When kids outgrow their regular convertible car seats, they’ll start to insist that they’re way too big to be restrained like toddlers and don’t need a car seat. But here’s where you, the parent, ignore them. Kids should stay with each type of car seat as long as possible, preferably until they reach the seat’s weight limit. But when it truly is time to graduate to a booster seat, a harness booster seat is a great way to transition.
The traditional booster seat is a belt-positioning booster — it uses a seatbelt to keep your child restrained — whereas a harness booster seat uses a five-point harness, like the one on infant and toddler car seats, to keep your kid in the right position. In a perfect world, kids would remain in the right upright position for the duration of the ride. But kids are kids, and they poke siblings, slouch, drop toys, and lean over to grab a bottle of water. A harness booster seat leaves much less margin for error, keeping them positioned correctly in the event of a crash. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, a nonprofit advocacy group that works to prevent childhood injuries, “A properly-fitted 5-point harness gives the best possible protection for your child.”
The best harness booster seats are easy to install, will last you until your child is roughly 100 pounds, and let you adjust the harness and headrest together, without the need for rethreading. Plus, they weigh less than convertible car seats, so they’re instantly more portable and easier to move between vehicles.
Nuna makes highly functional and deeply thoughtful baby products. Meaning, the devil is in the details. First the basics: In high back mode, this works for kids 40-100 pounds; in backless mode, it's for kids 50-120 pounds. It has customizable, side-impact protection pods and belt-path indicators that make riding in the car secure, as well as nine headrest positions and eight recline positions. The new model is made entirely without flame retardant chemicals. The shoulder system is also adjustable. The exterior fabric is removable and washable, and it only weighs 15.6 pounds. NHTSA ease of use rating: 4 stars.
This car seat transitions from forward-facing harness mode to booster mode. Unlike other models, you get more use out of this one: It fits kids from 25 to 120 pounds. Britax's ClickTight technology makes for easy installation: Open, thread and buckle, and close. There's a nine-position, quick-adjust five-point harness and headrest that move together, and a two-position recline. And for hungry kids, there are four integrated cup and snack holders. This bad boy weighs 20 pounds, so while not the heaviest model on our list, it's not something you'll move around much. NHTSA ease of use rating: Not yet available.
This 22-pound car seat converts from a five-point harness booster, to a highback booster, and to a backless booster, and with the three different modes, fits children from 22 to 100 pounds. It installs in minutes, using either a car seat belt or LATCH. You can adjust the harness and headrest together without the need for rethreading. It has a four-position recline and integrated dual cup holder. NHTSA ease of use rating: 4 stars.
At 25 pounds, this is a hefty harness booster seat that segues into a belt-positioning booster. It's also one of the most solid ones you can buy. It seats children weighing up to 100 pounds, has a five-point no-rethread harness system, and it turns into a lap-positioning booster for older kids. Comfort is key here: The car seat has zip-off backrest and seat cushions for extra padding, a four-position recline, a nine-position headrest that accommodates a growing child in both modes, and a contoured seat for total support. You can install it using LATCH connectors, and the car seat has built-in levelers to show you when it's installed correctly. And the cup holders are removable. NHTSA ease of use rating: 3 stars.
You get fewer options this car seat, which goes from a harness booster to a highback booster seat, but you also get serious ease of use. You can adjust the harness and headrest together, without any annoying rethreading. It fits children 22-100 pounds in both modes. It has a five-point harness system, dual cup holders, loop belt guides, and a 10-position height adjustable headrest. The car seat weighs 18 pounds. NHTSA ease of use rating: 5 stars.
Graco's popular booster seat grows with your child from forward-facing harness to highback booster to backless booster. The minimum weight is 40 pounds, and it's usable until your kid hits 110 pounds. It has a no-rethread harness system that lets you adjust the headrest and harness in one motion. It has two cup holders, which are removable, a machine-washable seat pad, body insert, and harness covers. It weighs just 15 pounds. NHTSA ease of use rating: 4 stars.
This is an entirely high-back booster seat, with a weight limit of 50 pounds. The cover is washable, it has two cup holders, and a five position adjustable headrest. Fancy? Not particularly. But it gets the job done. NHTSA ease of use rating: 5 stars.
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