Baby Gate Safety Tips, Baby Safety Tips

Should I Choose a Play Yard, a Playpen, or a Pack ‘n Play?

Melanie Pierce

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Should I Choose a Play Yard, a Playpen, or a Pack ‘n Play?

Do you want to keep your baby contained in one safe spot but feel confused about the various terms, such as playpen, play yard, and pack ‘n play?

We understand!

This is especially a problem because there is a lot of overlapping usage of the terms in marketing.

We want to make your decision-making easier by breaking down the differences so that you can choose exactly what you need!

And even if you see a product that uses more than one of these terms in its description, you will be equipped to know which one that it *actually* is.

What are Play Yards, Playpens, and Pack ‘n Plays?

It’s important to note that all of these types of self-contained “baby-corraling” products essentially do the same job.

They keep your baby in one area so that they can’t wander around and get lost or hurt.Many families choose to use them because babies and toddlers are quick and escape easily from an area if there are no barriers.

However, because they generally provide only a small area for your child to play, we don’t recommend using them for long periods at a time.

What are Play Yards?

First, let’s talk about play yards.

These are structures that have separate panels that are connected to each other and that attach to themselves to form an enclosed space. 

Some of them can be positioned into different shapes or made bigger or smaller by adding or removing panels. 

Also, keep in mind that play yards generally provide a much larger play space than the other products that we will be discussing.There are two types of play yards. 

Evenflo Versatile Play Space, Indoor & Outdoor Play Space, Easy & Quick Assembly, Portable, 18.5 Square Feet of Enclosed Space, Durable Construction, For Children 6 to 24 Months, Cool Gray

The traditional type has panels that look a lot like a baby gate (and some can actually be used as such by straightening across an area and attaching to doorways or walls). This kind of play yard usually has fairly tall panels and is often suitable for outdoor use, as well.

Portable Playard Play Pen for Infants and Babies - Lightweight Mesh Baby Playpen with Carrying Case - Easily Opens with 1 Hand (Turquoise)

The other type is the chunky play yard. These are made of thick plastic panels connected together. These are especially suitable for babies and younger toddlers because they are generally quite short. These can be usually folded up when not in use, but definitely take up more space because of their chunky design.

What Are Play Yards Used For?

  1. Creating a large play space
  2. Being set up in either indoor and outdoor areas
  3. Easily accommodating more than one child
  4. Allowing adults to easily enter through a walk-in door

Check out our full guide to the best play yards and portable playpens!

What are Playpens?

These are usually round or square self-contained units that fold up when not in use.

They are usually made with a metal frame and plastic connecting pieces and have mesh sides for airflow and baby’s visibility.

They are easy to set up, fairly lightweight, and portable.

Some playpens come equipped with optional sun shades, which make them a great choice if you need something to take to the park or beach.

Most playpens can only be accessed from the top, although you may see some with a side zipper for alternate access.

Playpens do not only have sides, but they also have included “fabric floors,” some of which are padded for comfort and some which have removable fabric for easy cleaning.

What Are Playpens Used For?

  1. Providing a small to medium-size play space
  2. Being quickly and easily set up or folded small for travel and portability
  3. Providing a fairly comfortable area with included floor
  4. Being set up either indoors or outdoors, some having optional sunshades

What are Pack ‘N Plays?

Built much like a playpen, a pack ‘n play also folds up easily and is quite portable.

The main difference is that they are generally rectangular in shape to mimic a crib.

This is because a pack ‘n play is usually used as an alternate and portable sleep space, not just a play space.

Graco Pack 'n Play Change 'N Carry Playard, Ripley

Like a playpen, these units are self-contained with a fabric floor and mesh sides.

They tend to be smaller than a playpen, however, and are in fact the perfect size for sleep time, with limited space for playtime. Some even have a “bassinet” insert for young babies.

Plus, some models even have attachments that allow you to use the pack ‘n play as a changing table, occasionally providing cubby holes or “shelves” for diapers and wipes.

What are Pack ‘N Plays Used For?

  1. Providing a small play space
  2. Providing a sleep space as an alternative to a crib or bed or bassinet
  3. Being quickly and easily set up or folded small for travel and portability
  4. Possibly providing an extra upper insert to be used as a diaper changing station


Hopefully, this breakdown of the various elements of your play space options helps you to figure out which unit is best for your needs. Please remember that all limited-area play spaces should be used sparingly and that they do not substitute for the watchful eye of an adult caregiver.

WARNING: Never let your child use a play yard, playpen, or pack ‘n play unattended. Some kids are capable of climbing out of these and all children need to be monitored even when contained.

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