We are often asked about solutions for situations that require a compact or narrow car seat. Families may choose to try to make their current vehicle work instead of purchasing a larger vehicle. Sometimes that means they are transporting as many children as they have seat belts and need a narrow car seat or booster seat. Other situations involve adding a rear-facing child to the mix. Occasionally, caregivers will need both a compact and narrow car seat. We’ve come up with a list of seats that can be helpful in these situations.
One of the things to consider is how wide the car seat or booster seat is. If you need 3 car seats or booster seats in one row, the narrower the seat, the more likely it is to fit. While these aren’t the only options on the market, they are seats that are well known to work in those tricky situations.
We also included front-to-back measurements. It can be difficult to get an exact measurement for a seat’s “footprint” or front-to-back depth because most vehicle seats are shaped differently – some are flat while others are quite recessed. We base these suggestions on our own experience writing reviews and doing car seat checks.
Rear Facing Only Car Seats
The first type of car seat we’ll look at is rear facing only. These seats do exactly what the name suggests: they only rear face. We also refer to them as infant carriers.
The CarryOn is narrow. It is lightweight, easy to use and easy to install, it fits newborns well.
The SecureMax is fairly narrow, it adjusts to fit a wide range of children. We found it easy to use and install. The manual requires 1.5 inches of clearance between the seat’s shell and the seat back in front of it when it’s installed in the center vehicle seat. The base includes a lockoff that can make installation easier.
The KeyFit30 is narrow and fairly compact. While it’s not the lightest carrier on the market, it is easy to use and install and fits newborns well, making it a longtime favorite of many caregivers. The base includes a lockoff that can make installation easier.
The SnugRide/SnugFit seats are narrow and compact. They fit newborns well and are easy to use and install. The 17.5 inch width may vary slightly based on the model or trim level. Some versions of the seat have a lockoff that can make installation easier.
Convertible and Multimode Seats
Next, we will take a look at seats that will rear face now and harness later. Those are known as convertible seats. Some of these may convert to booster mode as well. Those are called multimode (or sometimes 3 in 1 or 4 in 1). When talking about compactness (front to back), we’re referring to rear facing installation.
Narrow Car Seats
This group of car seats are all fairly narrow, some are kind of bulky and others are fairly compact front-to-back.
The SlimFit3 is very narrow and can be compact when the child has good head control. The seat fits a wide range of children ranging from newborn to booster-ready. It is easy to use and install.
Safety 1st SlimRide/EverSlim – 17 inches wide and 28.5 inches front to back fully reclined (25 inches at the most upright) Read our review
The SlimRide and EverSlim are essentially the same seat with slightly different features. They are narrow, compact, easy to use, and fairly easy to install. They both fit a range of children well from newborns until they are booster-ready. When the seat is installed at the most upright recline angle, it is a solid contender for the most compact seat currently on the market.
While the Next is narrow, and the shell is fairly short. It is very lightweight, good for travel, and fits newborns well. It is short-lived due to the top harness slots but works well in many tight spaces.
Disclaimer: we found the Trooper a bit tricky to install at the correct recline angle. It’s not particularly compact front-to-back but it’s pretty darn narrow, fits newborns well, and it’s both budget-friendly and lightweight.
The Foonf and Fllo have some differences in features but both are narrow and can be relatively compact front to back installed rear facing once the child reaches 22 pounds. However, they are quite heavy and kind of bulky yet narrow. Both include a lockoff under the seat pad. The Foonf and Fllo both fit newborns when used with the Infant Thingy (yes, that’s the real name for it!).
The DriveOn is compact and very lightweight. It makes a great travel seat. This seat does have a single recline angle indicator line that must be parallel to the ground. However, that doesn’t mean it takes up a lot of space. The DriveOn fits a wide range of children from newborn to booster-ready age.
Wider Car Seats that are Compact
Sometimes, the issue is less about all of the car seats fitting in the same row and more about the front-to-back space in the vehicle. This next group of seats can help with that type of tight space.
Nuna Rava – 19 inches wide and 25 inches front to back Read our review
The Rava can be very compact rear facing once the child has good head control. It’s a plush, well-featured seat that’s fairly easy to install and use properly. The Rava includes a tensioning plate that’s used for installation (the vehicle seat belt must also be locked).
The Extend2fit can be very compact when as upright as allowed and the extension panel is stored. The 30 inches measurement was taken with the seat as reclined as allowed and the panel all the way extended, however it can be quite a bit more upright when installed rear facing for older children. The seat fits a wide range of children, including the average-sized newborn. It is one of the few seats on this list that rear faces to 50 pounds or until the child has 1 inch of space above their head.
The ClickTight line of convertible seats contains the Advocate, Boulevard, and Marathon. The only difference is in their features. All are compact, fit newborns well, and feature a lockoff for easy installation. They are a bit wide and quite heavy but can be pretty compact when installed rear facing for older toddlers.
Combination Car Seats
Combination seats forward face with a harness and convert into a high back booster as the child grows. Some models also convert into a backless booster.
Since combination seats don’t rear face, there is no front-to-back measurement per se. However, some are more bulky than others. We will note that under each seat.
The Finale is a lightweight seat that is often recommended for travel. It is not bulky and most users find it easy to use and install. The top harness slots are rather low. If you have a taller child, that is something to consider. The top tether is required for this seat, although this is something we always recommend using for any seat as it has significant safety benefits for the child. The Finale does convert to a high back booster, but the fit can be inconsistent.
The MyFit has an high top harness slot, features a lockoff, and converts to a high back booster mode. The seat has 4 recline positions and fits children well.
The Tranzitions is relatively lightweight. The 17.5 inches measurement was taken with the cupholders turned in. The optional cupholders make the seat 1.5 inches wider. The high, narrow belt path can make this seat a challenge to install in some vehicles but it does fit a wide range of children well and converts to both a high back and backless booster.
Forward Facing Only Car Seats
Forward facing only car seats are a rare sight. There is currently only one on the market. These seats do not rear face or convert to a booster.
The Pico is a very unique seat. It is lightweight, compact, and folds to fit into a travel backpack that can be purchased from the manufacturer. It also has a short maximum harness height and one crotch buckle position. This makes for a relatively short-lived seat with a fairly hefty price tag. Like most car seats on the market, it is FAA-approved so it can be used for travel both on an airplane and in a motor vehicle.
Booster seats position the adult seat belt properly on the child. Since most children need a booster seat until the adult seat belt fits them properly, usually around age 10-12, this selection is a bit disappointing. Only one booster seat goes beyond 100 pounds.
The BubbleBum is an inflatable booster. It is lightweight and comes with its own storage bag. A belt guide is included with the seat. The BubbleBum is only available as a backless booster. It also has a short life span; 4 years from the date of purchase.
The Rise is a narrow, lightweight option. The seat comes with a shoulder belt positioning guide and is easy to use. It is only available as a backless booster option.
TravelSmarter Delight Booster Seat – 15 inches wide
This lightweight booster seat is the only booster that can be used in conjunction with the RideSafer Gen 5 travel vest, it can also be used by itself. It’s kind of pricey but weighs in at less than a pound so it’s a solid option for carpoolers on the go.
The TurboBooster is available as both a high back booster and a backless booster. Both provide a solid belt fit. There is a belt guide for use in backless booster mode. Don’t forget the required screws in the armrests! Its the most common misuse with this seat.
Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120 – 17-20 inches wide Read our review | Buy it on AmazonThe Viaggio 120 is a relatively unique seat. It only comes as a high back booster. The lack of armrests make it easier for children to buckle. It also has an impressively tall belt guide and rigid lower anchors. The sidewings expand as the child grows to help them be more comfortable, that’s where 17-20 inches width comes from. The Viaggio 120 has a weight limit of 120 pounds.
The RideSafer is a wearable booster, with the feel of a harness. Some caregivers find this is a good option for a child that has outgrown the harnessed seats on the market, but aren’t quite mature or old enough for a booster seat.
The RideSafer Gen 5’s biggest advantage? It’s only as wide as the child. This is a great option for tight 3 across situations. It is lightweight and fits into a backpack. It makes for a good travel option and comes with a variety of additional options including a top tether, a neck pillow, and a crotch strap.
Our Recommended Seats List has the cost of each seat, top harness slot and/or booster belt guide height, overall height and weight limits, pros and cons, expiration dates, and a quick overview of the seat’s features. Please note that not all of these seats are on our Recommended Seats list. This doesn’t mean they are not safe options. We compile the Recommended Seats list based on a number of factors including, cost, ease of use, and features.