Your child is precious cargo. You need a stroller that will keep your baby safe and comfortable, and also fit your budget. But what makes one stroller cost $100 and another fetch more than $1,000? Several factors actually, including modern styling, lightweight materials, and more features than you can shake a rattle at. But you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good stroller; it’s all about how you will use it, and what’s important to you.

Strollers are a popular baby gift and shower present. Before you put a model on your registry, evaluate all your options by pushing different models around a store. If you end up using your stroller frequently, your baby will spend a lot of time in it, so choose the best model for you and your child. Use this guide to help you hone your search.

From Newborn to Six Months: Selecting a Stroller

Traveling with a newborn requires special stroller consideration: Until the age of 6 months, or until your baby develops neck and head control, you will need a carrier or travel system that reclines fully to safely support your infant. Owning a stroller that comes with a car seat (such as a travel system) or is compatible with an infant car seat you own, can simplify your life.

All-In-One Travel System
Some first-time parents start with an all-in-one travel system, which consists of an infant car seat, a car-seat base, and a stroller. They can be heavy and take up more room than just a stroller frame, but once your baby reaches 6 months and can sit up, you’ll have the flexibility to use the travel system stroller without the infant seat snapped in. Some travel system strollers can accommodate an infant less than 6 months old without the car seat, if the seat reclines to nearly flat. A travel system is costlier but a good value because the stroller can be used after your child outgrows the infant car seat, unlike a car seat carrier frame.

Infant Car Seat Carriers
For the first 6 months to a year, if you’ll be taking your infant in and out of a car frequently, a lightweight car seat carrier frame is a good choice. These bare bones, universal frames let you attach an infant car seat. Simply remove the infant seat from its base in the car, baby and all, and snap it right into the frame. Great for letting your snoozing baby continue his nap. When you’re done strolling, snap the car seat back into its base inside the car and go. Stroller frames are inexpensive and lightweight, making them handy for quick trips to the market, or for taking on a bus or train.

Baby Buggy Basics: Six Months to 3+ Years

Once your baby is sitting up, you’re likely to take longer strolls, taking him with you on errands, trips to the parks, aquariums, and playdates. Will you stroll straight out of your house, or will you need to drive or take mass transit to get around? These could be deciding factors in the stroller you choose.

Mass Transit or Suburban Crawl?
If you live in a city and rely on subways, buses, and cabs, you’ll need a lightweight, compact stroller that’s sturdy and folds easily and quickly. A car seat carrier frame would work well, as would a lightweight travel system. For an infant older than 6 months, or toddler, consider a lightweight umbrella stroller. A sturdier stroller may be easier to push on long walks. But bigger often means heavier and will be more challenging to carry up stairs, or use on public transportation. If you have a car, make sure the stroller fits easily into the back seat or trunk.

Test Drive: Real and Virtual
Often even more helpful than a user’s manual, many stroller company websites feature virtual test-drives. You can watch videos of parents putting a stroller through its paces: walking, running, navigating city sidewalks, and boarding airplanes. But if you plan to buy online, be sure to check out a stroller at a retailer first.

• Are you comfortable with the handle height and grip? Make sure your legs and feet don’t hit the wheels as you walk. If you’re going to share the stroller with a partner, both of you should try it out.
• Check maneuverability by adding weight, such as a heavy handbag, to the stroller seat while you push.
• Are the brakes or swivel lock mechanisms easy to use?
• Is it easy to adjust the backrest, and fasten and unfasten the harness?
• Is the stroller easy to lift and carry, both when open and when folded?
• How easily can you open and close the stroller, with one hand and two? Some that need two hands are actually easier to operate.
• How about storage? If you carry lots of gear, make sure there’s room for it.

If possible, take the floor model out to your car to make sure it fits in your trunk when folded. Bring along a measuring tape, just in case. Also, the frame should feel solid, not flimsy.

Evaluate Warranty and Return Policies
Most stroller manufacturers and retailers offer warranties that cover poor workmanship and flaws, but not necessarily malfunctions. You may have to return the stroller to the store for a replacement, or ship it to the manufacturer for repair—at your expense—leaving you stranded without baby wheels. Select a retailer with a flexible or long-term return policy, and keep the stroller’s packaging until you’re sure you’re happy with your baby’s ride.

Check Certification
Look for a sticker on the stroller or on the packaging showing that the manufacturer takes part in the certification program administered by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). Some of the key tests are for the stroller’s brakes, stability, restraint system, leg openings, locking mechanisms, and the absence of sharp edges and points that can pinch, shear, or scissor a parent or child. Check the JPMA’s website to find certified stroller brands.

Types of Single Strollers

This category runs the gamut of strollers designed for one passenger. It can include super-light umbrella strollers weighing as little as 12 pounds, to travel systems weighing less than 20 pounds, to heavy-duty models that weigh 35 pounds or more.

Single Traditional Strollers

The workhorses of the stroller world, many go from birth until you and junior no longer need it. And traditional doesn’t mean stodgy or sluggish. Many are very maneuverable and work in a variety of situations (busy sidewalks, paved streets, in a park, on a trail). Some have fully-reclining seats that allow infants to ride safely; some are infant car seat-compatible, and quite a few do both.

Pros: Sturdy, solid, and easy to use. A good all-purpose stroller choice that can come with a range of standard features. Good maneuverability, durability, and a smart long-term stroller investment. Look for features that are most important to you because they can vary by model.

Cons: Heavier than umbrella strollers; a good go-to stroller if public transportation and portability is not a deciding factor. Some traditional type strollers might not accommodate infants under six months, so check the manufacturer’s specifications carefully.

Single Combination Strollers

Also called modular strollers, these strollers adapt to the changing needs of a growing child. Some accept an infant car seat, but you will likely have to buy the car seat separately, as well as an adapter to secure the car seat to the stroller. Some feature a removable seat that reclines nearly flat to give your baby the resting area of a bassinet. Others have reversible seats, so the baby can sit facing forward or looking at the person pushing.

Pros: Use it from the first day of baby’s life, if you choose a model that accommodates an infant car seat, or has a carrycot, or stroller seat that reclines flat. Limited to carrying up to 40 pounds, you might not need another stroller. Some combos are sold as a complete package, with a chassis, bassinet, and a reversible seat, but options vary.

Cons: Can be costly. You will likely still need to buy a car seat with a base and a car-seat adapter for the stroller. Important accessories are sometimes optional, such as a rain cover, tire pump/pressure gauge/maintenance kit (if the stroller has air tires), and under-seat storage space.

Umbrella and Lightweight Strollers

These lightweight strollers often have curved handles, like an umbrella, and are easy to fold. Perfect for travel, or for quick trips around town with babies who can sit up. Some now offer car-seat compatibility; an adapter may be needed, and possibly included. New models may be packed with features, with accordingly higher price tags.

Pros: Lightweight and convenient, usually easy to fold. Newer models may feature seats that recline completely flat, and others models may accept a car seat.

Cons: The compact size may cramp older babies and toddlers, especially when they’re dressed in heavy winter clothes. They sometimes lack suspension and seat support; they don’t provide the cushiest ride, and small, plastic wheels offer limited maneuverability. Most aren’t appropriate for babies younger than 6 months. The seat rarely reclines fully, and a few don’t recline at all.

Travel System Strollers

A travel system consists of an infant car seat, a car seat base for your vehicle, and a stroller.

Pros: Like an infant seat with a carrier frame, a travel system allows you to move a sleeping baby, undisturbed, from car to stroller. Some models fully recline, and offer the option of closing off the leg holes to create less-expensive version of the combo stroller. Some have a stroller seat that reclines flat, a good option to look for when choosing a travel system. Later, when your baby is ready to sit up on her own, the backrest can be adjusted to a comfortable position. Many travel systems are good values.

Cons: Like many other types of strollers, travel systems can be bulky. Some are smooth and easy to push, but others can be cumbersome.

Transformable Car Seat/Stroller

This newcomer to the market is a car seat fully integrated with a stroller frame. The stroller frame folds under the seat, allowing the car seat to be installed in a separate vehicle base for car trips.

Pros: There’s one less product you have to buy, since your car seat is also your stroller.

Cons: When we tested the Doona Car Seat Stroller, the only model of its kind on the market at the time, we found that there’s a learning curve, and some features are just not intuitive. It’s heavy to lift even without a baby in the seat; a new mom who has had a C-section may have extreme difficulty lifting it. Doona has no storage at all (no basket or pockets). If you want a storage bag, you must buy it separately.

Car Seat Carrier Strollers

A lightweight frame with no seat of its own; it may accept more than one brand and model of infant seat (though some only accommodate their own infant seats), and allows your baby to go strolling while still in his car seat. Note: You can also find tandem-style versions of the single infant car seat carrier. This is a viable option for parents of newborn twins.

Pros: Compact, lightweight, and inexpensive. When you move a baby in an infant car seat from the car to the frame, you’re less likely to wake her.

Cons: Once your child outgrows the infant car seat stage—at about 1 year, but sometimes younger depending on the child—the frame can no longer be used as a stroller.

Double Side-by-Side Strollers

The side-by-side has two seats attached to a single frame or a unit resembling two strollers bolted together. The features on side-by-side strollers are often similar to those on single-passenger models. This type of stroller is easiest to maneuver with children of about the same height and weight, such as twins. For models with reclining seatbacks, each seat can be adjusted separately.

Pros: When transporting two children, a side-by-side model can negotiate curbs more easily than a tandem. Some side-by-side models accept an infant car seat, though some brands are limited to only one seat. That works if you’ve got a newborn and an older child. Some models allow you to attach infant car seats side by side as well. If you’re shopping for infant twins and you want a side-by-side, look for one in which both seats recline, and use the infant foot enclosure or boot that comes with the stroller for both seats.

Cons: If children of different weights ride in the stroller, it can pull to one side. A folded side-by-side stroller may require twice as much space as the equivalent single-occupant version. Although manufacturers might claim that their stroller will fit through a standard doorway, it can still be a tight squeeze. Some strollers might not fit through all doorways or elevator openings.

Double/Tandem Strollers

These strollers have one seat directly behind the other. They’re the same width as single-passenger strollers and fit through doorways and store aisles. But while the rear seat can recline on some models, the front seat usually can’t without limiting the space of the child in back. On some tandems, you can set the seats so the passengers face each other. Others have a “stadium seat” that allows the child in back to see over the one in front. There are also models that let one child sit in the front and another in a lower rear seat. You can even find tandem strollers that will hold triplets.

Pros: Tandems fit through standard doorways and elevator doors more easily than side-by-side doubles. A folded tandem takes up just a little more space than a folded standard midsized stroller. Some tandem models accept an infant car seat in one or both stroller seats (but check which brands of car seats are compatible before you buy).

Cons: Steering can be quite difficult, and it can be tricky getting over curbs, since the parent typically would step on the back to lift the front; here you’ll be lifting a heavier weight with about twice the length of a single stroller. Some models have limited leg support and very little legroom for the child in back. They’re often quite heavy, which can make them difficult to manage if you’re small.

Jogging Strollers

Dedicated jogging/running strollers are designed with three wheels, the front wheel usually fixed. They have a hand brake, a foot-operated parking brake, and larger, air-filled tires. Newer models have a lockable swivel front wheel; the swivel allows for maneuverability on smoother surfaces, and the fixed setting is best for running and/or walking on rougher surfaces. The long, high handlebar is designed to prevent runners from bumping into the stroller’s frame. A tethered strap keeps the stroller from rolling away in case you lose your grip or fall.

Pros: Can be used for off-road walks and running, but unless they have a swivel option on the front wheel, they can be limiting. Large, air-cushioned tires offer a comfortable ride and make them easy to push. Many jogging strollers may have a longer useful life than traditional strollers because they can accommodate heavier children. Double or triple jogging strollers can have a total weight limit of up to 150 pounds.

Cons: Consider carefully before buying a jogging stroller as your only stroller. A fixed (non-swiveling) front wheel can make maneuvering in everyday situations difficult. Large and sometimes heavy, they might not fit into your car trunk. Bicycle-type, air-filled tires can go flat and the tire locking lever must be installed correctly.