The Britax Chaperone is an infant carrier model from Britax, replacing the popular Companion. The Chaperone carrier is sold separately and also in a travel system together with the Chaperone stroller. In fact, you can even buy the infant carrier and the matching stroller and qualify for this great rebate offer from Britax.
The Chaperone is listed for babies 4 to 30 pounds, 32 inches or less in height and a seated shoulder height of 6.9 to 10 inches tall. With a relatively low bottom harness slot and the included infant insert, it should fit many premature babies well. It also touts an anti-rebound bar on the base (also sold separately), a relatively rare feature for infant seats in the USA. The twist-free harness quickly adjusts to seven height positions with no re-threading required, while the head restraint section allows it to meet the Britax True Side Impact Protection criteria. A built-in lockoff and premium LATCH attachments with push-button releases are also included.
So, is it worthy of the available Cowmooflauge cover? Well, for that, you’ll have to wait a few weeks for the full review from a mom who can put it through its paces with a real, live baby. For this first look, a preemie sized doll will have to suffice, but I’ll also have some photos, video and will discuss how well it installs along with other initial impressions based on only a day or two of use.
- Special foam padding insert for infants 4 to 11 pounds
- Easy to read “bubble” level indicators on both sides of carrier
- Handle can be left in any position while in vehicle
- Anti-rebound bar is very nice
- Generous padding and EPS foam
I really have to talk first about the low birth weight foam insert. It’s not a typical insert that fits around the harness and takes up space around the baby’s head and torso. It’s actually a dense foam wedge that goes under the cover itself. It has cutouts for the lap belt on each side and a slot for the crotch buckle strap. It’s thick enough that it essentially brings the baby’s bottom forward and upward. That reduces the effective height of the lowest harness height setting down to around 6 inches or so (but it’s hard to measure exactly because of the shape of the insert). That is very helpful for small newborns and preemies. Below are a couple photos to compare the fit with and without the insert on a preemie sized doll. On the left, you can see that it is a very good fit using the low birth weight foam insert. On the right, you can see that the fit is marginal, but the harness slots are above the shoulders and it isn’t nearly as nice as with the insert. You will notice that the actual harness height setting isn’t any lower, but the baby’s torso is raised upward to create a shorter effective seated torso height. This makes the buckle sit lower and tighter and seems like it may even help the head from slumping forward a bit, at least with a doll.
Installation of the preemie insert is not difficult. You must remove the lower portion of the cover and the crotch buckle strap as per the instructions in the manual. The insert fits above the comfort foam layer and is tall enough to go just above the shoulder straps in their lowest position. As you can see in the photo on the right, once installed, it fits nicely with the leg and crotch straps in the cut out slots. At 11 pounds, you may no longer use the insert and must also move the crotch strap to the outer position.
The Chaperone touts True Side Impact protection. Indeed, to the side of the head is a layer of comfort padding on the headrest cover. Underneath, a layer of EPS foam in the wings of the adjustable head section. Then the shell of the side wings. Then another layer of padding on the main cover. Then another layer of EPS foam on the sides of the main shell. Then the main shell. The EPS foam lines the side and back of the head section and the sides of the main carrier shell. Plus, with 7 height adjustments, two crotch buckle positions and a front harness adjuster, there should be no problems getting the harness to fit correctly on most babies.
Installation with LATCH and seatbelt both seem pretty straightforward. There’s a built-in lockoff section on the base that helps you cinch the lap and shoulder portions of the seatbelt together. It is also handy for holding any slack on the LATCH straps out of the way. Though there is only a single LATCH adjuster on one side, it works well. Releasing a LATCH install can be difficult with a single tilt adjuster and hook attachment. Not a problem here, since both the adjuster and attachment have push button releases. The Chaperone installed relatively easily in our minivan (I have yet to try the bench seat in our wagon). When installing with a lap/shoulder belt, be sure to follow the steps in the manual. It’s a lot easier to pull slack from the lap belt to tighten it before you put the shoulder belt under the black belt guides!
An upright vehicle seatback will also tend to brace against the anti-rebound bar, making an installation seem even more solid. In our minivan, after I brought the vehicle seat back forward, there was almost no twist or rotation at the top of the shell where the baby’s head would be. It was a very solid install. A knob is turned to adjust the foot up and down in case you need more or less recline. A bubble level is included on each side of the carrier and is easy to read. You can use a pool noodle under the foot if needed for more recline.
Construction? No complaints here. I wouldn’t call the locking clip rugged or heavy-duty, but it worked well in limited testing. The handle mechanism is easy enough to engage, though it requires two hands. It then rotates smoothly. The carrier pops into the base easily and securely. The release mechanism is on the back of the carrier near the top and also works smoothly. The canopy rotates easily and quietly, though also doesn’t lock firmly into a position. The adjustable height mechanism also works easily, as expected. As advertised, the harness doesn’t seem to twist in the buckles, though this issue usually is something that happens over time. My neighbor had no problems at all with the harness adjustment system. She had her daughter, left, correctly restrained in just a minute or two. At 13 months old, 29 inches tall and 21 pounds, she still has room to grow. The cover seems durable and the plastic tabs hold it in place very well. It’s a very soft micro fiber material around the head and torso, while the rest of the material appears to be a more durable and easy-to-clean synthetic fabric.
Overall the weight and dimensions seem pretty typical. At 10 pounds, it’s not very heavy, but not super light, either. The shape and width are also fairly average; perhaps slightly narrower than a typical infant seat. This may help for some narrow seating positions and three-across installs, but it should still be roomy enough for bigger babies. The specs published by Britax are pretty accurate. The base is over 24 inches long from one end to the rebound bar. The carrier width is about 18″ wide at the handles, closer to 15″ at the top of the carrier. The seated shoulder slot heights without the low birth weight insert range from just under 7″ up to around 11″.
The downsides of the Chaperone? Like many infant seats these days, it’s made in China. I’m more willing to pay higher prices for domestic products (like most other Britax models), as well as those made elsewhere in North America or Europe. Being manufactured in the Far East makes the $229 price tag harder to swallow. Even so, the quality and design seem top notch, just like other Britax products. The base does seem relatively long. This could be an issue in small cars with minimal leg room or those with very short seat cushions. The manual doesn’t indicate any issues with overhang, but there is a blurb in the Britax FAQ for anyone concerned about this issue. Without finding any other major flaws in the couple days I’ve had it, I can only nitpick the cord on the manual for being quite short. So, I spent 5 minutes detaching it from the cord so I could read it in the car while waiting for my kids to finish their music lessons. Then, of course, I had a sudden bout of TMS (Typical Man Syndrome) and I promptly lost it! It would have been nice to have a second one in the box, but probably less environmentally friendly to do that when the manual is also available online.
If the cost isn’t an issue, I don’t think you will be disappointed at all with the Chaperone. It’s a very nice infant seat overall, especially for small babies. You get a stylish infant carrier with a few relatively unique features, like the anti-rebound bar, the newborn foam insert and compatibility with the upcoming Britax Chaperone stroller (one that won’t be everywhere like all the mass market strollers)! Plus, the box says it is compatible with other major brands of strollers, too.