The best travel car seat for a 5 year old

The best travel car seat for a 5 year old

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Are you trying to pick the best travel car seat for a 5 year old? Or maybe you feel like your 5 year old is ready for a travel booster seat? You’ve come to the right place! If your family is anything like our, at home the kids are riding around in harnessed boosters that might as well be kid-sized thrones. They’re amazing for safety and comfort.

But for travel? Not so much. 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 5 year olds on the market today.

If your child is big enough and mature enough you can also start to consider some travel booster seats on the market. Nearly all of them are lighter than harnessed combination seats but not all 5 year olds are ready to make the jump – I know mine isn’t! Every family will need to decide what is the appropriate car seat for their 5 year old.

What do we look for in the best portable car seat for a 5 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 or you think she would benefit from staying harnessed for a few more years, 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
Evenflo
Sureride DLX
rear-facing or forward-facing;
10 lbs
Evenflo Maestro Sportforward-facing or high-back booster;
9 lbs
Graco Tranzitionsforward-facing, high-back booster
or backless booster;
12.5 lbs
Cosco Finale DXforward-facing or high-back booster;
8 lbs
Ride Safer Travel Vestbooster seat alternative;
2 lbs
hifoldhighback booster;
10lbs
Baby Trend Yumihighback booster or backless booster;
9 lbs
Graco TurboBooster
Take Along
highback booster or backless booster;
11 lbs
Peg Perego Viaggio
Flex 120
highback booster;
15lbs
Bubblebumbackless booster seat;
1 lb

Best travel car seats for 5 year olds

The NHTSA recommends that kids remain in a forward-facing harness as long as possible, and many safety advocates urge parents to keep their kids harnessed for several years beyond age 4.

The right type of car seat for a 5 year old is something of a crap shoot. You may feel ok with a booster for a 5 year old who is extremely mature, good at listening to directions and doesn’t usually fall asleep in the car. On the other hand, you may need to look for a 5 point harness booster seat for over 40lbs if you think your kid won’t be able to stay in a safe position 100% of the time.

In the reviews below, we mostly recommend travel combination car seats, 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. That means they’ll last you for years – maybe even until the end of your car seat days.

Some lightweight convertible car seats might still work for your 5 year old, so if you have one laying around you can stick with that! Other than the one listed below, I wouldn’t recommend buying a new convertible car seat as you won’t get to use it for long.

At the bottom of this list you’ll also find a few booster seats that are appropriate for a mature 5 year old who meets the size requirements too. YMMV.


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

I know I said I was mostly going to recommend lightweight harnessed boosters for travel, and then I go and start off with a convertible car seat. What gives?

Well, the Evenflo Sureride DLX is one of the tallest car seats out there, convertible or otherwise. It will keep your child harnessed longer than any of the lightweight combination car seats below, often to age 6 or 7. There’s also a somewhat limited selection of really great lightweight harnessed booster seats (though if you’re shopping for home use we love this one). If you’re shopping for a globetrotting 5 year old who would be served well with extended harnessing (due to size or maturity), the Sureride is an excellent choice. It’s the only convertible car seat for a 5 year old that I’d recommend buying.

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 remember: the Sureride does not transition to a booster seat. Once you feel that your child is big enough and mature enough for a booster, you’ll need to buy a different option. But with such generous harness limits, hopefully you’ll be able to go straight to our favorite ultralight booster seat.


Evenflo Maestro Sport review

Key stats:
-Weight 9lbs
-Max harness height 18.5”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-50lbs, 28-50”
-Highback booster size limits 40-110lbs, 44-57”

Pros:
✔ Lasts from age 3 (as a harness) to ~age 8 (as a booster)
✔ Affordable price
✔ ‘BEST’ crash test performance rating from Consumer Reports
✔ Easy to install

Cons:
✘ Narrow set harness straps with no covers
✘ 6 year expiration

We’ve been using the Evenflo Maestro Sport (technically its retired sibling the SecureKid) at home and on trips for the last four years, and it’s probably one of the best options for a travel car seat for preschoolers if you want one that will last a good few years. It offers nice height limits as a forward-facing harness and then plenty of room in high-back booster mode.

Note that Evenflo says kids should be at least 44″ tall to use it as a booster, which is about age 5.5 for an average boy. Our tiny kids haven’t hit that threshold until at least 6.5, so if your kids are small and you want to use a booster seat, this might not be the best choice for you.

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. At only 9lbs, it’s truly a lightweight harness booster seat!

We’ve installed this on airplanes many times 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! We’re also heartened to see that the Evenflo Maestro fared extremely well in Consumer Reports’ recent independent testing of combination car seats (outperforming some seats that cost $200 more).

The biggest downside for some families is that the shoulder straps are set fairly close to each other. 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, he might do better with a different seat.


Key stats:
-Weight 12.5lbs
-Max harness height 18”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-65lbs, 27-49″
-Highback booster size limit 30-100lbs, 38-57″
-Backless booster size limit 40-100lbs, 40-57″

Pros:
✔ Lasts from age 3 (as a harness) to ~age 12 (as a backless booster)
✔ Reasonable price for longevity
✔ Extremely narrow
✔ 7 year expiration

Cons:
✘ Can be tough to install in some cars
✘ Heavier than other options
✘ Back and base may separate when carrying

If we were on the market for a travel car seat for a 5 year old, the Graco Tranzitions would get some serious consideration. The price tag is extremely reasonable (and may be cheaper at Walmart) for what you get and it would be a great seat to use both at home at on the go. The best part? You’ll never have to buy another car seat again (unless you want to, that is).

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 Graco Tranzitions also makes a good booster seat for a small 5 year old who is mature. The 38″ minimum is a big help for parents of peanuts like ours!

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. Some parents have had trouble installing the Tranzitions (or the Graco Wayz) in certain cars, but most parents report that it’s easy to use. 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 than can become backless (including the one we use at home) and it’s such a nuisance!


Cosco Finale DX review

Key stats:
-Weight 8lbs
-Max harness height 17”
-Forward-facing size limits 30-65lbs, 32-49”
-Highback booster size limits 40-100lbs, 43-52”

Pros:
✔ Lasts from age 3 (as a harness) to ~age 7 (as a booster)
✔ Extremely low price
✔ very narrow
✔ 10 year expiration

Cons:
✘ ‘BASIC’ crash test performance rating from Consumer Reports
✘ 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 5 year olds.

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.

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!

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 seat at the top! There are plenty of kids who will outgrow the harness mode at age 6, even if they aren’t mature enough yet for the booster mode.

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. Plus the booster mode will only give you another year or two since it’s so short. If you buy the Cosco Finale at age 5, you might get three years out of it for an average size kid. But at such a low price, that may be ok with (or perhaps you have another kid in the family who will use it later).

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 (including a Cosco) 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.


Ride Safer Travel Vest review

Key stats:
-Weight 2lbs
-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″

Pros:
✔ 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

Cons:
✘ No side impact protection like a highback booster seat
✘ Takes practice to get belt fit right
✘ NOT permitted for use on planes

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.

The Ride Safer Gen 5 is perfect for an average size 5 year old – our daughter still uses it often at age 5.5. 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.

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 sometimes opt to bring our other travel car seat.

While we generally think of the Ride Safer as a travel car seat alternative, we also use it at home often. I keep it in my trunk at all times so that we can fit 3-across in our car for those unexpected carpools or for when Grandma comes for a visit! Since the vest is as narrow as the child in it, there’s no trouble fitting it between two big car seats in our compact SUV.


Best travel booster seats for 5 year olds

Ok, so what if you feel like your 5 year old is mature enough (and big enough) for a booster seat? There are a few great choices to consider for the next stage.

When you’re shopping for a portable booster seat, it’s important to remember that booster seats are not FAA-approved. From a safety perspective, that’s fine: your child will be over 40lbs, so the airplane seatbelt will secure her properly. But what should you do with her booster seat so it’s not lost or damaged?

Take it on board! There are a few ways to manage this. One option is to buy a folding booster seat from the list below. Some of these look absolutely amazing and we’re excited to try them! They fold up small enough to fit in the overhead bin of a plane so that you’re never separated from them.

The other option is to separate the bottom of the booster seat from the back and put the back in a suitcase. It’s ok to check the back that way because it’ll be protected by the suitcase and padded by clothing. You’d then carry the backless part of the booster on-board with you and put it in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of your kid. The only risk is if your luggage is lost or delayed, but at least in a pinch you could use the backless portion of the booster on its own.

hifold fit-and-fold Booster review

Key stats:
-Weight 10lbs
-Highback booster size limit 33-100lbs, 36-59″

Pros:
✔ Tons of size adjustments for great fit
✔ Folds down teeny tiny
✔ Extremely narrow
✔ 7 year expiration

Cons:
✘ Expensive if you will only use for a few years
✘ No cup holders
✘ Limited information available

Sometimes I can get just a little too enthusiastic about innovative car seats. In this case, I’m pumped. While I’ve never been totally sold on the belt fit of the mifold backless booster, the company’s new hifold Fit-and-Fold highback booster seat looks amazing for city-dwellers and travelers alike. No joke.

What’s so cool about the hifold folding booster seat? While the weight is nothing to write home about at 10lbs, it folds down into an ultra-compact package – 13.5″ square and 10″ high. That means it’s easy to carry around in a backpack, throw it in your trunk or even stow it in the overhead bin of most airplanes. Of the folding booster seats (would you believe that there are a few choices now for folding highback boosters?) it’s the lightest and folds the smallest.

The hifold is extremely adjustable to offer the optimal fit to booster riders of all sizes. There are three widths for the seat, three widths for the body, three widths for the head and nine height settings! That means it’ll fit new booster riders just as well as kids who are ready to transition to an adult seatbelt. For those of us with kids who are small for their ages but mature enough for a booster, the hifold is a fantastic option.

Ok so why wouldn’t everyone run out and buy a hifold? Unfortunately all that innovation doesn’t come cheap. Don’t get me wrong, I think the price is completely reasonable for what you get; however, the seat is something of a one-trick pony. There’s no harness for kids who aren’t mature enough to stay in position all the time, and it doesn’t convert to a backless booster seat when your child is ready to ride that way. So optimal window for most families will be around two years (let’s say 5-7, or perhaps 4.5-6.5 for families who feel comfortable transitioning to the “next stage” early). If you travel a lot or have a younger sibling to use this in the coming years, it’s definitely a worthwhile investment.

The hifold is a great choice for a 5 year old who is mature enough to ride in a highback booster seat but would still benefit from some extra support when sleeping. It’s also a great choice if you’re visiting a place like the EU or Australia, where recent laws have pushed for younger booster riders to stay in a highback booster and increased the age for backless boosters to much older stages.

There isn’t any real-world information about the hifold yet since it’ll be released later this month, but we look forward to updating you soon! You can be the first one on your block to bring it home.


Babytrend YUMI Folding Booster Seat review

Key stats:
-Weight 9lbs
-Highback booster size limit 30-100lbs, 38-57″
-Backless booster size limit 40-100lbs

Pros:
✔ Highback mode lasts until kids are ready for a backless booster
✔ Converts to backless booster
✔ Bargain price
✔ Cupholders and cushy padding for long drives
✔ 9 year expiration

Cons:
✘ Folded size is as large as a carry-on suitcase

If you’re shopping for a bargain travel booster seat, here it is. The Baby Trend Yumi folding booster seat has been around for a long time under different names and was a pioneer in this type of product. But is it still worth buying?

The highback booster size limits are a little lower than the hifold above, but when your child is ready you can remove the back to use it as a backless booster that goes all the way to 100 lbs (theoretically – in practice, it would probably be too narrow for a 100lb tween to be comfortable). Combined with the rock-bottom price tag (available on Amazon but more expensive), the Baby Trend Yumi 2-in-1 folding booster seat is an incredible value. (Note: The previous version of this seat did not convert to a backless booster and is even cheaper.)

A big plus of the Baby Trend Yumi is that it’s a booster seat designed for everyday use. It’s got cupholders and plenty of cushy padding. That makes it a great choice if you plan to fly somewhere and then take the kids on a long family road trip. Other folding booster seats like the hifold might not win kids’ hearts on a six hour drive, which of course means less peace for us parents.

The big downside of the Yumi is the fold. Whereas the hifold collapses into thirds to make an ultra-compact package, the Yumi’s fold just isn’t as small. While you might be able to fit the hifold under the seat in front of you, the Baby Trend Yumi definitely has to go in the overhead bin – and possibly sideways, depending on the size of the plane. With overcrowded bins the days there’s something to be said for a tiny package that won’t attract the attention of the flight crew!

Still for families on a budget or those with long drives ahead, the Baby Trend Yumi is worth a look.


Graco TurboBooster TakeAlong Highback Booster Seat review

Key stats:
-Weight 11lbs (highback), 6lbs (backless)
-Highback booster size limit 40-100lbs, 43-57″
-Backless booster size limit 40-100lbs, 43-57″

Pros:
✔ Highback mode lasts until kids are ready for a backless booster
✔ Converts to backless booster
✔ Extremely narrow
✔ Bargain price
✔ Cupholders
✔ 10 year expiration

Cons:
✘ Won’t work for kids on the bottom of the growth chart
✘ Too long when folded to carry on

Graco has long been synonymous with booster seats, and they’ve recently added an option for a sort-of-folding booster seat that could work well for lots of families. It’s not the most portable, but it gets the job done and could work as a booster seat for home as well as for travel.

The Graco TurboBooster TakeAlong booster seat comes either as a highback booster seat or as a backless booster seat; either way, the bottom part is the same. Unlike other folding booster seats, to collapse this one for travel you detach the back and then hook it onto the base of the seat. In this configuration, it’s probably too big to carry on for most airlines since you’re still dealing with the full height of the seatback.

On the other hands, the Graco TurboBooster TakeAlong backless booster seat collapses in half when you pick it up by the handle in the middle of the seat. Pretty nifty! It even comes with a carry bag so that it’s easy to transport.

In either mode, this should offer a good fit for kids who weight at least 40lbs and are mature enough to ride in a booster seat. It’s nicely narrow with the cupholders flipped in too.

Is this an amazing choice for travel? That depends on what you need it for. It’s not the lightest travel booster seat in this list, nor the most compact when folded. But many families will find it useful if they’re planning a flight followed by a long drive since it has a more traditional booster seat feel.


Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120 Booster Seat review

Key stats:
-Weight 15lbs
-Highback booster size limit 40-120lbs, up to 63″

Pros:
✔ Steel reinforced frame
✔ Rigid LATCH
✔ Tons of size adjustments for a great fit
✔ Reclines for sleep
✔ Extremely narrow
✔ 10 year expiration

Cons:
Really expensive
✘ No arm rests
✘ Heavy
✘ Folded size is as big as a carry-on suitcase

If you don’t have an enormous budget to spend on a travel booster seat for your 5 year old, just look away now.

If you’re still reading, don’t say I didn’t warn you. The Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120 has some great feature, but the price tag makes me feel queasy. It’s hard to fathom spending that much on luxury high back booster seat that doesn’t have any other modes available. However, some of the premium features make it a solid choice.

First off, it’ll last forever… or at least as long as you want it to. The upper size limit is a whopping 120 lbs and 63″, which is the size of a petite adult. Most riders that size will fit in a seatbelt just fine without a booster seat so you may not ever need a backless booster. The other piece of lasting forever is that Peg Perego gives a whopping 10 years until expiration of this seat. If you have a second child (or third or fourth!) they’ll be able to get a few years out of this seat as well.

Second, it’s loaded with reassuring safety features. The Viaggio Flex 120 has rigid LATCH connectors to easily install the booster seat and keep it from moving around. The back of the seat is also steel reinforced for additional safety.

Third, kids generally like it. It’s padded, it has folding cupholders on each side and the lack of armrests (though a downside for long drives) means it’s easier for booster-age kids to buckles themselves.

So what’s wrong with this portable booster seat for 5 year olds, other than perhaps the price? It comes down to the portability aspect. The steel reinforcement and rigid LATCH add an extra 5-6 pounds compared to competitors, making you less likely to sling this one over your shoulder and use it out on the town. Likewise, it’s not all that small when folded – about 2′ long! You’ll be lucky to fit it in the overhead bin, but taking it when you walk around a city means you’ll need a really big backpack to carry it.

The best use for the Peg Perego Viaggio Flex booster seat is probably when you’re flying to head on a road trip and won’t be moving it in and out of cars all the time.


Bubblebum booster seat review

Key stats:
-Weight 1 lbs (really!)
-Backless booster size limit 40-100lbs, age 4+

Pros:
✔ Lightest booster seat
✔ Extremely narrow
✔ Good seatbelt fit in lots of cars

Cons:
✘ Can slide around if kids are wiggly
✘ 4 year expiration

The final portable booster seat for a 5 year old in this roundup is one with which we’re extremely familiar: the Bubblebum inflatable booster seat. We traveled full-time with this booster seat for the better part of two years.

The Bubblebum is pretty amazing. It weighs about one pound and deflates/rolls to the size of a soda bottle. Setting it up takes just a few seconds, and there’s even a shoulder belt guide to give a great fit for kids of different sizes in all different vehicles.

If you’re a family with an extremely mature 5 year old who doesn’t sleep in the car the Bubblebum gives you the paragon of portability. It’s the perfect option for taking around on days in a city when you think you might hop in a taxi to get home at night or if you’re taking lots of planes and trains for an extended trip.

The Bubblebum is so light that it may shift if your kid is very wiggly. But if your kid is very wiggly, they may not be ready for a backless booster seat at age 5. In that case, I’d go with the RideSafer travel vest for an ultra-portable option. We also had an issue with one of our Bubblebums deflating after we left it inflated in a hot car for a month (oops!); we reached out to customer service and they sent us a whole new one for just the $7 shipping charge!

We started using this booster seat at 6 years old, and we think that’s about right. But it’s approved for 4 years old/40lbs and there are plenty of 5 year olds who can use it successfully, especially if your drives are short. This is a judgement call for each family and also depends on the specifics of your travels.


What’s your favorite travel car seat for a 5 year old? Tell us in the comments below!

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