How to choose a pack and play : Expert reviews

A pack and play can be very useful for families who have a baby or are expecting a new little one. Pack and plays service a couple of different functions. The first thing they can do is give the baby a place to sleep while mom or dad are keeping an eye on them. Secondly, from the time the baby is tiny to early toddler stages, it gives the baby a safe environment to play so that parents do not have to worry about them. There are many different types of pack n plays or playards to choose from and it can be confusing sorting through all the information available about the many features. Let this review serve as your guide to helping you find the best one for your child and particular situation.

How are you going to use a pack n play

There are many different uses for a playard. For instance, you can put it close to you so the baby can sleep while you get some other things done from reading a book to cleaning the living room. It can also be useful for keeping the baby safe by making it impossible for them to get into dangerous situations. There are many dangers in your house like electrical outlets and cleaning supplies. It’s important to note that it is not safe to leave your baby alone in the floor once they start crawling and can start exploring and getting into things. The pack n play is a nice way to allow you to do a few things too. Your baby is safe in the playard while you are getting dressed or eating.

A playard lets you keep the baby close to you and provides a place for her to sleep. Depending on which model you purchase, some come with a bassinet which can be used while the baby is small, up to 15 pounds. Then once the baby gets a little bigger, you can remove the bassinet attachment and just use the playard.​

What kinds of playards are there to choose from?

You have several styles of pack and plays to choose from including:

cheap pack and play reviews
  • Traditional

A pack and play is a modern modification of the older “playpen.” It is more portable than earlier models. The traditional playard has a side that drops down. This is the least portable of the different types you can choose but they are an excellent choice is portability is not one of your primary concerns. The top rail drops on each side and these are one of the larger types of playards you can purchase.

  • Portable

A portable playard is specifically designed to fold up into a small, compact unit which makes it very easy to carry along on family excursions. They typically run about 28” x 40” but there are other sizes as well. Almost all of the pack and plays today are portable and they have a variety of features. Features you might consider include bassinet attachments, toys to entertain the baby, or wheels to move it around the house.

  • Traveling

Some of the playards you may consider are specifically labeled as “travel cribs.” This has different industry safety standards and have a different set of instructions and precautions. A travel pack and play is designed to leave the baby sleeping in it while they are sleeping. This means they have a different set of criteria in order to be classified as a travel playard.

Why is a pack n play better than a traditional crib ?

Some people may think that a playard has little or no advantage over a regular crib. What makes a playard better than a crib is a legitimate question. Over the years the pack and play has evolved from a simple place for a child to play, and was originally called a “play pen.” Cribs were for sleeping and a play pen was for playing. But now the pack n play has become a multi-purpose product. There are some small differences between the traditional playpen and a modern pack n play including portability. A pack and play is designed to pack it up and take it where you need it and a playpen was not designed to be easily transported. Playpens also had zero features when compared to the playard of today. However, there have been many improvements so that the original play pen now provides a nice environment for sleeping as well. The floor is typically padded in such a way that makes it very comfortable for the baby or small child. They are considered a safe and comfortable environment for the baby to sleep or play in. This is the perfect solution for parents.

What are the practical questions parents should ask?

  • Are pack and play safe to use?

Parents are mostly concerned about keeping their babies safe. As far as comparing the pack n play to the crib, there’s not much of a difference in terms of safety as they are both very safe. They both have to meet certain industry safety features in their production.

  • Will my baby be comfortable ?

Besides safety issues, comfort is probably one of the most important concerns a parent has about using a playard for their small child or baby. Of course they want to make sure that their baby will be comfy while they are sleeping. Many popular pack and plays come with a special pad which is designed to be cushiony and comfortable for the baby.

  • Is the pack and play versatile enough to grow with my child?

In reality, the pack n play is very adaptable and will grow along with a baby. It can be a perfect solution for sleeping and then it can adapt as the baby’s needs change. A playard can be the perfect environment for babies who need to sleep a lot, and then it can be perfect for the toddler who needs room to sleep as well as a safe space to play.

  • How portable is a playard; can I take it with me?

The pack 'n play is designed purposefully to be portable. It is made to be able to take out into the back yard or patio with you while you enjoy the outdoors. But you can also take it from one room of the house very easily so your baby can always be nearby. It’s also great for traveling. They fold up into a compact unit that is easily transported.

What's the difference between a basic pack 'n play and a deluxe model?

When you start looking for a pack 'n play you are likely to notice there are both basic types and deluxe ones. There is not a lot of difference in the primary design of the playard but rather refers more to the additional features. If you buy a basic playard you will get the one which folds up and fits into a handy carrying case. But if you decide you want a deluxe model, you will get some of the other features like a bassinet or a changing table. Deluxe models are more likely to have a storage compartment to hand lotion, wipes or baby powder. A basic pack 'n play is generally smaller and lighter than the deluxe models if that is important to you. This may only matter if you plan on traveling a lot with your baby. The basic pack and play may be enough for many people and is likely to fit into the family budget more easily. You could always add the features you want later too if you didn’t want to spend a larger amount all at one time.

What should I be looking for in a pack 'n play?

There are various sizes and shapes of pack and plays even though they are all very similar in function. It’s simplest function is to keep babies and toddlers safe while their parents have a few moments to do other things. For the toddler, they provide a small, but safe, area for toddlers to play; and for the infant, they have a place to nap. They have a variety of accessories as have been discussed. Even if you decide a model which has a lot of accessories is the best option for your situation, they can easily be stripped down and made to be less cumbersome to take on the go. Lightweight ones are portable and smaller which means they are going to cost less than larger versions. A deluxe model which has attachments is going to take up a lot more space and are also going to be more expensive.

What if you want to use the pack-n-play to replace a crib, why buy both, right? A deluxe model with built-in shelves, nightlights, electronic music gadgets, toy mobiles and other attachments may be more expensive than those without, but they are still cheaper than a crib in most cases. And when the baby gets bigger and is ready to move to their first bed, the pack 'n play is easily folded up and stored until you are ready for another child or grandchild.

When choosing between a deluxe model and a basic unit, you will want to consider the weight. Deluxe models are going to weigh quite a bit more than basic playards. They can weigh as much as 30 pounds. This also makes them more difficult to carry around. One reason you are probably trying to decide on a playard is because you want the portability. If you go with a larger model it is still transportable, but it will weigh more and be more difficult to move.

What kinds of features can I get ?

When you are picking out your pack and play, you will want to think about which features you will find useful and which ones you might not feel like you will need. Here is a list of the types of features you may want to think about with your playard:

  • Wheels

Some pack and plays come with wheels which makes them easily moved around your house. This is not a bad idea since you can easily move the playard to any room of the house.

  • Mesh sides

Most playards will have mesh sides. These are necessary to allow for proper ventilation and lets you see them whenever they are in the playpen.

  • Toy mobile or bar

Some models come with a bar or mobile that hangs toys over the playard. This can be visually stimulating for the baby and as they develop they can be useful for entertaining them.

  • Storage pouch

A few models will include a small pouch that allows you to store toys, blankets, or extra clothes and supplies.

  • Bassinet

This is an insert which can provide a raised surface which allows for an additional sleeping area for an infant. This is a handy feature as it keeps the caregiver from having to lean all the way over into the bottom of the playard – it’s especially useful when the baby is still very small.

  • Organizer

This is a set of handy compartments used for storing things like wipes or lotion.

  • Padded top rail

Most playards have a top rail that is padded, but not all of them.

  • Padded floor

Most pack and plays have a floor area that is padded for the comfort of the baby or toddler. It is suggested that the floor padding be at least three quarters of an inch thick.

  • Fitted sheet

Most pack and plays do not include a fitted sheet, but a few do. If yours does not include one, you will probably want to buy more separately since having extra sheets can be handy at times.

  • Canopy

Some pack and plays come with a canopy as an accessory. This is a special cloth that arches over the pack 'n play to close it in either partially or totally. Most canopies are designed to be detachable and can usually be totally removed. There are two basic functions of a canopy. The first one is to shield the baby from any bright light, especially if they are trying to sleep. Its second function is to provide a shield from bugs that can fly in and disturb the baby. This is really handy when you want to take the playard outside with you but keep bugs like flies or mosquitos from annoying the baby.

Which attachments should I think about including in my purchase?

Some of the optional features listed above are sold separately and depending on your specific needs you may find these attachments very important.

  • Benefits of the bassinet attachment

This can be a very useful attachment as it can provide the perfect place for infants to take a nap. It attaches to the top of the playard so that you don’t have to bend way over into the bottom to pick up a small child. This is especially good when the baby is first born and the young mother may still be recovering. Having the bassinet at the top makes it easier to lift the baby. This attachment is only useful until the baby reaches 15 pounds.

  • Benefits of a changing table attachment

This attaches to the top of the playard similar to the bassinet, but it is not for letting the baby take a nap. It is only safe to use as a changing table which can make changing the baby go much smoother and easier.

How do you know which pack 'n play is the best for your family?

There are a few things to think about when you are looking for a pack n play for your baby. Here are the primary things you will want to think about:

  • The age and growth stage of your baby

It’s best to purchase the playard that is going to last all the way through from the newborn stage to older, toddler stages.

  • How easy is the pack 'n play to assemble

Choose a model that is easy to set up for use and break it down when you need to move it.

  • How easy can the playard be moved once it is set up

This is an important consideration since you want it to be easy to move once it is set up, not just when it is packed.

  • How easy is it to carry with you when it is packed

It’s also important to be able to carry the pack 'n play with you once it is in its carrying case. It should not be difficult to move it from place to place.

  • What kinds of extra features should you get

Many playards have extras that can be purchased. You may find an external storage compartment very convenient, or you may want your baby to have an entertainment console or toy bar. Do you have a need for a bassinet or a changing table?

  • How much does it cost

There is a pretty wide price range for pack and plays. If you want more features, you will have to pay more money. Try to find the one that has the features you prefer or need, for the price in your budget.

What kinds of safety features should I be thinking about?

There was a time when the traditional playpen was not considered safe, but thankfully over the years, manufacturers have improved safety features of pack-n-plays. This is partly due to the federal government setting certain safety regulations as well as some standards regarding safe construction. You should only consider buying a playard that meets the safety regulations that are in place. There are three basic criteria to look for including:

  • A pack-n-play should not have side rails forming a sharp “V” when they are folded.
  • It has to have very strong corner brackets as this prevents sharp edges, cracks and keeps the side rail from collapsing.
  • It should have a mattress that will not entrap a child.

You also want to make sure the mattress is firm. If it is too soft or padded too much, it can cause suffocation. However, this is not usually a problem with most of today’s models. Don’t ever put a pillow in with the baby as it can pose a danger of suffocation. It is also worth noting that playards have mesh sides and are not enclosed on purpose. Don’t put bumpers inside with the baby as it can also pose the threat of suffocation. Always look for the safety features when you are choosing which pack 'n play to buy.

Is it hard to maintain or care for a pack 'n play?

When you buy your pack n play, it should come with care and maintenance instructions. There are still a few things you will want to do to ensure it lasts as long as you need it.

  • Inspect the playard from occasionally to make sure the components are not wearing out, and materials are not torn. Replace any parts that are failing to ensure the safety of the baby.
  • In most cases, you can use warm water and soap or other mild cleanser to wipe the pack-n-play off so it is clean.
  • The carrying bag in most cases can be washed in the washing machine but make sure to read the user’s manual just to make sure it is safe.
  • If the pack 'n play is used outdoors, and specifically in a sandy area like a beach, make sure to clean it thoroughly before you put it in the carrying bag. Pay specific attention to the feet and the rail locks as sand or rocks can cause damage.


By now you should be certain that a playard can make your life as a parent a lot easier and more convenient. All that’s left to do is to choose the specific pack and play that is going to work best for your family and has the features you feel are most important to you. When you think about how much convenience the playard is going to provide, you will be anxious to find the one that works for you.