So you're pushing a pram up the hill around the corner from home for the hundredth time, cursing the fact that the thing weighs a tonne and jolts Junior awake on every crack in the god-forsaken pavement. Maybe you're in the supermarket parking lot, bub's in the car screaming his lungs out, and you're battling your giant monstrosity, trying to squeeze both it and the shopping into the boot without needing to take the wheels off...again.

A pram or a stroller is perhaps one of the most important tools in your parenting arsenal. Make the right choice, and a good pram or stroller can survive multiple kids and be an absolute life-saver. Make the wrong one, and you too could be sweating up a storm trying to get from A to B, or worse still, in shopping centre purgatory. Three wheels or four? Wallet-draining but fashionable Bugaboo, Norwegian chic Stokke, or a standard Maclaren foldie? Look no further: we've distilled all the marketing hype from the useful features that will get you on the road and keep your bub safe.

Types of prams and strollers

  • Stroller: tends to be smaller and foldable; best for older babies and toddlers.
  • Pram: tends to be larger, typically comes with bells and whistles like storage space, larger wheels; more for newborns or young babies.
  • Layback stroller: baby can sit up, or lay down for a sleep – good for newborns.
  • Jogger stroller: a three-wheeled stroller that is ironically named, as it is often unsuitable for jogging.
  • Double stroller: for multiple bubs.
  • Convertible bike stroller: A combination of bike (actually tricycle) and stroller.

Three-wheelers versus four-wheelers

Three-wheelers:

  • Often wider, longer and heavier than four-wheelers.
  • Usually easier to push around, due to larger wheels (which are often on bearings so they pivot easily) and inflatable tyres that help absorb the bumps.
  • Easier to manoeuvre, but also more likely to roll away if left unattended.
  • Prone to tipping, particularly when turning corners or mounting a kerb.

Four-wheelers:

  • Umbrella versions are more compact and fold into a smaller package, so they can be a better option for public transport.
  • Some have two small wheels at the front and two large wheels at the rear, which provide the stability of a four-wheeler with the manoeuvrability of a three-wheeler.

Which is safer?

CHOICE polled parents to identify any safety problems they'd encountered with their three or four-wheel prams or strollers, and found four-wheelers came out best. Of the four-wheel owners, 40% had experienced a problem, compared to 62% of three-wheel owners. The most common problem for three-wheelers was tipping dangerously or toppling over with a child inside (22%). For four-wheelers, 14% had the same problem. 12% of three-wheel owners said the pram or stroller had also rolled away unexpectedly when not held, compared to only 3% of four-wheeler owners.

But what's best for me?

There's probably no perfect one, so you need to consider what you're most likely to be doing, and which would work best in your situation. Where are you going to be using it most? What are the footpaths around your area like?

  • For shopping, you need a stroller or pram that's not too wide or bulky (or it won't get around small aisles), and a decent-size basket is handy.
  • If you're going to do a lot of jogging or walking, inflatable tyres make for a more comfortable ride.
  • If you'll be catching public transport, something light and easily foldable is important.
  • If you're going to walk in the park or over uneven surfaces, big wheels make the ride over rough ground easier and more comfortable.

What to look for

Wheels

Swivelling front wheels are easier to manoeuvre, but it's useful if they can be locked for travelling at higher speeds or over rough terrain. Large wheels tend to be better on kerbs and stairs, while inflatable wheels can puncture but generally give a comfier ride. Before purchasing, give wheels a tug to see they don't come off.

Size

Try folding and unfolding it in the shop to see if you can carry it comfortably when folded. Measure the stroller to make sure it fits into your car boot without needing the wheels removed. If you have a newborn, make sure the pram you buy is suitable for them size-wise – not all are.

Brakes

Get an idea of how well brake locks work by applying the brakes while you try to push the handle. It's handy if rear brakes are linked, so the left and right brakes can be locked with a single action. Some prams also have front brakes — particularly handy on a reversible pram or stroller, as it means you can always lock the brakes nearest you (at the back) whichever way it is facing. Locks you can activate and release with your feet prevent you bending, but make sure your feet fit under them easily.

Straps

Give them a tug to check they're secure and the seat doesn't come away from the frame.

Five-point harness

Two shoulder straps (preferably attached to the backrest at shoulder level; padded ones are softer), a waist strap and a crotch strap, with adjustable length as your baby grows. The straps should be easy to adjust and the buckles easy to use (for you, but not your child).

Reversible handle

It's good to have the option of choosing which way your baby faces in the pram – although the brakes may only be on one set of wheels, making it harder to put them on if you're at the wrong end. Check in the store how easy it is to reverse the handle.

Adjustable backrest

Some have an upright backrest that can also move to at least one semi-reclined position; some can be fully reclined (best for sleeping). A three-position adjustment makes the stroller more versatile.

Footrest

A footrest reduces the chance of injury from your child's feet touching the ground or getting caught in the front wheel.

Front bar

A detachable bar your child can hold onto. They're usually not secure, so it's not safe to use them to lift the stroller.

Removable capsule

Some strollers or prams come with removable capsules, which convert into car seats so you don't have to wake bub up when shifting between pram, car and back. Not all are suitable for newborns, so check before you buy.

Self-folding

Folds and unfolds at the push of a button. But be careful with these, as when we tested the 4Moms Origami stroller, we found it could potentially be operated by a child standing near the stroller and could be a crushing hazard.

Other features to look for

  • Canopy.
  • Rain cover for wet weather.
  • Storage is useful for carrying things like nappies, baby food, clothes and your handbag. Check size and weight limit - and how accessible it is.
  • Adjustable height handles are handy for particularly short or tall people.

Pram safety checklist

  1. Look for certification to Safety Standard AS/NZS 2088, preferably the 2013 version which is the latest and safest version.
  2. Check for sharp or protruding parts or ones that could pose a choking risk, and gaps that could trap fingers or limbs.
  3. Is there a child-resistant mechanism for locking and unlocking the frame?
  4. Is the stroller stable enough not to tip easily?

Stroller/pram bags

If you travel a lot or are low on space and want to pack your stroller or pram away, some enterprising companies have invented stroller travel bags. They do a good job of keeping the pram neat and tidy, but they can be cumbersome and more trouble than they're worth.

Tricycles: a stroller substitute?

The short answer is no. With extended handles, sunshades and harnesses, some tricycles look similar to strollers. But we don't recommend you use one as a replacement. Tricycles are not as easy to manoeuvre as most prams or strollers. Most importantly, tricycles aren't subject to the same safety and durability requirements.