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We’re all about experiences over things, but sometimes things come along that makes the experiences a thousand times more enjoyable. That’s my overall impression of the Ride Safer travel vest car seat – for our family it has become an indispensable piece of travel gear as we’ve gallivanted around the globe with two young children. In this Ride Safer travel vest review, you’ll get my complete, honest opinions as a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) and a mom.
We have now used two different generations of the Ride Safer Travel Vest, the Ride Safer Delight travel vest and the Ride Safer Travel Vest Gen 5. We’ve spent many years with our vests and used them for two different kids during that time, so I’ve had plenty of time to get acquainted with the vests! You may have seen parents in Facebook groups refer to it by a range of almost-correct names: safe rider vest, rider safe vest, ride safe vest, rider safe travel vest, rider safety vest… I’ve seen pretty much every combination.
Keep reading (and watching!) to learn how to use the Ride Safer travel vest, its pros and cons and how to decide if it’s right for your family.
What is the Ride Safer travel vest?
The Ride Safer travel vest is a wearable booster seat alternative for young children. It works by bringing the seatbelt down to your child’s level rather than boosting her up.
Your child puts the vest on (like a clothing vest) and then you secure it using the industrial-strength velcro panel and metal buckle on the front. Once you get in the car, you’d buckle the seatbelt as usual but then thread it through the seat belt guides that are included on the lap and shoulder portions of the vest. The Ride Safer Travel Vest has fairly rigid support through the body, unlike a traditional booster seat that has no body support.
It meets or exceeds all crash test requirements and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for harness restraints, meaning the Ride Safer travel vest is legal throughout the US. It is still considered a booster seat, allowing much more mobility than a harnessed seat. You’ll have to use your judgement regarding your young child’s maturity and ability to stay in the proper position for the whole car ride.
There’s also an optional top tether that should be used whenever possible to limit head movement in an accident. It also help to keep younger riders from reaching for a toy or slumping when asleep in this kids seat belt vest. Having forgotten the top tether piece on a recent trip, I can tell you that it’s an essential piece (even for kids who are old enough for a traditional booster seat).
Who should use the Ride Safer Travel Vest?
According to the manufacturer specifications, the Ride Safer Travel Vest Gen 5 will fit the following ages and sizes:
(lots of caveats with this)
|Extra Large||minimum 5|
Ok, but what ages and sizes should use the Ride Safer Travel Vest?
As I mentioned in the introduction, we’re fortunate to have used two generations of Ride Safer travel vest small sizes over the course of many years and many rides. I’ve also polled vest owners in our Facebook group for their feedback. The general consensus is that the Ride Safer Gen 5 runs quite a bit bigger than the Ride Safer Delight in the small and large sizes. I also now have a new Ride Safer extra small vest, which I’ll discuss later in this article.
We started using the Delight when our daughter was near the bottom of the size range out of necessity since we were traveling full time. The fit wasn’t all that great until she was closer to 4 years old, but she’s on the small side. As you can see in this photo, using the top tether helped keep her properly positioned in the vest.
She was about 36″ (and leggy) here using the Ride Safer Gen 4 small. If I had been choosing between Gen 5 XS and S for her, I would have chosen the XS.
We received that Gen 5 when she was 5.5 years old (still a shortie!) and the fit was juuuust workable when using the top tether. Without the top tether, she ended up slumped dangerously to the side when she fell asleep because there was a large gap in the shoulder straps. A small gap isn’t a problem, and using the top tether definitely helps to keep your child properly positioned even with a bigger gap.
What size does the small Ride Safer Gen 5 fit? I’d say you could start using it for a tall 4 year old with the top tether. If your child is on the shorter side or you’ll be traveling to a country where top tethers aren’t standard, consider the WAYB Pico instead – full review here. New for 2022, you can also consider the Ride Safer Travel Vest XS – more on that below in its own section.
Once your kid is big enough for the Ride Safer travel vest, it’ll fit for years to come thanks to the adjustable straps. My 8 year old can still (just) fit in the size small Gen 5. It’s really hard to beat the portability since it’s so tiny! If he wasn’t mature enough for this yet, we would have bought him the next size up.
Ride Safer Travel Vest X-Small review
In this “new for ’22” section, I’m going to address the Ride Safer XS vest that was recently released. It’s a bit of a different product and there are a host of considerations that aren’t as important for kids old enough to use the small through XL sizes. Remember, it’s still safer for kids this age to be rear facing in a convertible car seat.
If your kiddo is already 4, scroll down to the next section.
Ride Safer Travel Vest small vs x-small comparison
First, let’s look at a comparison between the Gen 5 Ride Safer Travel Vest XS (left) and the Small (right) and spot the differences:
The overall concept is the same, but there are some critical changes here! First, the XS is obviously smaller. This photo shows the XS on its largest setting and the small on its smallest setting, and there’s still a pretty big difference. There’s just isn’t a ton of room on the back of the XS for the velcro torso length adjustment, so it has a much narrower range than the small.
Second, the small has a metal buckle at the waist while the XS has a similar buckle attached at the chest pads and only velcro at the waist. If you’ve never had one of these vests in your hands, the velcro is incredibly strong so don’t be concerned that kids are going to mess with it, nor that it would open in a crash. But that metal buckle on the chest? Genius.
It remedies the biggest issue with size small for smaller kids, which is that the shoulder straps can easily slide off of slim shoulders. I’d love to see this change on the Ride Safer Gen 6 vests! Not only does that “chest clip” give a better fit but it also prevents kids from deliberately getting out. Could a determined child unfasten it? Surely. But it’s an important first line of defense!
Finally, you’ll see that the shoulder belt guides on the x-small travel vest are exposed while they’re covered with fabric on the small. While the velcro on those flaps is pretty flimsy, I miss them on the XS. In their absence, curious fingers may be more inclined to play with the shoulder belt and potentially remove it from the guide.
Ride Safer Travel Vest XS fit to child
Speaking of curious fingers, let’s meet our adorable XS vest model: my 3.5yo nephew. At 3 he was 37.5″ and 33.5lbs – exactly average for height and just a little above average for weight. In these photos he was probably around 39″ and 35lbs – nearing the top end of the size range for XS.
He juuuuust fit into the XS (right) and the crotch strap was very helpful for keeping the vest low with the lap panel on the tops of his thighs. By contrast, the small was so baggy through the shoulders that when he was fed up with modeling he slid his tiny shoulders through and pulled the whole thing down.
Is the extra-small Ride Safer Travel Vest right for your child?
And therein lies rub… a child doesn’t need to be 100% booster-ready to use the vest, but he still needs to basically be a calm and compliant child even if a vest or other car seat makes him grumpy.
The XS Ride Safer Vest is marketed for 2 and 3 year olds, but that’s precisely the age at which kids beginning pushing boundaries and asserting their independence. Some kids, like my daughter photographed above at the same age, are total rule followers and will just sit where you place them and how you place them. Others – perhaps the majority – at 2 or even 3 will wiggle and squirm, sometimes for discomfort and sometimes to get a rise out of their safety-minded parents.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the CPST community is split on whether or not the XS vest should exist. Yes, it passes Federal crash testing both with and without the top tether. However, crash test dummies don’t move. In deciding whether or not your child is ready for the vest, you have to be honest about her behavior and developmental level.
- You have a calm, compliant, petite 3-4 year old and will be doing the sort of travel that just doesn’t work with a traditional car seat (like full-time travel)
- You’re taking a 2 year old on a car-free vacation that only requires a taxi/Uber from the airport and an adult or teen will be sitting next to the toddler in the car
While the crotch strap is optional for all ages, I strongly recommend its use with the XS vest. Kids this age are prone to wiggling and the strap ensures that the lap belt stays nice and low on the thighs. Between that and the “chest clip” it’ll also remind kids that they’re in a car seat and shouldn’t be frolicking around the car.
When possible, I also recommend using the top tether. With that piece the Ride Safer Travel Vest passes the same testing that’s required of a forward-facing harness. Furthermore, you’re really limiting how much your young child can squirm out of position. In some countries (generally in the developing world) there are no top tethers, so keep that in consideration as you decide whether or not to travel internationally with the XS RSTV.
Finally, if you have no alternative but to use the vest and you think your child will try to wiggle too much you do have the option of locking the seatbelt at the retractor like you would when installing a car seat. Many countries (like Mexico) don’t have that “switchable” retractor as a standard unfortunately but it’s mandatory in the US and Canada.
XS Ride Safer Travel Vest in the car
So how does the vest do when you put an actual child in the car? It was actually pretty good for my little nephew!
You can see that I managed to pull the vest down pretty far so that the lap panel is flat on his thighs. I’ve used the top tether and the crotch strap to limit the wiggles. If he had a little more room in the vest, sitting “criss-cross” would help the lap panel sit even flatter.
He’s right near the top of the size chart for the XS vest, and because he’s 3 he had no tolerance for trying the small in the car. It’s also worth nothing that in this vehicle he doesn’t have the appealing red button of the seatbelt buckle right next to him, but he would in a sedan or other bench seat. I’m confident that this little guy wouldn’t mess with it once told, but only you know how your child will handle that situation.
If you feel that the XS Ride Safer vest is right for your family, you can buy it here and save $11 with coupon ‘VOYAGE’.
How to put on the Ridesafer vest for kids
When you open the Ridesafer travel vest backpack, you’ll see a few different parts and you’ll need to make some adjustments. The great news is that you can fit it to your child before you need to use it in the car.
The components included in the box are the vest, a sometimes-optional crotch strap, the optional-but-highly-recommended top tether, the truly optional neck pillow and a convenient carry backpack. We ditched the pillow after just one use and the crotch strap once our kids got a little bigger.
Putting the vest on is pretty intuitive: open the buckle and the very sturdy Velcro panel in the front, then have your child slip his arms in. Tug the vest down, fasten the Velcro so that it’s snug but not uncomfortable and then fasten the metal buckle, adjusting the strap length as necessary – there’s no way that vest is coming undone on its own! To get the length right, turn your child around and open the Velcro on the crossing straps on his back. Adjust the vest until the bottom flap on the front is resting on top of his thighs (since it will hold the lap portion of the seatbelt in the proper position), then refasten the Velcro straps on his back.
The final (optional) step is to the thread the Y-shaped crotch strap through the two slots on the back of the vest on the bottom (one on each side), then pull between the legs and fasten snugly through the slot at the bottom of the front. While the crotch strap is technically optional, it’s important for preventing younger riders from “submarining” (sliding down and out of the vest).
We stopped using the crotch strap around 4.5-5 years old. It’s not long enough to use all the way to the top of the size range, but it’s also not necessary at that point.
You can see a hands-on demo of putting on the Ride Safer vest below:
How to use the Ride Safer vest in the car
The Ride Safer travel vest is very easy to use once you get it on your child.
Here are the basic steps to use the Ridesafer vest:
- Put the vest on the child, making sure that the lower panel is over the tops of the thighs. It can help to “fan out” the two sides of the lap panel so that it sits flat.
- Have child sit in the car and fasten seatbelt as normal.
- Feed the lap belt through both metal guides in the lap panel of the vest, then pull snug across the lap. Don’t over-tighten the lap belt or it may start to bunch in the guide on the side away from the buckle.
- Open the Velcro shoulder pad on the side where the should belt crosses and feed the shoulder belt through that metal guide, then pull snug and close the shoulder pad.
- Attach the optional but highly recommended top tether to the shoulder straps using the two metal hooks (above the pads), then attach the other end to the car’s top tether point and pull the tail to remove slack.
If you’ll be using the Ride Safe travel vest in your own car or a rental car, you can leave it attached to the car when you get out! Just unbuckle the seatbelt and remove it from the lap belt guide on the buckle side before you unbuckle the waist strap. You can leave the tether attached at the shoulders and even leave the seatbelt threaded through the shoulder and the other side of the lap! As you become more experienced with the vest, it’s a real time saver.
Ride Safer travel vest FAQs
Yes, as long as it’s used in accordance with the directions the Ride Safer travel vest is legal in the United States. Please see more information on Europe, Australia and Costa Rica for additional guidance if you’re traveling to those places.
Yes, it passes FMVSS 213 testing just like all other car seats in the United States.
RideSafer Travel Vest Review Impressions
Bottom-line upfront: we liked it enough to take it with us for a full year of travel. Yes, its that much of a game-changer. Now having returned, I have no regrets about that choice.
Now for my full thoughts: The Ride Safer vest is an awesome product that really delivers on its promise to make traveling with preschoolers and older kids easier without compromising safety. We took it to Europe without ever testing it at home, which was a risk for sure, but I figured it out pretty quickly. Our son barely complained during any of our car rides, though he’s generally pretty easygoing about car seat safety and is accustomed to riding in a forward-facing harness most of the time at home.
When we used it during our gap year trip, it was perfect for taxi rides in the cities because I could just roll it up and put it in our day bag. We also used it for some very long road trip stretches, and found it to be solid overall. There were times when our daughter slumped more than we would have liked when sleeping, and early in the trip the shoulder straps seemed a hair too long for her; however, a little gap at the shoulders isn’t necessarily a concern. In our long-term testing, she never complained about comfort despite some drives of 6 hours in a single day.
Overall we’re very satisfied with our decision to bring the Ride Safer rather than our usual travel car seat. For kids who are mature enough and big enough to fit, we whole-heartedly recommend it in situations like ours where traveling light is the only practical solution.
It’s also a great alternative to a booster seat for taxi or Uber riders living in major cities or families on extended trips at age 4+, especially when many families would otherwise allow their children to ride unrestrained. Just throw it in the included backpack and let your kid carry it around! We’ve also found it indispensable for fitting 3-across in our small car when Grandma comes to visit.
If your child is younger or smaller, take a look at the WAYB Pico, which is an excellent folding car seat with a 5-point harness. If you travel infrequently and will just be taking a single flight and then renting a car, one of these travel car seats might be a good fit for your needs.
The RideSafer travel vest is also sometimes prescribed for children with special needs, especially now that there’s a size Extra Large available. It can be a great choice for older children and even teens who have outgrown the tallest harnessed car seat and still need more support than a traditional booster seat can offer.
What we like:
-Feels very well made
-Design has multiple fail-safe mechanisms
-Extremely compact (takes up less than half of a preschool-sized backpack)
-Easy to use, takes less than 3min to put on the vest and get the seatbelt in place (assuming your kid is a willing participant)
-More torso support than a backless booster, avoids booster rider slumping when asleep
-Adjustable sizing so it can last for several years
-Wide range of sizes now available, from XS to XL
What we don’t love:
-Can take some practice and tweaking to get the fit of the car seat vest just right
-Crotch strap is almost too short for many kids, though its use is not required
-Getting the vest on the kid and then the kid in the car can get to be tiresome if you’re doing it several times per day, every day, for a whole year
-Lots of parts to keep track of (for a city family using the vest in a taxi, you can leave the headrest at home and save tons of space)
-The optional headrest is more trouble than it’s worth
-Not permitted to use on an airplane, so for a child under 40lbs you’d need to buy a CARES harness to make the airplane seatbelt safe
-Kids can’t see out the window (can be used with the Delighter booster seat to give them a lift)
Final Thoughts on the Ride Safer car seat vest
As you can see from my impressions above, there is room for small changes or additional features; however, our impression is overwhelmingly positive. I was especially pleased that, when used with the top tether, the car seat travel vest prevented slumping out of position while sleeping. If we had just brought a booster seat, our daughter would have been in an unsafe position. Moving from two bulky car seats to none on our gap year was absolutely epic (we use this one for our son since he was 6 years old by then – full review here). I honestly don’t know how we could have managed without the Ride Safer travel vest.
While the Ride Safer vest is a little pricey for an item most families will use only occasionally, if your family travels often with older preschoolers or young school age children I can’t recommend it enough. It would be a fantastic choice for car-free families with kids ages 4 and up as well, as you can easily shove it in your purse or backpack for unexpected taxi rides. After extensive use, we’d give a general recommendation of 4.5yo for average size kids and 5yo for smaller size kids.
We feel confident that the Ride Safer offers a safe alternative to either lugging a huge car seat around a city or relying on an unfamiliar car/driver to maybe offer car seats. Ready to buy your own Ride Safer vest? Get it directly from Safe Ride 4 Kids for amazing customer service and fast, free shipping! Use coupon ‘VOYAGE’ to save $11 on your order.
-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
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Our friends at Safe Ride 4 Kids sent me several Ride Safer travel vest for kids to review; all opinions are my own.