find. It is usually placed in a pocket on the play yard.
The Graco Pack ‘N Play with Newborn Napper Elite is a superior product for newborns and young babies made of a combination of plastic and metal. The frame is primarily made from metal, but the corner points and grips are plastic.
In a crowded market for pack and play products – especially within Graco’s own extensive range – this model is the only one intended for babies from early infancy right through their toddler stage.
The Newborn Napper Elite is available only in one color. There is a hamper designed for storage with space for bottles and quick access items at the top, and diapers, clean up cloths and other items below.
The playard is at the bottom and ideal for babies wanting to move around more. Above is both an enlarged changing table able to hold up to a 30-pound baby and also a napper with soft velour fabric, complete with canopy, for cozy napping. The mattress pad is quilted for extra softness too.
Adding gentle sounds is possible with the MP3 docking area to the left of center. Playing relaxing music or a nature soundtrack to get the baby to drift off to sleep happily using the built-in speaking system.
The usual push button system to collapse a Graco pack and play down to travel with it is present here too.
- Pack and play with playard, bassinet and changing station
- Mattress pad with quilting for a softer feel
- MP3 chamber and built-in speakers to play soothing music to aid sleep
- Two fixed legs and two wheels for easier repositioning
- Mesh surround to view the baby when using the playard
- Supports 30 lbs baby in the changing area
- Changing table won’t flip over which surprises some parents
- Small speakers with low wattage output to play audio content from the MP3 connection
The Graco Pack ‘n Play on the Go Playard is designed to pack down smaller than other playards, including ones in the Graco range. It is available in 7 color schemes:
- Go Green
- Little Hoot
The metal frame is covered with plastic protective corners and fabric to make it softer to the touch. There is a toy bar at the top with three toys hanging down to amuse the little one.
The playard at the bottom has a soft feel for the baby to crawl around on it. Above is a full-length bassinet that’s removable. The bassinet is there to let the baby sleep more easily. There is also a round shaped mesh pouch at one side of the unit to place frequently needed items for short-term storage.
The Graco system for collapsing their pack and play products is used here. Just push the button to begin the folding down process. The fixed legs fold under and the smaller wheels pack away neatly too. The model collapses down to a smaller size making it more manageable to lift into and out of the trunk for trips. A zipper bag is also provided for convenient travel.
In terms of limits, babies should be shorter than 35 inches to avoid them being able to climb out of the playard and get up to mischief. For safely with the bassinet, only babies under 15 pounds and ones who cannot push themselves over the side of it should be using it.
- More compact playard for easier packing and transportation
- Toy line with three hanging toys
- Folding legs and wheels
- Bassinet that’s removal; ideal for babies who need more sleep
- Playpen below to crawl around
- Simple push button system to collapse the product ready for packing
- Bag supplied
- Chemical odor with some products until aired for a few days
The Graco Travel Lite Crib is a more compact playard that will suit parents who don’t want all the bells and whistles but would still like a few of them. The compactness is useful for people living in smaller spaces or who travel to other people’s homes where space is a factor. The product is available in either Winslet or Nyssa color schemes which are both gender neutral colors when buying without knowing if you’re having a boy or a girl.
The crib is one of the lightest at only 20 pounds which makes it ideal for smaller mothers who worry they won’t be able to lift the packed up playard into their car. Indeed, this model is another one that’s smaller than the typical size by 20 percent which certainly helps.
There are the usual legs and wheels at the back, but this time with a material skirt all around the bottom of the frame to compliment any carpeting below. The darker mesh is evident making it possible to watch the baby while they crawl about the playard enjoying themselves. Above that is the rocking seat with overhead toy bar complete with hanging toys. The quilted fabric borders, a canopy, and carry handles complete the look. Rocking the baby back and forth is easily down and a good way to get him or her off to sleep successfully.
The push button at the front of the playard initiates the packing down feature to get the product ready for transport.
- Compact pack and play that’s 20% smaller
- Weighs only 20 pounds
- Push button fold down feature common with Graco models
- Quilted borders for extra comfort
- Full-length bassinet at the top for easier sleeping in new locations
- Playard with softer floor and mesh to maintain visibility
- Back wheels and front legs for easier maneuverability
- Rocking seat, with overhanging toys, a canopy, and all the comforts
- Thin mattress that wears through surprisingly quickly
The Fisher-Price Ultra-Lite Day and Night Play Yard is a model that aims to be a lower height to fit into rooms without expansive ceilings. With the smaller dimensions, this playard packs down better than the typical playard does, so its portability is excellent. The model is available in the following colors:
- Light Gray Silver
At the bottom is a padded playard area to crawl around in. It provides less space than the larger models, but is certainly sufficient for newborns and infants. At the top is a changing station for swapping out soiled nappies for clean ones. The changing station takes up the complete width and length of this product, however, clearly there’s smaller dimensions here.
There is an additional sleeper with an incline to help your baby get to sleep. It has integrated support for their head, is completely removable and machine washable too. To the right of the changing area is a small black mesh pocket to store a few minor items; the pocket isn’t large.
The unit folds down easily and packs away. It is one of the lightest on the market at only 15 pounds which will appeal to any parent who doesn’t like the idea of lugging around a larger, heavier pack and play with all its bells and whistles.
The compact size and reduced weight of this model are the two main selling points here. The washable sleeping area that’s washable is also a thoughtful touch. This model certainly takes up less space in any room it is setup in, which is worth considering too. Not every hotel room is a generously sized one after all.
- Compact pack and play
- Four color schemes to choose from: Gray, Silver, Light Gray Silver & Chevron
- 37-inch length and 26-inch width
- Mesh sides, floor level playard, and raised changing station
- Machine washable inclined sleeping area
- Only weighs 15 pounds
- Packs down quickly and easily
- Storage area for wet wipes
- Ideal for smaller spaces
- Inline sleeping only able to be used with a baby who cannot roll on their side or grab the sides and pull upwards
- Thin mattress isn’t up to much
- The product is only likely to be suitable for 0-12 months’ old
Choosing the right pack ‘n play for your baby is a decision that one has to live with for many months. They’re not all the same size and each has a different combination of features. There’s clearly a trade-off here between the extras one wants like a bassinet or changing station, and size and weight to manage when traveling or going to see the in-laws. Color schemes for the playard is a smaller factor, but it is possible to choose one that matches the nursery’s décor too.