This review of the Ride Safer travel vest is written by certified Child Passenger Safety Technician Melissa Conn and may contain affiliate links.
We’re all about experiences over things, but sometimes things come along that makes the experiences a thousand times more enjoyable. That’s my overall impression of the Ride Safer travel vest car seat – for our family it has become an indispensable piece of travel gear as we’ve gallivanted around the globe with two young children. In this Ride Safer travel vest review, you’ll get my complete, honest opinions as a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) and a mom.
We have now used two different generations of the Ride Safer Travel Vest, the Ride Safer Delight travel vest and the current Ride Safer Travel Vest Gen 5. Within the current generation we own three of the four sizes and in this review I’ll share photos on a variety of kids. We’ve spent many years with our vests, so I’ve had plenty of time to get acquainted with them!
You may have seen parents in Facebook groups refer to it by a range of almost-correct names: safe rider vest, rider safe vest, ride safe vest, rider safe travel vest, rider safety vest… I’ve seen pretty much every combination but the only correct one is Ride Safer Travel Vest.
Keep reading (and watching!) to learn how to use the Ride Safer travel vest, its pros and cons and how to decide if it’s right for your family. I’ll also share some information about the companion TravelSmarter booster seat.
Here’s a quick video review of the Ride Safer travel vest:
What is the Ride Safer travel vest?
The Ride Safer travel vest is a wearable booster seat alternative for young children up through tweens. It works by bringing the seatbelt down to your child’s level rather than boosting her up.
Your child puts the vest on (like a clothing vest) and then you secure it using the industrial-strength velcro panel and metal buckle on the front. Once you get in the car, you’d buckle the seatbelt as usual but then thread it through the seat belt guides that are included on the lap and shoulder portions of the vest. The Ride Safer Travel Vest has fairly rigid support through the body, unlike a traditional booster seat that has no body support.
It meets or exceeds all crash test requirements and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for harness restraints, meaning the Ride Safer travel vest is legal throughout the US. It is still considered a booster seat, allowing much more mobility than a harnessed seat. You’ll have to use your judgement regarding your young child’s maturity and ability to stay in the proper position for the whole car ride.
There’s also an optional top tether that should be used whenever possible to limit head movement in an accident. It also help to keep younger riders from reaching for a toy or slumping when asleep in this kids seat belt vest. Having forgotten the top tether piece on a recent trip, I can tell you that it’s an essential piece (even for kids who are old enough for a traditional booster seat).
Who should use the Ride Safer Travel Vest?
According to the manufacturer specifications, the Ride Safer Travel Vest Gen 5 will fit the following ages and sizes:
(lots of caveats with this)
Ok, but what ages and sizes should use the Ride Safer Travel Vest?
As I mentioned in the introduction, we’re fortunate to have used two generations and several sizes of Ride Safer travel vest over the course of many years and many rides.
2023 update! In previous versions of this review I expressed frustration that the Gen 5 vest ran much larger than Gen 4 and didn’t fit kids as the size chart indicated. I’m thrilled to say that the manufacturer, Safe Traffic Systems, responded to sizing feedback and quietly change the design! The changes are significant enough that I wish they’d given it a new name or generation number. This is especially worth noting if you owned a previous vest or have been considering one for a while.
In the photo below, the original Gen 5 is on the left and the new Gen 5 vest is on the right. As you can see, the new version has a much wider range of length adjustability! The diamond-shaped panel can slide up and down along the harness and the velcro tab that determines the vest’s length can be affixed either to the diamond or basically anywhere along the back strap. On the old version we only had about 2″ of Velcro to work with, which translated to very little length difference.
Here’s a comparison of the XS vest at its largest setting along with the new Gen 5 and old Gen 5 smalls at their smallest settings – don’t worry, you’ll see them on real kids in a minute! The XS Ride Safer Travel Vest has some additional considerations so look for that in the next section. In the middle you can see that I’ve also crossed the buckle over to the far side of the vest, which is now permitted to get a better fit on slim kids.
Here’s the updated Gen 5 Ride Safer Travel Vest size small fit. My cute nephew is 5 years old and around 43″ with an average build, while my sweet niece is 7.5 years old, around 46″ and slim. With the improved adjustability, an average sized 4 year old should be able to use the size small. I tried the small on my 9 year old – around 48″ and 60lbs – but it was too small on her.
Many parents ask if they should buy the small or large Ride Safer Travel Vest for their child (there is no medium vest). Here are updated pictures of my own kiddos using the size large vest. At 48″/60lbs (left) and 53″/75lbs (right), the large fits great! My son still has plenty of growing room as well.
Ride Safer Travel Vest X-Small review
In this section, I’m going to address the Ride Safer XS vest that was released in 2022. It’s a bit of a different product and there are a host of considerations that aren’t as important for kids old enough to use the small through XL sizes. Remember, it’s still safer for kids this age to be rear facing in a convertible car seat.
If your kiddo is already 4, scroll down to the next section.
Ride Safer Travel Vest small vs x-small comparison
First, let’s look at a comparison between the Gen 5 Ride Safer Travel Vest XS (left) and the Small (right) and spot the differences:
The overall concept is the same, but there are some critical changes here! First, the XS is obviously smaller. This photo shows the XS on its largest setting and the small on its smallest setting, and there’s still a pretty big difference. There’s just isn’t a ton of room on the back of the XS for the velcro torso length adjustment, so it has a much narrower range than the small.
Second, the small has a metal buckle at the waist while the XS has a similar buckle attached at the chest pads and only velcro at the waist. If you’ve never had one of these vests in your hands, the velcro is incredibly strong so don’t be concerned that kids are going to mess with it, nor that it would open in a crash. But that metal buckle on the chest? Genius.
It remedies the biggest issue with size small for smaller kids, which is that the shoulder straps can easily slide off of slim shoulders. I’d love to see this change on the Ride Safer Gen 6 vests! Not only does that “chest clip” give a better fit but it also prevents kids from deliberately getting out. Could a determined child unfasten it? Surely. But it’s an important first line of defense!
Finally, you’ll see that the shoulder belt guides on the x-small travel vest are exposed while they’re covered with fabric on the small. While the velcro on those flaps is pretty flimsy, I miss them on the XS. In their absence, curious fingers may be more inclined to play with the shoulder belt and potentially remove it from the guide.
Ride Safer Travel Vest XS fit to child
I’m excited to have a tiny new model to show off the XS vest! This little lady is just over 2 and on the short side. You can see that the XS fits her nicely. If she had been more compliant I would have used the crotch strap as well (more on that later).
On the topic of curious fingers, let’s meet our second adorable XS vest model: my 3.5yo nephew – these photos were taken a few years ago, and you’ll see above that he’s now comfortably modeling the size small. At 3 he was 37.5″ and 33.5lbs – exactly average for height and just a little above average for weight. In these photos he was probably around 39″ and 35lbs – nearing the top end of the size range for XS.
He juuuuust fit into the XS (right) and the crotch strap was very helpful for keeping the vest low with the lap panel on the tops of his thighs. By contrast, the small was so baggy through the shoulders that when he was fed up with modeling he slid his tiny shoulders through and pulled the whole thing down.
Is the extra-small Ride Safer Travel Vest right for your child?
And therein lies rub… a child doesn’t need to be 100% booster-ready to use the vest, but he still needs to basically be a calm and compliant child even if a vest or other car seat makes him grumpy.
The XS Ride Safer Vest is marketed for 2 and 3 year olds, but that’s precisely the age at which kids beginning pushing boundaries and asserting their independence. Some kids, like my daughter photographed above at the same age, are total rule followers and will just sit where you place them and how you place them. Others – perhaps the majority – at 2 or even 3 will wiggle and squirm, sometimes for discomfort and sometimes to get a rise out of their safety-minded parents.
While my little niece looked like the perfect model above, before getting that picture she spent about 30 minutes sitting on the ground saying “I don’t like it!” when I showed her the vest. She wasn’t willing to put it on at all until after both of her older siblings had modeled for me. If you’re considering using the vest for a trip with a young or sensitive child, give yourself plenty of extra time to get them comfortable and situated.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the CPST community is split on whether or not the XS vest should exist. Yes, it passes Federal crash testing both with and without the top tether. However, crash test dummies don’t move. In deciding whether or not your child is ready for the vest, you have to be honest about her behavior and developmental level.
- You have a calm, compliant, petite 3-4 year old and will be doing the sort of travel that just doesn’t work with a traditional car seat (like full-time travel)
- You’re taking a 2 year old on a car-free vacation that only requires a taxi/Uber from the airport and an adult or teen will be sitting next to the toddler in the car
While the crotch strap is optional for all ages, I strongly recommend its use with the XS vest. Kids this age are prone to wiggling and the strap ensures that the lap belt stays nice and low on the thighs. Between that and the “chest clip” it’ll also remind kids that they’re in a car seat and shouldn’t be frolicking around the car.
When possible, I also recommend using the top tether. With that piece the Ride Safer Travel Vest passes the same testing that’s required of a forward-facing harness. Furthermore, you’re really limiting how much your young child can squirm out of position. In some countries (generally in the developing world) there are no top tethers, so keep that in consideration as you decide whether or not to travel internationally with the XS RSTV.
Finally, if you have no alternative but to use the vest and you think your child will try to wiggle too much you do have the option of locking the seatbelt at the retractor like you would when installing a car seat. Many countries (like Mexico) don’t have that “switchable” retractor as a standard unfortunately but it’s mandatory in the US and Canada.
XS Ride Safer Travel Vest in the car
So how does the vest do when you put an actual child in the car? It was actually pretty good for my little nephew at 3.5 and average height!
You can see that I managed to pull the vest down pretty far so that the lap panel is flat on his thighs. I’ve used the top tether and the crotch strap to limit the wiggles. If he had a little more room in the vest, sitting “criss-cross” would help the lap panel sit even flatter.
He’s right near the top of the size chart for the XS vest, and because he’s 3 he had no tolerance for trying the small in the car. It’s also worth nothing that in this vehicle he doesn’t have the appealing red button of the seatbelt buckle right next to him, but he would in a sedan or other bench seat. I’m confident that this little guy wouldn’t mess with it once told, but only you know how your child will handle that situation.
This is in a different vehicle, but you can see that the fit on his sister at age 2 is… less good. In theory this works: the lap belt is flat on her thighs and the shoulder belt crosses near her collar bone. But because she’s very small and the seatbelt is mounted high in this car, it hits her right in the face! There’s a good chance that she would (understandably) move the seatbelt out of position after a few minutes because that can’t be comfortable.
Safe Traffic Systems offers the Travel Smarter backless booster seat that can be used with any size vest to improve the seatbelt fit. As you can see here, it does exactly that! There’s no chance of the lap belt riding up onto her “soft belly” and the shoulder belt is more appropriately positioned. She’s also able to benefit from the car’s advanced safety features like side curtain airbags since she’s higher up.
You can read my Travel Smarter booster seat review for more info. It’s incredibly light and comes with its own backpack that also fits the vest inside.
If you feel that the XS Ride Safer vest is right for your family, you can buy it here and save $11 with coupon ‘VOYAGE’.
How to put on the Ridesafer vest for kids
When you open the Ridesafer travel vest backpack, you’ll see a few different parts and you’ll need to make some adjustments. The great news is that you can fit it to your child before you need to use it in the car.
The components included in the box are the vest, a sometimes-optional crotch strap, the optional-but-highly-recommended top tether, the truly optional neck pillow and a convenient carry backpack. We ditched the pillow after just one use and the crotch strap once our kids got a little bigger.
Putting the vest on is pretty intuitive: open the buckle and the very sturdy Velcro panel in the front, then have your child slip his arms in. Tug the vest down, fasten the Velcro so that it’s snug but not uncomfortable and then fasten the metal buckle, adjusting the strap length as necessary – there’s no way that vest is coming undone on its own! To get the length right, turn your child around and open the Velcro on the crossing straps on his back. Adjust the vest until the bottom flap on the front is resting on top of his thighs (since it will hold the lap portion of the seatbelt in the proper position), then refasten the Velcro straps on his back.
The final (optional) step is to the thread the Y-shaped crotch strap through the two slots on the back of the vest on the bottom (one on each side), then pull between the legs and fasten snugly through the slot at the bottom of the front. While the crotch strap is technically optional, it’s important for preventing younger riders from “submarining” (sliding down and out of the vest).
We stopped using the crotch strap around 4.5-5 years old. It’s not long enough to use all the way to the top of the size range, but it’s also not necessary at that point.
You can see a hands-on demo of putting on the Ride Safer vest below:
How to use the Ride Safer vest in the car
The Ride Safer travel vest is very easy to use once you get it on your child.
Here are the basic steps to use the Ridesafer vest:
- Put the vest on the child, making sure that the lower panel is over the tops of the thighs. It can help to “fan out” the two sides of the lap panel so that it sits flat.
- Have child sit in the car and fasten seatbelt as normal.
- Feed the lap belt through both metal guides in the lap panel of the vest, then pull snug across the lap. Don’t over-tighten the lap belt or it may start to bunch in the guide on the side away from the buckle.
- Open the Velcro shoulder pad on the side where the should belt crosses and feed the shoulder belt through that metal guide, then pull snug and close the shoulder pad.
- Attach the optional but highly recommended top tether to the shoulder straps using the two metal hooks (above the pads), then attach the other end to the car’s top tether point and pull the tail to remove slack.
If you’ll be using the Ride Safe travel vest in your own car or a rental car, you can leave it attached to the car when you get out! Just unbuckle the seatbelt and remove it from the lap belt guide on the buckle side before you unbuckle the waist strap. You can leave the tether attached at the shoulders and even leave the seatbelt threaded through the shoulder and the other side of the lap! As you become more experienced with the vest, it’s a real time saver.
Ride Safer travel vest FAQs
Yes, as long as it’s used in accordance with the directions the Ride Safer travel vest is legal in the United States. Please see more information on Europe, Australia and Costa Rica for additional guidance if you’re traveling to those places.
Yes, it passes FMVSS 213 testing just like all other car seats in the United States.
The RSTV is permitted in Canada as a medical device with prescription.
The Ride Safer Travel Vest has only been crash tested an approved with the Travel Smarter backless booster seat. Using it with any other booster seat (inflatable or otherwise) may be unsafe and in some cases illegal.
RideSafer Travel Vest Review Impressions
Bottom-line upfront: we liked it enough to take it with us for a full year of travel. Yes, its that much of a game-changer. Now having returned, I have no regrets about that choice.
Now for my full thoughts: The Ride Safer vest is an awesome product that really delivers on its promise to make traveling with preschoolers and older kids easier without compromising safety. We took it to Europe without ever testing it at home, which was a risk for sure, but I figured it out pretty quickly. Our son barely complained during any of our car rides, though he’s generally pretty easygoing about car seat safety and is accustomed to riding in a forward-facing harness most of the time at home.
When we used it during our gap year trip, it was perfect for taxi rides in the cities because I could just roll it up and put it in our day bag. We also used it for some very long road trip stretches, and found it to be solid overall. There were times when our daughter slumped more than we would have liked when sleeping, and early in the trip the shoulder straps seemed a hair too long for her; however, a little gap at the shoulders isn’t necessarily a concern. In our long-term testing, she never complained about comfort despite some drives of 6 hours in a single day.
Overall we’re very satisfied with our decision to bring the Ride Safer rather than our usual travel car seat. For kids who are mature enough and big enough to fit, we whole-heartedly recommend it in situations like ours where traveling light is the only practical solution.
It’s also a great alternative to a booster seat for taxi or Uber riders living in major cities or families on extended trips at age 4+, especially when many families would otherwise allow their children to ride unrestrained. Just throw it in the included backpack and let your kid carry it around! We’ve also found it indispensable for fitting 3-across in our small car when Grandma comes to visit.
If your child is younger or smaller, take a look at the WAYB Pico, which is an excellent folding car seat with a 5-point harness. If you travel infrequently and will just be taking a single flight and then renting a car, one of these travel car seats might be a good fit for your needs.
The RideSafer travel vest is also sometimes prescribed for children with special needs, especially now that there’s a size Extra Large available. It can be a great choice for older children and even teens who have outgrown the tallest harnessed car seat and still need more support than a traditional booster seat can offer.
What we like:
-Feels very well made
-Design has multiple fail-safe mechanisms
-Extremely compact (takes up less than half of a preschool-sized backpack)
-Easy to use, takes less than 3min to put on the vest and get the seatbelt in place (assuming your kid is a willing participant)
-More torso support than a backless booster, avoids booster rider slumping when asleep
-Adjustable sizing so it can last for several years
-Wide range of sizes now available, from XS to XL
What we don’t love:
-Can take some practice and tweaking to get the fit of the car seat vest just right
-Crotch strap is almost too short for many kids, though its use is not required
-Getting the vest on the kid and then the kid in the car can get to be tiresome if you’re doing it several times per day, every day, for a whole year
-Lots of parts to keep track of (for a city family using the vest in a taxi, you can leave the headrest at home and save tons of space)
-The optional headrest is more trouble than it’s worth
-Not permitted to use on an airplane, so for a child under 40lbs you’d need to buy a CARES harness to make the airplane seatbelt safe
-Kids can’t see out the window (can be used with the Travel Smarter booster seat to give them a lift)
-The 2023 version now has a 5 year expiration, while earlier versions had a 10 year expiration
Final Thoughts on the Ride Safer car seat vest
As you can see from my impressions above, there is room for small changes or additional features; however, our impression is overwhelmingly positive. I was especially pleased that, when used with the top tether, the car seat travel vest prevented slumping out of position while sleeping. If we had just brought a booster seat, our daughter would have been in an unsafe position. Moving from two bulky car seats to none on our gap year was absolutely epic (we use this one for our son since he was 6 years old by then – full review here). I honestly don’t know how we could have managed without the Ride Safer travel vest.
While the Ride Safer vest is a little pricey for an item most families will use only occasionally, if your family travels often with older preschoolers or young school age children I can’t recommend it enough. It would be a fantastic choice for car-free families with kids ages 4 and up as well, as you can easily shove it in your purse or backpack for unexpected taxi rides.
We feel confident that the Ride Safer offers a safe alternative to either lugging a huge car seat around a city or relying on an unfamiliar car/driver to maybe offer car seats. Ready to buy your own Ride Safer vest? Get it directly from Safe Ride 4 Kids for amazing customer service and fast, free shipping! Use coupon ‘VOYAGE’ to save $11 on your order.
Not sure what car seat to bring for travel? Find the best travel car seats by age
Our friends at Safe Traffic Systems and Safe Ride 4 Kids sent me several Ride Safer travel vest for kids to review; all opinions are my own.