What’s the best lightweight convertible car seat for travel?
lightweight travel car seat. One of the most frequent questions we’ve always gotten about traveling with kids is what to do about car seats. In particular, it’s a tough conundrum for parents whose kids have outgrown their infant car seats but aren’t yet old enough for the Wayb Pico, the Ride Safer travel vest, the Bubblebum, or another innovative travel car seat. Because it needs to rear-face, a convertible car seat for travel just doesn’t lend itself to such a creative solution. So what’s a globetrotting parent to do about flying with a car seat?
One option is to buy the lightest convertible car seat possible. Fortunately, plenty of great travel convertible car seat options on the market will work for kids of all sizes and families with all budgets. This detailed guide will take you through what to look for in the best convertible car seat for travel for your needs and some of the top models available to consider.
Quick Picks: Best, Lightest Convertible Car Seat For Travel
If you want to skip the details, here are my top picks for the best lightweight convertible car seat for travel:
- Cosco Scenera Next DLX – cheapest convertible car seat (also the lightest convertible car seat)
- Evenflo Sonus 65 – best balance of lightweight, long-lasting, reasonable price, and nice quality for everyday use (also available at Albee Baby and Target)
- Graco Contender Slim/Graco Contender GO – a lightweight car seat that allows rear-facing beyond 40″ (but only up to 40lbs) and has a closed belt path for comfortable forward-facing.
You can see more lightweight car seats on Amazon here if you wish to buy a lightweight travel car seat.
Families who are on the go often ask us which car seat is the best for airplane travel. Just like seats used exclusively in the car at home, the best travel seat is the one caregivers can install and use properly every time. Important features for travel seats can be a little different than stay-at-home car seats so we’ve compiled a few key things to keep in mind:
- Your comfort level with installing the seat
- How heavy a seat you’re able to carry through the airport
- How many comforts features does your child needs
- Open vs. closed belt path. For forward-facing installations, an open belt path can place the airplane seat belt’s buckle directly behind the child’s back. The only two options on this list with a closed belt path are the Graco Contender and Combi Coccoro.
- Other factors specific to your situation
We’ve taken these factors into account and put together a few suggestions for travel seats. They’re listed in order of retail price, lowest to highest. This list is mainly convertible car seats — we’ve found that many caregivers prefer to travel with this type of seat but the combination and multimode car seats can be great options too!
Lightweight Car Seats
Cosco Scenera NEXT — this seat is lightweight and inexpensive. It’s an excellent option for travel for younger rear-facing kiddos.
Lightest Car Seat For Toddlers Comparison
We’ve used many of these seats ourselves and have gotten feedback on the others from our Facebook group. Check out this broader quick comparison of the best lightweight car seat options to begin your search:
|Best travel |
car seat options
|Cosco Scenera |
|Cosco Apt 50||compact, |
|Baby Trend |
|medium size, |
|Cosco Mighty |
|medium size, |
|medium size, |
How to choose the best lightweight convertible car seat for travel
It can be extremely difficult to whittle down the choices when you’re looking for the best convertible car seat for travel for your family. After all, everybody’s needs are different! Here are some key features to look for as you consider your options for a light car seat for travel:
What is the lightest convertible car seat for travel?
One of the most important features of a traveling car seat is lightweight. Why? Because you’ll be moving it around much more than you normally would at home. Out of the car when you arrive at the airport, through the airport, into the scanner at security, to the gate, on to the plane, off the plane, through the airport, on the rental car shuttle, and then into a car – that’s our typical routine!
All of that will be much easier with a lightweight convertible car seat. What does “light” mean? Most of the big fancy car seats like this weigh 25 to 30lbs. The best convertible car seats for travel weigh 8 to 15lbs, which can make a huge difference. This one is the lightest convertible car seat available.
The weight of the car seat doesn’t matter quite as much if you plan to use a car seat travel cart but makes a much bigger difference if you’ll get it through the airport in your arms or in a car seat backpack.
The right size travel convertible car seat
We often think that “smaller is better” when it comes to travel gear, but in the case of a travel car seat, it’s more about the right size for your situation and your child. What should you consider?
A car seat’s “shell height” refers to how much space there is along your child’s back and head. For kids who are rear-facing, they should have at least 1” of shell above their heads in addition to being within the car seat’s state’s height limit (if there is one). Once you switch your convertible car seat to forward-facing you’ll need to make sure that the tops of your child’s ears are still within the shell and that the top harness slots are above your child’s shoulders.
By the same token, you may not need to get the tallest possible car seat. Once your child is around 4 years old, you might want to switch to an ultra-light solution like the Ride Safer Travel Vest. So the tallest convertible car seats for travel might be the best choice for an ultra-tall kid but could be unnecessary for another.
There’s truly no ideal size, just what suits your needs best. A car seat with a short shell will generally be lighter (less material!) and fit better in cramped spaces like economy airplane seats and subcompact rental cars. A car seat with a tall shell and harness slots will accommodate tall kids for longer.
An easy to install the travel car seat
When you’re traveling by a car seat, one thing is for sure: you’re very likely to have to install it in an unfamiliar car! The last thing you want after a long flight with a cranky kid is to be huffing, puffing, crying, and swearing as you try to muscle an uncooperative car seat into your rental car (me in Phoenix circa 2013).
What can make or break a travel car seat’s ease of installation? There are a few things to look for.
If you’re traveling by an infant or very young toddler in a convertible car seat, some seats may require a very reclined installation. Some seats have a flip-down foot or a curved base to make it easy, but others might need a tightly rolled towel or a pool noodle.
The actual method of installation can vary a bit as well. All American car seats can be installed with either the LATCH system (sometimes up to a certain weight) or a seatbelt to give you total flexibility. Some LATCH clips are very basic hooks that can require more maneuvering, while others are the easier push-on style (with a red button to release). But they’ll all work in the end.
If you’re traveling overseas or need to put a car seat in a middle seat that might not have LATCH, prepare to install your travel convertible car seat with the seatbelt. Practice in advance! In the US all cars have locking seatbelts to make this easy. But in other countries, it can be hit-or-miss. You can either look for a convertible car seat for travel that has a lock-off built-in, or you can purchase an inexpensive locking clip and learn how to use it before your trip.
It’s especially important to practice if you’ll be taking taxis or Ubers at your destination. Some will get impatient and pressure you to hold your child on your lap if it’s taking too long. Ignore them. Just keep the door open while you install and that car won’t go anywhere. They might start the meter while you’re installing to compensate for their time, and that’s ok.
Another important installation consideration is whether or not your car seat requires you to use a top tether for forward-facing. They’re ideal for safety, as they decrease your child’s head movement by 4-6″ in a crash, but not every car around the world has a tether anchor available! You’ll find them in nearly every car in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand; they’re increasingly prevalent in the EU (newer rental cars should have them). But if you’re riding in an old taxi or planning to drive in Eastern Europe, South America, Asia, or Africa you’re unlikely to find one. At that point, you’d need to make the judgment call on whether or not to install against the manufacturer’s directions.
A comfortable convertible car seat for travel
This last factor is perhaps the most subjective. But the last thing you want is a cranky kid on a long-haul flight! Some travel car seats have virtually no padding over the plastic shell. If you’re using the car seat on the plane and then for a quick taxi ride, it won’t matter too much. But if you plan to use that seat every day during your trip or go on a long road trip to your destination. The last thing you want is a complaint every five minutes (me in Vancouver circa 2015).
What is the lightest convertible car seat?
Are lightweight car seats safe?
All car seats sold in the United States have to pass the same minimum standards – if they can’t pass, they can’t be sold. The most critical piece of a car seat’s safety are that it fits your child properly, is appropriate for their developmental level, and is used properly every time. Find out more here.
While heavier car seats often add more features in the interest of safety or comfort, there’s no publicly available data comparing crash test results so it’s hard to accurately compare the safety of lightweight car seats versus heavier seats with extra safety features.
What is the lightest car seat for toddlers?
|Travel car seat||Size|
|Baby Trend Trooper||medium size, 10 lbs|
|Cosco Mighty Fit 65||medium size, 11 lbs|
|Evenflo Sonus 65||medium size, 11 lbs|
|Evenflo Sureride DLX||tall, 10 lbs|