Updated — December 11, 2018
Our top 10 picks has been updated with some of the best booster seats we've ever tested. Now, no matter what kind of safety seat your little one is ready for, the answers are here.
First, Our Favorite Infant Seats
Parents are required to have an infant seat when they leave the hospital after the baby's birth. You can find our favorite infant options below (the best convertible seats
and booster seats
are further down). These standout options for infants earned more points in our Infant Seat Review
than the competition. These products excel in metrics like ease-of-installation and crash test results. Each winner offers something a little different than the rest, providing good choices for different needs.
Infant seats are the style you need for newborns and babies from birth to around 9-12 months old, when you should switch to a rear-facing convertible seat
Best Overall Infant Seat
Chicco KeyFit 30
Easy to install LATCH
Better crash test results
Hard to install w/out the base
The Chicco KeyFit 30 is one of our favorite infant options and the one we feel is a great choice for most families. The Keyfit 30 impresses with the better crash test results and a easy installation using the LATCH method, thanks in large part to a cinch assisted strap that takes the hard work out of getting the seat tight and properly secured. The Chicco is easy to use and stylish with a list price that is $100 less than several competitors and it is only $40 more than our Best Value winner. The Keyfit 30 is compatible with the largest range of strollers, making it a good choice for parents looking to create a travel system and desire a variety of strollers to choose from. This seat works with the majority of the strollers including some of our favorites for car seat use like the UPPAbaby Cruz, the Chicco Keyfit Caddy, and the Bugaboo Bee3.
While the Keyfit 30 is an excellent seat, it isn't the best for city dwellers because it is more challenging to install without the base and is relatively heavy for carrying around town. However, if you don't need to carry it often or far, and installation will primarily use the base, then it is tough to beat the Chicco Keyfit 30.
Read review: Chicco KeyFit 30
High-quality Infant Seat
Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35
Easy to install w/out the base
Above average crash test results
High quality & comfortable
Harder to install with LATCH
The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 is a quality, high-end seat that earned the impressive crash test results, indicating an additional margin of safety when properly installed and used correctly. We found this stylish seat is super easy to install without the base, making it a potential choice for parents who frequent public transportation, and it is almost as easy to install using the vehicle belt with the base. This Peg Perego features an anti-rebound bar at the foot of the base, has nice padding and soft fabric for a cozy ride, and is easy to use.
Unfortunately, the Primo Viaggio 4-35 has a higher price tag than most of the competition and it isn't compatible with very many strollers outside of the Peg Perego brand. However, if your budget allows and you don't mind having limited stroller options or you don't plan to combine it with a stroller (and many parents don't), then this Peg Perego may be a great option for your family.
Read review: Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35
Easiest Infant LATCH Installation
Super easy LATCH
Easy to use
Good quality & comfort
Heavy to carry
Limited stroller choices
The Chicco Fit 2 is a high-end Chicco option with an impressive score for LATCH installation (a perfect 10!) which makes it a good choice for anyone concerned about proper installation. This plush competitor is easier to use than most and comes with thicker padding and additional features for comfort.
While we recommend this Chicco, it isn't a good choice for tighter budget or if you plan to carry it over long distances. This Chicco carrier has a higher than average weight and we don't think parents will want to lug it for long, even if it is easy to install without the base. The Fit 2 is a fairly new seat, so it isn't compatible with very many strollers yet. If your hope to combine an infant seat with a stroller, the Fit 2 is a bad choice. however, if you won't need to carry it and stroller compatibility isn't a concern, then the Fit 2 can help many parents feel better about their installation abilities.
Read review: Chicco Fit2
Best Bang for the Buck in Infant Seats
Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air
Easy to install w/out the base & using a vehicle belt
Above average crash test results
Hard to install LATCH
Not compatible with most strollers
Harder to use
The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air is a budget-friendly option with a higher performance overall than the cheaper competition in our review. This seat has above average crash test results and is easy to install with the vehicle belt and without the base. For parents on a budget, this product is easy to use with better crash test results (something many parents are understandably concerned with).
Aside from easy to install, this product is relatively average without any standout features, but it doesn't disappoint either. The real drawback to the Safety 1st is the considerable lack of compatible strollers. In fact, none of the full-size strollers we reviewed can be combined with the Safety 1st, making it a poor choice if you want to create a travel system. However, if you have a tight budget and you don't need a stroller for your car seat, then this option is one any parent can feel good about buying.
Read review: Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air
If you aren't interested in attaching your infant carrier to a stroller, or you don't want to lug it very far, then you might consider baby wearing
as an alternative. Wearing your baby close (in a carrier designed for this purpose) is a lovely way to bond, and normally keeps little ones calm and soothed which reduces crying or emotional upsets. Many modern carriers can keep your hands-free so you can get things done with your baby on board and nary a bulky stroller in sight!
We contracted with the same crash test facility used by NHTSA to test the seats in this review. Here is the Clek Foonf getting ready for its crash test, complete with crash test dummy.
Our Favorite Convertible Car Seats
The winners below include the products that earned high marks and awards in our Convertible Seat Review
. This type of seat is appropriate for older infants (around 9 months) and can last until your little one is around 5-7 years old depending on the model and your child's size.
Your baby will outgrow their infant seat's listed size and weight limits eventually, but it is safer if you plan their transition. We recommend switching to a convertible option at about 9-11 months of age, and you'll typically use it until age 5-7 when you'll switch to a booster seat
Best Overall Convertible Seat
Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB
Easiest to install
Easy to use
Average crash test performance
The Britax Boulevard ClickTight is the perfect seat for parents who are worried about installing the seat correctly (arguably all of us), which is why we highly recommend this seat to friends. This convertible option earned perfect 10 of 10 scores for installation using both the LATCH system and the vehicle belt, making it a standout option and a seat we feel is practically foolproof. This seat is easy to use with impressive comfort and quality construction. We think parents will love the look, feel, and features of this quality seat.
The ClickTight has a slightly above average score for crash test results, but we remind parents that this means it exceeded the Federal requirements, and given that poor installation often translates to more injuries, we think the installation performance of this seat makes up for the average crash test results. However, if you're looking for better crash safety results, then you may want to consider the Essentials by Britax Emblem below.
Read review: Britax Boulevard ClickTight
All-around High Scorer
Essentials by Britax Emblem
High crash test score
Easy to install in both methods
Easy to use
Hard to access belt pathway for the vehicle belt
The Essentials by Britax Emblem has impressive scores for almost every metric, with results that show an all-around impressive performance during testing that is virtually unmatched. While some competitors earned higher scores in some metrics or overall, the Emblem is the only option with above-average scores in every metric. Because it earned one of the top crash test results and it is easy to install with a lower price tag, we think it is a seat that should be on every parent's short list. This seat features an easy to use non-rethread harness adjustment, it is comfortable and well-made and is relatively light compared to other high scoring seats.
The Emblem is arguably not as easy to install as the Britax ClickTight options, and it has less padding than the seats with a Britax label. However, with its reasonable price, it is an excellent option for every family, no matter how big or small their budget.
Read review: Essentials by Britax Emblem
Best Budget-Friendly Convertible Seat
Essentials by Britax Allegiance
Easy to install using both methods
Above average crash test results
Rethread harness adjustment
The Essentials by Britax Allegiance is similar to the Essentials by Britax Emblem with slightly less padding in the seating area and fabric that feels somewhat less durable. This makes the Allegiance a perfect choice for families on a tighter budget who want a quality seat that is easy to install and sports above average crash safety results. The Allegiance is comparatively lightweight with adequate padding, no rethread harness height adjustment, and a stylish look. It is one of the easiest options to use with a top score for ease of use.
The Allegiance is somewhat harder to install using the vehicle belt, though it still earned an above average score for this test. Despite it not being as dummy-proof as the ClickTight options for installation, we think most parents will be able to manage it or can get free assistance if it is a problem. With a savings of over $100 compared to the Britax label options, parents will be happily smiling all the way to the bank. Even better, the second best crash test results mean you aren't compromising potential safety for the sake of saving money. Which is something everyone can smile about!
Read review: Essentials by Britax Allegiance
Best on a Tight Budget
Evenflo Tribute LX
Above average crash test results
Easier to use
Poor score for comfort/quality
The Evenflo Tribute LX didn't score exceptionally well in our review of convertible competitors, but what it manages to do is impress with its crash test results. This puts the Evenflo in the unique position of being the cheapest seat in the review and having some of the best crash results we analyzed. This seat won a Best Value award because it offers a higher margin of potential safety to families on even the tightest of budgets. The Evenflo is easy to use and the lightest option in the review, making it a good choice for parents on-the-go for travel or using public transportation.
Unfortunately, the tribute's low weight and low price come at the cost of comfort and quality making the Evenflo uncomfortable on long road trips or for babies that need more cushioning or support. However, despite its shortcomings, the Evenflo would make a good second seat or budget-friendly primary seat that you can feel confident is as safe as they come.
Read review: Evenflo Tribute LX
The Clek Oobr is a versatile booster with the best combined crash test results in the booster seat group.
Our Favorite Booster Seats
Once your little one has outgrown their convertible car seat, they are ready for the big kid booster seat
. This transition will depend on the manufacturer's guidelines for each seat and how big your child is. Pay special attention to both weight and height restrictions as your child is likely to outgrow one before the other. Your child is likely to need a booster sometime around 5-7 years old depending on the seat. Just as you wanted to stay rear facing as long as possible for safety, we think it is best to stay in a convertible seat as long as the seat allows. Below are our favorite booster options.
Best Booster Seat
Great crash test results
The Clek Oobr is a steel frame high-backed booster that can go backless for older children or kids on the go. This booster earned the highest combined crash test results in our booster review and it is easy to install with a rigid LATCH system. This booster is similar to your vehicle seat with an adjustable headrest, armrests, and quality fabric that is easy to clean.
This seat is stupidly heavy and difficult to lift and carry, so you aren't going to want to travel with it or carry it very far. However, if you need to, the back is removable for occasional travel needs. Also, we think the impressive crash test results and quality construction more than make up for the heft of the Oobr. We also like that you can quickly secure the booster in the vehicle so it doesn't move in the car when your kids aren't using it. If you have safety on the brain and you won't be moving the seat from car to car very often, then the Oobr is a great seat for you.
Read review: Clek Oobr
Budget-Friendly Top Scorer
Easy to Use
The Evenflo Spectrum is a high-back booster that has an impressive crash test result for the head sensor and is so budget-friendly it is great for almost every family. This booster is the most comfortable option we tested winning the thumbs up from our tiny testers thanks to the wide seating area, sleep worthy headrest, and soft to the touch fabric. This seat has one of the highest backs and our kid testers were able to buckle themselves in without assistance every time. As your child grows, the back can be removed once they reach the height limit to extend the life of the seat. You can also go backless to make the seat lightweight and easy to transport for carpooling or traveling.
This seat is wider than most we considered, so it may not be a good choice for families who need to install three safety seats in the same row. However, given the benefits for safety and the insanely small price, we think this Evenflo is a great booster solution for any family.
Read review: Evenflo Spectrum
We have tested over 15 infant car seats for this review since its first version in 2016. This picture includes the original lineup, four of which have been replaced with new and different popular seats to replace those that have been discontinued.
Seating Central: Narrow Your Options
With so many options to choose from, how do you decide which product is best for your baby? Asking yourself some key questions can help you narrow the options by type, installation, and performance so you can determine which model is right for your family. When you are ready to make your purchase, you can simplify the process by breaking it down into easy questions.
First, do you need an infant, convertible, or booster option?
Infant seats — refer to our Infant Car Seat Review for all the info on seats for newborns and younger babies. These seats have two parts, a base that installs in your car and a carrier that the baby sits in that can be attached to the base, a stroller, or carried. This seat type is ideal for an infant's body size and for simplified errands because you do not need to remove your baby from the carrier to take them with you.
Convertible seats — best for older babies (9-12 months) who've outgrown their infant seat. Our Convertible Review includes the details you need to better understand convertible seats and when to use them. Convertible options install in your car relatively permanently and can sit rear facing or forward facing depending on the baby's size or age. When a baby is large/old enough, the seat "converts" to a forward-facing position. Some of these seats can also be used as a booster seat when your child outgrows the 5-point harness (read each seat's manual).
Booster seats — this style of seat is best for little ones who've outgrown their convertible seat (around 5-7 years). Our booster seat review includes all the deatils you'll need to determine if it is time to buy and which options meet your needs. These seats position little ones correctly to use the vehicle belt. They come in backless and high-backed varieties and some attach to the car via the LATCH and others are free floating.
Ten of the eleven top rated seats tested in our convertible car seat review (the Britax Boulevard ClickTight was absent on picture day).
Can one product do it all?
While many convertible style seats claim to work for babies from 5 up to 50 lbs and beyond, we don't think it is a good idea to make a one and done purchase when it comes car safety.
Infant style seats are designed with smaller newborn bodies in mind. These seats are sized and configured for baby's anatomy and provide proper posture positioning for optimal breathing and protection in the event of an accident. The harness design is narrower and more appropriate for an infant than a convertible seat which is designed for older and larger babies and then somewhat modified for infants. Many convertible seats offer an infant insert to create more appropriate seating for smaller passengers. We think it is best to get the gear specifically designed for each age/size instead of opting for one product that can accommodate a baby, but isn't designed specifically to do so. If you want to save money on baby gear (wouldn't we all?), we do not think car seats is the category to do so, given the potential safety implications.
The UPPAbaby Vista can be used with 2 infant car seats for easy transportation of up up to 2 infants. This photo shows the Vista with two UPPAbaby Mesa infant car seats.
The other advantage to infant style seats is they are handy. Infant seats have a carrier portion that holds the baby with a handle for easy carrying from one location to another.
Unlike a convertible car seat, an infant car seat is detachable from the base. As a result, you can transition a sleeping baby in or out of the vehicle without waking them up, keeping them safely harnessed in the carrier as you do.
This means you can move a sleeping infant from a car to a stroller or car to carry with ease and without disruption. This may seem like a small thing before your baby is born, but trust us, you will be doing this more than once and grateful for the carrier so you can get some quick errands in without waking a sleeping child.
We contracted with the same national testing facility used by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for crash tests, and also obtained NHTSA's crash test data for analysis. Above you see the Phil and Teds Alpha seat on the test sled with a 12 month old crash test dummy strapped in.
What is more important, ease of installation or crash test results?
While many parents are concerned with crash test safety (as you should be), few parents know that improperly installing a seat, or not using it as indicated, is a significant cause of injury in car accidents involving infants. In our research for seat safety testing, safety engineers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) emphasized that improper use is a bigger safety concern than the differences in crash test performance results. In fact, a NHTSA study showed that 84% of infant car seats exhibited a critical misuse related to either installation of the seat or incorrect restraint of the infant, or both. Another study by Portland's top Children's Hospital followed 267 families as they left the hospital with their infants after birth. The study showed that "93% made at least one critical error — a mistake that put their infant at increased risk for injury in a crash — when positioning their infant in a car safety seat or when installing the safety seat in their vehicle."
Ninety-three percent is a considerable number. This high percentage is why we feel that ease of use and installation are critical components of seat safety, potentially more so than the crash test results themselves. So while crash test analysis is important, it should not overshadow how difficult a seat is to use or install. Many of the award-winning seats are easy to install using at least one installation method. Some even have perfect scores and were practically foolproof, or at least as infallible as a seat can be.
The Clek Oobr has the best crash test score based on the best-combined sensor data from our crash test dummy.
Infant seat, Chicco Keyfit 30 earned a 9 of 10 for ease of installation using the LATCH method. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 received 10 of 10 for ease of install without the base. The Britax Boulevard ClickTight earned 10 of 10 in both methods of installation for convertible seats. The Essentials by Britax Emblem and Essentials by Britax Allegiance each earned 8s for installation using LATCH and 7s for installation with the vehicle belt. The Essentials seats both earned an 8 of 10 for crash safety tests and impressive ease of installation performance. The Clek Oobr booster attaches using rigid LATCH connection and is easy to do.
All of the Seats Provide a Safe, Basic Level of Protection
All of the seats we tested, and for sale in the United States, have passed Federal safety standards for crash testing. Because of this, the seats we tested can be considered safe, and they provide a basic level of protection as required by US Federal law. With this in mind, our focus for crash test scoring is identifying seats with crash test performance that goes beyond the Federal requirements and exceeds the crash test performance of the competition in this review. As a result, those seats can be considered as providing an extra margin of protection based on their crash test performance.
Parents who frequently ride in taxi cabs or use services like Uber, will want to look for a car seat that offers easy installation without the base, just using the seat belt.
Does my lifestyle matter?
When it comes to seat options, your lifestyle might be a consideration in your purchasing decisions. Suburban parents often have their own car and a place to install a baby's seat in a semi-permanent way with few changes. Other parents may live in a large city where they frequent Uber and taxis, requiring their seat to be fairly mobile and installed repeatedly over and over. Having a lightweight easy to install seat will be more important to urban parents than it will be to others. If you won't be carrying your seat around, then your options are wider because the weight isn't a factor. If you will be carrying the seat from place to place, then some of the heavier seats may be out of the question.
The Evenflo Spectrum is easy to use and buckle even when using it without the back.
Booster seat weight may play a role in your decision-making process if you carpool or travel frequently. The Clek Oobr is very heavy and isn't one you want to move often. Even if you remove the back, it is a poor choice for carrying about or stuffing in your child's backpack. The Evenflo Spectrum is lighter and can also backless for carpooling.
The Evenflo is the lightest seat in the group and one of the most narrow at just over 9 pounds and 17 inches
Convertible seat weight isn't a big deal for most people since it usually spends most of its life installed in your car. However, if you need to run to catch a cab carrying the seat with the baby in tow, you are likely to prefer the scant 9 lbs of the Evenflo Tribute LX. Don't mind carrying extra weight if it means more features or higher performance scores than the Evenflo Tribute LX? The Essentials seats are about 18.5 lbs with reasonable prices below $250.
When considering infant seats the weight of the carrier may play a role for similar reasons. Carriers can be heavy, and when combined with baby's weight, could be prohibitively heavy. If you plan to attach the carrier to a stroller, then weight may play less of a role, but if you plan to hold your carrier or you travel frequently, then weight may be more of a factor.
The Peg Perego Primo uses the European belt path method for installation without the base
Are you an urbanite looking for an infant carrier? Then you might consider the ease of installation without the base when making your choice, as you are more likely to be installing the seat in an Uber sans base to save yourself the lugging around weight. This is perfectly safe to do, and the seats are designed with this in mind, but some are far easier to install without the base than others, so choosing the easiest, high-ranking option will make your life easier. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 also scored well for installation without the base, but it is compatible with few full-size strollers.
Is a broader weight range better?
Infant style seats make claims of being appropriate for baby up to a defined weight limit, convertible seats have limits as well, only higher. Infant seats usually range between 4 lbs and a maximum weight of 30-45 lbs, while convertible seats are 5 to 55 lbs (or higher depending on the seat). Should this range be a consideration when you make your purchase? No, probably not.
Well, most babies will outgrow the height limits before they reach the weight limit for most infant seats, and the same can often be said of the convertible seats as well.
According to the CDC's infant boy age vs weight growth chart (pdf), a 95th percentile baby boy (which means a baby growing faster than 94 babies out of 100, that's one big boy!) will still weigh under 28 lbs and be close to 32 inches on their 1 year birthday. Most infants will transition out of their infant seat and into a convertible seat between 9-12 months based on height. You can see from the data that even the fastest growing boy will fail to exceed the maximum weight of the majority of seats in this review, but he could grow too tall for the seat, which will prompt the transition before his weight plays a role. So while having an idea of how long baby can use the seat is good, it is really only a vague estimate, and in the end, restrictions will have more to do with height than weight. For this reason, we wouldn't make a seat's weight range a deciding factor in your purchasing decision unless it is below 30 lbs for an infant seat. Even if your baby is super tall, you would just move to the convertible seat earlier, which is no big deal and still safe.
Your little one should stay in a rear-facing seat as long as possible. This will be limited by your baby's weight and the manufacturer recommendations for the seat as not all options allow for extended rear-facing time. The law in most locales require that babies stay rear-facing until 2 years old, but it is ideal for babies to sit rear-facing as long as the seat will allow. Even if your toddler's legs are bent, the rear-facing position is still the safest installation.
All of the top scoring infant seats we tested have height limits of at least 30 inches, and weight ranges from 4 to at least 30 lbs. Convertible seats have a height range of 46 to 49 inches or ears below the top of the shell and weight ranges of 5 to 40 lbs rear facing and 20 to 55 lbs forward facing (with several top-ranked seats working up to 65 lbs). The Evenflo Tribute LX is the exception with a forward facing limit that tops out at 40 lbs, which will necessitate an additional purchase before the competition.
There are many varieties of combinations when it comes to strollers and their car seat counterparts, and many strollers will work with a variety of seat options with the purchase of the appropriate adapters.
What about travel systems?
Travel systems include an infant carrier and a compatible stroller. These can come as a predetermined set or you can buy a seat and compatible stroller separately. Given the safety considerations, we do not think parents should choose an infant seat based on a desired stroller. In addition, pre-arranged sets often have slightly less impressive components than you'd get if you created a combination and bought them separately yourself. We think it is best for parents to decide on the right infant seat for their baby before determining the best stroller that works with the seat. With a few exceptions, like the Safety 1st onBoard Air 35, most infant seats are compatible with at least a couple of popular strollers with the purchase of an adapter. We found the Chicco Keyfit 30 infant seat to be compatible with the majority of the full-size strollers we've personally tested. Choosing this affordable, high-scoring seat, will give you the most versatile seat for stroller compatibility.
The car seat recommendation from the NHTSA website
Narrowing your possibilities based on how you plan to use the seat and the ease of installation test results should provide you with a handful of top contenders. From there, you can base your purchase decision on crash test results and/or budget-related concerns. The award winners above are great seats with a variety of features and functionality to suit almost any need or lifestyle. They also include a range of prices providing an option for almost every budget. We think parents should focus on the correct style for their baby's age (infant, convertible, or booster) to narrow the field, and we encourage parents to resist the temptation to buy a convertible option for their infant. Most importantly, we encourage you to contact an expert for assistance with proper car seat installation no matter what style or model you choose. You can make a free appointment, get help fast, and feel confident that your chosen seat is correctly installed to ensure maximum safety for your baby! It won't matter how your chosen seat performed during crash testing if you don't install or use it correctly.