Among the many surprises new parents face is the logistical challenge of carrying a baby around in an infant car seat. It may seem pretty straightforward, but a 7- to 10-pound car seat, loaded down with a rapidly growing baby who may use the seat until he or she is 30 pounds or more, is not for the unfit. This is the niche that car seat stroller frames and travel systems try to fill. Last but not least, there's a huge advantage to strollers that accept a car seat: You don't have to wake sleeping babies to take them out of or put them into the car.
The difference between travel systems, car seat stroller frames and just any old stroller that accepts a car seat is that travel systems often have matching fabrics and built-in convenience features such as cup holders, as well as parent and child trays. The car seat attachment tends to be very safe because it's made for that specific car seat.
A travel system stroller is purchased as a package with an infant car seat and a base that stays in the car. It's designed for use until your child outgrows the upper weight limit of the stroller, which may be as old as age 4 or 5. There are some expensive, high-end travel systems available, but the most popular models usually land in the $200 to $300 price range for the full package.
The biggest plus of a travel system is it's often very affordable for the many convenience features included. Experts say you may not need a travel system, but parents really like them, making them a good choice if maximizing your car seat/stroller purchase is important to you. One tip: If you plan to buy a travel system so you purchase just one stroller, be sure it has a full recline. It costs a bit more, but it's worth it for your baby's comfort.
Car seat frames, on the other hand, are temporary solutions. The infant car seat snaps or straps onto the frame and can be pushed along on errands or outings. As soon as your baby outgrows the infant car seat -- which may be as early as 2 months if you opt for a model with a 22-pound weight limit, but is usually around 6 to 9 months -- the stroller frame can't be used. These generally cost $50 to $100.
The advantage of a stroller frame is it's super lightweight and folds very compactly, unlike many travel system strollers that weigh more than 20 pounds. The biggest complaint about travel systems usually concerns the stroller: Once babies outgrow the car seat, many parents are unhappy with the big, bulky stroller they're stuck with. Car seat stroller frames also buy you time to decide which stroller will fit you, your baby and your lifestyle. Parents may have a better idea of a baby's travel preferences after a few months, making it easier to choose a ride everyone will be happy with for the next couple of years."
Most strollers that come with travel systems can also be purchased separately. See our report on full-featured strollers for models that will take your child from birth to toddlerhood; many accept various car seats. Our infant car seat report can guide you to the safest options. If stroller weight is your primary concern, our umbrella stroller report is a must-see. If you jog or hike, check out the top picks in our jogging stroller report and all-terrain stroller report.
Editors at ConsumerSearch analyze dozens of expert reviews to get their take on the best car seat strollers available, then look at hundreds of consumer reviews to see how these strollers and car seats work in the real world and over the long term. The result is our top picks in travel system and car seat stroller frames to get your baby where he or she needs to go safely and comfortably.