Is your little one not so little and getting ready for a booster seat? Are you curious about which products offer the best safety features? Us too! We researched and considered twenty plus contenders before purchasing 10 popular options for testing in the real world, during crash testing, and side-by-side. We spent several months testing and using each booster including a crash test analysis, ease of use, weight, moving from car to car, and more to determine which competitors work best for which situations and budgets. Learn more about each booster and the details we discovered, so you can find your child's best booster seat.
The Best Booster Car Seats of 2018
Boosters recieved an update to include new information about award winners and price value that can help parents on a budget make important buying decisions.
Crash Test Champion
The Clek Oobr is a high-backed booster you can use without the back when your child outgrows it. This steel frame booster has the best combined crash test results, and it has a rigid LATCH system to secure the booster to the car. We like the adjustable headrest, comfortable armrests, and easy to clean fabric.This option is heavy and more cumbersome than the competition, making it a poor choice for carpooling and travel, but we think it makes up for this heft with impressive crash test results, quality construction, and the ability to quickly and easily secure the booster to the car to avoid it becoming a flying projectile when little ones aren't in the car. The Clek is an excellent choice for families with safety on the brain who are less concerned with switching cars or carrying on travel or for carpooling.
Read review: Clek Oobr
Great Overall Booster
The Evenflo Spectrum is a budget-friendly booster with a high-back and an impressive head sensor crash test result. This ultra-cozy booster won the hearts of little testers thanks to its ample seating area, nap-able headrest, and super soft fabric. We like that the Spectrum is one of the lightest high-backed boosters in the review and it is easy for children to buckle themselves in without assistance. This booster can also go backless once children reach the height or weight limit using the back or if you need a smaller lightweight option for travel and carpooling.
While this seat is one of the widest in our tests, and therefore, not the best choice for families with multiple children in car seats, it is the least expensive high-backed option in this review with the second highest overall score. We feel its lower price and performance make the Evenflo a cost-effective, easy to use solution for most families.
Read review: Evenflo Spectrum
The Chicco KidFit is a versatile booster that works with or without the back. This option locks in place using Chicco's self-ratcheting LATCH anchors that make securing it to the car a breeze. This booster is the lightest product with a back in this review which may make it an option for carpooling despite its wider size. We like that the KidFit is easy to use and has a slightly better than average crash test score all for a reasonable price.
This product is not the best choice for families with more than two safety seats, as it is the broadest option in this review and could be hard to fit across a standard back seat with more than one other seat in use. It also isn't the most comfortable or highest quality option compared to the competition. However, it is a good booster with a higher overall score and a reasonable price. We think it is a good choice for families looking for an easy to use product with better than average crash test results.
Read review: Chicco KidFit
Diono Monterey XT
The Diono Monterey XT is a high-backed booster that you can use without the back for easier carrying and transport. This product secures with clip LATCH connectors that tighten easily from the front. It has an adjustable headrest, and the back width is also adjustable for size or comfort. Passengers report it is pretty comfortable and has a headrest that is great for napping. We like that the Diono has dual cup holders and is easy for little ones to buckle on their own.
This booster isn't the highest quality compared to competitors, and the wider bottom means it is a poor choice for families with multiple safety seats, but it is a good choice for children that are taller or need the additional width the adjustable seatback provides.
Read review: Diono Monterey XT
Top Scoring 5-Point Harness
Britax Frontier ClickTight
The Britax Frontier ClickTight is a quality booster seat with a great 5-point harness you can use until your child is 90 lbs! This versatile booster is super easy to install using the ClickTight method, has an easy to use headrest, and is LATCH capable. This booster is easier to use than most of the others we tested, and it earned a better than the average crash test score.
This Britax is really heavy and larger than most boosters making it a poor choice for frequent travelers or carpooling, but it is a great choice for anyone who wants to keep little ones in a 5-point harness for as long as possible. We love the 5-point harness for the potential increase in safety over a traditional seatbelt with only 3 points, and it is something we think parents should seriously consider.
Read review: Britax Frontier ClickTight
Best for Travel and Carpool
The BubbleBum is a unique backless booster that is great for traveling or carpooling making it a nice backup option for occasional use. This product is the lightest we tested and the second smallest making it easy to carry and move from car to car. The BubbleBum is an inflatable booster with the lowest price in the review and is super easy for kids to use or carry themselves. We like the simplicity of the BubbleBum and think it is tough to beat for children who do a lot of carpooling. we like that it raises little ones up for better belt positioning and to avoid head intrusion that could potentially happen in an accident when little ones sit on the vehicle seat itself.
Overall, we prefer a high-backed booster for the increased safety, but the Bum is better than forgoing a safety seat altogether and will definitely do well in a pinch. The BubbleBum's lower price makes it a cost-effective second seat when it isn't feasible or practical to use your high-backed go-to option.
Read review: BubbleBum
Analysis and Test Results
In this review, we include the details you need to make a well-informed decision on which booster seat is the best choice for your child and your budget. The rating table is a comparison of the overall scores for the boosters in this review. The overall scores are determined using the performance results the boosters earned in each metric.
Under the guidance and supervision of a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician, we spent several months testing and rating every product in this review. We created a set of comprehensive tests derived from our convertible car seat tests and used these results together with the crash test data to determine the scores and rank for each option.
Experts agree children should stay rear-facing until at least age 2. The recommendations from both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and NHTSA, are that baby stays rear-facing as long as is allowed by the seat, and at the very least until they are 2 years old. Children can move to a booster as young as four years old, but despite the convenience of a booster, BabyGearLab aggress with the experts that children stay in their 5-point harness car seats as long as the manufacturer's recommendations allow. This shift from a 5-point harness usually happens between 40-65 lbs depending on the car seat. While parents love marking milestones and transitions as their little ones grow older, transitions from one level of safety seat to another should not happen until your child has reached the maximum limits of the seat as outlined by the manufacturer. Each time you move to a new level of a safety seat, there is a reduction in the protection it provides. Don't be in a hurry!
Each booster we test is compared side-by-side in an identical manner. While each option has met the minimum safety guidelines outlined by the Federal government, they are not equal in form or function, nor do they all offer an additional margin of protection compared to the competition.
While safety seats are not the baby gear categories where you should sacrifice safety for a better price, there are budget-friendly boosters to be had with wallet-friendly prices most families can afford. The Evenflo Spectrum has a second-place rank and a list price of only $60. With an impressive head sensor result during crash testing, you aren't making safety sacrifices to save money. Something any parent will love. The Chicco KidFit is also inexpensive and has much to offer for families on a budget.
Crash Test Performance
We contracted with the same crash test facility used by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) to conduct our booster seat crash tests. The products are tested using the NHTSA protocol outlined in the FMVSS 213.
We analyzed the crash test sensor data from each booster's crash sled dummy to determine how they performed compared to each other and the Federal safety standards. To help you understand crash tests a little better, we've included comparison graphs using the actual crash test results in each booster's gear review, and we have summarized them below.What are the most critical details from crash tests for analyzing results?
- The risk of head injury
- The risk of chest injury
A detailed analysis of automobile crash injuries for children indicate that head and chest injuries are the cause of the most significant risks of severe or fatal injuries.
All of the seats included in this review earned sufficient scores to pass the minimum Federal safety standards. Therefore, all of the boosters we tested provide at least a basic level of crash safety protection. Our main focus for crash testing is to identify boosters with crash test performance results that exceed the Federal requirements by a wider margin. The crash test sensor data implies that these seats potentially provide an additional level of protection compared to other booster seats in the group.
Understanding the Head Injury Criteria (HIC) Score
For the crash tests, they buckle a crash test dummy into the booster secured to a sled to simulate the forces experienced in an actual crash. This dummy has sensors in the head and chest that record the amount of force exerted on those areas during testing. NHTSA crash studies show that the risk of injury is higher for forward facing children. Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score is the factor used in Federal safety standards for crash test scoring. This score is a measurable way to access the likelihood of injury arising from an impact. Each booster must obtain a HIC score equal to or lower than 1000 to pass the Federal requirements. Better performance results yield lower scores as the amount of force exerted on the child is less (lower is better, like golf).
In our tests, the Evenflo Spectrum earned the best HIC result with a 456. This result is under half the maximum allowed and significantly below the worst results in the group received by the Graco Nautilus 65 LX with a 759. The Britax Frontier ClickTight is also impressive with a 482, and the Clek Oobr sensor shows a HIC of 493.
Understanding the Chest (G) Clip Score
The test dummies include sensors that measure impact forces in the chest. The results from the chest sensors are used to calculate the Chest (G) score, which attempts to numerically determine the likelihood of an injury occurring to the organs located in the chest cavity. A score anywhere below 60 (G) is required in order to pass Federal requirements. Once again, a lower number is desirable.
High Backed vs. Backless
We prefer a booster with a back as opposed to a backless option because we believe they are intrinsically safer. While there are no agreed-upon safety tests for side impact collision or other kinds of crashes to definitively prove this theory, we feel it makes logical sense that a protective shell (similar to that found on a convertible car seat) will provide additional protection for little ones depending on the type of crash and possibility for intrusion of foreign objects into the passenger area.
This video is a comparison between the crash test video for the mifold belt positioner and the Clek Oobr:
Also, a high backed booster seat is better at keeping children positioned correctly, especially if they frequently nap in the car. A backless booster does not have the support necessary to keep little ones correctly positioned if they fall asleep and slump or fall forward. In our opinion, this theory makes sense and is why we recommend you use a booster with a back whenever possible. However, we believe any belt-positioning booster is safer, and therefore, preferable to nothing at all.
Best Booster Based on Crash Test Analysis
Based on analysis from crash test reports, we rank each booster in comparison to the competition using a 1-10 system. This method of scoring guides our assessment of the options that we believe offer an additional margin of protection above and beyond the basic level of protection that is already present in every other seat. The Clek Oobr earned the best crash test score in the group with a 9 of 10 and the best-combined sensor data in the test group. The Diono Monterey XT, Britax Frontier ClickTight, and the Chicco KidFit earned second place score for crash testing with 7s.
Ease of Use
Booster seats may seem relatively simple and virtually the same. However, they are very different in how easy they are to use.
When we focus on the Ease of Use metric, we look at all the features and functions you use on a day to day basis. This metric includes buckling, attachment, recline, and additional features.
Boosters seats are not as complicated as convertible or infant car seats, but that doesn't mean there aren't features that are hard or easy to use. For this kind of product, one of the most important daily activities will be buckling in and whether or not little ones can do it by themselves. Other considerations would be securing the product to the car (if applicable), adjusting the headrest and recline features, and moving the product from car to car.
In our tests, the Evenflo Spectrum and Chicco KidFit each earn the high score for ease of use with an 8 of 10. The Evenflo is a basic booster with an easy to move headrest. It is easy for riders to buckle themselves while sitting in it, and the lighter weight and lack of LATCH make it easy to move between vehicles. The Chicco KidFit is marginally harder with a LATCH connection that is quick and simple but still creates an extra step (one we like). The headrest moves smoothly, and passengers have no trouble getting in and getting buckled.
The hardest to use is the mifold because it has trouble keeping its position and is the most difficult for little ones to use both for buckling and positioning the shoulder belt retainer. The bottom of the mifold gets in the way of the buckle, and the retainer moves up and down when children rotate to use the buckle.
We checked the weight and width of each product at its widest point. The weight of the boosters is important for parents who plan to use the seat while traveling or for carpooling.
Being able to move the seat easily from car to car is essential if you plan to do it on a regular basis. Also, the width of the booster may play a factor in your buying decision if you need to fit multiple car seats in your back seat. A narrower width could potentially make it possible to install three across for multiple children. However, if your seat isn't going to move locations very often and you don't have a space concern, then the weight and size metric might be less critical to your family. Another consideration is that some of the high backed boosters work without the back creating a much lighter and smaller package that results in a backed booster that does double duty for travel without the back in place.
The Bubblebum is a very lightweight and small option great for travel or taking to school for carpooling. This option deflates and rolls into its own carry bag that can fit inside most backpacks. It earned a 9 of 10 for weight and size. The mifold earned a perfect 10 for this metric but given our concerns over safety and its poor performance overall we think the Bubblebum is a better buy. The Britax Frontier is the heaviest and most cumbersome option in this review, and its size makes it prohibitive for travel or taking to school.
For comfort, we compare the foam support, feel of the fabric, design of the seat including the depth of the seat bottom and headrest, as well as the potential for cozy napping. Some boosters offer denser padding or a cushy feel, softer fabric, or a steel frame. Boosters are tested side-by-side by adult testers and children for general comfort compared to the competition.
The Evenflo Spectrum earns the highest score for comfort with a 9 of 10, a cushy bottom, deep and supportive headrest, and soft fabric. Both passengers and parents feel this option is conducive to cozy napping. The Clek Oobr, Diono Monterey XT and the Peg Perego Viaggio Flex earned the second highest scores for comfort with 7s. These booster seats are all comfortable, but each product is lacking in some way like the Clek Oobr has a shallow seat bottom which can leave longer legs dangling, the Diono Monterey has less padding than competitors, and the Peg Perego Viaggio Flex lacks armrests, and the headrest isn't suitable for napping. The most uncomfortable option we tested is the mifold with a score of 2. This product has minimal padding and relies on the vehicle seat for comfort. The no-slip fabric isn't soft, and it doesn't work well to prevent slipping (which would at least be something). The mifold lacks a headrest and offers no support for napping.
When it comes to quality, we compare the materials and construction of the final product. We consider the padding, foam, fabric, and the attention to detail we see in the final product. Each factor plays a part in contributing to the longevity and stability of each seat.
The Britax Frontier Clicktight is the highest quality option in the review with a 9 of 10. The Britax uses nicer materials and has an impressive attention to detail in both the final construction and overall design that creates a contained, and sturdy seat that looks as good as it functions. The Clek Oobr and mifold also earned impressive scores for quality with 8s. The lowest quality score goes to the BubbleBum with a 3. This booster has a flimsy feel and uses cheap thin feeling fabric. The overall fit and finish look sloppy and somewhat incomplete. However, the price tag makes the quality level acceptable even if it is disappointing. Also, since we think of it as an occasional use seat, then quality is less of a concern.
Choosing a booster seat is equally as important as other types of car seat buying decisions. It is the last safety seat your child will ride in before transferring to the vehicle seat unassisted. However, it is just as important as their infant car seat in providing additional protection until they are big enough to ride sans seat. Therefore, we encourage parents to give considerable thought to choosing a booster. We believe there is an option in this lineup for every family and every need. The information we contained in this review and in our Buying Advice article will help you narrow the field so you can find the best choice for your family and wallet.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD, Wendy Schmitz, and the BabyGearLab Review Team
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.