The 30-Second Review

The safest infant car seat is the one that’s easiest to use in and out of the car. To find the best, we talked to child safety experts, dove into federal ease-of-use ratings, surveyed over 100 parents, then took a closer look at the top 11. In the end, two seats rose above the competition.

Our Top Pick

The MESA offers all the installation and adjustment features we could have asked for, in a seat that’s still light enough to carry around.

Runner-Up

The KeyFit hits the mark for features that make daily use easy. Though it lacks the no-rethread harness of the Henry MESA, its harness and chest clip hardware is just as intuitive.

The Best Infant Car Seat

Our top pick, the UPPAbaby Mesa ($350) is the whole package. It earned straight-A’s from the government agency that tests for ease-of-use. Features like built-in seat belt lock-offs help you install, and a no-rethread harness makes it easier to adjust the seat as your child grows. Removing the carrier is equally convenient. Parents appreciated how quickly they could unclip the straps and detach the carrier from the base — we didn’t have to waste time fumbling with hidden latches and finicky buckles.

Always get your seat inspected. All car seats on the market meet federal safety standards — but they’re only safe when used correctly. To make sure your car seat is properly installed, bring your car seat to a licensed Child Passenger Safety Technician for a free inspection.

That alone would have been enough to give the UPPAbaby MESA the edge, but the seat’s fabric was just as impressive. The Henry model we tested is the only seat on the market without chemical flame retardants, thanks to its Merino wool fabric — a natural, machine-washable material that still meets the federal safety requirement.

The Chicco KeyFit 22 has nearly all the usability features of the UPPAbaby MESA, but is missing some of the perks that give the MESA its primo edge. It has built-in seat belt lock-offs, but you’ll have to manually rethread the harness to adjust it as your baby grows.

Even so, testers were comfortable with the clips and buckles they would use daily, and at $180, this one outperformed much pricier car seats. Bonus: If you’re looking to buy your car seat as part of a full travel system, Chicco offers a whopping 12 compatible strollers. UPPAbaby offers just two: the Vista and Cruz.

Top Picks for Infant Car Seat

Our Picks for the Best Infant Car Seat

Our Top Pick

UPPAbaby MesaBeneath its high-tech, comfy padding, a no-rethread harness helps you make sure the seat fits your car and your baby perfectly.

We were skeptical that the novel fabric were just a marketing ploy, but UPPAbaby proved us wrong. The UPPAbaby MESA seat in its Henry fabric variation is currently the only seat that’s free of chemical flame-retardants thanks to its naturally flame-resistant Merino wool.

But what multiplied our awe was that the same material is smooth-textured, machine-washable, and it’s the only fabric that truly repelled water when we splashed it on the seat. While nothing will save you from a leaky diaper, we appreciated the chance to catch a juice spill (or worse) before it sets into the fabric.

Water Comparison for Infant Car Seat

The UPPAbaby MESA (left) was the only seat that didn't immediately soak up a spill.

At its core, the Henry MESA has all the right parts that make it easy to use: recline positions that are easily adjusted with the press of one button, a no-rethread harness to find the safest fit for your baby with the pull of a strap, and built-in lock-offs that enable the most secure install possible with minimal hassle. Removing it is easy, too. Because the release button is on the carrier, we could grip it with one hand and pull the handle with the other, removing the carrier from the base in one fluid motion.

UPPAbaby for Infant Car Seat

Since the Henry MESA has a no-rethread harness, we were surprised that it was one of the lightest at 9.9 pounds. While a few seats were a pound or two lighter, they lacked basic installation and adjustment features. The phil&teds, for example, is limited to just two recline positions, and the Maxi-Cosi requires separate seat belt lock-offs.

The MESA’s unique chest clip threw us at first. Its thin, oblong button requires you to push more deeply than others with your thumb to get the clip to unbuckle. One tester thought that might get annoying, considering how often a parent has to unbuckle their baby’s chest clip. Still, they agreed it was easy enough to open — it just takes some getting used to. Once our testers got the hang of it, they were able to maneuver it one-handed.

All those nice-to-haves come at a price; the Henry MESA retails at $350. And if you’re buying your car seat based on the strollers it’s compatible with, the strollers UPPAbaby offers — the Cruz ($500) and Vista ($900) — are sold separately and much pricier than our runner-up Chicco’s options.

Runner-Up

Chicco KeyFit 22This ultra-lightweight carrier checks all the boxes at affordable price.

While our parents liked the UPPAbaby’s extra perks, they all felt like they’d be satisfied with the Chicco KeyFit — it's not too heavy, and its everyday features felt just as intuitive.

Its chest clip is straightforward and sturdy, like a bike helmet clip, and the silicone grip at the top of its handle is just grippy enough to keep your carrying hand secure, not trapped. Like on our top pick, the KeyFit’s lever for detaching the seat from its base is on the seat itself, simplifying the experience of detaching and attaching the carrier, so you can quickly take your baby in and out of the car without any fuss.

Chicco for Infant Car Seat

The KeyFit has the basics of easy installation covered with built-in seat belt lock-offs like our top-pick UPPAbaby. However, it doesn’t have the Henry MESA’s no-rethread harness, meaning parents will need to unthread and rethread the harness straps through the back of the seat in order to maintain a proper fit for their newborn as they grow.

Testers noticed that the fabric on the KeyFit isn’t as plush as the Henry MESA — if the MESA is a living room recliner, the KeyFit feels more like a sleeping bag. The canopy is also a little on the short side — Amazon reviewers often describe this as the KeyFit’s single, minor flaw.

Still, the KeyFit had by far the most comfortable cushioning of the seats we tested in its price range, and the canopy was far from a deal breaker for testers. We found that the overall softness of the material seemed comfortable. And, of course, the fact that it’s machine washable is a nice bonus.

And here’s another Chicco bonus: stroller compatibility. If buying your car seat as part of a travel system is your strategy, check out the variety of the 12 strollers the KeyFit is compatible with, starting at $100.

The Best Car Seats at a Glance

Our Top Pick:
UPPAbaby Henry MESA
Runner-Up:
Chicco KeyFit
Weight limit 4–35 pounds 4–22 pounds
Height limit Up to 32 inches Up to 30 inches
Weight of detached carrier 9.9 pounds 9.6 pounds
Stroller compatibility 2 strollers 12 strollers
Seat dimensions 28” x 17” x 25” 27.5" x 17" x 24"
Vehicle compatibility See pages 14–18 of the manual See pages 16–20 of the manual

Did You Know?

You shouldn't buy a second-hand seat.

All the experts we spoke with said buying used is a no-go, since you can’t possibly know what a used seat’s been through. Every parent's first priority is safety, and buying used jeopardizes that foundational factor. Here’s an extra analogy to drive the point home: Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for kids over the age of one.

Rear-facing is safest.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping your child rear-facing until they’re at least two years old, or “preferably, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car seat manufacturer.” According to Dr. Hoffman, keeping your child in what they are in now is always preferred, since you’ll be losing layers of protection with every step (rear-facing to forward-facing, forward-facing to booster seat, and so on). Research shows that two-year-old children are more than five times less likely to be seriously injured in a crash if they’re rear-facing than forward-facing.

Think of it this way: Because young children’s heads are bigger in relation to their bodies than adults’, their necks and muscles are weaker, and their tendons and ligaments are looser, sitting forward-facing in a crash can cause serious spinal industries. But in a rear-facing seat, a child’s body goes into the car seat, and the shell of the car seat distributes the forces of a crash throughout their back and protects their head and neck.

One complaint we saw a lot in Amazon reviews of rear-facing car seats was about their child’s leg room as they grew longer and started butting up against the seat. But the American Academy of Pediatrics says that children bend their legs easily and comfortably, and that “Injuries to the legs are very rare for children facing the rear.” The moral of the story is the same across the board: Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible.

Convertible seats are safe from birth, too.

While many parents choose infant car seats from birth because of the convenience, another option for parents is to buy a convertible car seat that can be safely used both rear- and forward-facing. Loading and unloading a newborn from a convertible seat does require some jostling that might cause them to wake up, but some parents consider the one-time investment worth that hassle.

And even if you do opt for an infant car seat from birth, Dr. Hoffman said that children tend to outgrow their infant seats between 9 and 12 months old, then graduate to a rear-facing convertible seat. To find out more about convertible seats and which ones are the best, check out our review of the best convertible car seat.

The Best Infant Car Seat: Summed Up

Infant Car Seat The Best
UPPAbaby Mesa
Overall
Chicco KeyFit 22
Runner-Up