When we started looking for a baby crib, many of my friends recommended buying a pack n play instead. As a new dad, I had no idea what they were talking about. And…being me, I did some research. So, pack n play vs crib- which is better? Not surprisingly, there’s no straightforward answer to that, and everything depends on your needs. But I’ve gathered here all the essential facts that, hopefully, help you to make a decision.
Definitions of Pack n Play vs Crib
Especially for dads, the terminology around baby items is often confusing (at least it’s for me). As it turns out, the two terms aren’t mutually exclusive. When my friends recommended that I not buy a crib, they meant a standard crib with rigid sides. But a portable or travel crib is often referred to as a pack n play.
What’s a Pack n Play?
When you’ve managed to raise your little one to toddlerhood, you understand the need to have an enclosed playing area in your home.
Although my boy has, by now, overrun our whole apartment, we did at first try to contain the damage with a playpen.
Playards are also meant to function as enclosed areas for your little one. But in contrast to playpens,playards have soft sides made of mesh and are usually smaller. As a result, they are also designed for sleeping.
You can expect to see a rectangular structure with soft sides that may have small legs or wheels for easier transportation.
“But what’s up with the pack and play?” you may ask. As it is, the term was popularized by Graco in 1987. Their Pack n Play was the first portable playard. By now, a pack n play is synonymous with all portable playards. And many travel cribs or portable cribs are also marketed as pack n plays.
What’s a Crib?
A standard or full-sized crib has inner dimensions of about 28 inches (71cm) x 52 3/8 inches (133 cm) and hard sides. This is your traditional baby bed that can’t be folded. In the context of this article, I use this definition when talking about cribs.
As noted before, all foldable baby beds (non-standard cribs) are often referred to as pack n plays. This also explains why the two terms aren’t mutually exclusive and why I got a headache when studying the topic.
PROS and CONS of Pack n Plays or Foldable Playpens
To help you make a better decision, I’ll quickly go through all the pros and cons of pack and plays.
- In contrast to cribs, pack and plays are foldable and lightweight. As a result, they are effortless to transport around. This is the essential benefit you get when opting for one instead of a regular crib. You can fold the best models in seconds, and they fit easily into most car trunks. Many models weigh so little that they are even comfortable to carry with a shoulder strap. There’s no need to worry when visiting grandparents, friends, or booking an Airbnb apartment. Your baby always has a bed to sleep in.
- Pack n plays also function as portable playing areas. If you want to go outside, visit friends, or dine in a restaurant, you can effortlessly create a safe place for your baby to stay in. It’s best to check with a restaurant beforehand though.
- Pack n play takes up less space than a standard crib. This can be a real lifesaver if you have a small nursery.
- While there are crib combos out there, they are quite bulky. Many pack and plays, on the other hand, function as traveling nurseries. You may be able to attach a changing table to them and some extra storage pockets. Additionally, some versions also include a bassinet. Pack n Play Travel Dome by Graco (Also Sold on Amazon) is a beautiful example.
- You don’t have to immediately buy a new baby mattress because pack and plays (if also intended for sleeping) should come with one. That said, these pads are usually quite thin, and finding a replacement may not be as easy as for a standard crib.
- Depending on your needs, the small size can be a pro or a con. Pack n plays are tinier than regular cribs, so your little one will outgrow them more quickly. Additionally, a mini crib’s minimum side height is 20 inches (compare that to 26 inches of a standards crib).
- Pack n plays have soft sides and are less stable than regular cribs. If you only intend to use a pack n play as long as your baby is crawling, then the stability isn’t an issue. But when you have an active toddler at home, it may become a problem. I don’t know if it was the mesh sides or lower side height, but our playard seemed to encourage climbing (we also used a regular crib). And when our boy finally managed to get out of it, he fell more often than when escaping his crib. The reason? The soft sides don’t usually as much support as the wooden frames of a crib.
- The shape and size of a pack n play aren’t as strictly regulated (in contrast to standard cribs). This means that it may be hard to find a replacement mattress or suitable bedclothes.
- Compared to the regular cribs, pack n plays tend to sit lower (many models have small legs or wheels) or even on the floor. This makes your life a little uncomfortable if it’s the only baby bed in the house. For the same reason, it’s not the best option if you’ve got back issues. One notable exception is the Lotus Travel Crib (also sold on Amazon), which has a zip-up door on the side.
PROS and CONS of (Standard) Cribs
- Standard cribs are bigger than pack n plays. As a result, your kid can use one for a long time. Things are even better if you go with a convertible model. You can turn the best cribs into toddler beds, daybeds, or even full-sized beds. That said, conversion kits aren’t included in the package.
- Both pack n plays, and cribs are safe for your little one to play and sleep in. That said, the design and measurements of cribs are more strictly regulated.
- It’s easier to find a replacement mattress for a crib than for a pack n play. The inner dimensions of the former are standardized.
- Cribs are bulkier than pack n plays and take up more space in your nursery.
- The sole purpose of regular cribs is to provide a sleeping place for your baby. This means that they are less versatile than pack n plays, which also function as portable playing areas.
Are Pack n Plays Cheaper Than Regular Cribs?
I’ve encountered parents who’ve opted for a playpen because it costs less. But as with everything in life, it depends on the perspective.
Pack n plays usually come with a pad. If you don’t want to replace it, then you can expect to pay 150-300 dollars for the best models, and you’re all set.
A top standard crib may cost around 200 bucks, but you still need a mattress that costs an extra 70 to 300 dollars.
This all said, your little one will outgrow a pack n play more quickly. You can effortlessly turn most cribs into toddler beds and use the same mattress for another year. With a travel crib, you need to buy a toddler or twin bed more quickly. Additionally, conversion kits of cribs cost less than new beds.
This means that buying a pack n play may save you the same money in the short run, but all in all, it probably doesn’t make much of a difference. It also depends very much on which models you opt for.
Best Pack n Plays and Cribs Reviewed
When it comes to choosing between pack n play vs crib, you may want to see some prime examples from both worlds. First, I’ve reviewed three top foldable playards, and then you read about three excellent cribs. I’ve included only playards also intended for sleeping. If you wish to see a more broad selection of pack and plays, click for my review article.
This foldable playard weighs only 13lb (6kg) and is effortless to put together. To make your life even more comfortable, you can wear it as a backpack when folded. This baby bed is safe for your little one as it meets all the CPSC standards. Additionally, the product is Greenguard Gold certified to ensure that the materials don’t pollute the air around your kid. And what’s the best feature? This pack n play comes with a side door, so moving your infant in and out is effortless. The only problem is that you can’t change the mattress if it happens to feel too thin.
Room 2 pack and play is one of the biggest playards available with a mattress. Your little one gets a 9.5 sq feet playing and sleeping area. Although the pad is relatively thin, many parents have successfully used it for sleeping. Two wheels help you to move it around, so it’s easily portable despite the size. It may not be the best option if you’re looking for something for daily traveling though. Room 2 weighs 29.5lb (13,4kg), and it’s relatively bulky when folded.
I wouldn’t do justice to Graco if I’d leave them out when talking about pack n plays. The Travel Dome is an exceptionally versatile piece of furniture. You get a foldable playing and sleeping area, but it also functions as a changing station. Thanks to the portable bassinet, your baby can use this from day one. And you don’t need to move the whole thing when moving your sleeping infant around the house. The Travel Dome is, true to its name, also effortless to fold and transport around.
Emery is a beautiful traditional baby crib that grows with your child. It meets the CPSC and ASTM standards, so it’s a safe product for your baby
When thinking about pack n play vs crib, you may want to take storage space into account. While standards cribs are bigger than playards, models like Hadley come with drawers underneath. So you may actually end up with more storage space. Additionally, you get all the perks of a regular crib. It’s a stable baby bed that can be converted into a toddler bed, daybed, or full-sized bed.
Anna by Dream On Me proves how versatile standards cribs can be. There’s a small changing table with shelves attached to it. Additionally, it’s convertible so you can use it for a long time. The JPMA certification ensures that all the safety criteria are met. And it’s one of the cheapest options out there.
To Sum Up
So pack n play vs crib? What are the differences, and could you substitute one with the other?
As discussed before, foldable playards or travel cribs offer many benefits over full-sized standard cribs. You can let your baby safely sleep in them until he or she is two to three years old. By that time, many toddlers are already able to climb out. That said, most parents buy both options though (as did we). A standard crib is more stable, many models offer storage space, and they grow with your child.
If you’re looking for a large pack n play, then the Room 2 by Joovy (Also Sold on Amazon) may be precisely what you’re looking for. Pack n Play Travel Dome by Graco (Also Sold on Amazon), on the other hand, is an exceptionally versatile traveling nursery. If you’re a frequent traveler, then the Lotus Travel Crib by Guava (Also Sold on Amazon) is an excellent choice as it weighs so little.
For parents looking for a standard crib, the Emery 6 in 1 by Delta Children (Also Sold on Amazon) is often the best option. And if you wish to have more storage space, opt for the Anna 4 in 1 by Dream On Me (Also Sold on Amazon).
I hope I managed to make the topic pack n play vs crib a little clearer. Thanks for reading!