What makes a car seat portable? The most important factors should be the weight and design. Either the portable car seats are lightweight, or they are folding.
Out of a total of 15 car seats that meet the criteria of being lightweight, foldable, and compact, I’ve hand selected the 6 best models.
To make it easy, I’ve split these best portable car seats into two categories, including: folding and lightweight.
In each category, I’ve included the best option based on the car seat types: infant, convertible, and booster.
Also, there are a lot of cheap and lightweight convertible car seats available for choice if you’re a family who travels a lot domestically or internationally. We have listed them following the short review of the best lightweight convertible car seat.
Doona Infant Car Seat
Baby Trend Trooper
Best Foldable Car Seat - Infant
Doona Infant Car Seat Stroller
Ask me to recommend a portable car seat for newborns and the first word that pops into my head is ‘Doona‘. It is, after all, our best folding infant car seat of the year, and the only one-piece travel system on the market.
Compact and reliable, the Doona is proof that safety doesn’t have to cost portability.
With four wheels supplying convenience and a robust, yet attractive frame delivering everyday durability, the Doona is perfectly primed for travel. Add in its ultra-large canopy, simple folding mechanism, adjustable handlebar, and small profile, and it’s easy to unfold, carry, and stroll.
It’s fair to say that the Doona is, in many ways, a game changer in the world of child safety seats, which is no mean feat. It is the perfect portable car seat for parents and families who want their money – and time – to be put to better use.
Why We Recommend It:
The Doona has redefined what it is to be a portable car seat – far more than the charging of competitors such as travel systems from Graco, Chicco, Evenflo, and so on, we’re sure. Before this superb folding infant car seat arrived for my friend Julie, I’d never seen a model with such spectacular features and specs available for such portability.
Combining a car seat and stroller, the Doona is a parents’ dream – the kind when you wake up with a bounce in your step instead of dreading the hellish hour that’s to come.
In that dream, you’re riding your little one in the car seat safely and then effortlessly switching it into a stroller and rolling the Doona for going shopping or meeting friends. Perhaps you’re even traveling on the plane with the car seat strolling the aisle to make the most of Doona’s car-seat-stroller combination.
And when it’s time to wake, you glide to a stop and take advantage of the car seat’s quick, intuitive, hassle-free folding mechanism, then install it on the aircraft’s seat for safe take-off and landing and the whole plane trip.
The Doona Infant Car Seat Stroller is, of course, a reality -although there is a dream-like quality to the safety and comfort it offers.
Sure, it doesn’t come with any traditional form of high size limit that a stroller offers – it has a 35-pound weight limit that is less than a conventional stroller’s 50 pounds. Instead, the 35 lbs/ 32″ performs the best among infant car seats and allows most infants to sit in the Doona car seat for one year or older.
As a travel car seat, safety will be high up on your wish list – and it’s a box that the Doona safely ticks. But portability will also be one of your top priorities: so how does the Doona stack up?
Thanks to a folding design and the four wheels (located under the seat to enable easy maneuvering), the Doona performs against the expectation of its high price tag. You can see this from the parents’ review – most moms and dads appraise it ‘as worth every penny.
Working in cahoots with a push-button on the side, it boasts a second transition from car seat to stroller. This aligns with its design to be two in one car seat and stroller, even though it’s on the pricey side. But if you compare the price with another travel system, the price is not that hard to accept, especially for families on the go.
Yet the folding design is only one part of the portability equation; to use the Doona as a stroller, you need a handlebar to push it wherever you go, too. Luckily, this portable car seat sports an adjustable handlebar in the middle.
It can be extended to the top position after unfolding it on the floor and lets parents roll it as a typical stroller. Some tall dads around 6′ do not have a problem pushing it. Taller dads may have to bend over to touch the handlebar for pushing. But this is not a biggie if you prefer its great portability over other things.
The handlebar can be pulled back and work as an anti-rebound bar to offer extra protection when you turn the Doona from stroller mode to car seat mode.
We rarely recommend carrying an infant car seat in the rain. It’s not good for your child, most car seats won’t have a large enough canopy to cover the whole outer to prevent the wet. As a traveling family, however, sometimes you just happen to have sudden rain.
If that’s the case, Doona has you covered. Doona has a compact but large rain cover that is perfectly matched to the stroller to prevent any rain from drops wetting your precious. The rain cover is not included in the car seat package and you need to pay another $40 to purchase it.
But this addition is not covered by other cheap car seats as well. The compatibility might be a pending issue because other brands don’t have a rain cover at all. You need to buy a universal one that is larger and bulkier.
Take the durability of its metal frame, for instance. Not only is the Doona frame forged from high-strength steel, but – build quality-wise, at least – it represents an improvement over old-style infant car seats, such as the Chicco KeyFit 30.
The Doona should be one of the safest car seats. More than featuring a durable metal frame and the adjustable frame as an anti-rebound bar, this portable car seat has three layers of side impact protection (as the Britax Advocate). That’s one more layer than most car seats.
But this durability doesn’t come at the cost of handling and control. On the contrary, the Doona is easy to maneuver, thanks to its ability to fold and unfold, and its efficient braking system for stopping and moving forward.
A bonus that Doona offers to extend durability is the extended warranty. This portable car seat provides a 2-year warranty. That’s almost double of other car seats from other brands, except Diono (which provides 3 years of warranty).
And the best part? The Doona includes all the essentials that an infant needs to ride safely and comfortably – breathable and ergonomically-designed infant insert and head support to keep your little one upper and lower back and ensures your baby’s neck and back are ergonomically aligned to get a max comfort.
Also, it comes with what most dads are eager to get – a vehicle seat protector. Whilst most safety experts recommend NOT to use any cushion between the car seat and vehicle seat, this is approved by the manufacturer and you can always protect your leather-vehicle seat, avoiding the cases from damage after hundreds of installations, uninstallation, and friction.
What color do you prefer for the car seat if you have a baby girl? Pink, of course. Bingo. Doona has multiple colors for options and pink is one of the most popular ones. It’s also one of our favorite pink car seats for girls.
Does this mean the Doona Infant car seat stroller is perfect? Not really. If you think it’s the Porsche of car seats for its performance and features, the price is, too.
Priced at least $550, not every family can afford this portable car seat. But it’s the best option for fitting a newborn if you’re a family who is always on the roads and planes. If you can afford trips in and outbound, you may have enough budget for Doona as well.
Or you can find a cheaper but heavier alternative – Diono Radian 3R.
Diono Radian 3R - Best Foldable All-in-one Car Seats
Diono Radian 3R - 17"
Parents all over the world rejoiced when Diono released its Radian series and especially the entry-level travel car seat, 3R. The Rolls Royce brand of fit-3-across car seats, Diono, has products to meet growing families’ need to secure multiple kids in a car seat.
With the purpose of being a good travel car seat, the Diono Radian 3R features a folding design. You can fold the bottom portion and bundle it into a more compact piece, then carry it with the straps like a backpack. In this way, you don’t need any car seat travel bag to package and carry it.
After folding, the depth is only 11.5 inches, that’s much narrower than the original 16 inches when unfolding. Even though the height (28.5″) and width (17″) remain. This absolutely reduces storage space and increases convenience.
The 28.5-inch height is good for growing kids. That matches the Diono Radian 3R’s size limit of 120 lbs/57″. You may have found that this portable car seat is an all-in-one that is able to ride your little one going through three stages: rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster.
If you’re planning to use the Diono Radian 3R in rear-facing mode, you’ll get a car seat with extended rear-facing. The given 50-lb rear-facing limit is suitable to get your child to ride facing the back at 2 years or older, possibly to 4 years old. This is the highest rear-facing weight limit of all car seats on the market. Very few car seats can reach this. As far as I know, besides the Radian series, only Graco Extend2Fit and Britax One4Life are as good as 3R.
A problem you should pay attention to is the seating position to install the Diono Radian 3R facing the rear. Placed facing the back, this long portable car seat will take a bit more space than other car seats, especially when the Radian 3R does not have many recline options (only one actually). You have to move the front seat forward to fit the car seat well in the vehicle, resulting in reducing the space and comfort of the front driver or passenger. The 28.5-inch height turns out to be a drawback at this time.
The Radian 3R is one of the best car seats with a 5-point harness up to 120 pounds. That’s the highest booster weight as well, making 3R the best portable car seat for big kids between 7-8 years old. It’s the last car seat your child needs until the day when he or she is mature enough to wear the seat belt.
Often, as the size of a car seat increases, so too does its weight. That’s why convertible and all-in-one car seats are the bulkiest. Consequently, its portability decreases. In short, the lightest, most portable car seats don’t tend to offer as much riding time for your money.
Fortunately, the Diono Radian 3R provides a couple of creative solutions to this. For use in the vehicle, the slim design will be fittable for most cars; If choosing to use it for air travel, the folding design makes it easier to carry than those lightweight car seats that are not foldable and need a travel bag for storage.
Safety was always a priority when the Radian 3R was being designed, resulting in a solid build for great durability. This portable car seat comes equipped with a metal frame that is made of high-strength steel. This probably is the reason for its heavy body. The expandable side definitely increases the safety performance, at least the feeling that wraps your kids in their own space.
It’s a pity that Radian 3R does not have any infant insert like its higher-end siblings, making this portable car seat lack friendliness to small infants.
Cup holders are another pity for Radian 3R. There is no cup holder. That’s not a problem for babies, but as they grow they may want to store their juices or snacks along the car seat for easy reach.
Unlike the portable Doona infant car seat which is very expensive for most families, the Radian 3R is very cheap. You can get it for under $200, or cheaper when it’s on sale. If you don’t have much budget for a portable car seat for travel, you may consider it. If you want to explore more low-priced car seats, check the review post here.
|Car Seats Comparison||Radian 3R||Radian 3RX||Raidan 3RXT||Raidan 3QX||Radian 3QXT|
|Weight limits (lb)||RF:5-50 / FF: 22-120||RF: 5-50 FF: 22-120||RF: 5-50 FF: 22-120||RF: 4-50 FF: 22-120||RF: 4-50 FF: 22-120|
|Rear Facing Weights||Up to 50lb||Up to 50lb||Up to 50lb||Up to 50lb||Up to 50lb|
|Newborn Protection||-||-||2-in-1||Advanced 3-in-1||Advanced 4-in-1|
|Head Support||-||12 Positions||12 Positions||Safe+ 12 Positions||Safe+ 12 Positions|
Best Lightweight Foldable Car Seat
The BubbleBum is a certified travel gear in the portable car seat category. Blending affordability, portability, and foldability – all terrific traits to have up your sleeve if riding a child safely and comfortably in- and out-bound – the BubbleBum backs this baseline pedigree up with fantastic features.
Bubblebum is a travel booster seat for its affordable price and inflatable design that meditate on size limit while being built like little toys. The BubbleBum is cut from a slightly different cloth from other backless booster seats: while the build chops remain, this portable car seat also has an inflatable design and can roll into a water-bottle size, too.
Factor in average booster weight/height limits, an intuitive inflating mechanism, and an ultra-lightweight body, and it won’t require a huge leap of faith to opt for the BubbleBum if city travel is the most used.
Still, at $32.99, it’s hard to look past the fact that there are other cheaper models that deliver just as well – if not better – than the BubbleBum as a portable booster seat.
Why We Recommend It:
If you’ve cut your teeth in the world of budget car seats and want to step up to something with a few more portable-oriented features, the BubbleBum could be a good fit.
Coming with a folding design, it goes toe-to-toe with the Doona and Diono Radian 3R. Against the backdrop of the other backless booster seats – including hiccapop (another inflatable folding booster), Cosco Topside, and Graco TurboBoost – which all hover around the 2-5 pounds mark, the BubbleBum cranks things up altogether with an ultra-lightweight body that is only one pound.
The BubbleBum also comes with a manufacturer-quoted size limit of 100 pounds, which is impressive for a booster with such a modest price tag. A backless booster with this kid of size limit usually retails for well over $40 – so through that lens, you’re grabbing a bargain.
Belonging to a booster, the BubbleBum has a minimum weight requirement of 40 pounds, which happens when your child is around 3.5-4 years old. So the manufacturer also gives the minimum age requirement – 4 years old. This is a natural occurrence in the booster seat world, with the Cosco Topside and Graco TurboBooster both also taking a weight range between 40-100 pounds and an age requirement of at least 4 years old.
The portable design does not reduce its performance. The BubbleBum is good for older children to have a safe ride until they hit the 100-pound weight limit, making it a car seat for kids 7 years or older.
It’s not a boast now if you want a car seat that has a water-bottle size. After defeating the BubbleBum, you can roll it up and pack it in the included bag. Weighing only one pound, your child can effortlessly have it in their backpack. It’s a good idea to let the kids themselves deal with their own travel car seats.
Different colors and patterns are available. No matter if you want a BubbleBum for girls or boys, you’ll have a choice.
Best Lightweight Portable Car Seat
Graco SnugRide SnugLock
Got a little more budget to play with, and want the ride experience to match? Look no further, because things are about to ramp up a notch with the Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35.
The best lightweight infant car seat for around $200, this little whippet has side impact protection, a maximum size limit of 35lbs/32″, and the portability credentials to put rivals in the shade.
Priced around $200, the SnugRide SnugLock may cost more than Graco’s array of infant car seat stars, but mark my words: the extra outlay will feel like money well spent if lightweight, safety, and comfort are key to your decision-making.
In the case of Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35, you don’t get what you pay for – you get more.
Why We Recommend It:
Delivering everything that made the original SnugRide SnugLock so loved, the 35-lb version is an expertly designed size limit with the superb build quality.
It comes with a 35-pound top weight limit and a 32-inch top height limit, which is more than enough to accommodate your little one to 1 year old or 18 months. This makes it one of our best recommendations for 1 year old infants.
When it comes to weight it is the lightest. Why do we say so? We know that infant carriers are lightweight. Most weigh under 10 pounds, but the Graco SnugRide SnugLock infant carrier is only 7.5 pounds, even a bit lighter than the Chicco KeyFit 30 (9.5 lbs vs 7.5 lbs), making it the lightest infant carrier and most portable car seat.
However, there is one problem. Carrying an infant carrier with your baby in it needs a bit of muscle. This becomes obvious as your child grows. A 7.5-pound carrier with a 20-pound infant should be a challenge for most moms. But this is a common situation for 99% of infant car seats, even though they are considered the second lightest.
If you have a stroller that pairs with the infant carrier as soon as you get it out of the car, this is not a biggie. You don’t need to carry them for a long time, but just upstairs or from the garage to the living room.
Luckily, this portable car seat has wide compatibility with various Graco strollers as long as they have the Click Connect feature. Usually, infant carriers from one brand are only paired with strollers from the same brand. That seems like an industry rule. Or if you don’t want to be bothered by the camaraderie between an infant carrier and a stroller, the two-in-one car seat – Doona, is the best option.
The infant carrier is better than the convertible car seat for small babies because you can attach and detach it from the base directly, without disturbing a sleeping baby. The best part is that you can adjust the handle with one hand, leaving the other hand free to carry other things.
It’s also a case study in installation. Like any Graco car seat, the SnugRide SnugLock provides two methods for installing: LATCH and seat belt. This lightweight portable car seat has the company’s unique InRight LATCH connectors that enable the car seat to achieve a tight installation in all cars. Using a seat belt to install the SnugRide SnugLock is a bit more difficult than the LATCH, but is still easier than most cheap car seats without rigid LATCH connectors.
Best Lightweight Portable Car Seat - Convertible
Baby Trend Trooper - Cassis Pink
Ever heard of a convertible car seat that has a light weight of around 10 pounds? You have now.
The Baby Trend Trooper will smash all your expectations for an under $100 electric scooter. It delivers in practically every category, with an impressive 65lbs/49″ size limit, ultra 17-inch slim design, and show-stopping portability features working in orbit around a level of ride safety and comfort that no rival in this price tag can match.
Available for just $89.99, the Baby Trend Trooper betters many pricier models. If you’re a parent intent on getting a lightweight portable car seat with a budget price then look no further.
Why We Recommend It:
We consider the Tropper’s weight to be not only the lightest in its price class but also one of the lightest in our entire database of lightweight convertible car seats. The protagonists here are a slim fit design overall with a lightweight body to achieve a result that is the lightest convertible car seat with the best portability for travel.
As with the Diono Radian 3R, the slender streamlined whole piece makes the Baby Trend Trooper a good car seat to fit 3 across. Because of the slim and lightweight design, you still get exceptional convenience on travel occasions. You can easily get it packed in a car seat travel bag and navigate it through airports, even though this portable car seat can’t be folded up and takes more space in the trunk from home to the airport or conversely.
The Baby Trend Trooper isn’t just all about lightweight design, though: it also delivers solid performance when it comes to weight and height limits, installation, additional supports, and cup holders.
The 65lbs/49″ size limit performs as well as other convertible car seats with a 5-point harness, making the Baby Trend Trooper one of the best car seats for kids at 5 or 6 years old.
When you use it rear-facing, the 40-lb rear-facing weight limit is good enough to rank top in the best car seats for tall babies with an extendable rear-facing time. And there includes the infant insert to keep small babies comfortable without wobbling around. If your child is a car sleeper, you’ll be grateful to the head support that will help to hold his or her head from moving forward and squeezing the neck. It beats the Diono Radian 3R at this aspect and the cup holder.
The Baby Trend Trooper at least has one cup holder on the right to hold your kid’s drinks or snacks, while the Radian 3R does not have any. Even though the cup holder is built on the edge of the car seat and it’s square, it’s more child-friendly anyway.
A big reason for the Baby Trend Trooper’s imperious reputation is that the installation is as easy as other premium models. This is a cheap portable car seat. It does not have rigid LATCH connectors nor an advanced ClickTight technique for an enhanced and easier installation. Parents still can install it properly as intended with ease. That’s very different from the cheap car seats from another brand – Safety 1st. A lot of parents complain about the difficult installation of the Jive model.
In conclusion, the Baby Trend Trooper is an eye-catching scooter that comes in a variety of colors. If you have a baby girl, pink is a good choice. It’s actually one of our best pink car seats for girls.
Best Lightweight Portable Car Seat -Booster
Cosco Topside - 2.2 lbs
The first thing you should know about the Cosco Topside is that it’s our Best Portable Booster Seat of the Year. Secondly, it’s the best lightweight car seat for under $50. And thirdly, it was manufactured in the US.
Sporting a 100 lbs weight limit, 57″ top height, and an overall weight of just 2.2 pounds, the Topside is not just an exceptional portable car seat, it also provides the best performance-to-weight ratio we’ve ever seen.
Whether you’re a new parent or a parent with several kids, you’ll find something to love about this groundbreaking ultra-portable superstar.
Why We Recommend It:
The Cosco Topside is a bewildering piece of engineering. It weighs about the same as a dachshund but carries the performance of a mountain lion. This is what makes this booster seat so special. Usually, with ultra-portable car seats, their defining quality comes at the cost of size limit (like the infant car seats). Not here. This model delivers both, rewriting the rule book in the process.
On a larger booster seat, the 100lbs/57″ size wouldn’t sound so impressive. But the Cosco Topside weighs just 2.2 pounds. It allows big kids at least 4 years old to have a safe and comfortable ride until they reach the 100-pound weight limit or 57 inches tall (whichever comes first).
While these numbers are impressive, it’s the color options of the Cosco Topside that make it such a joy to travel with your child. There are multiple colors available for choice, the grape is good for girls. It’s similar to purple, and if you want to explore more purple car seats, check our review post here.
For its budget price under $30, the Cosco Topside is one of the most popular car seats on Amazon, earning over ten thousand reviews from moms and dads. If you’re traveling with big toddlers, the ultra-lightweight Cosco Topside is the best portable car seat you can take for road trips. Booster seats are not allowed for air travel. But only toddlers under 2 years old are required by the FAA to be accommodated in a car seat.
Best Portable Car Seats by Size Limit
|Weight / Height Limits||Foldable Car Seat||Price||Weight|
|35 lbs/ 32"||Doona Infant Car Seat Stroller||$550||16.5 pounds|
|35 lbs/ 32"||Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35||$159.99||7.5 pounds|
|65 lbs/ 49"||Baby Trend Trooper||$99.99||10.4 pounds|
|100 lbs/ -||BubbleBum||$32.99||one pound|
|100 lbs/ 57"||Cosco Topside||$26.99||2.2 pounds|
|120 lbs/ 57"||Diono Radian 3R||$199||25.9 pounds|
Best Portable Car Seats by Price
|Rank||Price||Car Seat||Weight /Height Limits||Recommended Age||Stage|
|1||$26.99||Cosco Topside||100 lbs/ -||4+ years old||Booster|
|2||$32.99||BubbleBum||100 lbs/ -||4+ years old||Booster||3||$99.99||Baby Trend Trooper||650 lbs/ 49"||Birth - 5 or 6 yr old||2 stages|
|4||$159.99||Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35||35 lbs/ 32"||Birth - 12~18 months old||Rear facing|
|5||$199.99||Diono Radian 3R||120 lbs/ 57"||Birth - 10 years old||3 stages|
|6||$550||Doona Infant Car Seat Stroller||35 lbs/ 32"||Birth - 1 year old||Rear facing|
Portable Car Seats by Bonus Features
All these portable car seats are good options for travel, only the Diono Radian 3R and Doon are a bit bulky with a normal car seat size.
- Booster – BubbleBum ($32.99)
- Infant: Doona Infant Car Seat Stroller
- Forward-Facing: Baby Trend Trooper Car Seat
- All-in-one: Diono Radian 3R
Longest Extendable Rear-facing:
- 50-lbs rear-facing weight limit: Diono Radian 3R
Portable Car Seats Buying Guide
What are more important factors to your family and child when you choose a portable car seat? Do you need it for everyday use or for travel to other cities?
Here we list some tips in this short buying guide for portable car seats. You can keep them in mind when choosing a portable car seat or any other car seat to meet your own needs.
Safety is the #1 factor to consider when we are finding a portable car seat. The good news is that all car seats sold in the US, including these portable car seats, meet or exceed the federal safety standards FMVSS 213.
Some portable car seats have extra safety features, for example, the Doona, Diono Radian 3R, Graco SnugRide SnugLock, and Baby Trend Trooper. They can work as conventional car seats as well for everyday use to ride your child around the community or go for long road trips.
They all have a metal frame, side impact protection, headrest, and most importantly plenty of padding to provide the max comfort.
Proper installation is the basics. All car seats can be installed with either LATCH or seat belt.
Some portable car seats have rigid LATCH for an easier installation, like the Doona and Graco SnugRide SnugLock.
But you should NEVER use both methods at the same time.
This decides what portable car seat you can use. Unlike folding car seats designed for big toddlers and older kids, the portable car seats include folding and lightweight options. So most of them have the very common size limits as other non-portable car seats.
For example, the Dooan is suitable for newborns until they are 35 pounds or 32 inches tall. The 35 lbs/ 32″ size is very commonly seen among infant car seats.
Baby Trend Trooper is a lightweight portable convertible car seat. It has a 40 lbs/ 40″ size limit for rear-facing and 65 lbs/ 49″ for forward-facing. It’s a good car seat for tall babies and big toddlers around 4-5 years old.
If you want a big-size portable car seat to save money, the Diono Radian 3R is the best. The 120 lbs/ 57″ size limit lasts good years to your kid’s 8-9 years old.
Are there any portable car seats that are safe and lightweight and cheap? Yes.
These portable car seats have various price tags from cheap to expensive. Check the table list of all portable car seats ranked by price.
Portable Car Seat for Travel FAQs
Is a portable car seat safe?
Yes. As a matter of fact, all car seats sold in the US or other countries are required to meet the local car seat laws.
So the manufacturers would make sure all car seats from their own meet or exceed the government’s safety standards. In America, you can follow the FAA and the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommendations for finding a travel car seat. Both rear-facing and forward-facing car seats can be installed using the airplane seat belt and without the base.
Do you have to travel with a car seat?
If you’re planning to take your kids to travel on the plane, it’s strongly encouraged that you bring your child’s car seat on the plane. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommend that all babies and young children travel in an FAA-approved car seat or airplane harness device.
If you take kids younger than 8 years old or less than 57″ tall for road trips in domestic cities, it’s required to have them travel with a car seat. That’s the common age and height requirements in most US states. It’s better to check the local laws about child safety seats.
How soon can a newborn travel long distances by car?
Generally, child safety experts recommend that you wait until the baby is six weeks old to embark on a long-distance road trip. Since a baby’s immune system isn’t fully developed, the longer you wait to travel, the less chance they have of getting sick.