What’s the best portable car seat for a 1 year old? (2020 reviews)

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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! 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.

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.

Check out these full-featured, comfortable convertible car seats to use for long drives and at home

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 a few 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.

Quick Picks: Best Travel Car Seat For 1 Year Old

If you want to skip the details, here are my top picks for the best travel car seat for a 1 year old:

Portable Car Seat For A 1 Year Old Comparison

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

(You can also see how the three Cosco car seats compare to each other)

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Collage of 4 best travel car seat for 1 year old: blue Cosco Scenera Next DLX, gray Cosco Mighty Fit 65, blue Evenflo Sonus 65, purple Combi Coccoro. Text in center: "5 perfect travel car seats for your 1 year old"

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!

Once your child has outgrown the infant seat (or if you just don’t want to travel with it), it’s time to move on to one of the options below. Read these reviews to find the best portable car seat for travel with your 1 year 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 with LATCH or seatbelt
✔ Comfortable
✔ Closed belt path forward-facing

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.

Once you turn it forward-facing on the plane (which you may want or need to do before you forward-face in the car), your kid will be thrilled that it has a “closed belt path”. What does that mean? There’s a plastic panel on the back of the seat that protects her from the airplane seatbelt buckle digging in during those long flights. Yay! Just be sure that when you install the seat, you rotate the buckle to face the airplane seat so it doesn’t get stuck.

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/36″ around 2.5-3 and the forward-facing limit of 40lbs/40″ 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, 29-43″

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

Cons:
✘ Low size limits
✘ Hard to install in some cars
✘ Limited padding for patterned covers
✘ No extra protection in headwings
Requires top tether for forward-facing

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. 

It’s good to know that the top harness slots are just 13.5” high, so some kids will outgrow the Scenera Next forward-facing even while they still 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!

As with all of Cosco’s seats, they now require use of the top tether. It’s great for safety, but you may not find one when you’re traveling outside of the US, Canada, EU, Australia and New Zealand (or if you’re in an older car in one of those places). If you come across that situation, you’ll have to make a judgement call on whether or not to install your car seat against the manufacturer’s directions.


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 for patterned covers
✘ No extra protection in headwings
Requires top tether for forward-facing

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.

As with all of Cosco’s seats, they now require use of the top tether. It’s great for safety, but you may not find one when you’re traveling outside of the US, Canada, EU, Australia and New Zealand (or if you’re in an older car in one of those places). If you come across that situation, you’ll have to make a judgement call on whether or not to install your car seat against the manufacturer’s directions.


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
Requires top tether for forward-facing

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. I’ve had an opportunity to work with the DLX version specifically, and it offers nice padding for kid comfort.

The Guide 65 has proven its worth as a travel car seat for many years and continues to work well for many families as the Cosco Mighty Fit 65 DLX. 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 travel with a 1 year old, this one should have plenty of longevity for your family.

One of the biggest downsides of the Cosco Mighty Fit 65 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.

The other issue worth considering for international travel is that the Mighty Fit 65 requires you to use the top tether when installing forward-facing. The top tether’s job is to decrease head movement – and that’s a good thing. But in some countries in Asia, Africa, Central and South America and even Eastern Europe you won’t find a top tether is many cars. At that point you’d have to make a judgement call about how to install the seat when you can’t follow the manufacturer’s rules.

It’s also worth knowing that you can only use LATCH to install the Mighty Fit 65 until 40 pounds. After that, you’ll have to install with a seatbelt – both options are just as safe, but for travel overseas I recommend bringing a locking clip and knowing how to use it in case you encounter a car with seatbelts that don’t lock.


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
✘ 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 my CPST training 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. If your child is old enough and big enough, you can consider forward facing for your flight and then rear facing again in the car.

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.


Best car seat for 1 year old FAQs

What car seat should a 1 year old be in?

A 1 year old should be rear-facing, usually in a convertible car seat. Some will still fit in their infant car seats but be sure to check your child’s stats against all of the seat’s fit requirements.

Can a 1 year old face forward in a car seat?

Some convertible car seats require kids to rear face until 2 years old, while others permit forward facing beginning at 1 year old. However, the safest choice is to keep your 1 year old rear facing until they reach the rear facing limits of their convertible car seat.

Which car seat is best for toddlers?

The best car seat for your toddler is the one that fits their bodies, fits your car, fits your family budget and that you can use correctly 100% of the time. Toddlers ride in convertible or all-in-one car seats. In addition to the travel-friendly car seats in this list, here are some fantastic options to consider that will last your child for many years:
Britax Marathon
Britax One4Life
Chicco Nextfit (save $50 when you buy direct)
Chicco Fit4 (save $50 when you buy direct)
Graco SlimFit
Nuna Rava

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

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1 thought on “What’s the best portable car seat for a 1 year old? (2020 reviews)”

  1. Excellent post! It provides valuable information about travel car seats. Thanks for your valuable information. Please carry on writing.

    Reply

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