What’s the best lightweight convertible car seat for travel

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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 product. 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?

Fortunately there are plenty of great travel convertible car seat options on the market that 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. We’ve used many of these seats ourselves and have gotten feedback on the others from our Facebook group. Check out this quick comparison of the top lightweight convertible car seat contenders to begin your search:

Travel car seatSize
Combi Coccoro
compact,
11 lbs
Cosco Scenera
Next DLX
compact,
7 lbs
Cosco Apt 50
compact,
8 lbs
Cosco Mighty
Fit 65
medium size,
11 lbs
Evenflo
Sonus 65
medium size,
11 lbs
Evenflo
Sureride DLX
tall,
10 lbs

How to choose the best 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:

Lightest convertible car seat for travel

One of the most important features of a travel car seat is light weight. 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 and this weight 25 to 30lbs. The best convertible car seats for travel weight 8 to 15lbs, which can make a huge difference.

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 Delight. 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 car seat

When you’re traveling with a car seat, one things 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 with 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 LATCH 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 Uber’s 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. 

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 just 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 at your destination, the last thing you want is a complaint every five minutes (me in Vancouver circa 2015). 

The best convertible car seats for travel

Ready to dive in? We’ve reviewed the best convertible car seats for travel in 2019 below to help you choose the one that’s right for your family.

Combi Coccoro travel car seat review

Key stats:
-Weight 11lbs
-Shell height 22”
-Max harness height 15”
-Rear-facing size limits: 5-33lbs, up to 36”
-Forward-facing size limits: 20-40lbs

Pros:
✔ Compact
✔ Easy to install
✔ Comfortable

Cons:
✘ High price
✘ Low size limits
✘ Not approved for Canadians

I’ll start with my personal favorite, the Combi Coccoro. This isn’t just my favorite travel car seat, it’s my favorite car seat ever. That’s a bold statement coming from someone who’s crazy enough to have owned a few dozen over the years but it’s true.

The Combi Coccoro is an amazing little car seat. It weighs just 11lbs, is easy to install, has generous padding, a range of recline angles and more. It’s tiny enough to throw in your stroller seat and wheel through the airport, or you can even use it as a stroller seat with this universal caddy.

We love that it comes with lock-offs (built-in for forward-facing, separate piece for rear-facing). The base is curved, so it’s easy to adjust the angle on the plane – more reclined for sleeping on the flight, less reclined if you’re in a tight spot with limited seat pitch. We give it the nod as the best carseat for flying. It’s also perfect for installing in small rental cars abroad since it’s so compact. 

There are two downsides to the Combi Coccoro: size and price. But I thought you said the size was perfect? The Combi Coccoro just isn’t designed for huge kids. Average kids will hit the rear-facing limit of 33lbs around 2.5-3 and the forward-facing limit of 40lbs around 3.5-4.5. If your child is average or smaller, it’s still a great portable car seat for a 2 year old – especially if you plan on doing lots of traveling at that age. 

Why don’t most families choose the Combi Coccoro? Because it ain’t cheap – you can check the current selling price here. The price is comparable to that of many mid- to high-end car seats and far beyond the price of the other inexpensive travel car seats on this list. But we found that we loved the Coccoro so much that it became one of our full-time car seats!

It’s so comfortable and easy to use that we wouldn’t dream of keeping it in the closet most of the year, while many of the bare-bones options see minimal use outside of travel. We got four years of heavy use out of that seat and then passed it on to you get cousins who will continue to use it for the remaining years of its life – a much better value than the cheaper seats we used a few times and then gave away because they we couldn’t stand them.


Cosco Scenera Next DLX review

Key stats:
-Weight 7lbs
-Shell height 24”
-Max harness height 13.5”
-Rear-facing size limits 5-40lbs, 19-40”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-40lbs

Pros:
✔ Compact
✔ Lightest convertible car seat
✔ Low price

Cons:
✘ Low size limits
✘ Hard to install in some cars
✘ Limited padding
✘ No extra protection in headwings

The most popular convertible car seat for travel is the Cosco Scenera Next DLX. What makes it so insanely popular? It’s as easy on the scale as it is on the wallet! The Cosco Scenera Next is the lightest convertible car seat and the cheapest convertible car seat (Walmart is definitely the best bet since they have a direct relationship with Dorel) as well, making it an ideal toddler travel car seat.

Just how light is it? It would be no problem to carry on your back in a car seat backpack like this one, and some parents even use these hooks to hang it from the back of the stroller as they walk through the airport. 

Cosco’s manufacturer, Dorel, made a great safety decision when they designed the Scenera Next portable toddler car seat: the minimum age to forward face is 2yo. That aligns with many state car seat laws in 2019 designed to keep toddlers safer. But they also pulled a bit of a fast one in the design of the Cosco travel car seat: by including maximum harness slots at 13.5”, engineers essentially created a seat is outgrown forward-facing even while kids have another year or two rear-facing. (Remember, when your kid is forward-facing the straps need to come from above their shoulders.)

Our petite kids were able to rear-face in the Scenera Next until almost 4yo. However, it wasn’t necessarily a comfortable seat at that age. The crotch strap that comes with the seat is extremely short – like, newborn short. They will send you a longer one for free if you provide the serial number, so make sure you reach out to them the minute your seat arrives if you have a trip coming up. 

The Cosco Scenera Next fills an important niche as an affordable seat that travels fairly well and keeps kids rear-facing until at least 2yo. Why don’t I love it? We found it very challenging to get a truly tight installation (especially on leather seats) and the patterned version of the seat that we got has absolutely no padding. Babies may not notice or complain but our preschooler was clear that it wasn’t the seat for him!

There’s now a DLX version that comes in solid colors but has more padding, so if you opt for the Cosco Scenera Next be sure to pick up that one even though it costs a few dollars more.

You’ll need to recline the seat quite a bit for babies under 22lbs, so keep that in mind if you plan to rear face on a plane with an infant. We always found it easier to travel with our infant car seat as long as the kids fit.

If you’re traveling internationally, make sure you bring a locking clip. Cars in many other countries may not have locking seatbelts like the ones in the US; they lock in an emergency, but you can’t manually lock them by pulling all the way out. You should be able to use LATCH in cars where available, but if the seating position you want to use doesn’t have LATCH or it’s an older car without LATCH then you will need a locking clip. Grab a locking clip here – it’s cheap and doesn’t take up any space!


Cosco Apt 50 review

Key stats:
-Weight 8lbs
-Shell height 24”
-Max harness height 16”
-Rear-facing size limits 5-40lbs, 19-40”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-50lbs, 29-43” (the 43” limit may not be realistic depending on how long your child’s torso is)

Pros:
✔ Low price
✔ Compact front-to-back when installed more upright
✔ Higher sizes limits than the Cosco Scenera Next DLX

Cons:
✘ Extremely wide near the head
✘ Hard to install in some cars
✘ Limited padding
✘ No extra protection in headwings

Around the same time that Cosco ditched the old Scenera model in favor of the Cosco Scenera Next and Cosco Scenera Next DLX, they also refreshed the slightly larger Cosco Apt in favor of the new Cosco Apt 50. I’ll be totally honest: I don’t quite understand why Dorel is making both of those seats and the Cosco Mighty Fit 65 (which has been around for years as the Safety 1st Guide 65 – more info below). There’s a lot of overlap between the three seats, so if you’re considering one of them it’s worth considering the others as well to make sure you’re choosing the one that best suits your needs.

The Cosco Apt 50 is much the same as its younger sibling, the Cosco Scenera Next. It’s one of the lightest weight convertible car seat options, extremely well-priced and gets the job done with minimal frills. The shell height is similar to the Scenera Next so it won’t buy you any extra time rear-facing, but thanks to the much higher harness height and the higher weight limit, kids can comfortably forward face in the Cosco Apt 50 until at least 4 years old. It’s a solid choice if you want a convertible car seat for travel that allows for extended rear facing but you don’t have a big budget.

One of the biggest drawbacks of the Apt 50 over the Scenera Next is that it’s extremely wide near the top – several inches wider! It’s not your best choice if you’re trying to fit three-across in a tiny European rental car. It also needs to be very reclined for kids under 22lbs, so might be a tight squeeze if you’re trying to rear-face on a plane with a baby. And if you’re flying overseas, be sure to bring a locking clip just in case.


Evenflo Sonus 65 review

Key stats:
-Weight 11lbs
-Shell height 25”
-Max harness height 18”
-Rear-facing size limits 5-40lbs, 19-40”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-65lbs, 28-50”

Pros:
✔ Generous size limits
✔ More comfort features than other travel car seats
✔ Nice enough to use as an everyday car seat
✔ Somewhat narrow convertible car seat

Cons:
✘ Heavier than Cosco Scenera Next and Cosco Apt 50
✘ More expensive than Cosco car seats
✘ 6 year expiration

The Evenflo Sonus and Evenflo Sonus 65 are a replacement for Evenflo’s older introductory-level lightweight car seat, the Evenflo Tribute LX. We’ve had several well-loved Evenflo car seats over the years so we’re glad to see they’re offering a great option for younger travelers now!

The Evenflo Sonus 65 is a great choice for a lightweight car seat for travel thanks to its more generous size limits combined with light weight. Most kids will make it to their fourth birthday rear-facing in this car seat! It offers two different recline options, so it should fit just find in economy class seats if you’re traveling with an older infant who can use the more upright options. This is one of the best travel convertible car seat choices to come on the market in the last year.

It offers reasonable padding for kid comfort (unlike some other bargain models) and gives kids built-in cup holders to boot. The Sonus 65 not only has a higher forward-facing weight limit than the regular Sonus, but it also adds a recline wedge to get the correct angle without needing a pool noodle or rolled towel. 

PSA: We’ve read that the seat comes with the LATCH strap set up to install forward-facing. If you want to install rear-facing, be sure to switch it. Read the manual and do it before your trip because it can be tricky!


Evenflo Sureride DLX review

Key stats:
-Weight 10lbs
-Shell height 26.5”
-Max harness height 19”
-Rear-facing size limits 5-40lbs, 19-40”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-65lbs

Pros:
✔ Fits from newborn to elementary school
✔ Seats stack together for easy transportation if you travel with two kids
✔ ‘BEST’ crash test performance rating from Consumer Reports

Cons:
✘ Tall shell won’t fit well rear-facing in compact cars and economy airplane seats
✘ 6 year expiration

And the award for tallest travel car seat goes to… the Evenflo Sureride DLX! The Evenflo Sureride won’t help heavier kids, but for tall kids on the go it can’t be beat. It’s a full inch taller in the shell and the maximum harness height versus the already-tall Evenflo Sonus 65. It’s even taller than our huge convertible car seat that we used at home for years. That height is especially good for forward-facing kids

And did I mention that it only weighs 10lbs?

Yeah, the Evenflo Sureride DLX is kind of a rock star if you have a very tall kid. That height also means that it’ll take up a lot more space in cars and planes if it’s rear-facing, so keep that in mind if that’s one of your constraints. In my opinion, this is the Sureride’s Achilles heel as a travel car seat; if your kid isn’t on the tall side, you might be better served by choosing a shorter car seat that will be easier to fit in small cars and planes.The Sureride also won’t help you if your kid is on the heavy side and you want to rear-face longer, as the weight limit is 40lbs (just like every other lightweight convertible car seat).

PSA: As with the Sonus 65 above, the seat comes with the LATCH strap set up to install forward-facing. If you want to install rear-facing, be sure to switch it. Read the manual and do it before your trip because it can be tricky!


Safety 1st Guide 65/Cosco Mighty Fit 65 review

Key stats:
-Weight 11lbs
-Shell height 24”
-Max harness height 17”
-Rear-facing size limits 5-40lbs, 19-40”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-65lbs, 29-49”

Pros:
✔ First from newborn to elementary school
✔ Somewhat narrow convertible car seat

Cons:
✘ Tall shell won’t fit well rear-facing in compact cars and economy airplane seats
✘ Doesn’t last as long as the Evenflo Sureride

The final car seat on this list has been around for a long time but has gained in popularity thanks to fresh branding. Dorel has now added its well-respected Safety 1st Guide 65 to the popular Cosco car seat lineup as a longer-lasting convertible car seat option, renaming it the Cosco Mighty Fit 65 DLX. As with other Cosco car seats, you may find the best price at Walmart.

The Guide 65 has proven its worth as a travel car seat for many years and continues to work well for many families. It’ll last rear-facing kids until a safe age for forward-facing, and then for a few years beyond until they’re ready for our favorite travel booster seats.

One of the biggest downsides of the Guide 65 (or the Cosco Mighty Fit 65, whatever you want to call it) is that the steep recline needed for kids under 22lbs is tough to achieve without using a pool noodle or rolled towel – which is not the kind of gear we prefer to travel with.

We hope this guide has helped you choose the right travel car seat for your family. Wondering how to transport that car seat through the airport, weird installation quirks, travel car seats for other age groups and other nitty gritty of traveling with car seats? Check out our epic guide to traveling with car seats.

More resources:
How to travel with car seats
Ride Safer Delight travel vest review
Bubblebum inflatable booster seat review
Most comfortable booster seats for long trips
Car services with car seats around the world

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