Building on the play pens of yesteryear, and then on the modern idea of a crib-to-play pen, it turns out modern parents need something more. It's not enough to let those kids entertain themselves latched behind the pull up side of their crib — they need a totally separate area for that.

How I Found Out About the Pack 'n Play

The Graco Pack 'n Play Playard ranked right up at the top of the list on Things We Should Buy for Our Upcoming Baby. I had seen these at friends' houses, and watched as they swiftly collapsed these little play yards for visits to the grandparents', or a long road trip at Christmas. I had seen kids sleeping, playing, and sometimes wailing inside several of them.

What's Great About It

The Pack 'n Play is multitasking. It works as a secondary (or primary) bed for newborns to toddlers, and as a little play area that safely confines a child to a set space — with room for a few toys, books, and blankets. The netting sides allow parents and children to see one another freely, and parents can move the contraption by lifting one side and rolling it on its two wheels (locking mechanism included for safety so your child can't do the same).

Pack 'n Play yards break down and fold into an impressive compact shape, and can be carried by handle to the trunk of a car or just out in the back yard. While the Pack 'n Play is on the heavier side as baby equipment goes, these are easier than a car seat with a child, and certainly take up less space than a folded-up stroller.

A Pack 'n Play can be an especially helpful tool for families with two-story houses, utilizing a crib on one level and the pack 'n play on the other.

What It Compares To

It competes a little with a regular crib. Children can play in those just as well, but standard cribs aren't meant to be hauled to and fro.

Who It's Best For

The Pack 'n Play is best for newborns to crawlers, and for families who need the versatility of multiple sleep-play areas while still keeping their child safe.

How It Could Be Better

When particularly active children can pull up on the sides, some might rock vigorously enough to spill it over, especially once they're toddlers. It might be nice for the bottom to be a bit more weighted, but that would make the whole thing heavier to carry.

It would be nice if the Pack 'n Play could go through standard doorways without having to be folded up; it's a just a tad bit big for that.

What They Don't Tell You in the Manual

See above.

Bottom Line Recommendation

If you're having a baby, get one.

Where to Get Yours

Lots of places: Target, Amazon, Toys R Us, and local baby/specialty shops.