If this is your first time thinking about buying an indoor playpen, you might feel a bit shifty, but you shouldn’t. While the word ‘pen’ might admittedly bring up unshakeable images of the livestock market, our babies tend to have no such qualms about being boxed in for a bit at home. After all, it keeps them safe and contained when you need a moment to do those essential things that can’t be achieved with a babe in arms, and gives them a sense of having a place that’s just theirs in which to play and snooze, or a vantage point from which to watch you attentively.
That said, for all the babies who love nothing more than a box to play in, there’s probably an equal number who will be quite outraged by the concept. The key to avoiding having a tiny Hulk on your hands may be to introduce a playpen to your baby early, before they get a handle on how fun it is to rampage all over the house. Either way, you should go for as large a playpen as your space allows for to maintain that sense of freedom. Then, when they have outgrown this minature play area, make sure you safeguard your house with the help of our guide to the best stair gates (opens in new tab).
(Don’t) forget about the price tag
As with so many things, the larger the playpen, typically, the larger the outlay. If you’re on a tight budget or find yourself really pressed for space, you could use a travel cot as a makeshift indoor playpen (see the list of the best travel cots over on our sister publication T3 for inspiration), however you can find budget-friendly playpens for around £30, middling ones for about £20 more, and elaborate fortresses for somewhere around the £100 mark. The price will also largely depend on the material, with wooden indoor playpens usually costing the most and plastic or fabric-sided playpens tending more towards the cost-effective.
Types of playpen
We think wooden playpens are far and away the prettiest options out there, and thanks to their sturdy natural material they tend to be built to last, however it goes without saying that attractive design is completely subjective, and that grown-up design is usually the first thing to go out the window when it comes to baby products. Enter the plastic playpen, which usually comes in bright colours appealing to babies (although who can say whether they’ll notice or not), is light enough to be moved at will, and can occasionally be moved around into different configurations for flexibility. Metal playpens sound a bit jail-y, but that usually means a sturdy metal frame with soft fabric sides, and they, too, are really built to last, ideal if you’re looking to hand them down.
While it’s obviously far safer to corral them in a secure box for a bit than it is to give them free rein over the house, there are some things to keep in mind when it comes to using a playpen safely. Never leave them completely unattended unless it’s absolutely necessary and extremely quick, don’t leave anything in there that they could use as a step to climb out (cue The Great Escape theme), and make sure the playpen you choose has the BS EN 12227:1997 safety mark.
This traditional wooden playpen might be devilishly handsome, with its simple design, natural wood finish and circular shape, but it’s got more to offer than just its looks. Made from solid birch, it’s engineered to be long-lasting and hard-wearing, and reviewers have attested to its sturdiness and build quality. One user commented that it was big enough to fit a set of twins and lots of toys to keep them occupied, others that the padded fabric base was lovely and comfy, and yet more that it was really simple to set up. And all-round winner in more ways that one.
This futuristic-looking playpen is extremely lightweight thanks to its plastic and mesh construction, folds down to an ultra-compact size into something resembling a yoga bag, and is incredibly easy to put up – all this goes into making it arguably the most hassle-free playpen on our list, and easily the most portable. Reviewers especially loved its near-instant pop up construction, and the mesh sides that allowed them to keep an eye on little ones while keeping them safely enclosed. The ultimate model also comes with a UV protective sun roof, so you might want to consider upgrading if you’re after a playpen to take outdoors when the weather improves, however this performs admirably as an indoor option.
This adorable Technicolor playpen is covered in those primary colours that always catch baby’s eye, but the excitement doesn’t stop there. This is a playpen and activity centre in one, with an interactive play panel comprising balls for rolling, a slidey scene for spying, and a toy telephone for practicing those prank calls ahead of adolescence. While the plastic frame is lightweight, each panel and door comes with two rubbery, non-slip suction cups to keep everything where it should be, and there’s a dual-locking safety gate to outwit wily wee ‘uns. The only caveat is that there’s no play mat included, so you might want to invest in a separate one for extra padding.
The Huack Babypark is masterful at baby-proofing your house, and in more ways than the usual playpens can offer. As a playpen, it offers unlimited detachable sides (although the package itself comes with five, you’re welcome to add more) plus one door element so that you can tailor the size of the pen depending on where you are or how many tots are using it. The very clever bit is that, Transformer-like, it can also offer up its parts to be used as fireguards or stairgates, while the included soft mat can be used in or out of the pen. The only issue some reported was that it can take a little while to set up.
This lightweight igloo-like playpen comes with an anti-UV mesh covering for extra suitability in the great outdoors, but this can come in handy on an indoor playpen too, especially if your main room is a bit of a suntrap on warm days. The canopy can be pulled back for an open-top playpen, although this is better suited to smaller babies who haven’t quite figured out how to clamber, as the sides aren’t particularly high. When it’s more overcast, turn to the included tropical-themed soft toys for a little bit of sunshine and to keep them entertained. Reviewers loved its pop up design, although some did warn that it doesn’t go into the handy carry bag without a bit of muscle.
The problem with this large wooden playpen, as with others like it, is that it’s on the heavier side compared with aluminium or plastic-framed playpens – but that’s where BabyDan have been very clever indeed and added lockable wheels, making it easy to move when it needs to and keeping it locked down when it counts. It doesn’t come with a soft play mat, so you may want to invest in one separately, but the sturdy wooden base is adjustable to three different heights, meaning it can be used by a larger range of ages, and adding longevity into the bargain.
Check out our other baby & child guides:
The best plastic & fabric moses baskets (opens in new tab)
The best baby bath tubs, toys, seats and accessories (opens in new tab)