New England winters can be brutal. And when, like my family does, you have two cars and a one-car garage, it’s often that either my wife or myself ends up shuttling our toddler to daycare in a frigid car. Granted, our daughter was born here and has already shown flashes of Yankee hardiness, but we don’t want her to spend the whole season frozen. And as new parents in a cold-weather climate, we quickly learned never to put a kid wearing a thick winter coat in a car seat. The extra padding creates enough space between the child and the harness ⏤ even though you can’t really tell when you tighten it ⏤ to effectively render the car seat useless and your kid unsafe in an accident.
So, on the days we trek to the car parked outside, I’m always dressed warmly in a nice puffy coat while my daughter is clad in a light fleece jacket. It’s too short of a walk to bother dressing her in a bulky coat, but it hardly seems fair (or safe) to make her freeze. So when a mental health counselor and single mom of three from New Hampshire reached out to say she had invented a winter coat that solved the problem, I was more than ready to listen to her, a fellow New Englander.
Her company, Buckle Me, is a line of $99 winter coats that babies and kids can safely wear in a car seat. They’re handmade, high quality, and fleece-lined. They come equipped with a poly-nylon shell and elastic cuffs at the wrists that you can tighten to trap body heat. The machine-washable coats feature a quarter-zip front opening and a cozy kangaroo pouch to keep hands warm. They are available for one- to ten-year-olds in six different, jauntily named colors like “Indi-go-go-go” purple, “I Lava You” red, and the “Orange-inal.” It’s a nice looking, well-made coat.
What makes it special, though, is that it’s safe for kids to wear in car seats. The coat opens on the side instead of the middle, turning the front into a solid panel instead of one that’s split in half. Once unfastened, the front panel can be pulled back so the car seat’s shoulder harnesses can be secured directly over the child’s chest as you normally would, with no padding in the way.
The back of the coat is also designed to be thinner to reduce excess bulk. When your child is buckled in, you can either fold the front of the coat back over to keep her cozy or tuck it out of the way to avoid any overheating. Velcro strips and four outer snaps keep the coat closed. The coat performed well in independent crash tests. If you don’t believe us, you can check out the videos on their website.
I accidentally requested a coat that was one size too large for my almost-three-year-old (she’s tall) and, while a little big and boxy, it still fit well enough to try. We did have to roll up the sleeves, but that was expected ⏤ the sleeves run long by design as a way to extend the life of the coat for more than one season. It’s hard to imagine the parent who wouldn’t trade a bit of an awkward fit for an extra year of wear. Either way, neither size issue seemed to impede its use.
The directions are straightforward and easy to follow: Simply put your kid in the seat, pull the front of the coat back and thread under the opposite shoulder harness, and tighten the straps as you would otherwise. It’s not especially complicated, but I will confess that it took me a couple of tries to get it down smoothly. The main issue I had was tucking her arms through the harness with the bigger sleeves ⏤ it felt like I was twisting/forcing her arm at first ⏤ and wrestling the front of the coat under the harness and out of the way. Part of the problem was that we left the shoulder straps somewhat tight after removing our daughter, which doesn’t leave much room to maneuver the excess material. Once I loosened them up, however, things got much easier. That said, with a squirmy kid I can imagine it may still be something of a challenge, and one you should be aware of.
All in all, though, I think it’s a cleverly designed coat that solves a real problem and fills a void in the market. Sure, it’s easy to throw a blanket over your baby or child when you get in a cold car, but the fact is, you’re still then putting a coat on them when you get out. This eliminates that inconvenience and, more importantly, safely secures your child in the seat. At $99, it’s not the cheapest coat, but it’ll hopefully last your kid a couple of winters. If not, you can take advantage of their $20 trade-up program. Buckle Me will donate your old coat to charity.