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Backless booster seats keep big kids safe on the go

For bigger 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 not only money, but 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 still in larger, space-hogging car seats.

Best backless booster seat

Evenflo Amp Belt-Positioning Booster
Evenflo Amp Belt-Positioning Booster

Portable, safe and easy to use, the Evenflo Amp Belt-Positioning Booster (Est. $30) 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 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 receives a perfect five-star score in ease-of-use ratings from NHTSA, which says labels and instructions are easy to understand. The belt clip is simple to use but requires two hands, testers note.

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. 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 who are 40 to 57 inches tall; 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.

While the Evenflo Amp won't break the bank, the Harmony Youth Booster (Est. $13) offers similar performance at an even lower price, reviewers say. Like any backless booster, it doesn't offer the side-impact protection or more precise belt placement of a high-back booster. Despite that, it has received very good marks for proper seatbelt fit in independent safety tests, and the IIHS has named it a "best bet" for proper belt fit in almost any car. A shoulder belt guide for proper belt placement is included.

Most reviewers say the Youth Booster is easy to use. However, experts with Car Seat Blog caution that kids may try to skip using the belt guides, which are under the low armrests. And Jennifer Penick with CarSeatsForTheLittles.org warns that the seat "can be a bit wobbly" as kids attempt to buckle themselves because it has a narrow base. NHTSA gives the seat four stars for ease of use, saying the shoulder belt guide can sometimes create slack in the belt.

The Youth Booster has padded armrests but no cup holders. The cover is easily removable for machine washing. At only 2½ pounds, the seat is even lighter than the Amp, and many parents say it's a great booster for traveling and carpooling. Experts with Car Seat Blog say its shape makes it "a good option for narrow or contoured seating positions." The seat is recommended for children 30 to 100 pounds and 34 to 57 inches; however, parents should note that children at the lower end of those ranges will still be safer in a harnessed seat.

If you travel a lot and need a convenient booster that can go the distance, the unconventional BubbleBum (Est. $27) 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 receives four stars in NHTSA's ease-of-use ratings, which notes that safety labels could be more explicit.

The BubbleBum lacks extras such as cup holders and armrests. However, reviewers say the seat makes up for it with 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 and up to 57 inches tall. It expires four years from its date of purchase.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Booster Seats | Buying Guide | Our Sources

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Evenflo Amp Performance No Back Booster Car Seat, Red
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $27.60
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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BubbleBum Inflatable Booster Seat, Black/Silver
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $29.99 $27.39   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  

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