For big kids who are dependable enough not to slump over or sleep in the car, a backless booster seat can be a convenient option. Inexpensive and compact, backless boosters save money and space. They're a favorite of parents whose kids may ride with friends to soccer practice or need a smaller seat to slide in next to younger children who are still in larger, space-hogging car seats.
Portable, safe and easy to use, the Evenflo Amp Backless Booster Car Seat (Est. $25) is everything a backless booster should be, reviewers say. An included seat-belt clip helps ensure proper belt placement, and the IIHS has named the Amp a "best bet" for proper belt fit in almost any car. The seat also receives solid safety marks for crash protection and belt fit in independent testing, but experts note that it doesn't offer the side-impact protection or more precise belt placement of a high-back booster.
Reviewers say it's hard to go wrong using the Amp. While most say they didn't need to use the belt clip for proper seat-belt placement, those who did said it was easy to secure. The seat is not currently rated for ease of use by NHTSA, but has previously received a perfect five-star score. Note that this seat does not have LATCH connectors to keep it from becoming a projectile in a crash, however.
The Amp comes with two cup holders and padded armrests. The cup holders have elastic bands that can stretch to accommodate larger drinks. While most reviewers appreciate this, a few say they feel flimsy. The seat pad is machine washable, but reviewers say it's easy to wipe away most messes, especially from the upgraded fabric featured on the Evenflo Amp Performance DLX (Est. $25). Experts with CarSeatBlog.com note that the seat is wide, so it may not fit well in cars with narrow or very contoured seats. At roughly 4 pounds, the seat is a good candidate for travel and carpools, reviewers say. It's recommended for children from 40 to 110 pounds; Evenflo also wisely cautions against use of this seat with children under the age of 4. The seat expires six years from its date of manufacture.
Backless boosters are typically as basic as it gets, but if you want to spend (and get) a little bit more, reviewers widely recommend the Graco Affix Backless Booster Seat (Est. $35). Like the Evenflo Amp, it is an IIHS "best bet" for proper belt fit, comes with a belt clip and gets solid marks for crash protection in independent testing. However, it also offers a handy extra feature: LATCH connectors that can keep the booster from becoming a projectile when it's unoccupied.
Reviewers say it's very easy to use the Affix, especially the bonus LATCH feature, which has adjuster straps on the front of the seat that can be tightened or loosened with one hand. Experts with CarSeatsForTheLittles.org say it's also easy for kids to buckle themselves independently using this seat, mostly thanks to a "wide open belt guide." The backless Affix isn't currently rated by NHTSA for ease of use, but the high-back version gets four stars.
The Affix comes with padded armrests, an integrated cup holder and a hide-away compartment that slides under the seat that might be used for snacks or small toys. Parents especially like the cup holder, saying it's deep enough for bottles not to topple over. The seat pad is removable and machine washable. At 7 pounds, it's not quite as light as the Amp for travel, however. It's recommended for children from 40 to 100 pounds, 40 to 57 inches and from 4 to 10 years old. The seat expires 10 years from its date of manufacture.
If you travel a lot and need a convenient booster that can go the distance, the unconventional BubbleBum (Est. $30) is a good pick, reviewers say. This inflatable backless booster receives solid marks in independent safety testing, but experts caution that it needs to be adequately inflated and doesn't offer the side-impact protection or more precise belt placement of a high-back booster. The IIHS has named it a "best bet" for proper belt fit in almost any car.
Reviewers say the BubbleBum is easy to inflate and deflate, though some note that it's easy to overinflate the seat, making it less stable and a bit too wobbly for kids. Some reviewers also say their seat started to leak after a short period. The attached clips that properly position the seat belts can be tricky to use, especially for kids, parents say. The seat is not currently rated for ease of use by NHTSA, but has received four stars in past rankings.
The BubbleBum lacks extras such as cup holders and armrests. However, reviewers say the seat makes up for that with its extreme portability. It weighs just over a pound when fully inflated and folds into an included stretchy bag for traveling. Reviewers say it's also ideal for carpools or cramped back seats. However, the cover is not removable or machine washable. The small seat surface may also be uncomfortable for kids on longer trips because it lacks thigh support, some parents note. BubbleBum is recommended for children ages 4 to 11 from 40 to 100 pounds. It expires four years from its date of purchase.