I only have one child and after 4 1/2 years of the buckling routine, I have been more than ready to put this routine behind us, giving Gavin more independence. His convertible car seat is a baby product I’ll happily pass on. For those of you with more than 1 child, exactly how long does it take you to buckle each one in before you are ready to go?
During our participation in the Toyota #SiennaDiaries 3 month test drive, at the age of almost 4 1/2 and 50-ish lbs. it was the perfect time to upgrade Gavin from a convertible car seat to a high back booster seat. Given that the minivan had sliding doors, I was quickly dreaming of the day my only effort would be to push the button on the remote, watch the door slide open, see him hop in, then close the door. Call me lazy but in the snow and rain I’ve had enough of running back and forth around the car, adjusting and re-adjusting straps.
After meeting representatives of Britax at Drool Baby Expo each year in Boston, I have always been impressed at their expert knowledge on car seat safety. Transitioning out of a booster has been on my mind since Gavin was bordering the weight limit of entering one around the age of 3. So when I first had the conversation with the Britax representative a year ago, she could have easily sold me a booster based on height and weight alone, but she asked me a simple and valid question, “Is he mature enough to be trusted to not unbuckle himself when you are driving?” At that point the answer was a huge “Hell no!” Just that week before he had a major meltdown leaving a store and my one saving grace was that once I finally got him buckled in he wasn’t strong enough to unbuckle himself.
The Britax Pioneer 70 Combination Harness-2 Booster Seat is currently a Babies R Us exclusive. It is a high back booster seat with side impact protection but has the ability for a child to be positioned with a 5 point harness similar to their convertible car seat. Once they outgrow the harness, they can transition to positioning themselves with the standard lap belt.
The Britax Pioneer 70 can accommodate children ages 2 and up, from 25-110 lbs. depending upon the installation (5 pt. harness vs. lap belt). There’s also an adjustable head support that can be manipulated in seconds, even while Gavin is sitting in the booster seat, which is a great feature if you have multiple kids who want to swap seats, end up transporting a friend’s child last minute, or you hit a growth spurt. I love the transition from harness to lap belt feature. For some reason harnesses and buckles freak out those people like grandparents who don’t transport kids on a daily basis and securing the lap belt is self-explanatory.
This particular booster seat is heavier than Gavin’s old convertible car seat most likely given the integrated steel bars. I had an unrealistic perception of booster seats, because most of the ones I had seen advertised in the stores are small and lightweight. The weight of the seat keeps the booster upright without tipping over when driving. The Britax representatives helped me understand some of the safety features such as the safe cell technology base, integrated steel bars and true side impact protection that can minimize the risk of head injury during a crash by lowering a child’s center of gravity and providing protection to their head and neck during impact.
We have tried both types of seat installations in the Pioneer 70, 5 point harness vs. Lap Belt, in our Honda CRV as well as a Toyota Sienna and Toyota Highlander. Honestly in terms of installation, I didn’t find much of a difference when including the LATCH connectors, they are always tricky for me. I just found updated information from Britax on their website regarding lower LATCH connectors that “if the combined weight of your child and the car seat is more than 65 pounds, then the car seat should be secured using the vehicle’s seat belt and tether.” Read about more LATCH clarification here. Looks like we are at the 65 lb. mark and even though he prefers the 5 point harness, we can secure the booster seat with only the lap belt and the versa-tether.
When we first received the booster, we first tried only the lap belt positioning. Gavin could unbuckle himself really quickly and would be waiting for me to open the door for him which made getting in and out of the car at daycare pick up and drop off a snap. However, he wasn’t able to consistently buckle himself in. With the height of the seat, sometimes he couldn’t reach down to secure the lap belt.
When we test drove a Toyota Highlander for a week we transferred the Pioneer 70 into that vehicle, which you can see on the right. Instead of the lap belt, we re-attached the straps quickly and easily since they secure in the base of the booster, but used the 5 point harness with the LATCH connectors. Gavin could not only buckle himself into the 5 point harness but he is strong enough to unbuckle himself as well. When I asked what he preferred, he chose the 5 point harness and said it was more comfortable.
As an occupational therapist, my work involves making sure children with physical difficulties are properly supported in their chairs at home and at school, and while the installation of the Pioneer 70 when using the LATCH connectors wasn’t any easier or more difficult than any car seat installation, look at how awesome his body positioning is in the 5 point harness.
Gavin has told us he enjoys the arm rests on the booster. The seat also includes 2 cup holders which fit our re-usable water bottles without difficulty. There is also additional space for snacks and toys on both sides of the booster.
Sleeping for Gavin in both his convertible car seat and this booster can be a challenge. While the Pioneer 70 has a recline feature it can be a little finicky so I don’t even bother to adjust it. Given the more upright nature of a booster, when he falls asleep it doesn’t look pretty. Last week he had his foot up on the base of the seat with his head resting on his knee. Many times I end up sitting in the backseat for long trips so I can continually re-adjust his head. We’ve tried the Skip Hop neck rest pillow without any luck, but Trunki just asked if I wanted to review a Yondi travel pillow with neck support provided under the chin, so stay tuned on that one!
If you are questioning whether your child is ready for a booster, read Britax’s Booster Seat Basics to help you make an informed decision that’s right for your child. Every child is different and what worked for an older sibling may be completely different for another.
Disclosure: We were provided with a Britax Pioneer 70 High Back Booster Seat for this review. Other than product, no other compensation was received. Any opinions are my own.