Diaper Bags 101

We consider ourselves experts at diaper bags—we got five of them as gifts. While you don’t need five, this important piece of luggage may feel like an extra appendage after your baby’s first year. And diaper bags are for more than just holding diapers— many include compartments for baby bottles, clothes, and changing pads. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what separates great diaper bags from the rest of the pack. In addition, we’ll give you our list of nine items for a well-stocked diaper bag.

Diaper Bags 101: Which one is right for you?

We divide diaper bags into three categories: Full-size, One Trip Mini, and Backpack. Most parents will want the Full-size version, at least at first. Here’s what each should have:

The full-size bag: This needs a waterproof changing pad that folds up, waterproof pouch or pocket for wet clothes, a couple compartments for diapers, blankets/clothes, etc. Super-deluxe brands have insulated bottle compartments to keep bottles warm or cold. Another plus: outside pockets for books and small toys. A zippered outside pocket is good for change or your wallet. A cell phone pocket is also a plus.

A Full-size bag is often just a security blanket for first-time parents—some think they need to lug around every possible item in case of a diaper catastrophe. But, in the real world, you may discover schlepping that big full-size bag everywhere isn’t practical. While a big bag is nice for overnight or long trips, we’ll bet you will be using the small bag much more often.

The One Trip Mini: This has enough room for a couple diapers, travel wipe package, keys, wallet and/or cell phone.

The Backpack: Some parents (I’m looking at you, Dads), may not be enamoured with the idea of carrying around a pastel pink or blue baby bag when they’re in charge of Junior. So how about a diaper bag backpack. Yes, there are some made especially for parents, or you can just outfit your existing pack with changing pad, Ziplock bags for wet clothes and insulated bottle bags (Tommee Tippee Insulated Bottle Bag  AFFILIATE THIS LINK).

Regardless of the style, the best diaper bags are made of tear-resistant fabric and have all sorts of useful pockets, features and gizmos. Contrast that with low- quality brands that lack many pockets and are made of cheap, thin vinyl—after a couple of uses, they start to split and crack. Yes, high-quality diaper bags will cost more ($40 to $150 versus $20 to $30), but you’ll be much happier in the long run. High-end designer diaper bags (like those made by Kate Spade and other designers) can reach the $300 mark or more. They may be overkill for many moms, but designer diaper bags adhere to one of our best pieces of advice:

Buy a diaper bag that doesn’t look like a diaper bag. Sure those bags with dinosaurs and pastel animal prints look cute now, but what are you going to do with them when your baby gets older? A well-made diaper bag that doesn’t look like a diaper bag will make a great piece of carry-on luggage or large purse later in life.

What will you need in your diaper bag? After much scientific experimentation, we believe we have perfected the exact mix of ingredients for the best-equipped diaper bag. Here’s our recipe:

Top 9 Items for a Well-Stocked Diaper Bag

1. Get two diaper bags—one that is a full-size, all-option big hummer for longer trips (or overnight stays) and the other that is a mini-bag for a short hop to dinner or the shopping mall. Here’s what each should have:

The full-size bag: This needs a waterproof changing pad that folds up, waterproof pouch or pocket for wet clothes, a couple compartments for diapers, blankets/clothes, etc. Super-deluxe brands have bottle compartments with Thinsulate to keep bottles warm or cold. Another plus: outside pockets for books and small toys. A zippered outside pocket is good for change or your wallet. A cell phone pocket is also a plus. Get two diaper bags—one that is a full-size, all-option big hummer for longer trips (or overnight stays) and the other that is a mini-bag for a short hop to dinner or the shopping mall.

The small bag: This has enough room for a couple diapers, travel wipe package, keys, wallet and/or cell phone. Some models have a bottle pocket and room for one change of clothes. If money is tight, just go for the small bag. To be honest, the full-size bag is often just a security blanket for first-time parents—some think they need to lug around every possible item in case of a diaper catastrophe. But, in the real world, you’ll quickly discover schlepping that big full-size bag everywhere isn’t practical. While a big bag is nice for overnight or long trips, we’ll bet you will be using the small bag much more often.

2. Extra diapers. Put a dozen in the big bag, two or three in the small one. Why so many? Babies can go through quite a few in a very short time. Of course, when baby gets older (say over a year), you can cut back on the number of diapers you need for a trip. Another wise tip: put whole packages of diapers and wipes in your car(s). We did this after we forgot our diaper bag one too many times and needed an emergency diaper. (The only bummer: here in Colorado, the wipes we keep in the car sometimes freeze in the winter! As they say, you don’t know cold . . . )

3. A travel-size wipe package. A good idea: a plastic Tupperware container that holds a small stack of wipes. Some wipe makers sell travel packs that are allegedly “re-sealable” to retain moisture; we found that they aren’t. And they are expensive. For example, a Huggies travel pack of 16 wipes is $6. That works out to 38¢ per wipe compared to 2¢ per wipe if you buy a Huggies refill box of 384 from Kmart.

4. Blanket and change of clothes. Despite the reams of scientists who work on diapers, they still aren’t leak-proof—plan for it. A change of clothes is most useful for babies under six months of age, when leaks are more common. After that point, this becomes less necessary.

5. A hat or cap. We like the foreign legion-type hats that have flaps to cover your baby’s neck and ears (about $10 to $20). Warmer caps are helpful to chase away a chill, since the head is where babies lose the most heat.

6. Baby toiletries. Babies can’t take much direct exposure to sunlight—sunscreen is a good bet for all infants. Besides sunscreen, other optional accessories include bottles of lotion and diaper rash cream. The best bet: buy these in small travel or trial sizes. Don’t forget insect repellent as well. This can be applied to infants two months of age and older.

7. Don’t forget the toys. We like compact rattles, board books, teethers, etc.

8. When baby starts to eat solid foods, having a few snacks in the diaper bag (a bottle of water or milk, crackers, a small box of cereal) is a smart move. But don’t bring them in plastic bags. Instead bring reusable plastic containers. Plastic bags are a suffocation hazard and should be kept far away from babies and toddlers.

9. Your own personal stuff. Be careful putting your wallet or checkbook into the diaper bag—we advise against it. We left our diaper bag behind one too many times before we learned this lesson. Put your name and phone number in the bag in case it is lost.