Graco Head Wise Review

Graco has several convertible seats often referred to as “the clones” because of their similarities and many names. This review covers the Head Wise, which features Graco’s Safety Surround protection.


Graco Headwise rear facing

Graco Head Wise rear facing

CSFTL Quick Stats

  • Rear facing weight range: 4-40 pounds
  • Rear facing height range: Until the child’s head is 1 inch below the adjuster handle on the headrest when fully extended
  • Forward facing weight range: 20-65 pounds
  • Forward facing height range: 49″
  • Shell height: 28″ (headrest fully extended)
  • Lowest harness position: 7″ (with insert)
  • Highest harness position: 17.5″
  • Expiration: 7 years
  • Lower anchor weight limit: 42 pounds (seats made after 2/2014) or 45 pounds (seats made after 2/2015).


  • No rethread harness
  • Infant insert
  • Push button lower anchor connectors
  • Separate lower anchor strap for rear & forward facing
  • Forward facing recline option (for children under 40 pounds)
  • Two crotch buckle positions
  • Integrated cupholder


Rear Facing Installation

Graco Headwise rear facing

Graco Head Wise rear facing

All of the labels on the Head Wise with rear facing information are blue, which helps greatly in identifying which components can be used rear or forward facing. First, adjust the recline to the rear facing position by squeezing the red handle on the front of the seat and sliding the base until the arrow is pointing at the blue rear facing label. There are dedicated lower anchor connector straps that are pre-threaded in the rear and forward facing belt paths, if installing using lower anchors, simply detach the lower anchor connectors from their storage clips and attach them onto the vehicle lower anchors. The Head Wise can only be installed in dedicated lower anchor positions with standard 11″ spacing, borrowing is not allowed. If installing using the seat belt, there is no need to move the lower anchor connector strap, just thread the seat belt into the rear facing belt path. There is not a lock-off device, so be sure to engage the seat belt’s locking function. The Head Wise features a ball level indicator with two zones: one for babies 0-3 months, and another for children over 3 months. Verify that the seat is correctly reclined, and then tighten the lower anchor connector strap or seat belt. The Head Wise has a nice slit in the cover above the belt path opening for easy access to the lower anchor connector strap or seat belt, which gives a great leverage point for tightening the seat. It is shown here in a 1998 Honda CRV, where it fit nicely behind the passenger seat with room for an adult to sit comfortably in front of it.


Forward Facing Installation

Graco Headwise forward facing

Graco Head Wise forward facing

To contrast the blue rear facing labels, the Head Wise offers forward facing information highlighted in orange. There are two recline positions that can be used when installing forward facing; the more reclined setting can be used for children 20-40 pounds, however the most upright setting must be used for children over 40 pounds. There is a separate lower anchor connector strap for forward facing, so there is no need to move the strap between belt paths when switching to forward facing. If your Head Wise was manufactured after February 2014, it will have a label stating a 42 lb weight limit for lower anchor installation, and after February 2015, that limit increased to 45 pounds. If your Head Wise was manufactured prior to this labeling requirement, you need to check with your vehicle manufacturer to determine the limit for using lower anchors. The Head Wise weighs 20.3 pounds for purposes of calculating lower anchor weight limits, if necessary. Read more about lower anchor weight limits in our article here. Whether installing with lower anchors or seat belt, always use the tether when installing the Head Wise forward facing.


Fit to Child

Rear Facing

Rear facing weight range: 4-40 pounds

Rear facing height range: Head 1″ from the red adjuster handle when the headrest is adjusted to the highest position and straps must be at or below the shoulders.

Graco Headwise- 7 pounds., 17 inches

Graco Head Wise- 7 pounds, 17 inches


Our newborn doll weighs 7 pounds and is 17 inches long. She fits nicely in the Head Wise with the infant insert. The Head Wise bottom harness position measures 7″ with the insert, so it is a good fit for the average size newborn but is not likely to fit small newborns or preemies, despite the 4 pound minimum weight.

Graco Headwise- 7 months, 15 pounds., 26 inches

Graco Head Wise- 7 months, 15 pounds., 26 inches



Our infant model is 7 months old, weighs 15 pounds and is 26 inches long. She is using the inner crotch buckle position and the second harness position. It’s very easy to get her in and out of the seat, the only difficulty we have had with the Head Wise is that she is about halfway between the second and third settings, so the second setting puts the harness a ways below her shoulders. This sometimes makes it a bit awkward to get the harness around her when getting buckled.



Graco Headwise- 15 months, 21 pounds., 29 inches

Graco Head Wise- 15 months, 21 pounds., 29 inches


At 15 months, 21 pounds and 29 inches long, the Head Wise is still a great fit for this model. She appreciates stashing soft toys in the integrated cup holder, but frequently gets upset because she can’t reach the bottom of the cupholder to retrieve them. Toddler problems!





Graco Headwise- 2.5 years, 26 pounds., 36 inches

Graco Head Wise- 2.5 years, 26 pounds, 36 inches



Our second toddler is a bit older at 2.5 years old. She weighs 26 pounds and is 36 inches tall. She also has a great fit in the Head Wise and will remain rear facing for a couple more years as she has lots of room to grow.




Graco Headwise- 5.5 years, 42 pounds., 43 inches

Graco Head Wise- 5 years, 42 pounds., 43 inches

Big Kid

Our big kid is 5 years old, 42 pounds and 43″ tall. He is over the rear facing weight limit so he would not ride in the Head Wise, however he is sitting in the seat to demonstrate the fit for older children who may ride rear facing. He is still a long ways away from outgrowing the Head Wise by height, with no stated height limit for rear facing and a 28″ tall shell, almost all children will reach the 40 lb weight limit before ever coming close to outgrowing it by weight. This is great news for parents of tall children! He was able to sit comfortably cross-legged, another great plus!



Forward Facing

Forward facing weight range: 20-65 pounds

Forward facing height range: 49″ with 17.5″ top harness position. Straps must be at or above the shoulders and ears must be below the top of the head support.

Graco Headwise- 5.5 years, 41 pounds., 42 inches

Graco Head Wise- 5.5 years, 41 pounds., 42 inches

Big Kid

At 5 years old, 42 pounds and 43″, our big kid has outgrown the Head Wise rear facing but still has plenty of room to ride forward facing. The 17.5″ top harness position and 65 lb weight limit will allow most children to use the Head Wise until they are ready to move into a booster seat.










Graco Headwise Safety Surround

Graco Head Wise Safety Surround

Safety Surround

The Safety Surround is the main feature that differentiates the Head Wise from its cousins, the MySize, Size4Me, and Fit4Me. The Safety Surround headrest is a little deeper and incorporates more padding to aid in side impact protection.



Graco Headwise infant insert

Graco Head Wise infant insert

Infant Insert

The Head Wise has two supports: a body support and a head support. The body support must be used if the child’s shoulders are below the bottom harness position when rear facing. Otherwise, the supports may be used or removed as desired. The Head Wise also includes strap covers that are optional and can be used or removed at any time.



Graco Headwise no rethread harness

Graco Head Wise no rethread harness

No rethread Harness

To adjust the harness height, squeeze the red handle at the top of the seat and pull up or down to the necessary position. This moves the headrest and the straps at the same time, so the proper position for the headrest is wherever it falls with the straps correctly positioned: at or below the child’s shoulders for rear facing; at or above the child’s shoulders for forward facing. Some parents have experienced difficulty tightening the harness straps, the Head Wise does have Graco’s roller system on the back of the harness slots, which aids in smooth adjustment.


Graco Headwise lower anchor connectors

Graco Head Wise lower anchor connectors

Push Button Lower Anchor Connectors on Separate Straps

The Head Wise has two lower anchor connector straps that are affixed to their proper belt paths. This helps eliminate the chance for misuse by removing the need to move the strap between belt paths or potential for use of the incorrect belt path. The push button lower anchor connectors make attachment and removal of the connectors onto the vehicle lower anchors simple.





Graco Headwise crotch buckle positions

Graco Head Wise crotch buckle positions


Two Crotch Buckle Positions

The Head Wise has two crotch buckle positions, measuring 3.5″ and 55″ deep with a 3.5″ strap length. The only requirement is that the position that is closest but not under the child be used. This allows for flexibility for the caregiver to use the most comfortable position for the child whether the seat is rear or forward facing. To switch between positions, slide the retainer up through the slot and then insert it into the desired slot.



Graco Headwise recline positions

Graco Head Wise recline positions


Three Recline Positions

The Head Wise has three recline positions, position 1 must be used for rear facing, positions 2 and 3 are for forward facing, however children over 40 pounds must use position 3.

Side Overhang

When this car seat is installed on the plus one or jump seat of a minivan, Graco has confirmed up to 20% of the base can overhang the edge of the vehicle seat.

Important Information: Where to Find

Graco Contender's FAA Approval sticker is on the back of the seat shell

Graco MySize’s FAA Approval sticker is on the back of the seat shell

FAA Approval: The FAA approval is on a sticker that’s tucked in the back of she shell of the seat, right behind where many popular travel carts attach to the seat.  This makes it almost impossible to see the sticker if you’re asked to show it while boarding an airplane.


12249667_10103704903375898_460512083934571452_nExpiration: The MySize seats have 7 year expirations. The date of manufacture sticker is directly opposite of the FAA approval sticker.


Manual Storage: The manual is stored in a pocket on the back of the seat on the base between the posts of the stickers mentioned above.





Overall Thoughts



The Head Wise fits a range of children and will last a long time before it is outgrown. At roughly $199 MSRP, the Target exclusive Head Wise is an excellent value. It is easy to install, has a number of convenience features and for those reasons we can strongly recommend the Graco Head Wise as a great option for many Littles. For the same value on a tighter budget, check out the Graco MySize.




Similar Seats

Similar seats in this category (lightweight, budget-friendly, convertible seats)



Originally written by Emma Douglas. Edits maintained by CSFTL.