We purchased 21 top strollers and car seats to create combinations for testing over several months to determine which combinations are the easiest to use together. We discovered why some car seat attachments and adapters are better than others, and why some designs don't seem to work as well. This article relays all the details on what we learned during testing, so you can make an informed decision about which stroller and car seat combo are the best for your family and goals. And, you can learn what to avoid and which combinations aren't the best.
Why Buy a Car Seat Stroller Combination?
While most parents purchase an infant car seat for baby to travel in a car, and some consider a stroller a must-have, they may not have thought of a stroller and car seat combination they can use together. Purchasing a stroller that works well with your infant car seat means you can quickly move baby from the car to the stroller without disruption. We think that adding a car seat compatible stroller to your gear must-have list can make life with your newborn easier to manage and it can increase the life of some products or help you buy time until you are ready to make a more permanent purchase.When we discuss the timeline for stroller usage, we think of it as divided into two distinct periods:
- The Infant Car Seat Era: birth-to-6 months — for the first six months, your infant won't have the neck or core muscle strength to sit upright for strolling. So, your options during this phase include using a bassinet, or a stroller that works with infants (many aren't), or using your infant car seat with an adapter to attach it to the stroller's frame.
- The Full-size Strolling Epoch: 7 months to 3+ years — the sweet spot for strolling is really in the toddler years when your baby will enjoy exploring locations away from home, and still can't walk long distances and are heavy to carry for extended periods. Most parents use their stroller extensively for 2-3 years, and increasingly less once their baby reaches age 3+. One thing to keep in mind is that your needs for stroller functionality will differ when your child is an infant than when they are a toddler. If you focus too much on the infant phase in choosing a stroller, you might make a decision that is overly optimized for the infant era, and fails to meet your needs when your baby is older.
One option worth considering, with distinct advantages, is delaying the decision to buy a full-size stroller for six months. We recommend using a frame stroller or a baby carrier for the first six to nine months of your baby's life and postpone making your long-term decision until your little one has outgrown their infant seat. Not worrying about car seat capabilities opens the possibilities to lightweight Umbrella Strollers that don't usually offer car seat adapters, relying on a Jogging Stroller for everyday use, or any of the full-size strollers we cover in our review.
Types of Car Seat Strollers
Many full- and mid-sized strollers, as well as some jogging strollers, offer infant car seat compatibility with the stroller as it comes or with car seat adapters. However, there are also frame strollers to consider depending on what your needs and goals are for car seat attachment and getting your baby from point A to B. Each option has advantages and disadvantages and depending on your short and long-term plans one might be better than another.
There are three common ways to use an infant car seat with a stroller:
- Car Seat Frame Strollers — a minimalist stroller that relies on the infant car seat carrier to hold the baby, and provides a light and compact frame-on-wheels for attachment. These frame strollers have a limited lifespan working only as long as baby can fit in their infant car seat. But, we find them to be very convenient and recommend you consider going this route. Frame strollers are very light, easy to fold, and compact for versatile storage options. They also retain their value and are easy to sell after your baby has outgrown them. If you choose a Frame stroller, then you won't be limiting your full-size stroller selection by car seat compatibility, a significant advantage considering you will use a full-size stroller for 3+ years.
- Travel Systems — these are "bundled sets" that include both a stroller and an infant car seat all in one box, sold as a discounted package. You'll see travel systems stacked up in the aisles of big-box retailers. Although attractively priced and seemingly convenient, don't be tempted by these packaged bundled systems, since they tend to lack the quality and features that are available if you purchase the components separately. Our opinion is that most parents will end up regretting the purchase of a travel system and are usually unhappy with one or more of the components.
- Strollers with Car Seat Adapters —
- Baby Carrier as an Alternative —
Make sure your little one gets enough tummy time when they are awake and under observation on your lap or the floor. Too much time spent in car seats, swings and bouncers can increase the risk of "flat head syndrome" (technically known as Positional Plagiocephaly). Also, be aware that infant car seats, strollers, swings, infant carriers and infant slings should not be used for routine sleep because they can put babies in a position that places them at risk of suffocation or airway obstruction.
Car Seat Attachment Methods
One important difference between competing products is how they attach the car seat to the frame. There are two basic types of attachment methods:
How do I decide which combo is best for me?
Determining which combination is right for you might be a little more challenging than other baby gear categories because it impacts your use of the stroller for just the first 6-9 months of life. For the vast majority of the life of a stroller, typically 3+ years, the car seat is irrelevant. So, do you optimize your decision for the long-term, choosing the best stroller for three years of regular use, or for the first 6-9 months when your baby will be in an infant seat? The steps below are intended to help you make the right decision for you and your little one.
First: Choose The Car Seat
First, we recommend that you consider which car seat is right for you before you choose your stroller. Take a look at our Infant Car Seat Review for help with this. It is wise to choose the seat first, or at least narrow it down to a few finalists because we consider it a more important decision for you and your baby. Once you choose a seat or a few top contenders, then consider at which strollers will work with it.
Second: Narrow Strollers to Click-in Attachment
How easy it is to attach a car seat to the stroller and what kinds of car seats are compatible with each option is probably the most important feature to consider when putting together a stroller car seat combination. We recommend limiting your selection to strollers that are click-in compatible with your chosen car seat.
When you build a short list of strollers, make sure you consider the alternatives of using a Frame Stroller or wearing your baby in a baby carrier for the first six months. Doing so lets you delay the decision of your long-term stroller for at least six months. Delaying provides additional time and experience to help identify how you'll use a stroller and frees up your long-term stroller choice from any car seat compatibility limitations. Considering strollers without car seats will open the door to products without car seat adapters, like lightweight umbrella strollers as well as full-size and jogging options. Waiting is not a bad way to go and one we recommend you consider. You can learn more about wearing your baby in our Baby Carrier Review.
While some strolling products offer compatibility with a broad selection of infant car seat brands, be aware that many of the compatible seats will rely on a restraining strap to secure the seat to the stroller. You can use the specs table in our Stroller and Car Seat Combo Review to see which car seats are click-in compatible. Manufacturers that make both car seats and strollers will typically provide click-in compatibility with their own brand, but may use straps for use with other brands. Attachment type can be difficult to determine from the manufacturer's website, so you'll want to double check the attachment to be sure.
Frame Strollers Offer Limited Click-in Compatibility
If you're considering a frame stroller, be aware there are both a limited number of products on the market, and even more so when you restrict the options to click-in only. On the bright side, the award-winning Chicco Shuttle offers excellent click-in support for the award-winning Chicco Keyfit 30, a great combo that lets you walk away knowing you've created a high performing pair of two award winners. The Chicco seat clicks in place with the Chicco Shuttle and doesn't require straps. The Graco SnugRider Elite also has an easy click connect attachment, but the compatible car seats did not score well in our infant car seat review. The Baby Trend Snap-N-Go Ex Universal doesn't snap but instead requires some strap work including a net the carrier rests in that we didn't like.
Third: Choose the Stroller Type from Frame, Standard, or Jogging
The photos above show from left to right the Chicco Shuttle a dedicated frame stroller, the Doona a combination car seat stroller, the UPPAbaby Cruz Combo a standard stroller, and the BOB Revolution Flex Combo a popular jogging stroller.
When considering what type of stroller to purchase for your car seat, there are a few things to keep in mind. Every parent will have a different detail that means the most to them and will be a driving influence on how they make their buying decision. For example, if being able to lift a stroller after a C-section is a requirement for you, then weight and folded size will be critical.
Here's our take on each type:
A simple frame stroller is an excellent option for new parents and one we recommend you consider. Frame products are small, lightweight, easy to fold and create compact packages that can fit almost anywhere. We like that the frames are budget-friendly, can often be resold to recoup some of the expense, and give parents time and added information that will help them make a more informed buying decision for purchasing their long-term stroller (which can be relatively spendy).
Easy to use and light, frame strollers usually lack the bells and whistles of the standard strollers and aren't good at much beyond smooth flat terrain, but they are a good choice for new moms who've had a cesarean section and are limited in what they can and should be lifting during the healing period. If you only plan to go shopping in the mall or the occasional errand when your baby is small, then a frame stroller may be all you need to get the job done in an economical fashion that doesn't break the bank or your back.
With price tags under $120 and sizes under 15 lbs, most parents agree this option solves many problems without the need to commit to a more expensive product before you are sure how often you'll be using a stroller and under what conditions. Frame strollers can be a good starter product for parents who aren't sure what kind of stroller they want but need or want the convenience of pushing their newborn. While parents will have to buy an additional stroller down the road if they intend to continue pushing baby once he outgrows the car seat, they won't be out much money on a frame choice, and will likely be able to make a more informed decision before spending money on an everyday stroller. Buying time to make a more informed decision makes the price of the frame stroller a good value in our minds as it results in more than just better-pushing abilities.
We would consider the Doona Combo to be most closely related to the frame stroller function and features. The Doona is a bar bones stroller with an infant car seat permanently attached. It lacks storage and almost all convenience features and relies heavily on its one and done design to draw in buyers. While not as lightweight or as cheap as a frame stroller, it does include the car seat which defrays the cost and brings it closer to the purchase price of the Chicco Keyfit 30 car seat and the Chicco Shuttle combination. The Doona will still cost you more, but the convenience of one product vs. two may be worth the additional cost for parents who frequent public transportation.
The So-called "Universal" Frame Strollers are Universally Lame
Some frame strollers, such as the Baby Trend Snap-N-Go EX, tout the feature of "universal" compatibility. We urge parents to avoid such systems because it requires the use of a strap connection to attach the car seat. Universal compatibility may make life easier for the reseller because they can have one product in stock that works for almost every car seat on the market. However, it comes at a big cost in ease-of-use and potential safety in everyday use. We urge you to avoid these products and instead choose a seat and stroller combination that works without the need for a strap step. If you want a car seat that is not compatible with the remaining two frame strollers, we encourage you to up your game and purchase a full-size stroller that is specifically compatible with your chosen seat instead of wasting time and money on a "Universal" product.
Standard or Full-size strollers are what most parents think of when they add a stroller to their list of desired baby gear. Our favorites for use with a car seat are light and relatively small, as well as provide a simple-to-use click-in car seat adapter. You'll want to spend some time imagining how you might use a full-size stroller in the long term, since most parents use their stroller regularly for 3+ years, and your requirements for storage and the length of outings will increase in toddler years. If you are not sure how your strolling needs might change over time, take a look at our stroller buying advice article for an excellent overview.
While your standard stroller is going to cost you significantly more money than a frame product, it is also potentially the only stroller you need to buy, making the more considerable investment a worthwhile one. If you already know how you will use your stroller, or how often, then purchasing a full-size product right away might save you money and hassle compared to buying a frame stroller now and a full-size stroller later. However, if you feel at all overwhelmed, uncertain, or not entirely convinced that you'll need a full-size stroller, then it is a relief to know you can postpone this decision. The downside to the full-size stroller is if it isn't what you hoped for, or you aren't using it as planned, then you may be out the money for a product that doesn't get used very often if at all. The upside is a one-and-done purchasing decision that can give you all you need for the duration of your strolling years if you make the right choice.
Joggers, even when used with car seats, are not the best for the first 6-9 months of life because they are heavy, larger in folded size, and you can't safely jog until your baby is older (12-18 months, ask your pediatrician). But, they may be the perfect stroller for you in the long-run, so they are worth a look.
An excellent example of making a poor standard stroller buying decision is realizing months later that you wish you had a jogging stroller or a product that was easier to push over rough terrain. Before your baby is born, you might think your strolling life will be limited to malls and grocery stores, only to discover after baby arrives that you wish you could get out of the house and back to nature or lose a few pounds by jogging with your baby once they are old enough. If you didn't choose a jogger for your strolling needs, then your options will once again be limited, and you might find yourself saddled with a standard stroller that rarely gets used and an equally expensive jogging product that regularly gets the runaround. We feel this is another great example of why purchasing a frame product gives you time and life experience to determine exactly how you will use your stroller and why you feel you need one.
While many parents can answer these questions before their baby arrives, we believe just as many will be unable to determine their strolling needs. The stroller concept is new and hard to imagine for new parents who are unsure how they will be moving baby from place to place, or how much time they will have for outings or what those outings will be.
Given the design features unique to jogging products it is unlikely that your standard stroller will be able to do what a jogger does and keep baby safe and comfortable. However, your jogging stroller can potentially work as a standard stroller, which means you can limit your purchase to one or the other. If you aren't sure which kind you are more likely to use or want, then the frame stroller buys you the time to decide. In the end, you may discover you aren't that outdoorsy, and the jogger is overkill (being large and heavy) or that you can't imagine life without your workout in the park and the jogger has now become mandatory.
Yes, it can. But, keep in mind jogging strollers are not ideal for the first nine months with an infant car seat because they are bigger, heavier, and harder to use. They can do the job, and many parents rely on a jogger with a car seat adapter for the first 6-9 months before they transition to using the toddler seat, but you can't use them for jogging until your little one is older. Because infants do not have strong enough neck muscles to jog safely, many manufacturers recommend waiting until your child is at least nine months old before jogging.
In the end, how you plan to use your stroller might not be how you end up using it. While it's hard to say what you will be doing when your baby is nine months old, you might be able to hazard a guess based on prior experience . However, if you aren't sure, you can take the safe route and opt for the frame stroller or baby carrier until you get a clear picture of what life with your baby will bring.
Final Consideration: Maneuverability, Storage, and Other Features
In the first nine months or so when your little one is using an infant car seat, your demands for a stroller will be less significant than they will be during toddler years.
In the longer-term, considerations like maneuverability, storage, and other features will become some of the key things you notice and appreciate about strollers.
So, once you've narrowed down the products to a short list you feel are contenders, we recommend you consider your long-term needs.A good place to get an understanding of long-term needs, and how different products might meet those needs, would be to look at our buying advice articles for:
Determining the right combination of stroller and car seat can be one of the more complicated baby product decisions you'll make. We think it is important to pick your car seat first because safety is an issue and finding the right easy-to-install seat is part of the safety equation. There are good strolling options for most of the top-rated seats. We hope that this guide has offered information and guidelines that can help you make a decision that is right for you and your baby.