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The Best Booster Seats For Carpooling

Big-kid seating that offers the highest safety and portability for young commuters.

Once your kid hits the weight limit on their front-facing, harness-equipped car seat it’s time to get a booster seat. But don’t just take our word for it. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that kids who outgrow their car seats “should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle’s lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly,” which usually happens between the ages of 8 and 12 when kids reach four feet, nine inches in height. When New York state implemented a booster seat law in 2005, injuries to four- to six-year olds fell by 18 percent thanks principally to a 72 percent increase in booster seat usage. So it’s an easy decision to invest in a booster seat. The harder one? Knowing which to choose.

READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Car Seats

Parents often mistake heft and size for protection, an assumption can lead to constant headaches, particularly for parents with kids who carpool to and from school or soccer practice in other people’s cars, or who just have a revolving cast of young riders in and out of their own backseat. It’s also based on a faulty premise. A heavy seat isn’t necessarily safer, and there are plenty of lighter seats that keep kids safe. Our favorite booster seats are nice and portable — lightweight and easy to disassemble, deflate, and/or fold down — making them attractive choices for parents with kids on the go. Our picks also scored at least three stars on the NHTSA’s five-star ease-of-use ratings, a measure of how easy it is to read the instructions, install correctly, understand labels, and secure a child into the seat.

This booster seat has an eight-position headrest height adjustment, side impact head control, and three-position adjustable shoulder belt routing hooks.

Acceptable for: 38-57 inches, 30-100 pounds
Weight: 9.3 pounds
NHTSA Ease-of-Use Rating: 4 stars

Pros: This booster seat provides solid neck and head support, and is perfect for cars without head rests or high seat backs. It folds easily.

Cons: Although it folds easily, it’s pretty heavy to carry around.

This is a combination car seat/booster seat, which is ideal for kids who have outgrown rear-facing car seats and are ready for a booster seat. It easily turns into a belt-positioning booster seat.

Acceptable for: 52 inches, 54 pounds
Weight: 25.6 pounds
NHTSA Ease-of-Use Rating: 5 stars

Pros: This combo car seat/booster seat has two layers of side impact protection, a steel frame, an impact absorbing base, and two handy cup holders. 

Cons: Whoah, this is one heavy car seat.

This made-in-Italy backless seat has armrests, a detachable cupholder, and microfiber fabric that's breathable and moisture-absorbing.

Acceptable for: 39-63 inches, 40120 pounds
Weight:
6.75 pounds
NHTSA Ease-of-Use Rating: 4 stars

Pros: For cars with anchors, this booster connects with the integrated LATCH system. For those without, the latches retract and stay out of the way. There are two layers of padding for comfort and shock absorption.

Cons: Several users, while praising the ease of installation, said it was a bit tricky uninstalling this seat, which could be an issue if you find yourself moving your booster from car to car.

The super lightweight booster seat brings the seatbelt down to your kid's level instead of boosting them up to meet it.

Acceptable for: 40-57 inches, 40100 pounds
Weight: 
1.6 pounds
NHTSA Ease-of-Use Rating: 4 stars

Pros: Besides its clever design, the primary perk of this booster is its portability. It weighs less than two pounds and its backless design folds down to a size that can fit in a kid’s backpack. It’s made of an aircraft-grade aluminum and Dupont Delrin 100ST, a “super tough plastic polymer.”

Cons: A fair number of parents have said that it’s difficult to properly thread the seatbelt into the clip that repositions it.

The questionably-named BubbleBum is an inflatable booster that also uses memory foam to keep kids safe.

Acceptable for: 40-57 inches, 40-100 pounds
Weight: 
one pound
NHTSA Ease-of-Use Rating: 3 stars

Pros: It takes just 20 seconds to fully inflate the booster, which is narrow enough to fit three across in the back seat of your car. It deflates easily and rolls up tight, and it’s the lightest seat on this list so you know it won’t wear you down. And it’s very safe: The BubbleBum has earned the “Best Bet” Booster by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) seven years in a row.

Cons: Keeping the seat inflated can be kind of a hassle, so the BubbleBum is probably a better occasional option for situations where portability is paramount.

The Spectrum is one of the few reliable boosters that can function as both a high-back (for when the tops of your kid's ears fall below the top of the child restraint headrest) and a no-back booster seat (for when the tops of your kid's ears fall at or below the top of the vehicle seat headrest).

Acceptable for: 44-57 inches, 40110 pounds
Weight: 
8.2 pounds
NHTSA Ease-of-Use Rating: 4 stars

Pros: It supports kids up to 110 pounds, more than the 100 pound limit of every other seat on this list. Evenflo goes above and beyond, testing their seats in extreme conditions and offering online video installation support appointments to help with installation.

Cons: The cupholders swing in and out, but they’re stiff out of the box and can be difficult for kids to operate with an adult, according to online reviews.

This backless booster from the venerable brand has integrated seat belt guides that help you make sure it's properly secured to the back seat.

Acceptable for: 43-57 inches, 40100 pounds
Weight: 
5.9 pounds
NHTSA Ease-of-Use Rating: 5 stars

Pros: The pad is removable and machine washable, so it’s easy to clean in the even of a spill. To fold the TurboBooster, simply grasp the handle on the center of the seat and lift. The sides will collapse around a center hinge, and you can slide the seat into the included carry bag.

Cons: This booster is on the narrow side, which means its more compact but may be uncomfortable for bigger kids.

A monochrome seat that has a super-adjustable head restraint and flexible lower connectors to make installation easy.

Acceptable for: 38-63 inches, 40-120 pounds
Weight: 11 pounds
NHTSA Ease-of-Use Rating: 5 stars

Pros: This booster has deep side walls and a 10-position adjustable headrest. It also has two layers of side impact protection and color-coded belt guides that make installation intuitive.

Cons: Some parents said that despite its enveloping structure the padding was too thin for their kids to truly be comfortable. If your kid needs the softest of the softest, we’d recommend looking at another seat.

The Cambria from Diono has deep sidewalls that, thanks to EPE foam, can provide extra protection during a side impact collision.

Acceptable for: 38-63 inches, 40-120 pounds
Weight: 9.4 pounds
NHTSA Ease-of-Use Rating: 3 stars

Pros: The Cambria is one of the most versatile boosters out there. The headrest can be set and locked at six positions and there are two different reclined positions. You can even use it as a backless booster. And with a higher maximum acceptable height and weight than most other booster seats, it’s a great choice if you have kids who are bigger for their age.

Cons: The back of the booster has been known to accidentally detach from the base and could benefit from a sturdier mechanism.

This simple backless booster is super lightweight so it's easy to transfer from car to car. It also has an additional layer of padding that prevents kids' legs from falling asleep on longer rides.

Acceptable for: 40-57 inches, 40-120 pounds
Weight: 6 pounds
NHTSA Ease-of-Use Rating: 4 stars

Pros: The latch connectors fasten to the lower anchors in your car for additional stability in a collision beyond what a seatbelt alone can offer.

Cons: The NHTSA warns parents that, if they disassemble this seat for cleaning, mandatory pieces can become loose, so be extra cautious to make sure you don’t lose them.

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