The Best Booster Car Seat 2021
Best Booster Car Seat 2021
Scroll down for our picks for Best Budget-Friendly Booster Car Seat, Best Booster Seat for Urban Parents, Best Belt-Positioning Booster, and Best Backless Booster.
New to booster car seat shopping? Read our 7 Things No One Tells You About Buying an booster car seat.
The Graco Nautilus works to 65 lbs. with the harness and 120 lbs. as a booster plus it can be used as a backless booster. The seat has enhanced side impact protection, an adjustable headrest and belt lock-offs, making it one of the most popular seats in this category.
(Scroll down for a detailed review of this seat).
Details: Graco Nautilus SnugLock
Graco makes the best-selling harnessed booster seat on the market and it’s easy to see why—the Graco’s Nautilus works with a five-point harness to 65 lbs. and then converts to a high back booster (100 lbs.) and even a backless booster (120 lbs.) for older kids (some boosters lack that last feature). Here’s what the seat looks like in backless booster mode:
The harness is a big plus if you have a toddler who has outgrown his convertible seat, but wish to keep him in the harness for a while longer (the 65 lb. limit should fit most six year olds).
The Nautilus’ other features include over molded armrests (with side storage), four-position recline and decent padding. The seat is lined with EPS foam.
So what is the Nautilus Elite’s biggest selling point? The Nautilus Snuglock is competitively priced. As for reader feedback, the Graco Nautilus earns positive marks from readers for its overall ease of use. The IIHS ranks the Nautilus as a Best Bet when used in highback mode.
As always, Graco likes to make things confusing by coming up with with a plethora of Nautilus models, usually to have something slightly different to sell various retailers. Just know we like the Graco Nautilus SnugLock, which is a 2018 refresh of the Nautilus that added “SnugLock,” which enables quicker installation whether you use a safety belt or LATCH. Also included: Simple Safe Adjust, which makes it easier to adjust the harness and headrest as your child grows.
Flaws but not deal breakers
The Graco Nautilus isn’t perfect. Some readers tell us it is too snug to fit larger kids.
The Nautilus also must be assembled, which includes several steps such as “Pull elastic loop on the seat pad through the vehicle belt guide on side of seat and attach to hook as shown. Repeat on other side.” Compare that to Britax where the seat basically comes out of the box ready to use.
We’re not saying the Nautilus is as fun to assemble as IKEA furniture, but we noted more than a few readers said assembling Graco boosters had them swearing like a pirate. So just a heads up.
Also: there are two version of this seat. The SnugLock base model we recommend above and a DLX that is a Buy Buy Baby exclusive for $250. It features a “RapidRemove” cover that can be removed while the seat is still installed. Too bad Graco didn’t include this in the base version, as that is a handy feature.
Who else likes it
About 79% of our readers gave it a four or five star review. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the previous version of this seat a “Best Bet.” It hasn’t tested the new SnugLock version as of this writing.
Also Great. The Chicco MyFit is the company’s first foray into the harnessed combo booster category, currently dominated by Graco Nautilus seats. Like other harnessed boosters, this seat is intended for toddlers in harness mode from 25 to 65 pounds. Then the harness is removed and the seat is used with the car seat belt from 40 to 100 lbs.
We like the key features here: LATCH-compatible seat has a one- pull harness tightener, no rethread harness, nine-position headrest and four-position recline.
It also comes equipped with side impact protection, two “CupFolders” (folding cup holders) and their LockSure seat belt installation.
Chicco makes three models of the MyFit: the basic, the LE with added SuperCinch LATCH install and kid storage console and the Zip Air with extra zip off cover and breathable backrest. Prices start at for the basic and go up to $229.99 for the LE and $299 for the Zip Air.
Here’s a quick overview:
Our reader feedback on the Chicco MyFit has been quite positive. Ease of use (adjusting the harness, etc.) is above average, in our hands-on testing. The upholstery is plush and comfy.
We found installation to be straight forward—we love Chicco’s shoulder-belt lock-off, which is easier to use than the competition. We noticed a few dissenting opinions on this from online reviewers, who found the high belt path and the need to thread the belt under the seat pad to be somewhat vexing.
Chicco included its much-praised SuperCinch technology is to tighten the seat install with one hand—but SuperCinch is only available on the LE and Zip Air models.
Unlike other seats in this category, Chicco MyFit includes a bubble level indicator to help parents figure out if the seat is at the correct angle even when it is reclined. That is a nice touch
As for crash-testing, only Consumer Reports has tested this seat—it scored a “better” in CR’s three tier system: basic, better, best.
Flaws to consider
The seat is rather heavy, so it may not be the best solution for car pooling where you need to move it from car to car.
Some children have complained about the non-removable chest pads under the chest clip. They are rather stiff and can be uncomfortable. The bummer: you can’t remove them, even to clean them. The harness pads are required in harness mode.
Finally, the kid console that is included in the LE and Zip Air models has both fans and detractors, who complain it can rattle when the car is in motion.
Overall, this is a solid effort by Chicco in a new category for them. The price for the basic version is comparable to our top recommendation, the Graco Nautilus Snuglock.
Best Belt-Positioning Booster. The Graco TurboBooster is the best belt-positioning booster on the market today. It packs a good number of features into an affordable package: height-adjustable headrest, open belt loop design, armrests, back recline, cup holders and more. If you can afford the upgrade, the Graco TurboBooster With Safety Surround (sold at Target) has additional side impact protection in the form of beefed up headrest and torso cushions.
Best Backless Booster. The best backless booster on the market is the Graco TurboBooster LX backless ($34.99). It is an affordable and easy to use booster for older kids who don’t need a high back booster.
The Graco backless option works from (roughly) ages four to ten (40 lbs. to 110 lbs.). Again, even though you could use this seat for kids as young as four, we’d suggest a harnessed seat until your child is beyond 80 lbs. or as long as possible.
Why Trust Us
We’ve been rating and reviewing booster car seats since 1994. In addition to hands on inspections of car seats, we have also visited manufacturer facilities and met with safety regulators—and when we travel, we pay our all of our own expenses. We look to our reader feedback to give us a real world perspective on car seats—our message board on car seats has 23,000 (!) threads. We also evaluate consumer reviews posted on sites like Amazon.
Here’s another key point: we don’t take money from the brands we review. No free samples, no sponsors, no “partnerships.” Baby Bargains is your independent and unbiased source for expert baby gear reviews. We’ve been writing and reviewing baby gear since 1994. Yes, that long!
How we picked a winner
We evaluated car seats with hands on inspections, checking seats for ease of use (installation and adjusting the seat). We also gather significant reader feedback, tracking seats on quality and durability. Besides interviewing parents, we also talk with car seat “techs,” certified child passenger safety technicians who install hundreds if not thousands of seats at safety check points nationwide.
We’ve been rating and reviewing car seats since 1994. During that time, we have also visited manufacturer facilities and watched car seat crash tests. While we don’t personally crash test seats, we compare our reader feedback with crash tests done by organizations like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Consumer Reports. We also look at third-party evaluations of seats by groups like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which focuses on booster car seats.
Speaking of the IIHS, here are their newest picks for “Best Bet” boosters that came out in the past year.
7 Things No One Tells You About Buying a Booster Car Seat!
1. Booster seats come in four different flavors:
◆ High back boosters (HBB): Belt-positioning boosters come in two flavors: high back boosters and backless boosters. High back boosters have often been called “kid’s captain’s chairs,” which they kind of resemble. They are designed to be simple, but provide vital safety features for children who’ve outgrown a harnessed seats. These boosters properly position the lap belt on a child’s strong hip bones, rather than letting it ride up on the soft internal organs. And they provide correct positioning of the shoulder belt, so the child can comfortably wear it and get critical upper body support. The high back also protects the child’s head from whiplash if there are no head restraints in the vehicle, and the high back may also give some side sleeping support. ALL of these boosters require a lap and shoulder belt. FYI: Some high back boosters convert into backless boosters for older kids.
◆ Backless boosters: These belt-positioning boosters work the same way as high back boosters—they just don’t have a back. Safety-wise, these can be a bit better than a high back booster, since the child sits against the vehicle seat. They do the same job positioning the lap belt, and usually include some sort of strap to adjust the shoulder belt. But they don’t provide head support if you have low seat backs, and they don’t give any side or sleeping support. On the other hand, they are often popular with older kids, since they can be quite inconspicuous.
◆ Harnessed boosters: These are probably the most confusing “booster” seats because they sometimes morph from a forward-facing harnessed seat to a belt-positioning booster (and in some case) to a backless booster. With the five-point harness, boosters can generally be used up to 65, 80 or 90 lbs. Then the harness is removed, and the seat can be used as a belt-positioning booster, usually to 80 or 100 lbs. These seat also may be referred to as “combination,” or “combo” for short, from the two jobs they do. Our top recommendation on this page is for a harnessed booster.
The take-home message: we recommend a harnessed booster as the safest option to transport a toddler. Keep your child in the harness as long as possible (given seat weight and height limits).
◆ Special Needs Seats: There are a few seats on the market now that don’t really fit into any category. One is the Britax Traveler Plus, which is designed for special needs kids up to 105 lbs.
2. When is your child ready for the auto safety belt?
Some states allow children as young as six to legally ride in an auto safety belt (that is, booster seat use isn’t required). But there is the law—and the law of physics. Numerous peer-reviewed safety studies show that continued booster seat use is the safest course . . . until a child can SAFELY use an auto safety belt. When is that?
When a child is over 4’9” and can sit with his or her back straight against the back seat cushion (with knees bent over the seat’s edge), then he or she can go with just the auto’s safety belt. Still have doubts?
Try this Five-Step Test from Safety Belt Safe, USA:
1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
2. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat?
3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between neck and arm?
4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
If you answered no to any of these questions, your child needs a booster seat, and will probably be more comfortable in one too.
3. Using a booster seat too soon can be dangerous.
You’ll note that some harnessed boosters have starting weight limits as young as 20 lbs.—that could be as young as a six month aged baby. But remember this: all boosters are forward-facing. And the current recommendation by safety experts is to keep your child REAR-FACING until age 2 or longer. So even though you could use a forward-facing harnessed booster for a one year old, we wouldn’t recommend it.
Also: don’t abandon the harness too soon. Yes, you could switch to a belt-positioning booster as soon as four years (or 40 lbs.). Our advice: don’t. Keep your child in that harness as long as you can (that’s why our top recommended seats on this page have top harness limits of 80 and 90 lbs.).
4. Your car’s owner’s manual is an important resource.
Sure, you probably haven’t look at it since you purchased the vehicle. But most auto manuals have detailed advice about car seat use. And that comes in especially handy when you start using a booster. That’s because some boosters can use LATCH—but your vehicle may prohibit this use when the weight of your seat plus your child exceed a certain limit.
5. Sitting in a belt-positioning booster requires maturity.
(Image credit: Safeseats4kids.aaa.com)
Yes, we recommend using a harness as long as possible—but we are also the parents of two kids. And we remember the pleas from a toddler who didn’t want to sit in a “baby seat” (that is, the harness). The challenge: to use a belt-positioning booster, a child must be mature enough to understand the iron clad rule: you NEVER wiggle out from under the belt when the car is in motion. Some kids are ready for this and others need more time in a harness!
6. Only use cardboard cups in booster seat cup holders.
You’ll note that many booster seats come with cup or juice box holders. These are a great convenience, but most car seat makers only recommend putting cardboard cups or juice boxes in these holders. Why? In a collision anything heavier than a cardboard juice box or cup can become a dangerous projectile.
7. There isn’t one law for how long your child must be in a booster seat—rules vary by state.
Booster seat use is regulated on a state-by-state basis, at least when we’re talking about how long kids must remain in a booster. Some states have an age limit, some a weight and/or height limit. If you’re unsure about the rules in your state, check your state Department of Motor Vehicles’ web site. Here’s a link to look at all 50 states at a glance.
Certifications to look for when booster car seat shopping
NHTSA Ease of Use Rating: The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTS) publishes Ease-of-Use Ratings that cover four areas:
- Evaluation of Instructions: Content and clarity of the instructions manual for the child restraint.
- Vehicle Installation Features: Features that pertain to installing the child restraint in a vehicle.
- Evaluation of Labels: Content and clarity of the labeling attached to the child restraint.
- Securing the Child: Ease in securing a child correctly in the restraint.
Seats are ranked on a one to five star scale. While you can find these ratings here, we have also included NHTSA rankings in each of our reviews (see below).
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) uses a six-year-old dummy to check the lap and shoulder belt fit of booster seats. Seats are award ratings of Best Bet, Good Bet and Check Fit. The last rating doesn’t mean a seat has failed, but requires a parent to double check fit in their own vehicle.
Here’s how the IIHS looks at booster seat fit:
Reviews of 50+ booster car seats
BABY TREND (TRENDZ)
DREAM ON ME
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