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If you’re looking for the best travel car seat for a 3 year old, you’ve come to the right place! If you’re shopping for a child of a different age, check out the best travel car seats for all ages to get to the right list.
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 3 year old kids on the market today.
What do we look for in the best portable car seat for a 3 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.
Quick Picks: Best Travel Car Seat For A 3 Year Old
If you want to skip the details, here are my top picks for the best travel car seat for a 3 year old:
- Evenflo Sonus 65 – nice balance of light weight, long-lasting, reasonable price and nice quality for everyday use if you still want to rear-face (also available at Walmart and Target)
- Graco Contender Slim/Graco Contender GO – somewhat lightweight car seat that allows rear facing well beyond 40″ (but only up to 40lbs) and has a closed belt path for comfortable forward facing
- Evenflo Maestro Sport – best lightweight harnessed booster for kids who are taller than they heavy (also available at Amazon)
- Graco Tranzitions/Graco Wayz – works well for kids ages ~3-12 as a forward-facing harness, highback booster and then backless booster
- Wayb Pico (full review) – foldable harnessed car seat perfect for long-term travel
- Ride Safer Travel Vest (full review) – booster seat alternative perfect for lightweight travel with with preschoolers
Portable Car Seat For A 3 Year Old Comparison
|Travel car seat||Size|
|rear-facing or forward-facing; |
|rear-facing or forward-facing;|
|Graco Contender 65||rear-facing or forward-facing;|
|Evenflo Maestro Sport||forward-facing or high-back booster;|
Graco Tranzitions SnugLock
|forward-facing, high-back booster|
or backless booster;
|Cosco Finale DX||forward-facing or high-back booster;|
(also available here)
|Ride Safer Travel Vest||booster seat alternative;|
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Best travel car seats for 3 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. In the reviews below, we offer recommendations for both travel convertible car seats (that can be used either rear-facing or forward-facing with a harness) and travel combination car seats. These are also called harnessed boosters and which can be used forward-facing with a harness until your child is big enough and mature enough to use the seat as a high-back booster.
(Soapbox moment: At ages 3 and 4, most kids still can’t be trusted to stay in the right position 100% of the time in a booster seat. If a beloved toy or water bottle falls, they’re going for it! It’s also hard for kids that age to stay upright if they fall asleep, which they’re more prone to do with they’re on the road. We’ve all seen those “cute” pictures on Facebook of our friends’ kids slumped sideways asleep in their booster seats. What happens if a kid is in that position in a car accident? Nothing good. So let’s not be too eager to stick little kids in boosters please.)
Does a 3 year old need a carseat on a plane?
It depends on the child. If your 3 year old is under 40 pounds, as most are, she should still be in a car seat or the CARES harness (full review here). If your 3 year old is already 40 pounds but you’ll need a car seat at your destination, we recommend that you use it on the plane to avoid checking the car seat.
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.
Baby Trend Trooper review
-Shell height 24”
-Max harness height 16.5”
-Rear-facing size limits 4-40lbs
-Forward-facing size limits 23-65lbs, up to 50”
✔ First from preemie to elementary school
✔ Extremely narrow convertible car seat
✔ Built in cup holder
✔ Very clear labeling on car seat and inserts
✘ Very steep recline under 22lbs
✘ Doesn’t last as long as the Evenflo Sureride
✘ Requires top tether for forward-facing
There’s a new kid on the block for 2020, and she’s got a lot to offer for traveling parents! The all-new Baby Trend Trooper convertible car seat (be sure to check prices here too) ticks so many boxes that it’s almost like they listened to CPST requests.
What’s so great? For starters, it’s very lightweight at just 10 lbs and extremely narrow. It’s even a hair narrower than the Cosco Scenera Next. But unlike the Scenera, the Baby Trend Trooper will fit most kids until until around age 6. The price tag is higher, but you’ll get about double the use from it! The Trooper also has a few different padding configurations available (some with weight limits, some totally optional) including a body pillow, a head pillow and harness pads.
The Trooper won’t last quite as long as the Evenflo Sonus 65 for forward-facing, but the more compact shape could make that trade off worth it for many families. The Trooper doesn’t have a stated height limit for rear-facing, only that kids need at least 1″ on shell height over the top of their heads; on the other hand, the Sonus caps out at 40″ rear-facing. If your kids are built taller, they may be able to rear face longer in the Trooper than the Sonus 65 but the extra harness height on the Sonus 65 will hold them forward-facing for about an extra year.
The Graco Contender also allows rear facing beyond 40″ and has a much taller shell than the BabyTrend Trooper, so that’ll get you even more rear facing capacity. The trade off is that the Contender is 5lbs heavier and several inches wider. For a leggy kid the Trooper will give you plenty of time rear facing, while a kid with a longer torso would benefit from the Contender.
It may seem like a small detail, but I’m completely impressed by Baby Trend’s attention to labeling and instructions on this seat. In a world where the vast majority of car seats are misused, clear labels make such a difference. Baby Trend tells you the weight limit for the insert right there on it. The special harness routing for newborns is labeled on the seat. The harness has stripes to let you know it’s laying flat with no twists. There’s a big picture of an airplane on the side of the seat to show flight attendants, rather than searching for obscure red lettering.
The manual itself is extremely useful. Truly! There’s a page with clear cleaning instructions for each part. There’s another page that lays out the rules for various padding that comes with the seat. There’s a quick safety checklist for parents to review. The manual is full of easy-to-digest information to help parents use their car seat correctly. There’s even a QR code to scan that gives direct access to installation videos.
Evenflo Sonus 65 review
-Shell height 25”
-Max harness height 18”
-Rear-facing size limits 5-40lbs, 19-40”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-65lbs, 28-50”
✔ 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
✘ Requires top tether, which may not be available in all countries
✘ Heavier than Cosco Scenera Next and Cosco Apt 50
✘ More expensive than Cosco car seats
✘ Can be a tight squeeze front-to-back when rear-facing on some airlines with limited seat pitch
✘ 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.
If you mostly fly on airlines with limited seat pitch (the space between the seats) it may be a tight fit to install the Sonus 65 rear facing. At that age, we often installed forward facing on flights even if we normally rear faced in the car. Even better, it’s low-profile enough that your child will be able to use the tray table on many airlines!
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.
Families with a little extra room in their budgets might want to look at the related Evenflo Stratos. It largely mirrors the Evenflo Sonus 65 but adds premium push-on lower anchors for easier installation and an adjustable headrest for a little extra forward-facing capacity.
Beginning in mid-2021, all new Evenflo car seats will require the top tether for forward facing. If you plan on international travel to the developing world where a top tether may be unavailable, you’ll have to evaluate whether or not you feel comfortable using the car seat against manufacturer instructions. The top tether is an important safety feature because it reduces forward head movement in a crash by 4-6″, but car seats are required to pass Federal crash tests without it no matter what. If your child still fits rear facing, you can continue using it anywhere in the world!
If you want to keep your 3 year old rear-facing when you travel, this is one of my top picks alongside the Graco Contender.
Graco Contender 65 review
-Shell height 27”
-Max harness height 18”
-Rear-facing size limits 5-40lbs
-Forward-facing size limits 22-65lbs, under 49″
✔ Fits from newborn to elementary school
✔ “Closed” belt path means no buckle in the back when forward facing on a plane
✔ Easy to install with either LATCH or seatbelt
✔ Allows rear facing past 40″ (as long as there’s 1″ of head room)
✘ Tall shell won’t fit well rear-facing in compact cars and economy airplane seats
What’s a 15 pound monster doing in the middle of a list of featherweights? If you want to keep rear facing a tall child or have a child who will be forward-facing on a plane now or in the near future, the Graco Contender 65 (or its twin, the Graco Admiral 65) deserves at least a moment of consideration.
Unlike nearly ever lightweight car seat, the Graco Contender does not have a 40″ standing height limit for rear facing. That means you can keep your tall, lanky kid rear facing longer in the car (even if they forward face on the plane – it may be a little big to rear face on the plane due to its recline).
The Contender has a really neat trick up its sleeve for flights. Unlike most other lightweight car seats, it has a “closed belt path” for forward facing. What is a closed belt path? It means there’s a panel separating your child’s back from the airplane seat belt buckle. Having flown long-haul with kids forward-facing in other car seat, I can tell you that’s a big deal for their comfort.
The other nice feature for forward facing on planes is that there’s plenty of natural recline to the seat while many others are extremely upright. Double-win for in-flight comfort! Unfortunately that reclined position means your child wouldn’t be able to use the tray table so you’ll need to evaluate how important that is for you.
It also has all the other great features of a full-sized car seat: ample padding, a cup holder, easy installation. You could certainly use this as your everyday seat for many years.
Century Drive On review
-Max harness height 16”
-Rear-facing size limits 5-40lbs
-Forward-facing size limits 22-65lbs, under 49″
-High back booster size limits 40-100lbs, 43-57″, age 4+
✔ Fits from newborn to early booster years
✔ Good fit in all modes
✔ Light enough for travel
✔ Simple to install
✔ Works with inflatable seatbelts
✔ Fun colors
✘ Recline line must be parallel to the ground, requiring a rolled towel in some cars
✘ 40lb rear facing limit won’t get big kids to 4 years old
✘ Low top harness slots so not ideal for tall/long torso kids
If you have an average to petite child and only want to buy one travel car seat ever, it’s time to read up on the new Century Drive On. It’s the lightest all-in-one car seat (more accurately called a “multi-mode car seat”) and offers a simple solution for both home and away. You may never have heard of the Century brand, but the name has been around for decades and was recently revived by Graco’s parent company to product a line of budget-friendly seats.
The Drive On gives plenty to love with just a few downsides. There will always be trade offs, but for some families it’ll be a wonderful choice. The first reason why I recommend the Century Drive On is that the fit has been great on every kiddo I’ve seen in it, from newborn to late preschool/early elementary school.
Second, the installation is very straight-forward with no major quirks to report. It’s simple and it works. If you’re short on storage space, it’s nice to just have one travel seat kicking around your house (or even installed in a secondary car) rather than keeping a parade of shorter-lived seats around.
Speaking of short-lived, there’s the rub with the Century Drive On… while average/petite kiddos or those with short torsos will be able to use this seat until as old as 8 years old (once in booster mode), tall kids need not apply. The rear facing mode is nice because it doesn’t have a standing height limit vs the 40″ rear facing limit for many travel car seats for 3 year olds, but the tallest harness slot for forward facing just isn’t that tall.
The earliest kids have the maturity to use a booster seat is typically 5, but some kids do best in a harness until 6 or even 7. If they happen to be tall and need more time harnessed, the Drive On may fall short.
The other annoyance with the Drive On in some vehicles is that the recline line is supposed to be parallel to the ground at all times when rear facing, no matter how old your kiddo is. This is probably a rule to save money on testing by just allowing a single recline, but the included adjustable recline foot might not be enough in cars with extremely sloped seats. Some people overcome this with an 11″ piece of pool noodle while others use a rolled towel to prop it up. This method can also be very effective.
It’s also worth noting that the Century Drive On comes in a neutral gray, a beautiful blue and a cheerful pink. Not that color should be a determining factor in a car seat it’s nice to see a little variety now and then! The covers are all made from recycled plastic but feel nice and soft.
Overall if you’re looking for the best toddler travel car seat for your 3 year old, the Century Drive On is worth a look. For a small kiddo, it’ll give you plenty of longevity!
Evenflo Maestro Sport review
-Max harness height 18.5”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-50lbs, 28-50”
-Highback booster size limits 40-110lbs, 44-57”
✔ Lasts from age 3 (as a harness) to ~age 8 (as a booster)
✔ Affordable price
✔ Easy to install
✘ Requires top tether, which may not be available in all countries
✘ Narrow set harness straps with no covers
✘ 6 year expiration
I’m sure by now this list feels like an infomercial for Evenflo. I promise, I have no relationship with the company (other than as a long-term customer). But when it comes to designing lightweight car seats for travel, they do a lot of things right!
Despite the low price and light weight, Evenflo travel car seats come equipped with comfort and convenience features that make them suitable for use both on the road and at home. How do I know? Because we’ve used the Evenflo Maestro Sport‘s retired cousin in one of our own cars for the last five years.
If you’re shopping for a travel car seat for the 3 year old in your life and don’t intend to rear-face, it’s hard to beat the all-around package of the Maestro Sport. It’s got enough padding to keep riders happy (unlike the previous version) and is light enough that we regularly carry it through the airport by the straps since we no longer bring a stroller.
We’ve installed its cousin in an airplane seat many times while using it with the harness and it’s quick and easy. Our kids haven’t had issue with legroom, but we do remove their shoes and remind them not to (accidentally) kick their neighbor in front.
The price is very affordable, especially considering that it’ll last you well into elementary school!
Beginning in mid-2021, all new Evenflo car seats will require the top tether. If you plan on international travel to the developing world where a top tether may be unavailable, you’ll have to evaluate whether or not you feel comfortable using the car seat against manufacturer instructions. The top tether is an important safety feature because it reduces forward head movement in a crash by 4-6″, but car seats are required to pass Federal crash tests without it no matter what.
The biggest downside for some families is that the shoulder straps are set fairly close to each other in 5-point harness mode. If Evenflo could make them even 1″ further apart, they’d have some very happy kids out there. The narrow setting is compounded by the lack of harness pads – which you are not allowed to add. Sometimes our kids have complained but usually they haven’t; when it bothers them, we try to just pull their shirt collars up to protect the sides of their necks. If your child has a broader build or is tall, he might do better with a different seat.
The 50 pound max harness weight of the Maestro Sport is also disappointing. Our older Evenflo SecureKid goes up to 65 pounds, as does the Evenflo Sonus, so I wish Evenflo had incorporated that extra reinforcement for the Maestro Sport. You can switch to booster mode at 50 pounds (the weight of an average 7 year old) and continue using the seat for several more years, but some kids who are higher on the weight curve won’t be mature enough for a booster seat when they hit 50lbs. If you’re shopping for your 3 year old, you probably won’t encounter this issue for a while but it’s good to keep in mind.
We used this seat in booster mode for several years and it worked well. The seatbelt fit was good and it was easy to use. Just know that if you’re using it as a booster seat for your 5 year old, you won’t be able to bring it on board a plane with you. It’s not going to be the tallest booster seat around since the headrest on the Maestro Sport doesn’t adjust, but at least you can eek out a little more time by running the seatbelt over the headrest if your child gets a better fit that way and is still within the seat’s limits (including the tops of the ears still being within the headrest).
Graco Tranzitions review
-Max harness height 18”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-65lbs, 27-49″
-Highback booster size limit 40-100lbs, 43-57″, age 4+
-Backless booster size limit 40-100lbs, 43-57″, age 4+
✔ Fits from age 3 (as a harness) to ~age 12 (as a backless booster)
✔ Reasonable price for longevity
✔ Extremely narrow
✘ Original can be tough to install in some cars
✘ Heavier than other options
✘ Back and base may separate when carrying
✘ 7 year expiration
If we were on the market for a travel car seat for a 3 year old, the Graco Tranzitions would get some serious consideration. The price tag is extremely reasonable for what you get and it would be a great seat to use both at home at on the go (it may be cheaper at Walmart). The best part? You’ll might have to buy another car seat again (or you may just need a cheap booster seat at the end since the Tranzitions has a 7 year expiration). In many ways this is an ideal car seat for three year old kids since it will take them through so many stages.
Unlike the Evenflo Maestro, the Tranzitions has harness pads and a slightly wider distance between straps to keep your kid comfortable. It has an option pillow for extra padding and even two cupholders, which can be rotated inward to save space and make this a great car seat for traveling with three kids. The Tranzitions also converts to a backless booster eventually.
So what are the tradeoffs? Nothing is perfect. You’ll have to carry around a few extra pounds for all those features, though you won’t notice a difference if you use a cart like this one or strap it to your suitcase.
Lastly, the base and the back can click apart from each other too easily when you’re carrying it around – this problem afflicts just about every booster seat that can become backless (including the one we use at home) and it’s such a nuisance!
Cosco Finale DX review
-Max harness height 17”
-Forward-facing size limits 30-65lbs, 32-49”
-Highback booster size limits 40-100lbs, 43-52”
✔ Lasts from age 3 (as a harness) to ~age 7 (as a booster)
✔ Extremely low price
✔ very narrow
✔ 10 year expiration
✘ Requires top tether, which may not be available in all countries
✘ potential seatbelt retraction issues in booster mode (can be avoided by not using guide, which is not required)
✘ LATCH not allowed in booster mode
✘ Sparse padding on the seat
I’ll be candid: the Cosco Finale DX isn’t my top pick for a harnessed booster for travel. After reading some expert reviews and playing with them in stores and at car seat events, I just can’t get on board with the Finale for my family. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it!
It’s an extremely popular choice among the travel car seats for 3 year olds. Note that the minimum weight is 30 pounds, so if your child is on the smaller side she may not be able to safely use the Finale yet.
I’ll start with the pros, because there are two really big reasons why traveling families love (and I really mean love) their Cosco Finales. First, you absolutely can’t beat the weight. At 8 pounds, it’s the lightest car seat in its class! You can push it in a stroller, carry it in your hands or even strap it to your suitcase without breaking a sweat. Thanks to my fellow CPST Kelly who shared this photo of her kiddo riding in the Cosco Finale on a plane (you can see her younger one in the Cosco Scenera Next on a plane in the background too!).
Second, it’s really hard to beat that price tag. There’s actually an even cheaper version at Walmart but the padding is basically non-existent. Not only is it the lightest combination car seat, but it’s the cheapest one too!
New for 2020, there’s a slightly fancier version of the same seat sold as the Safety 1st Grand. It includes a more padded cover and two cup holders instead of one. The specs and shell are identical to the original Cosco Finale.
So what are the cons? For starters, it’s not a seat that’s going to last particularly long. The 17″ maximum harness height is the shortest on this list – even shorter than the convertible car seats at the top! There are plenty of kids who will outgrow the harness mode at age 5-6, even if they aren’t mature enough yet for the booster mode.
The biggest downside for international travelers is that the Cosco Finale requires using the top tether in harness mode in a car. Not all countries have top tethers in all cars (or any cars), so the Finale may not be the best choice for international travel.
The booster mode itself can be problematic too. Though the seat belt guide isn’t required, it can cause problems with the seatbelt retracting in some cars. I also don’t like that you can’t use LATCH to keep the seat in place in booster mode.
And while some kids love the seat and find it comfortable enough, my kids are extremely picky about their padding… and not shy about it either. We’ve had to replace more than one seat because they just don’t find them plush enough for long drives.
All that said, the Cosco Finale DX might be the right choice for your family if you’re on a tight budget or you need an extremely narrow car seat to fit 3-across in a tiny European rental car.
Wayb Pico review
-Max harness height 16.5″
-Forward-facing size limits: 22-50lbs, 30-45″, recommended 2+ years old minimum
✔ Easy to install
✔ Keeps kids harnessed
✔ FAA-approved to use on flights
✔ Can install without top tether
✘ High price
✘ Low height limit
✘ Crotch strap too short for some kids
✘ Top tether strap too short for some cars (can request an extension)
One of the coolest kid travel products we’ve seen in a loooong time is the new Wayb Pico. It was hard to miss as they plastered their Indiegogo campaign all over Facebook in 2018! The promise? An ultra-light, ultra-compact folding car seat with 5-point harness. Families would be able to travel with world without compromising safety.
In many ways their promise has panned out. For certain families the Pico is the perfect solution to a really tough question, while for others it isn’t the right fit. Read our in-depth expert Wayb Pico review here.
I’ll start with the advantages: the Wayb Pico is small and easy to use. The weight is about the same as the Cosco Scenera Next, but the genius is in how small it folds up (and even packs into its own backpack!) so that you can lug it around and have it when you need it for spur-of-the-moment taxi rides.
The concept of a folding forward-facing harnessed car seat isn’t new. They’ve actually been made for years, including the current car seat used by Uber Family. The downside of prior seats is that they required use of a top tether. Without it, the seats don’t stay upright! If you’re traveling within the US, Canada or Western Europe that’s no problem.
But if you plan to venture outside those areas you may have an extremely hard time using those car seats. We’ve encountered so many cars in South America, Morocco, Thailand and more that don’t have top tethers – rendering seats like the IMMI Go completely useless. While you’d ideally use the top tether all the time with the Wayb Pico, at least you have the option to use it without the top tether if absolutely necessary.
The major disadvantage of the Wayb Pico is that the 45″ upper height limit and 16.5″ harness slots aren’t high enough for some families. Many kids will outgrow it around 5-5.5 years old, though if you’re buying it at 3 years old that’s a few years of good usage (and more if you can pass it down to a younger sibling). If you’re a family that prioritizes extended rear-facing and then you want an extended forward-facing harness, this isn’t the car seat for you! But if you’ll be doing a ton of traveling with a 2 or 3 year old (like our family gap year) then the Wayb Pico is the best option to keep your kid safe without lugging a full-size car seat. On the small end, the Pico is approved for kids at least 1 year old – but that’s not recommended, and in some places (like California and New York) it’s not even legal.
Finally, the price tag of the Pico may be tough for some families to swallow.
Is the Wayb Pico right for everyone? No. But if your family is going on an extended trip or relying on lots of taxis in your daily life and a folding travel car seat is on your must-have list, you need to give the Wayb Pico a serious look!
Ride Safer Travel Vest review
-Size small: minimum age 3, fits best for 30+ lbs and 35-47″
-Size large: minimum age 4, fits best for 50+ lbs and 45-57″
✔ Rolls up to the size of a 2L soda bottle
✔ Perfect for taxi rides
✔ Lowers seat belt to provide an appropriate fit for young children
✔ Keeps kids properly seated better than a traditional booster seat – even when sleeping
✔ Easy to fit 3-across since it’s only as wide as the child
✔ 10 year expiration
✘ No side impact protection like a highback booster seat
✘ Takes practice to get belt fit right
✘ NOT permitted for use on planes
✘ Fits most kids better when they’re close to 3.5-4
Several years ago the kind folks at Safe Ride 4 Kids sent us a Ride Safer Delight travel vest to review, and it hasn’t left our travel kit since. The Ride Safer travel vest (“Delight” has been dropped with the latest Ride Safer travel vest Gen 5 release) is completely different than the travel car seats above.
You could say that the Ride Safer travel vest is sort of in between a booster seat and a traditional forward-facing car seat. It relies on the car’s seat belt to handle most of the restraint, but also has an optional-but-pease-use-it-always top tether that minimizes head movement in an accident and keeps your child in the correct position even if they fall asleep (or drop a toy). While we won’t put our youngest child in a booster seat yet since she’s a car sleeper – especially when jet-lagged – we’re comfortable with her riding in the Ride Safer vest.
So comfortable, in fact, that we brought our Ride Safer vest on our year-long trip around the world! It’s seen action on six continents and served us well the whole time. Once we practiced a few times, we got very fast at putting her in the vest and getting her secured in the car. The biggest change from the Ride Safer Delight to the Gen 5 is an easier buckle in the front, so that should help many parents.
Would I recommend the Ride Safer Gen 5 for a typical 3 year old? It depends. Our experience is that it runs a little big right at 3 years old, so for smaller kids a different 3 year old carseat from this list may be a better choice. If your child is closer to 3.5 years old (or on the tall end at 3) then it should work well. The size small should last most kids until 6 or even 7. Because there’s no side impact protection, it’s a good idea to put your Ride Safer in the middle seat if it has a top tether available. Read our in-depth Ride Safer review.
For families going on extended journeys like ours who just can’t take a traditional car seat or those heading somewhere like NYC or Paris, where they’ll mostly rely on public transportation but need an occasional taxi ride, the Ride Safer travel vest is a fantastic option. For a more typical trip that involves flying and then renting a car for a week or two, we generally opt to bring our other travel car seat.
Speaking of flying… the other downside of the Ride Safer travel vest is that it can’t be used on the plane. The manufacturer has been working on it for a few years, so let’s cross our collective fingers. In the meantime, if your kid is under 40lbs we recommend using this on the plane to keep him properly restrained if there’s bad turbulence or a runway incident.
Best car seat for 3 year old FAQs
A 3 year old car seat can be either a convertible car seat (ideally rear-facing, but forward-facing is acceptable at that age) or a combination car seat using the harness mode.
Yes, 3 year olds need to ride in a car seat with a harness.
While some booster seats on the market have a minimum age of 3, that’s not a safe choice for kids. Their bones aren’t developed enough to withstand crash forces in a booster seat and they aren’t mature enough to sit correctly 100% of the time. Using a booster seat for a 3 year old is illegal in nearly every state in the US and in many countries around the world.
The best car seat for three year old kids is one that fits their bodies, fits properly in the family car, fits your budget and can be used correctly 100% of the time. All car seats sold in the US pass the same Federal testing, so they’ll all keep your kid safe in an accident.
There’s no list of the best car seats for a three year old child because every family’s situation is unique. Some of the most popular options that fit a wide range of children and cars are:
What’s your favorite travel car seat for a 3 year old? Tell us in the comments below!