Some basic models may be easier to cart around because they don't have any extra parts. You can also look for bags that leave the play yard's wheels free, so the whole thing can be rolled once it's packed up. If you plan on taking frequent trips (especially by air), you might want to consider a heavy-duty bag that you can buy separately, such as the Rover Gear Easton Travel Yard Bag (about $34).
As Ann Hulbert documents in Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children, this sort of confused and conflicted debate has long been a touchstone of the parental advice genre. In Anxious Parents, Peter Stearns notes that where parents once put children in playpens to safeguard them from dangerous household equipment, as that household equipment was made more accident-proof, the playpen itself soon began to be seen as the source of danger—both literally, as in a series of high-profile recalls of poorly designed playpens and playards, and figuratively, as a symbol of damaging neglect.
At the higher end of the price spectrum, you'll see a lot of add-on features. For example, the Graco Silhouette Pack ‘n Play Playard with Bassinet and Changer, about $170, has a removable changing table (with an "organizer" to hold diapers, wipes, etc.) and a bassinet feature. The bassinet has a maximum weight capacity of 15 pounds and the changing table has a weight capacity of 25 pounds. This model also comes with a vibrating mattress, electronic mobile, canopy, console with music, and night light. The manufacturer says you should only use the play yard with children under 35 inches tall.
Truth is, the parenting culture has had mixed feelings about the playpen seemingly since it was invented. An ad in a 1925 newspaper, for example, for a device called the “Kiddie Koop” (reputedly designed by Buckminster Fuller), encapsulated the tension: “There is no thrill like that of holding and caring for a baby in your arms,” it began. “Yet the modern mother with her manifold duties must—simply MUST—forego such maternal joys at times, or the ‘regulation of household affairs’ will suffer.” Playpens would continue to be debated, not in the pages of scientific journals but in the mothering advice columns of newspapers. In a 1943 edition of the Spokane Daily Herald, Myrtle Meyer Eldred touted the benefits of playpens: “Not only is the child free of possible physical injury but his behavior is not subjected to constant punishment, since what he does in his guarded play-place does not annoy the parent.” In a 1957 article in the Chicago Tribune, the writer, after first asking the reader to remember “the great hue and cry raised against the play pen a few years back,” then goes on to cite a report by Dr. E. Robbins Kimball noting various advantages of the playpen (including the fact that it “gives nervous mothers relief.”) In 1966, a columnist was asked in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette if mothers used playpens “as a lazy excuse to keep their babies out of the way”; while in an article in that same paper a decade later, a reader of the “Parents Ask” column wondered about “some psychologists who are against playpens.” The column’s author, Louis B. Ames, noted the reader was probably referring to Burton White’s The First Three Years of Life (“there is no way of keeping most children from being bored in a playpen for longer than a very brief period of time”), and then went on to advise that “the ordinarily lively and intelligent baby does not have be entertained by others during all his waking hours.”
Bassinet inserts can provide a nice place for newborns to nap. Look for a bassinet that securely fastens to the play yard in a way that prevents older children from dislodging or tamper with it, especially if you have other kids in the home or plan to use the bassinet for your next baby. Some of the models we tested in the past had bassinets that attached to the play yard with easily disengaged bars or exposed plastic clips. Older children could easily undo those fasteners, and that could cause the bassinet to fall to the play-yard floor. But one play yard we tested had bassinet clips that are covered by fabric flaps that are locked into place with a button, hiding the clips from view and protecting them from curious fingers. That's a safety plus.
The pieces were super easy to assemble. Just slide the rods on one piece into the holes on the next piece to connect them. I was a little disappointed that the rods/holes were not hexagonal like the instructions state. That would have locked them into position either straight or at an angle. Instead, the rods/holes are round, so the panels move around (accordion style) and won't stay in a straight line. There are suction cups on the bottom of the panels that might help if you're using it on a hard floor or smooth mat, but they're useless on carpet or textured mat.
It's helped us out tremendously. It provides a way for us to cordon off a safe space for our son while allowing him an area to freely move. The fact that it breaks apart and can be arranged in various patterns allowed us to expand that space with some creative use of furniture. Sadly though like all young raptors, he's testing the gates, looking for weaknesses that he'll eventually use to escape and terrorize the local populace of cats.