You try to find the answer to a simple question “Is there a difference between the high back booster and backless booster?”, and you’re met with vagueness.
Frankly, it blows my mind.
Everyone’s beating about the bush, and the parent is left with more questions than they started with.
The answer is a resounding YES. There’s a significant, measurable difference between the two.
But simple it is not.
That’s why I’ll take a systematic approach and look at the issue from all possible sides.
But I can promise you this – by the end of this 5-minute read; you’ll have a clear understanding of what’s what.
This is what you’ll see below:
- Concise definitions of booster seat types – just in case you’re not completely clear on what’s what
- PROs and CONs of both booster seats and a backless booster
- BONUS TIP and a recommendation – a type of car seat that rarely gets mentioned (and it hits the sweet spot)
- The bottom line of the ‘high back vs. backless booster’ analysis
And before you think, “Do I need to read all this?” let me say that you really do.
You owe it to yourself and your child because this is one of those decisions that directly impact their safety.
I’m sorry if I sound preachy; I just have to be clear about this.
As you go through these, think about which of the bullet points applies to you. By the end of this analysis, you should have a clear idea about what’s better for you and your baby.
First things first – types of booster seats
A backless booster is basically a glorified cushion that you put on your car seat so that the child can be safely strapped in.
The main difference compared to other car seat types is in the name – there’s no back on the seat, and the full seat is ‘formed’ from this base and the back of your car seat.
High back belt-positioning boosters
Similar to the backless booster, but with a head, beck, and back support that goes beyond the child’s head and offers extra protection.
You might also see these two lumped under an acronym BPB (belt-positioning booster).
This is not a BPB per se; it’s just a type of car seat that ‘grows with your child’ and transforms from a harness for smaller kids into a BPB as they grow over 40 lbs.
As the child reaches the weight limit, the shoulder belt five-point harness is replaced by the car seat belt.
Type of car seat that’s the best of both worlds
So, what is this car seat type that you speak of as the best of both worlds? (I can almost hear you think)
It’s a subtype of the BBPs with a removable back. I’m frankly surprised by how little attention is given to this ‘niche’ seat in the high-back-vs-backless-booster debate.
I see most of the parents going with the ‘it-depends’ argument.
It does depend, but if someone put me on the spot and asked me if they should get a high back booster or backless, I’d go with the belt-positioning booster with a removable back.
Because it can be both…
Keep it as is, and it’s a high back booster. Remove the back, and it’s a backless booster.
It costs less than a combination seat. Much less. I’ll get back to this in a minute and share my recommendation of a good seat that fits this description.
PROs of High back booster car seats
If you know your car seats, you might be thinking, “There are combination seats with removable back, too.”
That’s true, but it’s beside the point because if you already have a combination seat, there’s little to think about – you’ll be using that.
The situation I’m trying to address is the moment when your child outgrows an infant seat, and you’re in the market for a booster.
With that out of the way, let me get to the PROs of a high back booster:
Extra protection of the car seat shell
For parents who think that safety is the name of the game, this will be a show-stopper. A high back booster offers extra protection, both in frontal and side collisions.
More comfortable for long trips and sleep
The ‘wings’ of a high back seat keep the child in place if they doze off and provide a safe support surface for their head and neck.
Related read: Booster car seat for travel
Better seat belt fit for smaller kids
This advantage is not universal, but the shoulder belt guides might make that extra bit of a difference in how the belt fits.
As a rule of thumb, the fit should tick two main boxes:
- not go over the belly but across the lap
- not go over the neck but across the chest and shoulders
The belt guides do make a difference here.
Extra headroom for bigger kids
If you’re working with a big-big-small-car-combo, the beach of their head might go over the top edge of the back car seats, even with a backless booster.
That’s a huge no-no.
In this scenario, a high back booster seat is your best bet. But, again, this is only an issue in small cars.
Better LATCH connectors
Since the LATCH system needs to hold more bulk in place, a high back will typically have sturdier LATCH connectors.
For you, that means easier positioning of the LATCH and more confidence in the robust connectors.
To properly use the LATCH system, you’ll need to anchor it. You can read more on that here – do booster seats need to be anchored.
CONs of high back booster seats
- Price – they cost a few times over compared to a backless booster seat
- Bulkier and heavier – they will take a bit more effort to get in the car and install, and you might need seat guards to prevent imprints. This will be less of a factor if you’re lugging the kids around in used Toyota Sienna. I’m only mentioning it as a caveat for dads – these will mess with the custom leather seats.
PROs of a backless booster seat
- They cost less
Let’s start with the proverbial elephant in the room – the cost. In the same quality level – you’ll spend double or three times more on a high back booster seat than a backless.
- Better fit for bigger kids
If your kid is large/tall, the extra few inches of backless booster seat will make a difference. That’s primarily in legroom because they’re sitting against the vehicle seat and aren’t ‘pushed’ forward.
- Backless boosters are easier to move from car to car
A backless booster is light and easy to detach.
For families that go from car to car daily, it’s a game-changer.
- Older kids will prefer them
Say that you have an 11-year old who already has a crush.
Good luck trying to convince them to stay in the ‘baby seat.’ You can’t see a backless booster from outside the car, and it does the job of keeping them in place.
- They are always a good fit
‘Fit’ might be a bit of a stretch because you just put them onto the seat – there’s no room for a bad fit.
Not all high back boosters (or car seats) are flush and fit snugly against each other.
If the back car seats are curvy, you have two options – a backless booster or a high back with an adjustable top part (headrest).
CONS of backless booster seats
- They’re not as comfortable
A high back booster seat will typically have a bit more padding. That means q more comfortable ride for your kid and, for you, a lower chance of listening to complaints.
- Harder to get a snug fit with smaller kids
I’m using the word “harder” intentionally just to make sure I’m not toning it down. It is hard to get a fit that’s just right if your kid is on the smaller side, especially if you have a unit without seat belt guides.
- Less protection
For most parents, this will be the crux of the matter. The problem here is that most information on this is vague.
I try to avoid that in my writing.
So, are high back booster seats safer?
Yes, they are. During side collisions, kids in high back BPBs have a 70% less chance of injury than kids strapped in seat belts only.
Backless booster seats “do not demonstrate a statistically significant reduction of injury risk compared to seat belts in side-impact crashes, “ according to this study by the AAAM (Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine).
The recommendations I promised
I promise to mention a good seat that ticks all the safety boxes of a high back booster but can be used as backless, too.
To be clear, it’s not the only one of its type – it’s just my favorite – Chicco KidFit 2-in-1.
The bottom line
While the jury is still out on some aspects like frontal crashes, the writing about backless boosters is on the wall.
They’re inferior to the high back booster in terms of safety.
Naturally, all of this only goes if your child is ready for a booster and meets the height and weight limits.
To read more of proper use and guidelines, follow this link – booster seat safety.
Yours in smart parenting choices,
Steph is a passionate mom who co-founded Wumblers to share her parenting journey with others. She graduated from Concordia University with a masters degree in Education Technology and worked as an advisor for many years. Steph loves being a mom and wants to have more kids.
Learn more about Steph and Wumblers here.