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Sometimes, the only thing you really care about in choosing a car seat is finding the lightest car seat that’ll keep your kid safe. That’s especially true as more and more families opt for car-free lifestyles and use taxis, Ubers and Lyfts when they need to go across the city.
These days there are some wonderful lightweight car seat options that’ll keep kids totally safe. In this article you’ll find options for every age, including some unique folding options that don’t look like regular car seats but are just as safe.
Lightest infant car seat
Nuna Pipa RX
Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 DLX
Read more: Best lightweight infant car seats
Lightest toddler car seat
Cosco Scenera Next DLX
-Shell height 24”
-Max harness height 13.5”
-Rear-facing size limits 5-40lbs, 19-40”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-40lbs
✔ Lightest convertible car seat
✔ Low price
✘ 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 lightest convertible car seat on the market 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 car seat for families on the move.
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. You can also push it around on this stroller using the included safety strap.
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 quite short so it might be uncomfortable as kids get older.
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 or if you usually opt for the smallest Ubers.
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.
Read more: Best lightweight convertible car seats
Lightest forward facing car seat
In this section I’m giving you three different options for the lightest forward facing car seat because they really fulfill different needs. Read through the descriptions carefully to help you choose the right one.
Cosco Finale DX
-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
✘ ‘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
It’s also impossible 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 harnessed booster 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 shorter than many convertible car seats. 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. Not all countries have top tethers in all cars (or any cars), so the Finale may not be the best choice for international travel. Of course if you’re staying in the US and just need a lightweight car seat for ride shares and taxis, then it’s no problem.
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. It’s also disappointing that you can’t use LATCH to keep the seat in place in booster mode though that’s only an issue if you’ll be riding around with the car seat installed without the kid in it.
While the padding on the Cosco Finale isn’t as robust as on more expensive car seats, if you’re just using it for quick trips around town most kids won’t mind. It’s also a pretty narrow car seat, so it’s a good choice if you’re trying to squeeze 3-across in some cars.
-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.
DEAL ALERT! Now through July 6th, score 25% off your Wayb Pico with coupon ‘FIREWORKS’.
I’ll start with the advantages: the Wayb Pico is small and easy to use. The weight is about the same as the Cosco Finale, 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. While it’s ideal to use the top tether, it’s not required – helpful if you’re in a country where they aren’t common.
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. 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 or roaming around a city with a 2 or 3 year old 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. But if you’re a car-free family, consider the price of the Wayb Pico versus how much you’d spend owning a car.
Ride Safer Travel Vest
-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 can read my in-depth review here to see all the details.
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-please-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).
The Ride Safer Gen 5 is rated for kids beginning at 3 years old and 30lbs, but honestly we felt that the fit was better starting at 3.5 or even 4 years old and other parents agree with us. It’s also best to wait until your child is mature enough not to try to unbuckle the seatbelt.
Fortunately size small should last most kids until 6 or even 7 thanks to the adjustable shoulder strap length. It also comes in large and XL sizes to accommodate kids who are older or bigger but still not quite mature enough for a booster seat. 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.
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.
Lightest booster seat
Bubblebum inflatable booster seat
The lightest backless booster seatis 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 a mature kid 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 yet. In that case, I’d go with the RideSafer travel vest (discussed above) for an ultra-portable option or one of the high back booster seats for travel listed above. 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 or a parent is sitting in the backseat too. This is a judgement call for each family and also depends on your specific needs.
You can also read my in-depth review of the Bubblebum.
Harmony Youth Booster
There’s beauty in simplicity. The Harmony Youth booster seat has been around for a decade but it still gets the job done. There’s not much to this seat, but there doesn’t really need to be.
It’s an extremely lightweight backless booster seat at just 2 pounds, so it should be easy enough for kids 6 and up to carry this on their own. The Harmony Youth booster gets excellent ratings for providing a safe fit for kids and it includes a shoulder belt adjustor strap for kids on the lower end of the allowed size range. The only downside is that it won’t fold up to fit inside your day bag.
Read more: Best portable booster seats