In the budget category, our favorite option for a play yard is the good ol’ Graco Pack ‘n Play.
Friends, if you have a Pack ‘n Play, you can get by in life.
In other words, if you only bought a Pack ‘n Play, it would fit the bill for so many categories: a bedside bassinet, a crib, a travel crib, somewhere safe to put baby down while you fold the laundry/shower/eat an apple/sit on your porch/carry in your groceries/work/workout — what we affectionately call “GSD” (get stuff done). It will last you well into toddlerhood, guaranteed. So if you’re working with a tight budget, limited space or simply don’t want to overbuy unnecessary baby stuff, get one of these and call it a wrap.
Seriously, it’s just that useful.
At home, you can move the Pack ‘n Play around your house fairly easily, and it assembles and disassembles in about 30 seconds. When taken down, it folds into a nice, portable, rectangular package you can take anywhere. They’re all pretty heavy and clunky (25-35 pounds), though, just FYI.
PSA: Pack ‘n Play Assembly
The setup and takedown of a Pack ‘n Play is not intuitive. Order of operations is critical. You just need to know one thing:
To set it up, you must lock the top rails (all 4) FIRST before pushing the base of the floor flat. Otherwise you’ll be stuck for a long time wondering what the hell is wrong with this thing. It might take you a minute the first time or two, but we promise you’ll be able to get everything just right in seconds — blindfolded and sleeping — before long. Here’s how it looks:
When taking it down, the order of operations is reversed: you must pull the hub of the “floor” up FIRST, then un-pop the side rails.
Despite its weight, by far and away, the PNP is the most useful baby item we have bought to date (and no, Graco doesn’t pay me to say this stuff).
Heads up: Graco makes a zillion different versions of the PNP with different trim, levels and features, but don’t get overwhelmed. At the end of the day, a Pack ‘n Play is a Pack ‘n Play is a Pack ‘n Play.
There are basically three main options worth considering, which can be a bit confusing. I mean, how different can they really be, right? That’s why we wanted to do a Pack ‘n Play review — to help you choose the right one for your family.
The bare bones version of this classic will set you back ~$99 and will not let you down. It doesn’t have much by way of bells and whistles, but here’s the big secret: you really don’t need any! It DOES come with an insert that raises the base level of the sleeping surface, which is a big help with newborns when you’re laying them down/picking them up (however many zillion times a day… this part is definitely nice to have).
This upgraded version ($159) is your classic play yard with an optional removable seat and (flip it over to reveal)… a flat changing surface. You can’t go wrong with this model; it’s a long-time fave. The seat (pictured below) sits on top of the PNP — or you can remove it and use it wherever you want, like a bouncer. It cups the baby on all sides; it’s like putting an egg into a carton, and it’s perfect for the first couple of months.
Again, you can flip over the napper to reveal a diaper changing surface, but I honestly don’t know many parents who used this feature very much — it’s just a little awkward, so I always just used the changing table, or the floor/bed when we were traveling.
If you want more bells and whistles, this one (~$209, below) adds storage underneath for diapers as well as an electronics module with music/soothing sounds and a vibration feature.
You can remove the seat and use it separately with this one:
You may also be interested in Pack ‘n Play-sized fitted sheets. You can also get a more permanent mattress to add comfort to your little one’s ZZZs, but you don’t need this until toddlerhood (or at all). If you do get a mattress, just be sure that you get one that’s meant to be used with the PNP!
By the way, if your little one is already past the bassinet stage (6 months or so), you no longer need the newborn or bassinet features; lucky you, just go with the entry level PNP for travel, called the Pack ‘n Play Portable Playard, which folds even more compactly. Plus it’s a little lighter, about 20 pounds. Pick it up for about $59. What a steal!
Like I said, there are a seemingly infinite number of PNP options and upgrades, but these are the all-around favorites. Don’t overthink it!