Booster Seats 101: High-back vs Backless Booster Seat (2022 Guide)

If your kiddo has made it to the booster stage, you may wonder what the better choice is:
high back vs backless booster seat?

Although both high back and backless boosters are safe, the ultimate choice will depend on your child's maturity.

In this guide, we talk about the fundamental differences between backless and high back booster seats while tapping into safety considerations and guidelines for using these seats.


Types of Booster Seats

There are three types of booster seats:

when to use high back booster vs backless booster
  • Highback booster seats: Highback booster seats offer extra head and back support with their tall sides and back. A highback booster's top goes over your child's head and can be secured with a vehicle's seat belt or a latch system.
  • Backless booster seats: a backless booster is a cushion-like seat that offers your kid the extra height to reach a seat belt that fits properly. Unlike a highback booster seat, a backless booster does not offer back and head support.
  • Combination seats: combination seats or harness to booster seats go further with protection by offering a 5-point harness restraint. Belt-positioning boosters are a perfect traditional seat once your kid outgrows a convertible seat. The harness quickly transforms from a five-point to a safety belt.

What Do Children Use Before Using a Booster Seat?

Before using a booster seat, children usually ride in a convertible car seat or a belt-positioning booster seat. Until the age of 5, kids should remain in a 5-point harness child restraint seat as recommended by NHTSA.

A convertible seat is a forward-facing car seat with a higher weight limit and a 5-point harness. Belt-positioning boosters include a three-point or a five-point harness but can later be used with adult seat belts.

Following the NHTSA recommendations is best, as children are safer in the 5-point harness than in a seat belt. The harness helps spread the crash forces evenly, while seat belts have fewer restrain points.

Before your child transitions to a booster seat, make sure they follow the necessary limits:

- A child must be at least 40 pounds before moving on a booster.

- A child needs to be at least five years old.

- A child is ready for a booster if able to sit correctly without unbuckling or slouching.

What Do Children Use After Boosters?

Children should use an adult seat belt after they have matured and completely exceeded a backless booster's weight and height limit. For example, a child is ready for a vehicle seat belt once he reaches a height limit of 4 feet and 9 inches.

Before using vehicle seat belts and boosters, children should pass the five-step test:

  • Knees should bend at the seat's edge while the feet touch the floor.
  • A child needs to sit up straight with the vehicle seat belt. No slouching or awkward positions are allowed!
  • The shoulder belt needs to be positioned across the chest and flat over the collarbone. Improper use and position of the shoulder belt could lead to internal injuries.
  • A lap belt should sit over the upper thighs and never over the stomach.
  • A child is ready for a vehicle seat belt if he can sit properly during the entire car ride.

Forward-facing Car Seat vs Belt-positioning Booster Seat: What Are the Differences?

is a high back booster safer than a backless booster

Forward facing car seat is a five-point harness seat, suitable to use after a rear-facing seat. Once children surpass a rear-facing seat, they should still be secured with a five-point harness until they reach at least 49 inches and 65 pounds.

There are four types of forward-facing car seats:

  • Convertible car seats: convertible seats can be installed in the rear-facing position and then be converted to a forward-facing position. A convertible car seat can also be an all-in-one model which covers all stages - from birth to booster! 
  • Combination car seat: a combination car seat can be used as a harnessed seat and then altered to a highback booster seat.
  • Travel vests: a travel vest can be worn by a child weighing 22-168 pounds. They require a top tether and are commonly used in vehicles with only lap belts in the back.
  • Integrated forward-facing car seats: The integrated forward-facing seat can be found in some new vehicle models. However, the height and weight limits of integrated seats may vary often. Integrated seats should not be used until your child has outgrown the infant seat or rear-facing seat limits.

Belt-positioning booster is a highback booster suitable for kids weighing over 40 pounds.
Some belt-positioning boosters include a 5-point harness, while others have removable back support. Once the child has reached a five-point harness's weight and height limit, you can easily remove the harness and use the booster with a belt.

Most belt-positioning boosters have taller sides fitted for a big and tall toddler. In addition, a belt-positioning booster offers head and back protection that goes past the child's ears.

What is a High Back Booster Seat & When to Use It?

A highback booster is a tall-sided seat with added back, neck, and head support. Highback boosters should be used after a child has outgrown a forward-facing car seat.

The weight requirements for a highback booster are between 40-120 pounds, while the height limit is up to 4 feet and nine inches.

Thanks to the head support, many highback boosters have an adjustable headrest that offers proper seat belt positioning. The added head support allows kids to ride safely in vehicles with lower head restraint sides. A highback booster is a much safer alternative if your car does not have headrests.

Benefits of highback boosters

  • Comfort: High-back boosters have taller sides and back support, making them comfortable for long trips. Many booster seats also offer a deep headrest, so the child's head won't slump down during a nap. A tall design keeps smaller kids in the correct position until they are ready for a backless configuration.
  • Optimal vehicle safety belt fit: the highback booster has lower shoulder belt guides that offer proper position and restraint. The height of the shoulder belt guide can be easily adjusted with some booster models according to the child's height. The seat belt fit, as well as shoulder belts, are much more fitted for smaller kids.
  • Secure installation: High-back booster holds a lot more weight than a backless booster. Since a highback booster can be installed only with latch anchors or a top tether and lower anchors, the installation is much more secure.
  • Safety: Side impact protection makes a highback booster a safer alternative than backless models. According to the NHTSA, approximately 43% of car accidents are due to a side collision. Highback boosters offer optimal side impact safety with reinforced design and crash-absorbing elements.

Disadvantages of highback boosters

  • Price: highback boosters usually come at a high price point. Although you can find a few budget-friendly alternatives, they are still the pricer choice than backless boosters. If you get a highback model with a non-removable back, your child will quickly outgrow it. After outgrowing, you will still need to invest in a backless booster seat.
  • Bulky design: High-back boosters are excellent for everyday use but not so much for traveling. Their cumbersome design does not allow for portability, and it can be a problem if you tend to switch vehicles.

What is a Backless Booster Seat & When to Use It?

difference between high back booster and backless

A backless booster is a specialized cushioned seat for older children with no back or head support. The backless design raises the child for the appropriate seat and lap belt fit.

A child can use a backless booster car seat once he exceeds the weight and height limit of a forward-facing car seat.

Considering many children reach the maximum weight limit first, it's best to remain in a belt-positioning booster. Many kids do not have the appropriate height necessary for shoulder belt fit.

Many backless boosters have a shoulder belt guide that holds the belt behind the child's shoulder. The shoulder belt fit is suitable for tall children that don't fit in the necessary position.

Benefits of a backless booster

  • Travel-friendly: backless boosters are incredibly lightweight and easily fit into any car seat type. Backless boosters are a fantastic choice if you tend to carpool or switch vehicles often.
  • Offer a better fit: Backless boosters offer a better reach of the vehicle's safety belt and lap belt due to their tall and cushioned design.
  • Preferred by older children: Older children like backless booster seats better due to the mature design.
  • Affordable: Backless booster car seats are more affordable than highback boosters. The quality is the same, but with a lack of back support.

Disadvantages of backless boosters

  • Less comfort: Backless boosters are not so comfortable. A backless mode may offer plush support at the bottom, but it does not add comfort to the rest of the body.
  • Less support: Since backless boosters do not offer head, back, neck, and side impact protection, they do not provide optimal safety.
  • Not a good fit for smaller children: a backless booster is not a good solution for smaller children. Fitting a backless booster seat will be challenging if you have a vehicle without seat belt guides. The shoulder belt guides and lap belts need to fit correctly, and it can be tough for a backless booster to support a smaller child properly.

High Back vs Backless Booster: Similarities & Differences


Highback boosters and backless boosters share differences in safety design. For example, a child is offered side-impact protection and head and neck support with a highback booster seat.

Many highback boosters include a five-point harness. A five-point harness is recommended for longer use until the child's fourth birthday.

Installing the highback booster is conducted with latch connectors in most cases. The latch systems are more reliable and safer to hold the car seat down in case of a collision.

A backless booster lacks back support but offers an appropriate height lift. However, no-back boosters are less safe if your child has not yet reached the adequate seat belt height.

Winner: High-back boosters


backless booster seat versus high back

A backless booster is designed simply as a seat cushion, while a highback booster has tall sides and back support.

A backless booster is a better option if you wish to travel with kids. This is because backless boosters are less bulkier and more lightweight solutions.

Both designs have advantages and disadvantages, but the ultimate choice comes down to your child's maturity and height.

Winner: Both.

Shoulder belt positioning

Highback boosters often include shoulder seat belt guides that offer a proper position for the vehicle's seat belt. Unlike backless boosters, a highback booster is an adequate choice for a smaller child. A highback seat ensures the shoulder and lap belt are adequately positioned while your child grows.

Winner: High-back booster.


Is a high back booster safer than backless?

Yes, a highback booster is safer than a backless booster. A highback booster has a tall back design with side impact protection that goes over your child's ears and offers rear protection.

Is a high back booster necessary?

A highback booster is necessary if your child's ears still go over the vehicle seat. With a highback booster, a child has adequate support in the back, neck, and head area while reaching the height of a vehicle seat belt.

When can a child switch from a highback booster to a backless booster?

A child can switch to a backless booster after age five or six, depending on the maturity level. Children who require rear support should stay in the harnessed booster.

What is the point of a high back booster?

A highback booster offers head and back support for children in vehicles that lack head restraint. With a highback booster, a child is restrained with a five or three-point harness or a seat belt.

Once the child exceeds the limits of a highback booster, he is ready for a backless configuration.

What is the purpose of a backless booster?

The purpose of a backless booster is to offer the child a suitable height lift for seat belt reach. Backless boosters are an excellent choice for traveling and carpooling due to their lightweight design.

What weight can a child use a backless booster seat?

Children can use a backless booster seat once they reach the weight of 40 pounds.

Both backless boosters and highback models have a minimum 40 pounds weight limit. However, waiting until your child is mature enough to ride in a booster seat with no assistance is best.

Final Words

We looked at both benefits and disadvantages of highback and backless boosters. Although both booster modes are considered safe, checking your child's maturity level is always best before making the transition.

We hope you enjoyed the detailed high back vs backless booster seat guide and that you are finally ready for all your family carpools and travels!

Avatar of Kathy Warner

Kathy Warner

Kathy is a busy mother of two and a CPS technician for more than eight years. Her mission is to awaken parents to the importance of child passenger safety and show them the right practice. You can read more about her here

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