Big Booster Seat Packs Lots of Extras
- What: Graco Nautilus 80 Elite 3 in 1 Harness Booster
- When: Your child outgrows their convertible car seat
- Why: High safety rankings, multiple configurations
- Where: Amazon
We switched our first kid to a booster seat last summer when he was five years old. He had outgrown his previous convertible style car seat by height, as the shell no longer reached to the top of his ears even in the highest setting. We waited as long as possible to make the switch.
We did a ton of research, as unlike with infant and convertible seats, I had limited experience with booster seats. After comparing ratings and measurements, we settled on the popular Graco Nautilus 80 Elite 3 in 1 booster seat. (UPDATE: This particular booster seat is no longer available.) It goes from a five point harness booster seat, to a highback seat belt positioner, and finally can transform into a backless booster that positions only the lap portion of a seat belt.
It also comes with a built-in cup holder which my son loves. In addition to the cup holder, it offers two storage spaces for kid things. That’s code for those spaces constantly fill with trash and other kid debris, but my kid does love them. The big chunky arm rests (which can make it hard to install right beside other seats) give him tons of places to stash stuff.
I can’t say I love the LATCH attachments, as it comes with the hook kind on one continuous strap, which makes it harder to install and uninstall to me. Coming from the easy click and button release on individual webbing of the Britax Marathon, I find the other kind difficult to maneuver. That being said, we have now reached the LATCH weight limits in less than a year on my somewhat skinnier than average six year old, so the LATCH attachments no longer matter. (We install it using a seat belt instead.)
I do like the head protection adjustment. The Nautilus has a handle with a release button above the child’s head. You push on the button and pull on the handle to get the right height adjustment. You do still have to rethread the harness through one of four positions on the seat back, which requires uninstalling it to access, unless you go with the Elite model. (We have one with that fabulous feature and one without.) The buckle between their legs has two or three positions, depending on the precise model you buy, which can make a big difference as kids get bigger, too.
I mistakenly thought booster seats offered lighter and narrower choices, but it turns out that’s not necessarily the case. We tried to fit three seats across the same back bench seat for the first time, and I thought the booster seat would help. But the different shape and height didn’t make as much difference in getting three seats in one row as I thought it might, and for some narrower cars, might even prevent the safe installation of one or more car seats. (For anyone who needs to know, we’ve got our three across in a Subaru Outback with one Graco Nautilus 3 in 1, one Britax Roundabout, and one Britax Boulevard. It works, but getting them all in there takes over an hour.)
For everyday use where you rarely have to install the booster seat, I definitely recommend it. If you want to buy an additional seat to use for vacations or extra kids, lighter and less expensive options exist. We own one lighter seat, the Cosco Highback booster, for traveling and carpooling.
If you order from Amazon, be sure to check the expiration date for the booster seat. Ours arrived three years old – half the lifespan of the seat! Make sure it’s a recent manufacture date or that the expiration date is almost six years out before you install it, because you don’t want to have to take it out and install a different one.