Best Playard (Overall)
The basic Graco Pack ‘n Play On the Go Playard is simple—mattress, sheet, bassinet and wheels—but it gets the job done. And the price is pretty reasonable.
Graco is the market leader in this category—and given the value and features they offer, that’s no surprise. The company offers a dozen models of playpens and each is well designed. Of course, if you want all the toys and gizmos, Graco has models with those features too—but you’ll pay a hundred to two hundred bucks for those versions. One caveat: skip the Graco models with “newborn nappers.” As we explain in our 7 Things below, we don’t recommend these for safety reasons.
Why Trust Us
We evaluated playards with hands on inspections: unfolding, setting up, breaking down. We also gather significant reader feedback, tracking playards on quality and durability. Besides interviewing parents, we talk with industry experts and safety advocates.
We’ve been rating and reviewing playards since 1994. During that time, we have also visited manufacturer facilities. We compare our reader feedback with safety recalls from the CPSC.
How we picked a winner
We evaluate playards with in-depth inspections, checking models for overall quality and ease of use—for example, checking for ease in set-up and take-down. We also gather significant reader feedback (our book, Baby Bargains has over 1 million copies in print), tracking playards on quality and durability.
Besides interviewing parents, we also regularly talk with baby gear retailers to see which playard brands are most trustworthy and other key quality metrics. The reliability of playard companies is another key factor—we meet with key company executives at least once a year to discuss what’s new and ask questions about any quality issues.
7 Things No One Tells You About Buying A Playard!
1. Don’t buy a second-hand playard or use a hand-me-down.
Many models have been the subject of recalls in recent years. Why? Those same features that make them convenient (the collapsibility to make the playards “portable”) worked too well in the past—some playards collapsed with babies inside.
Others had protruding rivets that caught some babies who wore pacifiers on a string (a BIG no-no, never have your baby wear a pacifier on a string). A slew of injuries and deaths have prompted the recall of ten million playpens over the years. Yes, you can search government recall lists (cpsc.gov) to see if that hand-me-down is recalled, but we’d skip the hassle and just buy new.
2. Go for the bassinet feature.
Some playards feature bassinet inserts, which can be used for babies under three months of age (always check the weight guidelines). This is a handy feature that we recommend.
3. Skip the “newborn napper.”
Graco has added a newborn napper feature to some of its playpens. This is a separate sleep area designed to “cuddle your baby.” You are supposed to use this napper before you use the bassinet feature. Our concern: the napper includes plush fabrics and a head pillow—we consider this an unsafe sleep environment.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the America Academy of Pediatrics guidelines tout that your baby should always be put down to sleep on his back on a flat surface with no soft bedding—the newborn napper is an inclined surface with the aforementioned pillow and plush fabrics on the side. Graco also makes a model (the Chadwick) that has non-removeable bumpers on the bassinet. We do not recommend this model playard for the same reason we don’t recommend you use bumpers in a crib.
4. Check the weight limits.
Playards have two weight limits: one for the bassinet and one for the entire playard (without the bassinet). Graco and most other playard versions have an overall weight limit of 30 lbs. and height limit of 35″.
The exception is the Arms Reach Co-Sleeper which tops out at 50 lbs. However, there is more variation in the weight limits for the bassinet attachments. Here are the weight limits for the bassinet attachments on various playards:
Arms Reach Co-Sleeper 30 lbs.
Graco Pack N Play 15 lbs.
Chicco Lullaby 15 lbs.
Compass Aluminum 18 lbs.
Combi Playard 15 lbs.
5. Useful Features: storage and more storage.
You can’t have enough storage as a parent, so playards with side-rail storage, compartments for diapers and the like are most welcome. We also like wheels for mobility and a canopy (if you plan to take the playard outside or to the beach). If you want a playard with canopy, look for those models that have “aluminized fabric” canopies—they reflect the sun’s heat and UV rays to keep baby cooler.
6. Features that aren’t worth it: gizmos and toys.
Playard makers like to load up their products with gadgets, lullabies, toys, flashing lights and other bling. You don’t need it.
7. Even though all playards pitch themselves as portable most aren’t that easy to travel with.
Yes, most playards claim they are portable—but given the effort it takes to dissemble all the accessories, it more likely that most standard play pen will stay put. A better bet for portability: go for playards that are specifically designed for travel.