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, often around 65 pounds, 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 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.

Carfoldio Mifold

Mifold -- portable booster seatAcceptable for: 40-57 inches, 40100 pounds
Weight: 
1.6 pounds
NHTSA Ease-of-Use Rating: 4 stars

The safety mechanism behind this booster is the exact opposite of how traditional models work. Instead of elevating your kid so that the seatbelt fits properly at the adult height the Mifold brings the seatbelt down to a level that’s kid-friendly, touching at the collarbone instead of the neck and the hips instead of the stomach. It’s a clever design, but 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: that comes in six colors, including blue, pink, green, and yellow.

Buy Now $35

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BubbleBum Backless Booster

BubbleBum Backless Booster -- portable booster seatAcceptable for: 40-57 inches, 40-100 pounds
Weight: 
one pound
NHTSA Ease-of-Use Rating: 3 stars

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We love the BubbleBum in spite of its questionable name. It’s earned the “Best Bet” Booster by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) seven years in a row. It keeps the shoulder belt snug across the center of the chest and has clips that hold the lap belt low on the hips and thighs. What makes it different is that it’s an inflatable seat. 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. The BubbleBum deflates easily and rolls up tight enough to fit in a handbag or backpack when not inflated, and it’s the lightest seat on this list so you know it won’t wear you down. It also comes in zany patterns like pink and red zig-zag stripes and the Union Jack in addition to more standard options.

Buy Now $30

Harmony Youth Booster

Harmony Youth Booster Seat -- portable booster seatAcceptable for: 34-57 inches, 30100 pounds
Weight: 
2.5 pounds
NHTSA Ease-of-Use Rating: 4 stars

Winner of the IIHS’s 2018 “Best Bet” Award and Consumer Reports Top Pick Booster, the Harmony Juvenile Youth Backless Booster has a unique V-shape design that’s easy and safe to install. It’s uber-plush seat pad is ideal for longer drives, and it’s removable for machine washing. Like the BubbleBum, the Harmony Youth Booster Seat can fit with three other seats of similar size, and it comes with a one-year warranty.

Buy Now $10

Evenflo Spectrum 2-in-1 Booster Car Seat

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

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). It supports kids up to 110 pounds, more than the 100 pound limit of every other seat on this list. Evenflo even goes above and beyond, testing their seats at extreme temperatures to make sure that a heat wave or a blizzard doesn’t affect how safe their products are. You can even schedule a video installation support appointment online to make sure that you’re installing the seat into your car the correct way.

Buy Now $55

Graco TurboBooster TakeAlong Backless Booster

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

It’s impossible to shop for any kind of car seat without coming across Graco. 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. 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. There are also two cupholders that swivel into the body of the seat when not in use.

Buy Now $33

Diono Cambria

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

The Cambria from Diono has deep sidewalls that, thanks to EPE foam, can provide extra protection during a side impact collision. The headrest can be set and locked into six different positions, so as your get grows inches you can keep him comfortable and properly protected. You can also use it in two different reclined positions or even 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. Plus, retractable cupholders.

Buy Now $90