Most winter coats & snowsuits are like air-filled sumo suits – and no matter how tight you make the car seat straps, you can’t get most of the air out of these clothes. But, crash forces are extreme – they crumple the steel of the car and easily push the air out of the clothes. Most puffy coats & snowsuits leave 2 – 4 inches of slack in the straps – that’s enough for a child to slide out of the car seat in a crash!
Not convinced that 4 inches is a lot of slack? Imagine wearing pants that are 4 inches too wide in the waist to a job interview, or walking a puppy with a collar that is 4 inches too wide at the neck, or putting your newborn in diapers that are 4 inches too wide at the leg holes… you’re gonna care about those 4 inches.
What’s 4 inches to your child in a crash? A whole lot, says Miriam Manary of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) – as 4 inches significantly increases the risk of injury, and particularly head injury. Here’s how she studied this (the video below uses her crash test footage):
In her crash test lab she properly installed 2 identical car seats side by side on the crash test sled bench. The only thing she varied was the snugness of the harness straps. She buckled one dummy properly, but the other dummy’s straps she left with 4 inches of extra slack.
The loose dummy’s head moved 4.25 inches farther forward than the properly buckled dummy. 4.25 inches is easily the difference between your child’s head hitting the back of the seat in front of them, or not, something which is a known cause of serious head injuries to real kids in real crashes. Not only was the head more likely to hit the back of the front seat, but the head was likely to strike the back of the front seat at a much lower point on the vehicle seat… a point that is often outside of the zone that is required to be padded to reduce the risk of head injuries.
The head and chest injury scores – which indicate how likely a real child would be to suffer a head or chest injury – were also significantly higher in the looser dummy because when the child is loose they can’t take as much advantage of the safety features that the car offers (like crumpling to absorb some of the force of the crash) to reduce injury to the people in the car.
For a detailed explanation of why fluff is dangerous in the car seat, see here.
No one is suggesting that your child ride in a t-shirt and shorts in winter! We want your child to be warm and safe in the car in winter – and we’ve got lots of ideas on how to do that. We’ll share with you suggestions on coats, snowsuits, and other products we love that don’t add slack to the harness and can make winter time in car seats as easy, and safe, as possible.
But first, a brief tutorial in the art of layering.
In winter, dress your child in 2 to 4 thin, tight layers. How many layers to use will depend on the outside temperature, if you can warm your car up ahead of time, how cold/warm your child tends to be on average, and what other products you may be using to keep the child warm in the car. The goal is that your child is comfortable in the car – not too cold and not roasting like a turkey on Thanksgiving.
And now for The Car Seat Lady recommendations you were looking for!
After using the OneKid Road Coat Down (shop family-owned / shop Amazon) all winter for our own kids for 2 years now, we can say that it is truly awesome. It is a 100% down coat rated to -25 Fahrenheit that because of an innovative double zipper system in front and a split collar allows the car seat straps to fit snug to the child’s body without adding any extra slack to the harness. This coat kept the kids warm on the playground in 30 degree weather and held up beautifully to the rough wear the kids subjected it to (we know it is expensive – but it is quality made and will last through multiple kids). The zippers are heavy duty and chunky enough that even a 3 year old can zip it on their own (we all know how important “I do it myself” is). Best of all it looks like a regular coat – not like something designed for the car seat.
It is available starting at size 12 months all the way up to size 8. The Road Coat is a fabulous option for parents who don’t want to deal with taking coats on and off and those for whom the car will be cold for the first few minutes of the trip (because not everyone has a remote starter!).
There is a vegan version available (shop family-owned / shop Amazon) with synthetic fill for those who don’t want down, but we’d recommend the down version as not only is it warmer because of the down, but it also has a warm hood (the vegan hood is thin and without any filler).
It has the warmth of down and is safe for the car seat. The Road Coat snowsuit (shop family-owned / shop Amazon) is available in sizes 0-3, 3-6, 6-12, 12-18, and 18-24 months. This snowsuit is especially helpful for those who may wear their babies while walking in winter and then need to transfer the child to the car seat for the drive home – and don’t want to take jackets/snowsuits off a sleeping baby.
In the picture above, the straps are buckled snug – and on the left, the top layer is unzipped, and on the right the top layer has been zipped over the straps.
Here are a few of the features that make it a great snowsuit
Fleece makes a great top layer for kids to wear in the car seat – and will keep them warm while the car is cold and won’t roast them like a turkey when the car warms up. The perfect fleece for the car is one that is thin and snug to the body – as if it is not, you’ll have lots of fabric bunching up under the chest straps which isn’t safe.
We love these Columbia fleece jackets – Steen Mt II for boys and Benton Springs for girls which are available in infant, toddler, and kids sizes. They cost less than $25, are made of a nice warm, thick fleece (unlike the thin fleece on other cheaper jackets) but are cut to be snug to the body so they are car seat safe when purchased in the correct size for the child. We’ve used them for our own kids for many winters and love how durable they are – they tolerate frequent washings and still look new. They are also great to layer under a heavier coat in super cold weather.
Keeping your kid warm in winter is all about layering. It never makes any sense that a kid is wearing 4 layers on their torso and just a pair of thin cotton jeans on their legs. I don’t know about you, but our kids are much happier in winter playing on the playground or getting in a cold car when they are warm all over – and keeping the legs warm is an important part of keeping the body warm. Many women are familiar with wearing tights under pants in the winter to keep warmer, but we all know how fun it is to put tights on a toddler. We’ve used the OldNavy toddler fleece leggings for our kids for several winters now and have found them to be fabulous for layering under jeans (even skinny jeans) and other not-so-warm pants… and it is much cheaper to wear these underneath other pants than to buy fleece lined pants. The leggings are only available in the toddler girls section… but trust me they fit the boys great too. They are usually on sale for $6 or less and make a great addition to any child’s winter wardrobe.
It’s safe to swaddle babies OVER the straps (never swaddle under the car seat straps). Use a thin receiving blanket first – this will give you a nice tight tuck that will be a good air barrier – and then add a heavier blanket and if it is cold, tuck that nice and tight around the baby and under their feet. Swaddling both warms and soothes babies. See this video for a how-to on car seat-safe swaddling.
Make sure the child is wearing a few thin, tight layers and have them go to the car either carrying the coat, or wearing it unzipped. Then buckle them and get the straps snug with the coat off. After the straps are snug, have the child stick out their arms and put the coat on over top of the straps. You can tuck the coat along the child’s chest to keep them extra warm. When the car warms up, the child can easily pull the coat off so they don’t overheat.
With bulky or puffy coats it’s still best to remove the coat completely – but, if you can’t or won’t remove the coat completely, this is a way to at least eliminate half of the fluff of the coat… which makes even the bulkiest of coats safer for the car seat as the straps are snugger to the child’s body with only half of the coat under the straps.
These “shower cap” style covers fit over the infant car seat (they do not go under the baby or under the straps in any way). They have an elastic rim to hold them in place. Some parents really like these – we aren’t huge fans as they don’t keep the baby that warm since there is a large gap between baby and the cover, which means you still need to dress baby warmly and have a blanket or two over baby in addition – and then the baby can get too hot in all of this when the car finally warms up. They are helpful for keeping wind and snow off of baby as you are walking outside – and keeping strangers hands away from baby.
If the car will be warm for most of the ride, be sure to open these up or remove them so the baby won’t overheat in the car.
If you are going in and out of taxis, Ubers, etc you will not want to use a cover like this as it blocks the seat belt guides – which means you’ll have to take the cover off in order to install the car seat without the base. The 7AM Enfant Nido (shop family-owned / shop Amazon) or a safe-for-the-car-seat snowsuit like the Road Coat snowsuit (shop family-owned / shop Amazon) are ideal for parents who will be installing the carrier without the base.
Here are a few “shower cap” style infant car seat covers currently on the market:
CozyCover (shop Amazon)
Jolly Jumper Arctic Sneak-a-Peek (shop Amazon)
Skip Hop Stroll & Go Car Seat Cover (Shop Amazon)
The Car Seat Lady loves babywearing (just not in cars, of course!) and we know that an essential piece of gear for winter babywearing is a warm carrier cover to keep baby’s legs and feet warm.
We’ve used the 7AM Enfant Pookie Poncho (shop family-owned / shop Amazon) and the CatBirdBaby Winter Baby Carrier Cover and loved them both. We’re excited about 7AM Enfant’s new K-Poncho which is wider at the hips and leg area like the CatBirdBaby one – which means it will fit big kids in ergonomic carriers for longer. These can be used as blankets on top of a child in a car seat or on strollers as well.
Why are they unsafe in the car seat? They have a layer of fluff that goes UNDER the baby’s body… which is exactly where you do NOT want to add fluff. Because these sleeping bags are sold separately from the car seat, they have no safety standards they are required to meet, are not required to undergo any crash testing on your child’s particular car seat, and most importantly their use is strictly prohibited by most car seat manufacturers.
In the picture above, the fist worth of room that you find with the sleeping bag removed is exactly what the straps would feel like in the instant of a crash when the sleeping bag is in use. The crash forces will compress all the fluff in the sleeping bag, making it as if the sleeping bag didn’t even exist, and the straps therefore way too loose for the baby’s body.
If you have a sleeping bag and would like to use it in the car seat, you can cut it to remove the fabric behind the child’s back and under the bottom, leaving behind a safe product as shown in this video. Please note that if you cut the product, you’ll need to sew the cut edges. Otherwise there will be filler material coming out, and that’s a choking hazard for the child.
There are some sleeping bags made by 7AM Enfant – the 212 blanket (which between us is the best stroller blanket on the market), LambPod, BeePod, PlushPod, GlacierPod – that have removable back panels to try and eliminate adding slack under the harness. You will need to try before you buy to see if these will fit your child’s car seat properly. The hole needs to be big enough to fit from the crotch buckle all the way up to the highest shoulder strap slot your child will be using. If the hole is smaller than this, then the product will introduce slack in your child’s harness straps. You will also need to be careful if using with a baby who can not sit upright unsupported that there isn’t too much puff behind the head area with the back panel removed in the car seat as you don’t want to do anything that could push the baby’s chin to its chest as babies can’t breathe well like this.
There are other 7AM Enfant products – the Polar Igloo and Le Sac Igloo – that are designed to allow you to use a part of them safely in the car seat. With these, you leave the bottom part of the sleeping bag in the stroller, and you zip the top part off to use on the car seat. The top part is specially designed with a fleece sleeve at the bottom that fits over the foot area of the car seat. Another way you can use the top part is to tuck the baby’s feet into the fleece sleeve and use the top part more as a bunting for the child (again, all the fluff is over the straps in this scenario – making it safe for the car).
Note: Just the top part of the Igloos are safe to use in the car seat (despite what some of the marketing images on the company website may show). The bottom part, while not safe for the car seat, is absolutely safe to use in the stroller as strollers don’t get into crashes.
Many parents enjoy using fleece one piece suits for babies & young toddlers and we’ve found a few that are safe for the car seat when properly fitted to the child. If you order the next size up it will not be safe as you’ll have extra fleece bunched up under the chest straps. These have turn over cuffs at the feet and hands and are available in sizes from 0-24 months.
Some of the REALLY thin down jackets will also work so long as they are thin AND properly sized for your child. Make sure they stop at the child’s waist – as longer coats will not be safe as there is too much that bunches up under the hip straps and between the crotch buckle.
3-in-1 jackets: 3-in-1’s that feature a removable fleece insert are great for the car – since you can unzip the outer layer, remove it, and leave the fleece on under the straps. The outer jacket can be used over top of the straps (the child can use it as a blanket, or put their arms in the sleeves so it is worn backwards).
Please note that jacket also needs to be short – as if it is longer than to the hips it will definitely be too bulky for the car seat.
The Bonchos is a wearable blanket with a comfortable neck hole AND holes for the hands… allowing your child to stay covered but have their hands free for playing. Also works in strollers and on baby carriers (facing out). They have ones that are single layers, and ones where there are 2 layers of fabric (and will do custom orders). Works for babies and big kids up to about age 3.
Ponchos are a safe way of keeping kids warm in a car seat when you flip the back over the top of the car seat and keep the front over top of the child’s straps (therefore there is NO part of the poncho that is under the child’s harness straps.
We know many people use car seat ponchos and like them a lot. In our experience with our own kids we didn’t end up using ponchos as 1. our kids didn’t like the hood on during the whole car ride and 2. it was hard to buckle the child as the poncho was either flopping over the straps and hiding them (when unzipped from the bottom), or it was flopped over the baby’s face during buckling (so that you could see what you were doing to buckle the straps) and the kids hated it over their face.
The KidCozy II works on car seats, strollers, and while babywearing (both facing in and facing out thanks to its reversible hood design) and fit infants through 4 year olds. These can be worn with the hood off if the child desires.
Wondering if the Coat or Snowsuit You Already Own is Safe for the Car Seat?
We can’t possibly list every jacket and snowsuit that is safe for the car seat – but you can quickly assess if yours is or isn’t in 2 easy steps.
Step 1 is to dress your child in a few thin, tight layers and then put the coat or snowsuit on. Now, buckle your child in the car seat and make sure you are tightening the straps as shown in the video below.
I know, I know, you’ve buckled your kid hundreds of times and don’t need a video to show you how to tighten the straps – but humor me and watch the video and I guarantee you’ll learn something and realize there was slack you hadn’t noticed before.
Step 2 is to unbuckle the child withOUT loosening the car seat straps. Next, take the coat or snowsuit off. Now, re-buckle the child in the car seat. Once the straps are buckled, slide the chest clip down, and then pull upwards on the shoulder straps to see if there is any slack. If there is slack, then the coat or snowsuit is not safe for the car seat. If there is no slack – meaning the straps feel just as snug without as with the coat – then the coat is safe for the car seat.
The use of non-Britax Child Safety, Inc. covers, inserts, toys, accessories, or tightening devices is not approved by Britax. Their use could cause this restraint to fail Federal Safety Standards or perform worse in a crash. Their use automatically voids the Britax warranty.
NEVER use clothing or blankets that interfere with fastening or tightening the harness. An unsecured child could be ejected in a sudden stop or crash! To keep child warm, place a blanket over child and restraint AFTER you have properly secured child in harness.
DO NOT use any accessories, pads or products supplied by other manufacturers with this Child Restraint. Items not tested with this restraint could injure your child.
Child must be dressed in clothing with arms and legs that will not interfere with buckling and snugly adjusting harness. Never place blankets between harness and child.
Child must be dressed in clothing with arms and legs that will not interfere with buckling and snugly adjusting harness.
Do not use accessories or parts other than those provided by Combi USA. Use of accessories or parts from other manufacturers could alter the performance of the car seat.
Never secure child in infant carrier dressed in a bulky garment or heavy clothing.
Using any non-Diono/Sunshine Kids product with this restraint; or any product not specifically approved by Diono/Sunshine Kids for use with this restraint is not allowed. Use of such products voids manufacturer’s warranty and may seriously impact the products ability to perform properly in an accident.
Dorel Juvenile Group does not recommend the use of any child restraint accessories except those recommended by DJG.
In cold weather, DO NOT dress the child in bulky clothing like snowsuits if the child is riding in a child restraint. Bulky coats/ snowsuits make it difficult to properly tighten the harness to the child, which may allow the child to be ejected from the restraint during a crash.
DO NOT use accessories or parts other than those provided by Graco. Their use could alter the performance of the car seat.
Never use clothing or blankets that interfere with providing a properly tightened harness. An unsecured child can come out of the restraint during a crash. Place blankets over child AFTER harness has been properly tightened.
Use only approved parts. Use of unapproved parts can affect the safety of the car seat and cause serious injuries in an accident.
DO NOT secure an infant in the carrier with extra material, bulky clothing, or extra padding. Instead, place a blanket over the harness after properly securing the child.
FTC Disclosure: Affiliate links are included in this page. No monetary compensation was provided, however, some of the reviewed products were supplied by the manufacturer or distributor to help facilitate the review. All opinions are those of The Car Seat Lady LLC.