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 against the child. In a crash, all that bulky down or poly-fill will compress, leaving a too-loose harness and leaving the child inadequately protected.
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 car-seat-friendly winter coat that is safe for the car and warm enough for the playground, here are some good options to try:
My daughter has worn a Snozu jacket, pictured above. This particular jacket squished down into almost nothing, so it was perfect for the car. Costco sells this brand of jackets so if you are a Costco member, check your local stores or order at costco.com. These jackets 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. 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 on 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
These lightweight ThermoPlume Jackets from Lands’ End also look like they would work well
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”!
An older recommendation had been to buckle the child in without a coat, then to put the coat on top of them like a wearable blanket. Not always appropriate but current thoughts on this approach?
Hi Francine, this is mentioned in the article. Nothing wrong with taking off the coat! However, there are other options for parents, caregivers and children who may not want to remove the jacket every time before buckling up.
Has anyone tried the Krickets snow suit coats from Costco they’re Canadian made it looks and feels alright to me but just want to see if anyone else has tried this coat out ?
The Gap primaloft coats are the best! That is what I have bought for my daughter every year. They are warm but aren’t too bulky!
I am a fan of car seat ponchos. We used one for our son for the last few years. So easy.
Are the snozu jacket or snowsuit water proof or water resistant at all?
Same question but I would also like to know if they are warm in 20 below winters.
Can someone honestly explain this to me? Please don’t be rude about it. For the record I do put my kids in their seats without coats in Canada. BUT I can’t really tell you why. Yes, when you take the coat off there might be a gap, if you’ve had to adjust but, it’s not like that was empty space. There was a coat taking up that area. If you’ve compressed it with straps it’s not going to compress again in an accident. No more then a bulky sweater would. Wouldn’t tightening the straps each time work just as well? It really feels like an unnecessary precaution. If your child’s seat is loose enough that if their winter coat compresses they are going to fly out, I bet the coat isn’t the main problem.
Lori- the issue is primarily when the harness straps are loosened to fit the uncompressed bulk of a thick jacket. Some jackets compress very easily, like some of those mentioned in Jennie’s blog. So, if the harness is fit correctly on the child and you don’t loosen it for when they have a jacket, then it may be OK. The jacket should be compressed like you said, and the child might be a little tight but otherwise it should still restrain them correctly.
The problem is when the harness is loosened considerably to comfortably fit a thick, fluffy jacket. Combined with other types of misuse, this can be a serious issue in a crash. We don’t recommend very thick or fluffy jackets because they almost always result in an incorrectly adjusted harness.
The short answer is that the harness must be adjusted to fit the child correctly, not the child+jacket correctly!
Is Layering a hazard? Do the layers cause bulk? we have a thin fleece and a thin shell jacket, would that be okay?
The good rule of thumb is the same with any jacket or layers of jackets or even bulky sweaters. Make sure the harness is adjusted correctly with the child wearing a typical shirt. Once they are wearing their layers or jacket, you should NOT loosen the harness.
The reverse test also applies. If you have the child in the carseat in a jacket or layers of jackets, then take them off and see how the harness fits with just a normal shirt. If it’s too loose, then you need to make a change!
Not all jackets take up the same bulk and force you too loosen a correctly fitting harness in order to fit the child. Also, once in a correctly adjusted harness, it’s fine to add blankets or ponchos over the child and harness to keep them warmer.
As a tech, I have used the Zutano elf suit. It’s thin and is great when use with a hat and blanket on top
For the snouza, their snow suits would work the same in the car seat? Dog walker with a7 month old dreading winter! I wear him with my babywearing coat on but the getting him bundled enough after the ride and unbundled after the walk was dreadful the little preview I got last year
We just bought the Costco Snozu coats for our 22 month old and 8 month old for this coming winter with the thought they would be perfect for their car seats.
My question, since I have never owned a down coat and these feel pretty thin, are they actually warm enough for playing outside in cold temperatures? I’m just trying to decide if I need to get my toddler a second, thicker coat for longer stays outside(we are in Michigan). I’ve been reading reviews online, but most of them are from people living in warmer climates.
The North Face Thermoball toddler jacket is amazing. I prefer it over the Puff-Ball as there is no hood to get in the way. It’s also thinner, yet warmer. That and a winter beanie and you’re kid is set! http://www.thenorthface.com/catalog/ca_ecom/en/sc-gear/toddlers-2t-5-jackets-amp-vests/toddler-girls-8217-thermoball-8482-full-zip-jacket.html?variationId=H0E&variationName=AZALEA%20PINK They also make a boys version.
And, they make an infant version too with flip-over hands! http://www.thenorthface.com/catalog/ca_ecom/en/sc-gear/infants-0m-24m-jackets-amp-vests/infant-thermoball-8482-jacket.html?variationId=H0E&variationName=AZALEA%20PINK
we switched to a hooded poncho I made for her with a double layer of fleece. You flip the back of the poncho up so there is no extra clothing between in the back, and you buckle the car seat under the front of the poncho.
The one drawback is that you have to be extra vigilant about the chest clip. It’s covered up by the poncho, so it needs a visual inspection before you are fine.
I live in Manitoba, where it can get down to -40 Celsius and that’s without the windchill! Taking off the jacket (even for a moment) is not an option. And all the jackets that actually protect from the cold are bulky (plus add in the bulk of overall-type snowpants and you’ve got a very fluffy child). My baby is so poofy that I have her carseat buckles at their maximum length and she’s only 4 months old… so in a case like this, what do you suggest? How do I keep my kids suitably warm in such a frigid climate without sacrificing safety?
A car seat cover, like the ones made by tivoli couture and 7 am enfant are good options for your infant seat. Also, summer infant has come up with a car seat coat!
I guess I’m not understanding why you can’t just pull the strap that between their legs to tighten the seatbelt when they sit down? I loosen and tighten the seatbelt every time my son gets into his seat whether it is summer or winter. It’s easier to get his arms in if I loosen it then just pull the strap when he’s in. It takes not even 2 seconds.
Is there any data to support the position represented in this blog? I can see how loose belts are not safe. But I struggle to see how a child wearing a coat, in a 5 point harnessed seat, with the belts and clip properly adjusted is dangerous. I want my kids to be safe, but I don’t want to be the Gestappo every time my kids want to wear their coats in the van because it is cold outside.
” Bulky clothing, including winter coats and snowsuits, can compress in a crash and lead to increased risk of injury”
from The American Academy of Pediatrics: http://patiented.solutions.aap.org/handout.aspx?gbosid=156719
Those cozy puffy coats can compress to where the car seat no longer holds a child in with the force of a crash. Which can send the child flying out of the seat.
I live in Wyoming where it gets very cold. My kids have The North Face or Columbia fleece jackets that they wear in their seats. I also put blankets over them once buckled in. Works for us! Those Snozu coats look great and I’m glad to know of a few coats that will work as well for next year. Thanks!
Cozywoggle brand coats are amazing with car seats!! They are on FB also!
I live in a climate where temps in the winter are often -25C or lower. Putting the granddaughter in her carseat without a coat is not an option! And I question whether many of the coats mentioned would be suitable for this climate?
I work at Gap and have received feedback from customers in Canada that the Primaloft coats are indeed warm enough for your climate.
My kids both have the Moondoggy coats and they’re awesome! Both use seat belts now (one with a booster, one without), but last year the little was in a 5-point and it was perfect with his harness!
Another vote for the Land’s End Squall jacket line. They are lined w/ fleece, very warm, and extremely thin. We get 2-3 years out of each jacket and are well worth the extra money (although LE is always having sales).
Also, there would be even less issue w/ the harness in the first pair of photos if the jacket was unzipped and the sides of the jacket were pulled out of the harness system (it can even be zipped up again outside the harness if needed). This places even less bulk under the harness system and places the harness closer to the child.