The best portable car seat for a 1 year old

The best portable car seat for a 1 year old

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If you’re looking for the best travel car seat for a 1 year old, you’ve come to the right place!

With a 1 year old at home, you’re probably transitioning out of the infant car seat (with those handy dandy bases that let you move it from one car to another) and ready to buy convertible car seats. If you’re a two-car family, it’s worth considering buying one big, cushy convertible car seat for your car your child rides in most of the time and then a smaller, travel-worthy car seat to use in the second car.

Why should you consider buying one lightweight car seat for travel? Most 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 1 year olds on the market today. As a bonus, many of them are less expensive than their heavier counterparts.

What do we look for in the best portable car seat for a 1 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.

There are a few super tall travel convertible car seats available, but they’re much bulkier that you need for a 1 year old and will make it harder to rear-face on a plane or in a small car.

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

Best travel car seats for 1 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, while some are perfect for right now but won’t rear-face a tall kid all the way until 4.

If your 1 year old still fits into your infant car seat, it may be easiest to take that when you travel. The handle makes it easy to carry around and you can also clip it into a stroller to push around. Just make sure to bring a locking clip, as you’ll have to install it with a seatbelt if you leave the base at home (as we’d recommend you do). Some newer infant car seats like this one can even last all the way until 2 years old!

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). A lock-off provides a mechanism for locking the seatbelt in place even if the seatbelt won’t do it on its own and is generally found only on high-end car seats.

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. Even for a kid on the taller side, if you’re buying it at 1 year old it will still get you a few years of wonderful use (even more if you pass it down to an eventual sibling). Unlike many of the other car seats on this list, it’s a nice enough seat that you’ll probably use it every day rather than just for trips.

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 manufacturer 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.

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.


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 1 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.


What’s your favorite travel car seat for a 1 year old? Tell us in the comments below!

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