Pack ‘N Play vs Playpen vs Playard – Differences Matter!?

baby with purple pacifier

When babies start getting more active, it can be difficult to keep an eye on them as they scurry around all day. That’s why many parents opt for a type of playpen. With some of these products referred to as playpens and others as pack and plays, how do you know what the difference is between them? Which is better – pack and play vs playpen or a playard?

Essentially, a pack and play, playpen and a playard are terms used for a small enclosure where babies and toddlers can play safely. These enclosures keep your children safe in a small space where you can keep an eye on them without having to hold them or play with them. For the most part, these items are all the same thing!

Playpen, Playard, Pack ‘N Play when used as synonyms

If you’re new to the parenting experience, you’ll soon find that playpen, Playard, and Pack ‘N Play are actually very similar. In fact, these items are so similar that even manufacturers tend to use these terms interchangeably! Despite their small differences, these three items perform the same function. 

All three of these products are pieces of furniture made of plastic, metal, or wood and serve to create an enclosed space. Your little one and a few of their toys play safely inside the enclosure allowing you to do other things. Since different manufacturers use different terms for the same product, it can be confusing for a new parent to decide which item their baby needs. Let’s look at a few of the smaller differences between them!

What is a Playpen?

A playpen is an enclosure that keeps your baby or toddler safe within a given space. As I mentioned earlier, a playpen can be made from plastic, wood, or even metal. The walls are designed to be higher than the baby or toddler so that your little one can’t climb over the edges.

Generally, a playpen should only be used to keep your baby safe while you’re unable to hold your little one. For instance, if you’re preparing dinner, your little one can play in the playpen in the kitchen where you can give them attention without having to hold them. You can place a mattress or blanket inside the playpen for daytime naps. It’s necessary to use a firm mattress to avoid all the risks that go along with sudden infant death syndrome.

Dripex Baby Playpen, 79'×59' Play Pens for Babies and Toddlers, Safe Anti-Fall Play Yard with Gates, Baby Fence with Breathable Mesh, Indoor & Outdoor Kids Activity Center, Ash Grey

A popular playpen option is the Baby Playpen Portable Play Centre Play Pen which you can see above. By being slightly bigger than the average playpen, this model has plenty of space for your little one to stand, play, and even nap! There’s space for a parent to get inside and interact with the baby! 

What is a Playard?

Simply put, a playard is a similar, but slightly improved version of a playpen. While a playpen is just a fence enclosure, a playard has a few extra accessories for added comfort. Some of the features include a diaper changing area, bassinet, storage drawers, and even a mattress. As with a playpen, a playard has higher sides to prevent your baby from climbing out over the sides. 

With the bassinet and changing table feature, the playard can easily be used as a crib. With mattress height adjusters, you can adjust the mattress at a comfortable height to reach a smaller baby. Here’s an article I wrote on if you need a mattress for A Pack ‘N Play.

Dream On Me Nest Portable Play Yard With Carry Bag And Shoulder Strap, Grey

A popular playard is the Dream On Me Nest Portable Playard (see above). It features a lightweight but sturdy frame that makes it easy to set up and fold down. A modern, clean design with airy mesh sides to allow easy ventilation. It also comes with a folding mattress for your little one to nap or play on! 

What is a Pack ‘N Play?

While many new parents think Pack ‘N Plays are different from playards and playpens in that they’re better suited to toddlers, the truth is, they’re not really that different. Pack ‘N Play is actually a playard dedicated to a specific baby product brand, namely Graco. 

So, when an experienced parent tells you that you need a Pack ‘N Play, they simply mean you need a playard from Graco. If you’re not opting for the Graco brand, a simple playard will do fine! 

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

Graco has a few different models to choose from. One of the more popular options is the Graco Pack ‘N Play Change n Carry Playard. This nifty model features a changing pad, built-in storage pockets and is very portable. 

If you’re opting for a pack ‘n play, you might want to think about how long your baby should sleep in A Pack ‘N Play. Basically you should follow the manufacturer’s recommendation.

Playard vs Playpen

With the Pack ‘N Play term moved out of the equation, it leaves you with playard vs playpen. What’s the difference between these two? What are the features that will help you decide which one is the better option for your little one’s needs?

Storage option

Playpens don’t have any storage. Playards on the other hand, generally have some sort of storage. Additional storage can be in the form of different-sized pockets that make it easy to store diapers, toys, and even feeding bottles. Having these items close at hand makes it easy to deal with a fussing baby during playtime. 


One of the biggest advantages of a playard is that it can collapse and fold to fit into a small easy-to-carry travel bag. Essentially, the playard can be transported and carried around to wherever you need it. With its compact size, it’s also easy to store in the closet or under the bed. 


Since playards have considerably more features, they’re usually more expensive than standard playpens. Some parents however believe that the extra features are worth the additional cost. The bassinet, changing table, and portability are the top-selling features that make playards worth the additional cost. 

Bassinet feature

A playard comes with a bassinet feature, meaning it can double as a portable baby crib. This serves two handy purposes. You can either use it as a baby bed or simply for traveling. Since the playard easily folds, it makes it possible to take it with you if you’re traveling. 

A playpen doesn’t have a bassinet. You can however place a mattress at the bottom of the playpen for an afternoon nap during playing. But, it’s not really suited as a permanent baby bed. Playpens are more suited for playing and keeping your little one safe while you’re busy with something else. If you’re considering letting your baby sleep on this type of bassinet, you should probably think about whether bassinets need sheets, an article I wrote about.

Providing music and light

Playards are designed to not only keep children enclosed, but entertained as well. In a playpen, you need to place a few loose toys inside to keep your little one occupied. Some playards come with music, lights, and even rattles. Aside from keeping your baby entertained, they can also help your little one fall asleep

Changing station

Modern playards that feature changing stations are quite popular with new parents. For starters, if your home doesn’t have space for a crib and separate changing station/table, a playard is a huge plus. It also makes it easier to change your little one during the day without having to take them out of the playard and into another room to change. 

What are Pack ‘N Play Playards?

A Pack ‘N Play playard is Graco’s answer to a playard. With the Graco Pack and Play On the Go Playard you get a full-size removable, infant bassinet that’s perfect for travel. Graco’s signature push-button feature makes it easy to fold and close your playard. 

Differentiating factors from other types of beds

While you might think playards and playpens are similar to other baby beds, it’s important to know there are a few differences that separate them. 

Pack ‘n Play vs (mini) crib

As the name suggests, mini cribs are just smaller versions of larger cribs. Many mini cribs are designed with wheels, making it easy to move from one room to another. They, unfortunately, don’t fold so aren’t ideal options for traveling. Here’s an article I wrote comparing Pack ‘N Plays versus (travel) cribs.

Playpen vs crib

Unlike playpens and playards, cribs tend to be permanent fixtures in your nursery. Moving them from one room to another usually requires disassembling them. It’s also not easy at all to take a crib apart and take it traveling with you. 

While playpens and playards are smaller in dimension, they’re easy to fold and move around to travel with. Ideally, cribs are used for sleeping or napping only. Playards can easily double as a baby bed as well as a secure play area. 

Playpen vs baby gate

It’s important to note that a playpen and a baby gate aren’t the same things. A baby gate sometimes referred to as a child safety gate is a shorter barrier designed to keep your baby or toddler from entering certain spaces. 

Parents with stairs often use baby gates to keep little ones from falling down the stairs. A baby gate can also be placed at a room’s doorway to keep your little one from getting out of a particular room. You can also get retractable baby gates that are easy to set up. While a playpen forms a rectangular or square enclosure in which your child sits and plays, a baby gate simply barricades entry into a specified space. 

Regalo Easy Step 38.5-Inch Wide Walk Thru Baby Gate, Includes 6-Inch Extension Kit, Pressure Mount Kit, Wall Cups

One of the top-selling baby gates is the Regalo Easy Step 38.5 Baby Gate. It stands 30” tall and fits doorways between 29-34” and 35-38.5” wide. With its steel design, it’s durable and convenient to open and walk through. It’s ideal for stairways and doorways. Extensions are sold separately for wider doors. 

I’ve added a clip to show you just how easy it is to fold and unfold a playpen and a playard.


Despite playpens and playards being quite similar, it’s important to remember they have a few essential differences. Depending on your baby’s needs, one type might be more suitable than another. For independent playtime, you can easily invest in a baby gate or basic playpen. 

If you need an option that doubles as an enclosed playpen and as well as a travel-friendly bed, you should definitely consider a playard. Parents who have invested in playards are delighted that the many features in a playard make this product so versatile!

Last update on 2024-05-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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