6 Best Booster Seats to Keep Kids Safe While on the Go
Thought the world of car seats was complex? Booster seats are a whole other beast—and you probably have a list of questions. When are they safe for children to use? What type of booster seat do you need? How do you install them? From navigating the various requirements and regulations to picking the right option for your kiddo, choosing a booster seat comes with a lot of information to digest. Feeling overwhelmed already? We’ve broken it all down in one comprehensive guide to the best booster seats on the market. Read on for the full lowdown.
In this article:
When can kids use a booster seat?
Types of booster seats
Booster seat safety tips
Best booster seats to shop
The first step is understanding when it’s time to make the switch from a forward-facing, five-point-harness car seat to a booster seat—which, as its name implies, gives children a “boost” of height to align more safely with the seat belt and headrest, and secures them with a seatbelt as opposed to a harness. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA), all children should remain in “a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether until they reach the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat manufacturer.” Once those limits are reached—which typically happens around the time a child is 4 years old and 40 inches tall—it’s time to make the move to a booster seat.
Most children will be in a booster seat for several years. According to the CDC, children must use a booster seat until a seat belt fits properly without one. That means the lap belt sits across the thighs (not stomach) and the shoulder belt comes across the center of the shoulder and chest (not the face or ears). Additionally, children should be able to keep their back flat against the seat with their feet touching the floor. Most children don’t reach these requirements until around 9 to 12 years old—making a solid booster seat selection that much more important.
You’ll be using a booster seat for several years, and there are multiple types to consider: high back, backless or a combination. Here’s how they differ:
High back booster seats. This is typically the more secure option, thanks to its high back (hence the name) and headrest. These features are especially important if your car has low seat backs or seats without headrests, as a child’s head should always be supported. High back booster seats also allow kids to safely snooze in the car, thanks to the head support. However, the height and weight ranges tend to be more limited with a high back booster seat, often maxing out at around 100 pounds.
Backless booster seats. These options come without the back and headrest, making them smaller, lighter and easier to transport. They also typically accommodate a wider range of heights and weights, allowing them to be used over a longer period of time. However, if your car doesn’t have headrests or seats high enough to reach your children’s ears for adequate head support, backless is not the best option. There are booster seats that convert from a high back to a backless, as well, offering the best of both worlds.
No matter which type of booster seat you decide on, it needs to be used correctly in order to be effective. Here are some tips and common mistakes to avoid to ensure you’re using your booster seat safely:
- Read the booster seat manual to thoroughly understand its height and weight requirements, installation instructions and various features.
- Ensure the seat belt lies across the thighs—not the tummy—and in the middle of the chest. This is critical for crash safety and can help prevent serious injuries.
- Check your child’s height and weight every six months, and adjust the booster seat accordingly, to provide an accurate fit.
- Do not leave an empty and unsecured booster seat in the backseat while driving—without the child’s weight and the seatbelt holding it in place; it can be a safety hazard.
Keeping this information in mind, we’ve rounded up a few of the best booster seats for every budget and scenario. Here are our top picks in the wild world of booster seats.
Best High Back Booster Seat: Diono Monterey 5iST FixSafe
If you want to invest in just one booster seat, make it the Diono Monterey 5iST FixSafe. The latest iteration from Diono offers one of the widest ranges of height and width adjustments (both of which can be done with just one hand) on the market, allowing it to grow with your child from 40 to 120 pounds and up to 63 inches tall (for context, there are adults that fall within this range). Still, despite its vast size options, the booster seat folds down in seconds into a compact package with a built-in handle and carrying straps. And safety-wise, it’s a top-notch choice, thanks to eight layers of side-impact protection and rigid latch connectors. Not surprisingly, it earned a Best of Baby 2021 award for best booster seat—and it remains a top pick here.
Buy it: $270, Diono.com
Best Backless Booster Seat: Diono Solana 2
Backless booster seats aren’t always as comfortable and, even worse, they’re often not as secure as their high-back counterparts—but not the Diono Solana 2. This backless booster seat is one of the few that features latch connectors to safely install it in any vehicle (meaning it’s not just the seat belt and your child’s weight keeping the seat in place). Plus, the ergonomically contoured and cushioned seat provides a wide, comfy area with room to grow (up to 120 pounds). Did we mention that it also has retractable cup holders? Space-saving and efficient, the Diono Solana 2 is at the top of the backless class.
Buy it: $45, Diono.com
Best 2-in-1 Booster Seat: Nuna AACE
Not sure whether to go with a high-back or backless booster seat? With the Nuna AACE, you don’t have to choose. The booster seat not only offers a convertible 2-in-1 design, it also features a 3D growth system—meaning it’s adjustable in height, width and depth (giving growing legs the support and space they need). Other nifty features include a one-handed, customizable recline, colored belt-path indicators that make installation basically fool-proof and the ultra-safe combination of energy-absorbing foam and side-impact protection pods.
Buy it: $250, Nordstrom.com
Best All-in-One Booster Seat: Graco Tranzitions 3-in-1 Harness Booster
It’s a shock for lots of parents to discover that one car seat doesn’t cut it before your child graduates to sitting with a seat belt. The Graco Tranzitions 3-in-1 Harness Booster comes pretty close, though: It combines a harness booster, high-back booster and backless booster all in one, providing a safe seating option for children as small as 22 pounds all the way up to 100 pounds. If that’s not enough to love, nearly the entire seat is machine washable (helping it stand the test of time—and messes) and dual cup-holders help keep snacks and beverages secure (a must for hungry little ones). Its triple functionality and extensive features mean that, from preschool to middle school, this is one booster seat that has you covered.
Buy it: $127.99, Amazon.com
Best Affordable Booster Seat: Cosco Rise Backless Booster Seat
Booster seats need not break the bank, and the Cosco Rise is an excellent budget-friendly option. The wide base and higher arm rests make it easy for kids to buckle themselves in, and the seat platform prevents any tipping over. If messes occur (which, with kids, they will), the car seat pad is easily removable, machine-washable and dryer safe (the trifecta!). But perhaps the two most impressive features are its extraordinarily low weight and its incredibly affordable price point: This car seat weighs just 3.25 lbs and costs only $14. Wow!
Buy it: $14, Walmart.com
Best Luxury Booster Seat: Clek Oobr
Safe, stylish and eco-friendly to boot. You get all that and more with the Clek Oobr. Five structural safety elements—including a magnesium seat frame, structural headrest and deep side wings, energy-absorbing foam layer, belt guides and rigid latch system—make this booster seat a top safety pick (and an IIHS ‘Best Bet’ for more than 10 years running). The reclining seat back is fully removable, allowing the booster seat to easily convert to backless mode and grow with your child over the years. And once the seat has reached the end of its lifespan, it’s 100 percent recyclable. A nice bonus: The Oobr’s sleek design means it won’t be a total eyesore in your backseat. With all this in mind, the hefty price tag seems a little less daunting.
Buy it: from $380, AlbeeBaby.com
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.
Plus, more from The Bump: