Choosing the best travel car seat can make traveling with an infant or toddler a little less challenging and stressful, but you first need to compare options.
We’ll save you time by providing our top picks and advice on what to look for, including the most essential features for a travel car seat.
What’s the Best Travel Car Seat?
Children under a certain age and size need a car seat when riding in a car. Travel car seats are available for each stage of your child’s growth, from infant to toddler and beyond.
With a wide range of car seats from a variety of manufacturers, picking the best option isn’t always easy. We want you to make the right pick, so we found seven of the top choices for the best travel car seat.
The 7 Best Travel Car Seats in 2023
- Best Overall: Evenflo Gold Revolve360 Convertible Car Seat
- Best Value for Your Money: Graco SlimFit 3-in-1 Car Seat
- Best Travel Car Seat for Infants: UPPAbaby MESA Infant Car Seat
- Best Comfort for Toddlers: Britax ClickTight Plus Seat
- Best Booster for Toddlers: Evenflo Maestro Sport Harness Booster Seat
- Best Travel System: Graco Modes Element Travel System
- Best for Budget Shoppers: Cosco Mighty Fit 65 DX Convertible Car Seat
Travel car seats help protect your child in the event of an accident. They also come in different sizes and configurations to fit children of different sizes and ages.
Why You Need a Travel Car Seat
Most children don’t fit standard vehicle seat belts without a booster seat or travel car seat until they reach the age of 10 to 12. Car seat laws vary from state to state, but you typically need an age-appropriate car seat.
Parents often start with an infant-only seat before transitioning to a rear-facing upright car seat. Children typically need to remain in a rear-facing seat until they reach about 35 pounds, which may occur between the ages of nine months and two years.
After rear-facing seats, children graduate to front-facing seats. Children tend to switch to a booster seat around the age of four. So, if you’ve got children under the age of four, you likely need a travel car seat for trips in your vehicle.
A travel car seat should offer a safer way for your child to travel.
However, it’s also important to find a seat that is comfortable, easy to adjust, and fits your child. Keep reading to find the best options and explore the most important features when comparing travel car seats.
The 7 Best Travel Car Seats in 2023
Finding the top seven travel car seats involved comparing options from the leading manufacturers. We looked at the safety, support, breathability, and other essential features to give you the best choices. Let’s start with our top picks.
1. Best Overall: Evenflo Gold Revolve360 Convertible Car Seat
- The comfortable design is great for longer trips
- It offers the largest weight range of 4 to 120 pounds
- The seat swivels for easier access
- Is one of the more expensive travel car seats
- Doesn’t work as an infant carrier
The Evenflo Gold Revolve360 is a convertible travel car seat and the best overall pick. It stands out for its age range. It supports infants, toddlers, and school-age children from 4 pounds to 120 pounds.
Unlike many infant travel car seats, the Evenflo doesn’t work as a carrier. It doesn’t have a handle for carrying, as it’s only meant as a car seat.
However, it’s one of the most convenient car seats. It includes a 360-degree swivel base. You can swivel the seat to face the door, making it easier to get your little one in and out of the seat.
Installation is also easy, thanks to the bead level indicator on the side. Whether you use it as a rear-facing seat or forward-facing seat, you can use the level indicator to achieve the right recline position.
2. Best Value for Your Money: Graco SlimFit 3-in-1 Car Seat
- Includes a slim, but durable design
- Works with LATCH systems and seat belts
- Includes a 10-position adjustable headrest
- Doesn’t include a handle for carrying infants
- Not the easiest travel car seat to clean
The Graco SlimFit is a 3-in-1 convertible car seat with a slightly smaller weight range compared to the Revolve360. It’s also one of the most popular car seats. Customers frequently praise the slim design, which works great in smaller vehicles with less space in the back.
The seat works with seat belts and LATCH systems and should only take a minute to install. It has a level indicator and an adjustable headrest to ensure the right position.
You can continue to extend the headrest as your child grows and switch from the five-point harness to a single waist strap.
As with the Evenflo Revolve360, the Graco SlimFit doesn’t include a handle for using it as a carrier. However, it’s still a great value due to its weight range of 5 to 100 pounds. It may not last as long as the Revolve360, but it costs much less.
3. Best Travel Car Seat for Infants: MESA Infant Car Seat
- It includes a handle for carrying your infant
- It works with seat belts and LATCH systems
- The headrest includes superior side impact protection
- Relatively costly for an infant travel car seat
- Heavy car seat
The UPPAbaby MESA is a top choice for those wanting an infant-only car seat. It won’t work for later stages but offers a comfortable, safe ride for infants up to 35 pounds.
It includes a heavily padded headrest for superior side impact protection, support, and comfort. It also includes a detachable base, allowing you to use the seat as a carrier. While the MESA car seat is portable, it’s also heavy.
It weighs about 20 pounds without your child, making it a little cumbersome to carry a long distance. However, it has an adjustable handle and a hideaway canopy. It should keep your child cozy and supported when carrying him or her around.
4. Best Comfort for Toddlers: Britax ClickTight Plus Car Seat
- Includes soft fabrics and thick padding for added comfort
- Is one of the most durable travel car seats
- Suits taller children with a standing height of about 56 inches
- It has a wider design that takes up more space
- The headrest may rattle when you drive
The Britax Grow With You ClickTight Plus is a convertible car seat for toddlers. It installs in a front-facing position and supports children weighing 25 to 120 pounds. The adjustable headrest and soft fabric provide a comfortable seat for most children between the ages of 2 and 10.
The seat installs with your vehicle’s seat belt, as it doesn’t support the LATCH system. It also has a five-point harness that you can hide when your child outgrows it.
The car seat is also very durable. It’s supported by a steel frame and includes high-quality fabrics. It’s also suited for taller children compared to other booster seats. Instead of a max height of 48 inches, the max height is about 56 inches.
The seat is sturdy but is also very wide. It takes up more space compared to other options. You may also notice that the headrest rattles when you drive.
5. Best Booster Seat for Toddlers: Evenflo Maestro Sport Harness Booster Seat
- Wide weight range of 22 to 110 pounds
- Comfortable design with high headrest and more padding
- Ability to use the harness or seat belt
- It is not the most durable car seat
- Installation isn’t easy for everyone
The Evenflo Maestro is a booster-only seat but may fit smaller toddlers compared to the typical booster seat. It supports children weighing 22 to 110 pounds. It also has a high headrest with additional padding around the head and neck for a more comfortable ride.
The Maestro Sport Harness Booster Seat is also FAA-approved. Most airlines should allow you to carry it on a flight without charging extra.
The padding and harness aren’t removable, which can make cleaning the seat difficult. Without occasional cleaning, this seat may not hold up as long as some of the other seats.
6. Best Travel System: Graco Modes Element Travel System
- Includes infant car seat and compatible stroller
- Includes a child’s tray with cup holders
- Has adjustable handlebar for easier carrying
- It is only suited for children up to 35 pounds
- You may need to add extra padding
The Graco Modes Element is one of the most highly rated travel systems. Along with a travel car seat, you get a quality baby stroller. The stroller works with the car seat in a rear-facing position.
You can also reverse the stroller bonnet without the car seat for growing infants and switch to a forward-facing position for toddlers. However, the car seat is only intended for infants up to 35 pounds.
It’s not a convertible car seat, which means that your child will outgrow the seat before outgrowing the stroller. You may also want to add more padding to the seat when going on long rides. Compared to other options, the car seat includes thinner padding.
Some of the benefits include the value of a stroller/car seat combo, the adjustable handlebar on the infant seat, and the child’s tray with cupholders.
7. Best for Budget Shoppers: Cosco Mighty Fit 65 DX Convertible Car Seat
- Is one of the most affordable travel car seats
- Includes side impact protection
- Features five height and three buckle positions
- Only supports children up to 65 pounds
- Doesn’t include cupholders
The Cosco Mighty Fit 65 DX is an affordable choice, especially considering the age range that it supports. You can use it as a rear-facing seat for children between 5 and 40 pounds and in the forward-facing mode for children up to 65 pounds.
However, it won’t work as a booster seat for older children. The seat has a simple design with no cupholders or accessories. However, it includes the most important features for a travel car seat for infants and toddlers, including a five-point harness and side-impact protection.
The Cosco car seat is also easy to install and adjust. You can use the LATCH system or your vehicle’s seat belt to secure the car seat. With five height positions and three buckle positions, you shouldn’t have trouble adjusting the seat for the best fit.
Finding the Best Travel Car Seat for You
Comparing travel car seats can be overwhelming due to the variety of options. To help you out, here are some of the most important features to pay attention to as you narrow your selection to suit your needs.
Age and Size
The age and size of your child is the most important factor when choosing the right travel car seat. You need to ensure that it fits your child based on age, height, and weight recommendations.
Type of Travel Car Seat
Travel car seats can be divided into the following categories:
- Infant-only car seats
- Rear-facing car seats
- Front-facing car seats
- Convertible car seats
- Booster seats
Infant car seats often attach to a base that places the carrier in a rear-facing position and are used until your child can sit upright. Some options are designed as part of a travel system that includes a car base and a stroller.
Travel car seats for children that can sit upright either facing forwards or backward. Rear-facing seats are often recommended for children under 35 pounds or two years of age.
A front-facing seat is used when a child outgrows a rear-facing seat. After a child outgrows a front-facing travel car seat, they can graduate to a booster seat.
You can also find convertible travel car seats. Most convertible seats can be installed facing the rear or front of the vehicle. Some convertible car seats also convert to booster seats, giving you a single seat to use after the infant-only seat.
Most experts recommend continuing to use a five-point harness until your child weighs more than 65 pounds. You may also continue to use a five-point harness car seat until your child reaches the top weight and height limits listed by the manufacturer.
Older car seats included a three-point harness, which consisted of a strap around the waist and another strap between the legs.
A five-point harness includes shoulder straps, so your child is secured at the shoulders and hips. Along with keeping your child in the proper position during a crash, the design of the harness distributes the force of the crash over a larger area of the body.
Comfort and Support
The best travel car seats give your child the right combination of comfort and support. The seat should include comfortable, breathable material and plenty of padding. The padding helps keep your child from moving around too much when properly secured with the five-point harness.
Ease of Use
Installing a travel car seat can be a frustrating process. Most options include built-in straps with anchors. Newer vehicles include the LATCH system, which includes anchor points under the back of the seat for securing child safety seats.
On older vehicles, you may need to run a seatbelt through the base of the travel seat to secure it in place.
Some parents prefer seatbelt installation instead of using the LATCH system. It’s easier and quicker to deal with and less likely to result in improper installation.
If you’ve already got a stroller, you may want to choose a compatible car seat. You don’t always need to buy a stroller/car seat combo.
Some car seats are compatible with a variety of strollers from the same manufacturer. You can also find adapters for some models, allowing you to use a car seat with a specific stroller or travel system.
If you plan on using the car seat as a carrier or need to carry it long-distance, such as through an airport, you may want a lightweight option. A portable car seat should be light enough to carry. It should also have an adjustable handlebar to make carrying the seat a little easier.
Most companies give their travel car seats an expiration date of six years from the date of manufacture. With daily use, a car seat may not last six years without showing major signs of wear and tear. However, a quality seat should at least last until your child outgrows it.
Depending on the type of car seat, your child may use the same seat for one to three years. However, if you’ve got another child on the way, you may want to ensure that you get one of the more durable seats.
The most durable options tend to come from trusted brands. Some of the most well-known car seat manufacturers include Chicco, Evenflo, Graco, Maxi-Cosi, UPPAbaby, Britax, Safety 1st, and Peg Perego.
Most of these companies have decades of experience manufacturing car seats for babies and toddlers.
Choosing a car seat that’s easy to clean may also increase its life. For example, you may want to look for a car seat with a seat cover that you can easily remove to wash as needed.
Accessories and Extra Features
Some travel car seats include extra features and accessories. Cupholders and trays are useful for long trips, as you’ve got a spot for drinks and snacks.
You can also find car seats with level indicators. The indicator is typically on the side of the seat and includes a small bead level to help during installation.
The price of a travel car seat ranges from $25 to $200 for a booster seat and $150 to $700 for travel seats for infants and toddlers.
Convertible car seats and travel systems are often the most expensive options but may save money compared to buying separate seats and strollers. However, if cost is a major concern, you should focus on getting the seat that meets your immediate needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about travel car seats:
What Is the Difference Between Infant and Toddler Car Seats?
Infant car seats include a rear-facing design. The typical weight limit is between 22 and 35 pounds. Toddler car seats include a forward-facing design while convertible car seats allow you to switch from rear-facing to front-facing installation.
Do You Need a Travel Car Seat to Leave the Hospital?
Every state requires new parents to have an approved travel car seat before taking their newborn home for the first time. Holding your baby in your arms isn’t safe, even if you live just a few blocks from the hospital.
How Long Can a Newborn Be in a Car Seat?
Most experts recommend that you keep infants and toddlers in a car seat for no more than two hours at a time. If you’re planning a long road trip, you should consider stopping at least every two hours to get out, stretch, and grab a snack or a bottle.
What Kind of Car Seat Can You Take on a Plane?
If you plan on taking the car seat on an airplane, make sure that it’s FAA-approved and approved by the airline. The FAA recommends that children up to 40 pounds use a certified car seat.
Children over 40 pounds don’t need a car seat on an airplane, but you can still use an approved seat if you feel more comfortable with your child secured by a five-point harness.
Do Infant Car Seats Need a Base?
Most infant car seats come with a base, allowing you to use the car seat as a carrier. However, you can also typically use the seat without the base. Most designs include cutouts for threading a seat belt through the back of the seat.
Best Travel Car Seats: Final Thoughts
We think that the Evenflo Gold Revolve360 is the best travel car seat due to its age range, comfort, and convenience. You can use the Revolve360 as a rear-facing seat for infants, a front-facing seat for toddlers, or a booster seat for older children.
You get a single seat that you can use for each stage of your child’s growth. However, the other 6 options on this list are also great contenders.