The 8 Best Infant Car Seats
Latch hooks. Load legs. No rethread harness. Belt paths. For new or soon-to-be parents, car seat lingo basically sounds like a foreign language. But these confusing terms are commonly used in the complex world of infant car seats. And to say that navigating this territory is overwhelming would be a vast understatement. So before you start shopping for what is most definitely not a straightforward purchase, you’ll want to do your due diligence and get up to speed on all the basics of infant car seat usage. So why do you need an infant car seat, how long are infant car seats good for and what features are absolute non-negotiables? We’ve shared it all—plus, our picks for the best infant car seats of 2022. Buckle in, and read on for the full lowdown.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an infant car seat is a small, portable seat that can only be rear-facing. And according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children should remain rear-facing until they’re at least 2 years old—or until they reach the height and weight requirements for their specific car seat.
Due to infant car seat height restrictions (typically 32 to 35 inches) and weight limits (about 35 to 40 pounds), many babies will outgrow an infant car seat before they turn one.
To that end, you can choose to buy an infant car seat that’s only rear-facing or a convertible car seat that allows extended rear-facing capacity and forward-facing usage to grow with baby. Decisions, decisions!
Infant car seat vs. convertible car seat
Some parents opt to skip the infant car seat and go straight to a more versatile convertible car seat. The latter can be used both rear- and forward-facing, and has a higher height and weight limit (often 50 pounds and up) to grow with your little one for longer.
But an infant car seat has an undeniably unique set of benefits. Infant car seats feature a carry handle, and can be separated from their base. This means you can move baby in and out of the car without much disruption (a bonus if your little one falls asleep in transport). You can also use some infant car seats without the base, which means you can put it in a friend’s car or a taxi cab, as needed. Additionally, infant car seats are specifically designed for younger and smaller babies—often providing a more comfortable fit than their larger convertible counterparts.
Whatever car seat you choose, it’s important to note its height and weight limits, as well its expiration date. Both let you know how long the seat is safe to use for your little one(s).
When to switch from infant car seat
Infant car seats typically have a weight maximum of around 40 pounds and a height maximum of about 35 inches (check your seat for its specific numbers). When either one of those maximums are reached, it’s time to make the switch to a convertible option.
When do infant car seats expire?
Infant car seats typically expire around six years from their manufacture date. If you’re using an infant car seat for multiple children (younger siblings or friends), it’s important to check for a small white sticker located on the outer plastic part of the car seat to confirm whether or not the seat is past its expiration.
Beyond the basics, there are other factors and features to take into consideration when shopping for the best car seat for your family’s needs. Here are some items to keep top of mind while searching for the perfect infant car seat for you:
- Is this car seat safe? The good news: All infant car seats available for purchase in the US must meet strict federal safety standards—and are, thus, safe for use. To go a step further, check in with Consumer Reports—which offers both overall car seat ratings (evaluating crash protection, ease of use and the seat’s fit) and independent crash-test ratings.
- How easy is this seat to use? Ease of use goes hand-in-hand with safety when it comes to infant car seats (because if it’s not installed correctly, all the safety features become moot). The NHTSA evaluates infant car seats on their ease-of-use and publishes ratings, taking into consideration the instructions, installation features, labels and child restraints.
- Is this seat recalled? The NHTSA is also a great resource; check for any recalls on defective parts or products before purchasing an infant car seat.
- Does this infant car seat come with a load leg? A load leg is a feature found on the base of some infant car seats that serves as a brace between the seat’s base and the car floor. It offers extra stability and has been shown to reduce the risk of head injury in a crash by up to 46 percent, according to Consumer Reports.
- Does it need a base? Some infant car seats can be safely installed using only a seatbelt (not a separate base), making it a great option for parents who frequent taxis or Ubers.
- How heavy and big is it? Save your biceps by selecting an infant car seat that isn’t too large and hefty to lug around (especially when you add a growing infant to the mix).
- Does it connect to any strollers? An infant car seat and stroller often go hand-in-hand. After all, one of the main convenience factors of an infant car seat is that you can connect it to a stroller systems without disrupting baby; check to see if your stroller and car seat are compatible, and if adaptors are needed before purchasing.
- How much will it cost? Infant car seats run the gamut from affordable to astronomically expensive. It all depends on materials, styles, add-ons and more. Keep a budget in mind, and sort options by evaluating the features that are most important to you.
It’s natural to be nervous about this decision. You want to keep your kiddo safe and sound, and the infant car seat options seem endless! Whatever seat you choose, always read the manufacturers’ instructions for installation.
From safety to style and everything in between, there’s a ton to consider when it comes to the top-rated infant car seats. No need to feel overwhelmed. Here, we’ve rounded up the eight best infant car seats to check out. All that’s left for you to do is scroll and decide.
Overall Best Infant Car Seat: Nuna Pipa Lite RX
The world of infant car seats isn’t a popularity contest—but, if it was, the Nuna Pipa Lite RX would win, hands down (and with good reason). Top-rated by Consumer Reports for safety, this lightweight infant car seat combines aerospace aluminum, Aeroflex foam, naturally flame-retardant fabrics, side-impact protection and a stability leg for maximum safety for your little one. In addition to being one of the safest infant car seats on the market, the Pipa Lite RX has plenty of handy features as well, including a dream drape, adjustable headrest, no rethread harness and magnetic buckle clips. This Best of Baby winner for best infant car seat also installs in seconds (literally!), and can be used with or without the base—making it perfect for both city dwellers and suburbanites. Plus, the seat weighs just under 7 lbs, living up to its “lite” name, and making it easy to transport baby wherever you go.
Buy it: $500, Nordstrom.com
Best Infant Car Seat and Stroller Combo: Doona Car Seat and Stroller
One of the pros of using an infant car seat is being able to go from car to stroller without disturbing baby—and none make it easier to do this than the Doona. That’s because the Doona eliminates the need for a separate stroller and converter clips; instead it transforms from a car seat to a stroller (and back again) in just a single motion (and within a few seconds). Designed with safety at the forefront, the Doona is suitable for littles weighing 4 to 35 pounds. Great as a travel infant car seat, it’s the only combination car seat and stroller on the market. It’s a perfect pick for families—and little ones—who live life on the go.
Buy it: $550, shopdoona.com
Best Lightweight Infant Car Seat: Maxi Cosi Coral XP
Looking for one of the lightest infant car seat options? Look no further! The Maxi Cosi Coral XP features an innovative nesting design that makes it easy to tote around. The car seat features three parts: A lightweight inner carrier, the car seat outer carrier and the car seat base. The inner carrier (which weighs only 5 lbs) can be removed and carried with either a cross body strap (keeping you hands free) or two side handles (perfect for those car-to-home transitions). You’ll appreciate how light it is when you add a rapidly growing infant to the equation, and your car seat quite suddenly gets real heavy and cumbersome. The Coral XP can also be carried like a standard infant car seat and connects to most strollers, giving parents plenty of options for getting around.
Buy it: $300, BuyBuyBaby.com
Best Narrow Infant Car Seat: Clek Liing
If you have a smaller car or need to squeeze three car seats across your back row, this is the infant car seat for you. The Clek Liing takes up less than 17 inches of width, making it one of the most narrow offerings on the market. But it still packs a punch in that compact size: The Liing offers up to seven recline positions, side-impact protection, an energy-absorbing metal load leg (that even works in the center seat) and a simple one-handed release. Clek is also the first car seat company to offer seats made without any added flame retardants.
Buy It: from $440, BuyBuyBaby.com
Best Travel Infant Car Seat: Baby Jogger City Go Air
When it comes to traveling with an infant car seat, you’ll want to make sure it’s FAA-approved and lightweight (no one wants to lug a heavy car seat through the airport, only to have it turned away at the gate). The Baby Jogger City Go Air checks both boxes, being fully FAA-certified for aircraft use and clocking in at only 8 lbs (practically the same size as a newborn). Plus, the City Go Air can be used with or without its base, making it even lighter on-the-go and easy to use in taxis or Ubers. But while this car seat may be light to carry, it’s heavy on features: A breathable canopy drape, removable infant insert and SecureStop anti-rebound bar are just a few of the bonuses that make this car seat a favorite amongst travelers and homebodies alike.
Buy it: $380, BuyBuyBaby.com
Best Infant Car Seat for Easy Install: UppaBaby Mesa
Safety features become meaningless if an infant car seat isn’t correctly installed—but the UppaBaby Mesa ensures that parents get it right every time. Thanks to its SmartSecure system, the Mesa has both tightness indicators and self-retracting latch connectors to make installation as easy as can be. Plus, an indicator window changes from red to green to confirm you’ve done it right (no guesswork here). Besides being a breeze to install, the Mesa also keeps baby safe and comfy with an EPP foam-reinforced headrest, no rethread harness and flame retardant-free fabrics.
Buy it: from $300, BuyBuyBaby.com
Best Infant Car Seat with Advanced Safety Features: Cybex Aton 2
Safety is a top consideration when it comes to any car seat, which is why many infant car seats now feature both side-impact protection and a load leg to help absorb the effects of any impact. But the Cybex Aton 2 takes safety a step further with its SensorSafe technology. Built in to the chest clip of the car seat, SensorSafe connects to your smartphone and alerts you of any critical situations—including if your child is left unattended in the car, if temperatures in the car are too hot or cold, if your child unbuckles the clip or if they’ve been seated for too long. It lets you keep eyes on the road and (virtually) on baby, achieving maximum peace of mind.
Buy it: $300, BuyBuyBaby.com
Best Affordable Infant Car Seat: Evenflo Litemax 35
Looking for top-of-the-line safety in an infant car seat without breaking the bank? Enter the Evenflo Litemax 35. The easy-to-install base comes with a vehicle belt lock to make sure the base stays secure—and Evenflo offers free live video support to help with any installation questions that pop up along the way. The Litemax is also lightweight, and features an ergonomic handle to make transporting your little one to and from the car seamless. Plus, this infant car seat safely fits babies as small as four pounds all the way up to 35 pounds—giving you even more bang for your buck.
Buy It: $113, Evenflo.com