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11 Best Toddler Car Seats to Keep Your Traveling Tot Safe

Ready to upgrade your toddler's car seat? Here are the best opotions to suit your needs.
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profile picture of Lynsey Eidell
Contributing Writer
Updated
May 2, 2022
best toddler car seats 2022
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Taking toddlers on the go—whether it be a quick errand or a miles-long journey—requires preparation. While the majority of that prep work will be making sure you’ve packed adequate snacks (there can never be enough snacks!), what really matters most is ensuring you’ve got the right gear on hand to keep you and your little one safe. That starts with finding a toddler car seat that will grow with your tot and keep them secure.

But just like most baby gear, choosing the right toddler car seat can seem overwhelming at first. Throw in the opinions of internet strangers, fellow mommy friends and your growing little one, and the task can seem even more daunting. To take the stress out of the selection, we’ve broken down all the facts about toddler car seats—and picked our favorites across multiple categories and budgets.

Types of Toddler Car Seats

The good news: There are primarily two kinds of toddler car seats. See which one makes the most sense for your family before you begin shopping.

  • Convertible car seats. This may be the most popular option when transitioning from an infant car seat. In fact, some parents forgo the infant seat altogether and opt for a convertible seat with an infant insert. One of the best features of this type of toddler car seat: It allows your little one to remain rear-facing for longer (which is the safest way to travel under the age of two, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics). Once baby reaches the rear-facing height and weight limit, the seat converts to forward-facing; some models also transition to booster seats. The main drawback many parents note: Convertibles tend to be on the heavy side, so you’ll want to consider how often you’ll be moving this in and out of your car.

  • Forward-facing car seats. When can a toddler face forward in a car seat? Once your child is age 2 and reaches the rear-facing height and weight limit (around 40 pounds), experts say a front-facing car seat is a great option. The thing parents love most? How easy it is to interact with your little one and keep an eye on them from the rearview mirror.

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Toddler Car Seat Safety Tips

The best car seat for a toddler is one that’s safe and safely installed. To that end, whichever toddler car seat you choose, you’ll want to make sure you’re using it correctly for every ride. Here are some tips to keep top of mind.

Rear-facing toddler car seats

  • Position the harness straps at or below your child’s shoulders.
  • Position the chest clip at the same level as the armpit.
  • Make sure the seat is installed properly and securely, either with a LATCH system or a seatbelt.

Front-facing toddler car seats

  • Your child should at least be 2 years old.
  • Position the harness straps at or above your child’s shoulders.
  • Position the chest clip at armpit level.
  • If you’re able to, always use the top tether. This strap is attached to the top part of the car seat and connects to an anchor point in your car (check your vehicle manual for the tether anchor location).

Best Toddler Car Seats

Here, 11 of the best toddler car seats that meet the needs of every family and budget.

Image: Buy Buy Baby

Overall Best Toddler Car Seat: Britax One4Life ClickTight All-in-One Car Seat

The name says it all: This is the one car seat you’ll need to buy for life. With a weight range from 5 to 120 pounds, the Britax One4Life can be used for up to 10 years—ensuring your little one is riding safely and comfortably from the wiggly toddler years and beyond. The 15-position headrest and harness can be adjusted with one hand (perfect for those overnight growth spurts), and the harness easily stows away into the built-in storage compartment when your toddler is ready for a belt-positioning booster (around 65 pounds).

What We Love:

  • The safest toddler car seat is one that’s installed properly. Fortunately, the ClickTight installation system takes all of the guesswork out of installing the seat correctly: Simply open up the seat bottom, thread and buckle the seat belt and click it closed for a perfect installation every time.
  • The extensive safety feature list includes two layers of side impact protection, safe cell technology (to absorb crash energy), a V-shaped tether and a high strength steel frame.
  • The seat offers nine different recline positions at the push of a button for maximum toddler comfort.

Things to Consider:

  • All of those safety and comfort features don’t travel light: The seat weighs around 30 pounds, making it on the bulkier side.

Buy it: Britax One4Life ClickTight All-in-One Car Seat, $400, BuyBuyBaby.com

Image: Buy Buy Baby

Best Easy-to-Install Toddler Car Seat: Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB Convertible Car Seat

In the classroom of convertible car seats, the Britax Boulevard Clicktight ARB is easily the valedictorian. It’s the top-rated car seat by both Consumer Reports and Baby Gear Lab when it comes to safety and ease of use—and a big reason for both is its foolproof installation. Installing the Britax Boulevard securely is as easy as buckling a seatbelt (truly), thanks to the ClickTight system (just lift the seat, thread the seatbelt and click it shut). It’s so simple, your toddler could practically do it themselves (though we do not recommend that).

What We Love:

  • Simple installation isn’t the only area this seat gets top marks: Features like an anti-rebound bar, V-shaped tether, high-strength steel frame and SafeCell technology make this one of the safest convertible car seats on the market.
  • A 14-position head rest and seven different reclines ensures a comfy seat as your toddler grows.

Things to Consider:

  • When fully reclined in rear-facing mode, this toddler car seat takes up a lot of front-to-back room.

Buy it: Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB Convertible Car Seat, $365, BuyBuyBaby.com

Image: Buy Buy Baby

Best Rear-Facing Toddler Car Seat: Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat

Any car seat expert will tell you that kids should remain rear-facing for as long as possible—and the Graco Extend2Fit makes that possible with a rear-facing weight limit of up to 50 pounds. (Most toddler car seats cap out at 40 pounds.) Plus, a four-position extension panel provides up to 5 inches of extra leg room when rear-facing, perfect for those long-legged toddlers who might otherwise be cramped.

What We Love:

  • The headrest and harness can be adjusted to 10 different positions with just one hand motion, no rethread required.
  • The InRight LATCH system attaches in one second and with an audible click, confirming correct and secure installation.
  • Double cup holders: Perfect for holding toddler snacks and beverages.

Things to Consider:

  • Some users report that the harness can be difficult to tighten, particularly in the lower headrest positions.
  • The cover can be difficult to remove and reattach (key for washing).

Buy it: Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat, $235, BuyBuyBaby.com

Image: Nordstrom

Best Reclining Toddler Car Seat: Nuna Rava

Toddlers often revolt against being restrained, but a comfortable car seat can help with the struggle. Plush padding and a 10-position recline (one of the widest ranging reclines available) make the Nuna Rava a winner from both parent and toddler’s perspectives. Plus, the seat reclines with just the push of a button, making adjusting the position both easy and intuitive.

What We Love:

  • The Rava’s laidback leg room feature provides 2 inches of extra leg room when in rear-facing mode, and extra calf support when forward facing, helping keep toddlers more comfortable in either setting.
  • EPS foam layers, side impact protection pods and an all steel frame make this seat top of its class in safety.
  • Bonuses include a no rethread harness, dual cup holders and harness holders—all designed to make life with a toddler a little easier.

Things to Consider:

  • The Rava’s bells and whistles come at a cost (around $500).
  • It is on the bulkier side at just over 27 lbs.

Buy it: Nuna Rava, $500, Norstrom.com

Image: Buy Buy Baby

Best Front-Facing Toddler Car Seat: Britax Grow With You ClickTight Plus Harness-2-Booster Car Seat

There’s lots to love about this toddler car seat for both parents and kiddos alike. Parents will appreciate the extra safety features, like safe cell technology and three layers of side impact protection (most car seats only come with two). Toddlers will go bananas for the four cup and snack holders (perfect for holding all of their treats and toys), and will stay comfortable thanks to the plush padding and the stay-put pads that prevent the harness straps from rubbing against their necks.

What We Love:

  • The hallmark of Britax car seats is its ClickTight installation, which is as simple as it gets when it comes to car seats: Just open, buckle and close.
  • This seat easily transitions to a belt-positioning booster as your toddler grows.
  • The high-performance fabric is safe to machine wash and dry.

Things to Consider:

  • The seat is both wide and heavy, making it difficult to fit with multiple car seats or in smaller cars.
  • It has a lower height limit than other seats for harness use (49 inches).

Buy it: Britax Grow With You ClickTight Plus Harness-2-Booster Car Seat, $264, BuyBuyBaby.com

Image: Walmart

Best Travel Toddler Car Seat: Cosco Scenera NEXT

When it comes to traveling, there is one toddler car seat that reigns supreme: The Cosco Scenera NEXT. It’s lightweight (under 7 lbs!), affordable (under $60), and compact (just 17” wide), making it ideal for travel both near and far.

What We Love:

  • It’s small but mighty: This toddler car seat has all the safety bells and whistles parents need and expect, including side impact protection, a five-point harness with easy front adjustment, five harness heights and three buckle locations that allow for the best fit as your child grows.
  • The seat is FAA approved for air travel.

Things to Consider:

  • The Cosco Scenera NEXT has a lower forward-facing height and weight range than other seats (43” and 40 lbs).
  • It does not come with a locking clip, which is required for car installation in many cars outside of the US and Canada.

Buy it: Cosco Scenera NEXT, $60, Walmart.com

Image: Buy Buy Baby

Best Toddler Booster Car Seat: Graco Tranzitions 3-in-1 Harness Booster Car Seat

The triple threat of toddler car seats, the Graco Tranzitions 3-in-1 converts from a harness booster to a high-back booster to a backless booster—one of the few in the market to feature all three. Plus, its narrow footprint (19”) make this toddler booster seat less bulky than many of its peers—but without sacrificing comfort, thanks to plush seat pads and body support.

What We Love:

  • At just $130, this is one of the more affordable booster seats available.
  • The two cup holders are nestled into the seat base, rather than sticking out of the sides, saving on space without sacrificing function.
  • Weighing in at less than 15 lbs, this booster is easy to switch from car to car.

Things to Consider:

  • In both high-back and backless mode, the weight limit is 100 pounds—about 20 pounds lower than some other booster seats.

Buy it: Graco Tranzitions 3-in-1 Harness Booster Car Seat, $130, BuyBuyBaby.com

Image: Evenflo

Best Affordable Toddler Car Seat: Evenflo Tribute LX

Looking to save on cost without having to sacrifice safety? The Evenflo Tribute LX is a fantastic option for those on a budget. It received top crash-test results by Baby Gear Lab, at a fraction of the price of its competitors (it costs less than $80!). You won’t find a lot of extra frills, features or padding, but in terms of balancing budget and security, the Evenflo Tribute LX can’t be beat. Bonus: Get 15 percent off sitewide with code bump15.

What We Love:

  • This toddler car seat is great for small cars, tight spaces and travel—thanks to its light weight (just 9 lbs) and narrow width (17”).
  • The Evenflo Tribute LX is also made with EPS foam, which provides the same superior impact protection often found on pricier models.

Things to Consider:

  • Users report it can be tricky to install and lacking in comfort.

Buy it: Evenflo Tribute LX, $80, evenflo.com

Image: Buy Buy Baby

Best Luxury Toddler Car Seat: Cybex Sirona S

With toddlerhood often comes a fierce aversion to the car seat, making clipping in and out a struggle (to say the least). Making the battle a little easier on caregivers everywhere is the Cybex Sirona S, featuring a 360-degree rotating car seat with load leg technology. Now. instead of twisting your body to wrestle your toddler into their seat, you simply twist the car seat to face you. It’s no surprise this seat was a Best of Baby winner two years running.

What We Love:

  • Ease-of-use is the name of the game here: There are 12 recline positions that can be adjusted while in use, 12 height positions you can achieve with one hand, a no-rethread harness, a cup holder and magnetic buckle holders to keep the straps out of your way as you secure your child.
  • You get ultimate convenience without sacrificing safety, thanks to the load leg, anti-rebound panel, linear side-impact protection and SensorSafe chest clip, which alerts you to a number of unsafe situations (like if you happen to forget baby in the back of the car!).
  • Installation is quick and easy, thanks to the angle indicators and EasyLock bar, which cuts down on how hard you need to pull the straps to get it nice and tight.

Things to Consider:

  • All these bells and whistles come at a cost: At $550, it is one of the pricier toddler car seats available.

Buy it: Cybex Sirona S, $550, BuyBuyBaby.com

Image: Clek inc

Best Compact Toddler Car Seat: Clek Foonf

Toddler car seats are not known for being especially lean, which can become problematic in smaller cars or even mid-sized cars with multiple car seats. Enter the Clek Foonf, which combines both a narrow footprint (less than 17”, to be exact) and top-of-the-line features, making it the best slim toddler car seat we’ve found. Even at just 16.9” wide, this slim toddler car seat provides a comfortably roomy seat for growing kiddos without sacrificing on safety.

What We Love:

  • Clek manages to pack tons of safety features into the Foonf’s compact footprint: A steel anti-rebound bar, rigid LATCH system, advanced side-impact protection and a patented REACT energy management system are all found within its sub-17” frame.
  • This seat is made without any brominated or chlorinated flame retardants.
  • A sleek design and multiple fabric options make this toddler car seat one of the most stylish to boot.

Things to Consider:

  • Clek car seats are often expensive, and the Foonf is no exception: It retails for $550.

Buy it: Clek Foonf, $550, clekinc.com

Image: Wayb

Best Lightweight Toddler Car Seat: Wayb Pico Portable Car Seat

Toddler car seats tend to be big and bulky, which is why the Wayb Pico is such a standout. This portable forward-facing travel car seat for toddlers weighs only 8 lbs and folds down to the size of a small backpack, making it ideal for families who love to go on adventures, live in cities or use taxis and ride shares. And while it might be light and foldable, it certainly isn’t flimsy: The Pico meets all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety and Federal Aviation Administration standards for cars and planes.

What We Love:

  • Astroknit performance mesh helps keep toddlers cool and comfy, and eliminates the need for bulky foam.
  • The AeroWing aluminum frame is made of the same materials found in rocket ships and jet engines, ensuring maximum safety.
  • The five-point harness helps keep your toddler secure up to 50 pounds.
  • Pico is eco-friendly, with the majority of the seat being recyclable.

Things to Consider:

  • The cover is not machine washable, and toddlers can be messy.
  • It is only for forward-facing use.

Buy it: Wayb Pico, $380, Wayb.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.

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