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UPDATED: November 2017

Pumpkin Spice lattes, falling leaves, Christmas decorations showing up on store shelves even though it isn’t even Thanksgiving… it can only mean one thing: It’s getting cold, and your kids are going to need winter clothes.

Michelin-man-style snowsuits might be fine for sledding, but in the car they can be dangerous. Too much bulk means that the harness won’t tighten properly against the child. In a crash, that extra bulk will compress, leaving a too-loose harness, and leaving the child inadequately protected.

So what can you do?

One option is to have your child take her coat off before she gets in the car. Then after she’s buckled, she can slip her arms into the backward coat.

But what if your kids don’t want to take off their jackets? No problem–just look for something car-seat-friendly.

What constitutes a good coat for the car seat?

Anything that doesn’t add a lot of extra compressible bulk to the child will do. That might be a sweater, fleece jacket, or a packable down jacket.

To see if your child’s outerwear is ok for the car, do the Jacket Slack Challenge:

  1. Put the jacket/coat on your child, put him in his seat, and tighten the harness.
  2. WITHOUT LOOSENING THE HARNESS, unbuckle your child and take him out.
  3. Take off the jacket, then put him back in the seat and re-buckle.

If there’s only a little bit of extra slack in the harness (or none at all), the jacket is good! If there’s a significant amount of slack, consider another option.

Winter Coat Infographic

Those two jackets look pretty similar, but you can see how different they really are. In the first photo, my daughter is wearing a Snozu jacket. Without the jacket, the harness had no slack. (In fact, before I took the picture my daughter had been in the seat with no jacket. I didn’t need to loosen the harness at all to buckle her with the jacket on.) The second coat is another story. It’s your typical winter coat, and honestly, it didn’t seem that bulky to me…until I took it off and re-buckled. Wow! There was a lot of slack in that harness!

If you’re looking for a car-seat-friendly winter coat that is safe for the car and warm enough for the playground, here are some good options to try:

Last year I got my daughter a Snozu jacket, pictured above. This particular jacket squished down into almost nothing, so it was perfect for the car. There is a similar Snozu jacket available at Costco this season, that has a thin layer of fleece inside, but still works well in the car. These jackets aren’t expensive either, which is a definite bonus! Just keep in mind that jacket styles can change from year to year. You should do the “Jacket Slack Challenge” with each new coat to ensure that it’s not introducing a dangerous amount of slack in your child’s car seat harness.

Parents at car-seat.org rave about the Patagonia Puffball.

Many have also said good things about the North Face Moondoggy.

Columbia makes a Power Lite Puffer jacket for boys and girls that is packable down.

LL Bean and The Gap both have PrimaLoft jackets that are very squishable.

These Lightweight Packable Jackets from Lands’ End also look like they would work well.

Besides working well in car seats, these options will also pack easily in a backpack or diaper bag when you don’t need them. Safe AND convenient!

What great car seat coats have you found?