Michelin-man-style snowsuits are great for sledding but in the car they can be dangerous. If the jacket is stuffed with a lot of down or poly-fill, the harness won’t tighten properly on the child. In a crash, all that bulky down or poly-fill stuffing will compress as the child loads the harness straps. This can create a situation where the child is suddenly in a loose harness during a crash.
So, what can you do?
One option is to have your kids take their coats off in the car. After they’re buckled, they can slip their arms into the backward coat like a painting smock. Or you can leave blankets in the car that your kids can throw over themselves if necessary.
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, hoodie, fleece jacket, or a packable down jacket.
To see if your child’s outerwear is ok for the car, take the Slack Challenge:
- Put the jacket/coat on your child, put him in his seat, and tighten the harness snugly.
- WITHOUT LOOSENING THE HARNESS, unbuckle your child and take him out.
- 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.
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 carseat-friendly winter coat that is safe for the car and also warm enough for the playground, here are some good options:
My daughter has worn a Snozu jacket, pictured above. This particular jacket squished down into almost nothing, so it was perfect for the car. Walmart.com currently sells this brand of jackets and they aren’t expensive either, which is a definite bonus!
Some of the Snozu jackets have a thin layer of fleece inside but still work well in the carseat. Just keep in mind that jacket styles can change from year to year so you should do the 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.
More carseat-friendly jacket recommendations:
Parents rave about the Patagonia Nano Puff and Down Sweater Jackets
We’ve heard lots of positive feedback over the years about the North Face Moondoggy
Columbia makes a Powder Lite Puffer jacket that is packable down
L.L. Bean has PrimaLoft Packaway jackets that are very squishable
Lands’ End makes lightweight ThermoPlume Jackets that can also work well for this purpose
Another great option is the Buckle Me Baby Coat, which we have reviewed. It’s a great alternative to a traditional jacket and allows you to close and zip the jacket over the secured harness. Not only is it warm, but it’s also an extra obstacle for those little Houdinis who like to play with their chest clip!
A Poncho is an affordable, non-traditional option that can work well for some families. We’ve reviewed the Birdy Boutique poncho and found it to be cuddly, warm, and easy to use!
Besides working well in car seats, most of these options will also pack easily in a backpack or diaper bag when you don’t need them. Safe AND convenient!
*Disclaimer – Obviously we can only give general guidance and can’t verify every style of every product mentioned here. Checking harness snugness with and then without the jacket to see how much, if any, slack is introduced by the jacket is the best way to be sure that it is “carseat friendly”!