Congratulations! You’ve made it to the booster seat stage… or have you?

The first thing before you buy a booster is — is your kiddo really ready for a booster? The criteria for booster seat readiness boil down to maturity, size, and age:

  • Maturity: your child needs to be able to sit in the “right” position for the entire car ride, all the time — this means sitting upright, facing forward, hands off the seat belt, etc.
  • Size: check to make sure your child meets the minimum height and weight requirements for the seat you plan to use — they’re all different, but most fall in the range of 30-40 pounds minimum weight and 38-40 inches minimum height
  • Age: the age factor here is more about development/maturity than years, but generally speaking your kiddo needs to be at least 5. No toddlers, please! (Most kids make the switch sometime between the ages of 5 and 7.)

There are two main types of booster seats: those with a high back, also known as belt positioning boosters:

high back booster/belt positioner

and backless boosters:

backless booster

The long and short of it is this: the seatbelt needs to hit your child on the shoulder (as seen above), NOT the neck (as seen below). If the seatbelt IS hitting your child at the neck, then she needs a high back booster, which has a guide that positions the seatbelt at the correct height.

No! This kiddo needs a high-back booster

High Back Boosters

High back boosters (or belt positioning boosters) have a guide that will lower the height of the shoulder belt so it makes contact with the shoulder (shown below). You can adjust the height of the guide.

The seatbelt guides are the red things near the head of the seat.

High back boosters also offer side impact protection, something you don’t get from a backless booster. Furthermore, the back of this car seat has a place a child can rest his head for a nap — another thing you don’t get in a backless seat. Shoot — we use these seats with the girls for long trips simply because they are more comfortable.

*Note: all our high back booster picks also convert to backless boosters for growing kiddos!

1. Evenflo Big Kid AMP Booster Seat ($39) ~ Top Budget Pick

The Evenflo Big Kid AMP booster is a fan favorite! You can easily adjust the seat back height, and it also converts to a backless booster. The frame is narrow (17.5 inches at the base), which can be a big help if you have multiple car seats. There’s also a cupholder on each side, although they’re not the most sturdy things…

*Note! This seat is affixed to your car with the seatbelt (strapped over your child) — which means when you’re child isn’t seated in it, it can become a projectile. Many parents say they buckle the seat in when it’s empty, but I’m not sure how practical this is. For a little more money, you can get a booster that can be secured permanently with LATCH connectors, which obviates this problem…

fits three across (in big cars)

The seats on the Evenflo aren’t the most cushy out there, but for the price, this is a fantastic choice.

Specs:

  • seat weight: 8.2 pounds
  • minimum weight for use: 30 pounds
  • minimum height for use: 40 inches

2. Graco Highback Turbo Booster Seat ($49)

The Graco Highback Turbo Booster, like the Affix (above) has a comfortable seat with a fun sliding storage compartment and two cupholders, as well as an adjustable headrest. It also converts quickly to a backless booster. *The big difference is that it does not have the latch system.

“Look, mom! A pony!”

Specs:

  • seat weight: 9 pounds
  • minimum weight for use: 30 pounds
  • minimum height for use: 38 inches

3. Graco AFFIX Youth Booster Seat w/Latch ($79)

If you really want a seat that affixes to your car, this is your best bet. It’s easy to install, has an adjustable head rest, and comes with a cupholder and a little storage compartment kids really love. Convert it to a backless booster (by removing the back piece) when your kiddo is ready.

Graco Affix Booster

If you’re in the car a lot, parents report that the Graco seats are a little more plush and comfortable.

Specs:

  • seat weight: 9.8 pounds
  • minimum weight for use: 30 pounds
  • minimum height for use: 38 inches

Backless Boosters

Ah yes, my favorite type of car seat: the backless booster. This is for a kid who is definitely tall enough for the seatbelt to hit him/her in the shoulder, as seen here:

In my experience, this happened for my kids around the age of 7, but it solely depends on your kid’s height. You guys — the brand really doesn’t matter! Literally the only job of this seat is to raise the height of your child so the seatbelt hits her in the shoulder and not the neck.

Some of them have conveniences like cupholders and such, but you can buy the cheapest booster on the market — and it will be just fine! I’ve even used a thick phone book in a pinch.

1. Cosco Topside Backless Booster Seat ($17) ~ Budget Pick

This is a great economy pick if your priority is space (over things like cupholders or snack storage). It comes in some fun colors, and is also SUPER light, at only 2.2 pounds. Multiple seats stack nicely together, too:

Specs:

  • seat weight: 2.2 pounds
  • maximum recommended weight limit: 100 pounds
  • maximum recommended height limit: 57 inches

2. Graco Backless TurboBooster Car Seat ($24)

The Graco TurboBooster is a comfy seat with hideaway cupholders, height-adjustable arm rests, and a belt positioner to help secure the seat belt in the correct position across your child’s shoulder.

Specs:

  • seat weight: 5 pounds
  • maximum recommended weight limit: 100 pounds
  • maximum recommended height limit: 57 inches

3. BubbleBum Inflatable Backless Booster Seat ($29) ~ *Best for travel and short rides

This thing is genius, friends. It inflates (and deflates) super quickly, comes with a carrying case, and gets the job done. We love it for both travel and quick, easy everyday use. Even if you have a separate “permanent” booster seat, the BubbleBum is really handy for carpooling, ubers, taxis, and such. So portable!

Specs:

  • seat weight: 2.2 pounds
  • maximum recommended weight limit: 100 pounds

That’s a wrap, friends! Safe driving!