The Best Infant and Toddler Car Seats
A great car seat doesn't need to weigh a ton.
A car seat will be one of the major, if not the major, purchases you make as a new parent. And yes, choosing the right infant car seat or toddler car seat can feel intimidating. It shouldn’t. The guidelines, issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are clear: All babies and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing only or rear-facing convertible car seat until the age of two.
“I know it can feel complicated. It’s not,” says Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention.
You can choose between two types of car seats when it comes to your newborn. Rear-facing only car seats generally fit babies weighing up to 22 to 35 pounds, depending on the specific model, usually have a base that remains in the car, and have handles so you can lift the car seat in and out of the car. You get limited use out of them, but that’s mitigated by the convenience of being able to easily get the seat in and out of cars.
Convertible car seats will serve you for longer but they’re also significantly heavier; they can be converted to forward-facing car seats for older children, once they outgrow either the weight or length limit for rear-facing seats, so they’re the more economical option. They are meant to stay in the car and do not have handles. Car seats can be installed with either the vehicle’s seat belt or its LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) attachment system. These car seats also have a five-point harness that attaches at the shoulders, hips, and between the legs.
“The convenience aspect of the rear-facing only car seats that come in and out of the car using a detachable base, that is invaluable. If the family doesn’t have the means to purchase two car seats, the convertible seat is fantastic,” says Hoffman.
These car seats are all from the AAP’s 2021 car seat product list, and to help guide you, we picked some of the most lightweight ones you can buy. With convertible car seats, weight comes into play if you’re moving it between vehicles, or lugging it through airports.
Where available, we provided the ease of use rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. All of these car seats meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213 for safety. As for accessories to attach to your car seat to entertain your kid, like plastic mirrors, opt out. These items are not regulated and have not been crash-tested.
This just-released car seat fits babies 4-35 pounds. And it's designed so you can connect it directly to your car, without needing a base and is a great car seat if you're not a regular driver and need something lightweight and portable. It weighs only nine pounds, has adjustable head support and a level indicator. NHTSA ease of use rating: Not yet available.
Another easy-to-carry car seat, this one includes a base. It fits babies 4-35 pounds. This one is LATCH compatible with a belt-tensioning system, plus a metal load leg that provides anti-rotation and energy absorption. It has seven recline positions, mesh peekaboo window for airflow, and it weighs only nine pounds. NHTSA ease of use rating: 4 stars.
If you're looking for pure convenience, coupled with safety features, this is the car seat for you: It weighs 7.5 pounds. So it's beyond easy to heft around. Plus, it's insanely comfortable, given that your baby is snuggled in a breathable, soft wool blend. The fabrics are flame resistant and contain no added fire retardant chemicals. It has a removable, full coverage UPF 50+ canopy with flip out eyeshade. Note that you must use this with the base only. It's suitable for babies 4-32 pounds. NHTSA ease of use rating: 4 stars.
A concept so genius you wonder why no one thought of it sooner: A car seat that includes an integrated carrier. So when you need to pull your baby out, you just detach the inner carrier and off you go, without disturbing your infant. This seat fits babies up to 22 pounds. It's comprised of a car seat base, a car seat outer shell, and an inner carrier. You can tote the carrier four different ways: Cross body, using the carry handle, standard carry, and stroller carry. The base features the brand's secure locking system with self-retracting one-click LATCH connectors easy installation. NHTSA ease of use rating: Not yet available.
Clocking in at 12 pounds, this rear-facing car seat accommodates babies 4-35 pounds. It has a shell lined with energy-absorbing foam to minimize front and side impact, and LATCH installation. The head pad is removable and the canopy is spacious. NHTSA ease of use rating: 5 stars.
This 8-pound rear-facing car seat takes seconds to install, and is made without the use of any fire retardants. It fits babies 4-35 pounds, has three harness height positions, an infant insert that is removable and washable, and a sun-blocking dream drape. This car seat is installed via the brand's proprietary system, which alerts you when it's in place. NHTSA ease of use rating: 4 stars.
This rear-facing car seat fits babies 4-35 pounds. At just under 10 pounds, it's another lightweight option that's easy to lug around. It comes with pre-installed technology that alerts parents if they leave their baby in the car. It has a load leg base for added stability, and because it has European belt routing, you can use it without a base. NHTSA ease of use rating: 4 stars.
At only 5.3 pounds, this is one lightweight car seat. Yet it's big on safety, given that it's made from aerospace aluminum and padded with Aeroflex foam. It comes with a full-coverage UV 50+ canopy with flip-out eyeshade and peek-a-boo window. There's a dream drape for naps. It's made without flame retardants; the seat pad is washable. The weight limit is 4-32 pounds. It works with the brand's RELX base. NHTSA ease of use rating: Not available.
This rear-facing car seat weighs just over 12 pounds, and fits babies 4-35 pounds. One of its standout features, aside from its light load, is its lie-flat recline, so babies can sleep in the correct (flat) position. It also has an 11-position height-adjustable headrest, and an adjustable canopy. You can install it using belt routing, without a base. It has technology installed that alerts parents if they forget their baby in the car. NHTSA ease of use rating: 4 stars.
In rear-facing mode, this convertible car seat fits babies 5–40 pounds. In front-facing mode, it's suitable for kids weighing 20–65 pounds. The car seat cover is removable. This model has a 10-position adjust harness and is installed using push button LATCH connectors. It weighs 19.5 pounds, which is on the lighter side for this type of car seat. NHTSA ease of use rating in rear-facing and front-facing mode: 4 stars.
The Porsche of car seats, this one is made without the use of any flame-retardant chemicals. And this particular car seat allows kids to sit rear-facing until they weigh 50 pounds, which is much longer than other seats. The harness adjusts with one hand, and the seat has a 10-position recline and head support. It has flip-open cup holders and ventilation panels help to keep your baby cool. It can be used for 5–50 pounds in rear-facing mode and 25–65 pounds in forward-facing mode. NHTSA ease of use rating: 4 stars.
You can use this convertible seat from 5-120 pounds, in its various modes. The biggest selling point is Britax's easy ClickTight installation, which lets you know when it's done correctly. You pinch to open it, thread and buckle, and click it closed. That's pretty damn simple. It has a 15 position headrest, plus a harness that you can adjust with one hand. Plus, there's a nine-position recline. NHTSA ease of use rating: 4 stars.
This convertible car seat simply rotates 360 degrees when you're ready to go from rear-facing to forward-facing mode. Plus, it has a sensor that alerts you if you forget your child in the car. There's a load leg for added stability. It has a 12-position reclining backrest with one-hand recline. The weight limit is 5-40 pounds in rear-facing mode, and 22-65 in forward-facing mode. NHTSA ease of use rating: 3 stars.
At 21 pounds, this is another of the lighter convertible car seat options. If fits babies 5–45 pounds in rear mode and 22–65 pounds in front-facing mode. You install it using the LATCH system, or standard lap or shoulder lap vehicle belts. It also has 10-position side impact protection. NHTSA ease of use rating in both modes: 3 stars.
Finally, a reasonably-priced car seat without any added chemicals: Chicco's fabrics are inherently fire-resistant, without the addition of possibly toxic chemicals. This particular car seat has more leg room than its predecessors and fits kids 4-65 pounds. It has an adjustable headrest, is made using GREENGUARD Gold-certified fabrics, and has a steel-reinforced frame for solid impact protection. The car seat weighs 25.5 pounds, so it's on the heavier side. NHTSA ease of use rating in both modes: Not available.
You can use this car seat from birth until your kid is 10. Yes, 10. It features easy-to-remove layers that you simply peel off as your child grows, and accommodates children from four pounds until they weigh 100 pounds. There's a five-point padded, easy-to-adjust harness for infants and growing toddlers. There's a 10-position headrest, cups with push-button removal, and a nine-position seat recline. NHTSA ease of use rating: Not available.
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