The best travel car seat for a 2 year old

The best travel car seat for a 2 year old

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If you’re looking for the best travel car seat for a 2 year old, you’ve come to the right place! These days most kids ride around at home in huge convertible car seats at that age (we’ve owned three of them!), and they’re great for safety and comfort.

But for travel? Many families don’t want to lug a 25 pound car seat through the airport, hoist it over an entire row to get it installed in a tiny airplane window seat, navigate back through another airport and then lift it into a taxi or rental car. A better choice if you can swing it is to pick up one of the many travel car seats for 2 year olds on the market today.

What do we look for in the best portable car seat for a 2 year old? We have a few priorities:

-It has to be light, ideally not more than ~10lbs

-It has to be easy to use

-Ideally it should last at least 3-4 years

Of course every family has unique needs. If your child is extremely tall for her age, you might want to choose taller car seat even at the expense of a few extra pounds. If your travels involve a long flight and a long drive, look for comfort features like padding and cup holders to keep your youngest passengers happy.

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

Best travel car seats for 2 year olds

The NHTSA recommends that children remain rear-facing until around 3, and many safety advocates urge parents to keep their kids rear-facing until closer to 4. Some of the travel convertible car seats on this list will keep every kid rear-facing until at least 4 years old, but if you have a very tall kid you may want to skip over the first few options as they’re better suited to small or average 2 year olds.

What to look for in your travel car seat

In the summaries below you’ll see that I’ve listed “shell height” and “max harness height”. What do these mean and why are they important?

Shell height is the distance from the bottom of the seat to the top above the child’s head and it’s important for rear-facing. Most car seats require that kids have at least 1″ of shell height above the top of their heads to rear face. Harness height isn’t as much of an issue for rear-facing because the straps should always come from below your kid’s shoulders.

Max harness height comes into play for forward-facing. It’s the distance from the bottom of the seat to the highest setting for the harness. Since your child’s shoulders should always be below the harness when forward-facing, the max harness height is often the limiting factor for outgrowing a seat forward-facing. Shell height also matters in that usually the tops of the ears should be contained within the shell (it’s ok if the top of the head pokes out a bit), but that isn’t usually the limiting factor.

The other weight, height and age limits are pretty self-explanatory. Manufacturers (rightly?) assume that your kid is wearing clothes and even shoes in their car seat, so you can factor those in for weight.

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. Unless your child is way at the top of the growth charts, I think it’s the best travel car seat for a toddler.

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 choice. 

As I mentioned above, one of the things I look for in portable car seats is a size lifespan of 3-4 years… and the Combi Coccoro really stretches that if you only have one child to use it! In our case, we used it for two years with our son and then used it for another four years with our daughter (the tail end of which was forward-facing).

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 Next: 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.

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.


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

Aaaaand we have yet another Cosco travel car seat! This one 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. It’s tall enough, but not the tallest seat around. But since you’re shopping for a portable car seat for a 2 year old, this one should have plenty of longevity for your family.

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. It’s also one of the heavier options on this list, but without some of the nicer features of the newer Evenflo Sonus 65 below.


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

Of all the car seats on this list, the new Evenflo Sonus 65 is the one I’m most excited about. Yes, I know it’s probably unhealthy to be excited about a car seat.

I’ve had a few opportunities to play around with it in stores and I’m impressed. It’s light enough to lug around, padded enough for comfort, tall enough to keep almost every kid harnessed to a safe age, and affordable enough to be within reach for most families.

Best of all, it’s packed with great features that’ll have you using the seat at home too. If you’re a two-car family, this is a great choice to use for travel and your second car – maybe even your first.

The Evenflo Sonus 65 is an FAA-approved car seat (just like pretty much every American car seat out there) and can be installed either rear-facing or forward-facing on a plane. It even has a two-position recline wedge to help you get the correct angle in both planes and cars.

Those beefy, extra-protective headwings make the top of the seat somewhat wide, so it may be tough to position the Sonus 3-across next to another car seat facing the same direction.


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

Parents of extra-tall kids, take heart: Evenflo is looking out for you too. If your child is off the charts or you want her to stay harnessed for trips well into elementary school, the Evenflo Sureride DLX is a great choice for you! The maximum harness height of 19″ puts it on par with much more expensive rear-facing car seats and the 26.5″ shell is extremely tall. But it’ll also offer a great fit for a typical 2 year old (and younger kids too!).

The Sureride’s features are on the more basic side, but it’ll still get the job done. It even earned a BEST rating on the strenuous crash testing by Consumer Reports, which reminds us of an important lesson: just like you can’t judge a book by its cover, don’t judge a car seat by its price tag.

One neat trick is that Surerides stack with each other like Pringles chips, meaning that if you’re traveling with two car seats you can load them both onto the same stroller or car seat travel cart (maybe with a bungee cord around them just to be safe).

Just about the only downside of the Evenflo Sureride is exactly it’s big advantage: the tall shell. While it’s great for keeping tall kids rear-facing longer (and older kids harnessed forward-facing longer), it also makes the seat more difficult to fit in tight spaces. If you’re flying a discount airline with extremely small seat pitch or planning to rent the smallest possible car, you may find it challenging to rear-face. For 2 year olds who are average or smaller and families who plan to switch to a Ride Safer vest at 4 or a booster seat around 5 years old, the Sureride may just be overkill as a travel car seat.


What’s your favorite travel car seat for a 2 year old? Tell us in the comments below!

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