We spent lots of time selecting, evaluating and testing 6 portable high chairs and came out the other end with a good foundation for the qualities that make for an excellent one: Safe, Comfortable, Functional, and Portable.
Types of Portable High Chairs
To start, there are 3 types of portable high-chairs that can be used on the go: Wraps, Hook Ons, and Booster Seats. The first two types can be used once baby has begun to sit unaided, usually about 6 months up to a max weight of 37 pounds at which point your child will probably be sitting in a real chair. Boosters, however, may be used beginning at 12 months, once baby has really developed solid core strength up to a max weight of 50 pounds.
Though we will briefly discuss wraps here, please note that our Best Portable High Chair Review only tests 3 Hook Ons and 3 Boosters. We assessed them in the following metrics: Ease of Use, Safety and Quality, Portability, and Ease of Cleaning. If you know that you'd like a dining tray for your little one, both the Fisher-Price Healthy Care Deluxe and Phil and Teds Lobster have an included tray. You can purchase one separately for the Inglesina Fast Table Chair.
Wraps are pieces of fabric that attach baby to any chair and are extremely portable for on the go families. Onya Baby, a baby carrier manufacturer, produces the Outback, $139, a soft structured carrier that doubles as a portable high chair wrap.
Hook-On chairs sort of futuristic and pretty awesome. Most have rubberized arms that secure to the table without scratching it and twist tight fasteners to secure to a surface before putting your little one inside. Typically infants need to be 6+ months and sitting upright solo when beginning to use Hook-Ons. The upper weight limit is lower than with boosters at 37 lbs, so they won't be used for the long haul. However, by this point, children typically have enough coordination to sit in a regular chair.
Most Hook-Ons are fairly lightweight and collapsable with a carry bag. 2 of 3 Hook-Ons we tested, the Inglesina Fast Table Chair and the Phil and Teds Lobster, met this criteria at an easy to carry 4 pounds. Removable seat fabric for easy cleaning is a must and the metal frames usually are cleaned by wiping down.
Plain and simple, Boosters are easy. They may begin at 12 months coinciding with strong core development and will fit on almost all dining chairs by strapping around the back and underneath the chair. As such, they can be used just about anywhere, except for a restaurant booth. And, if used at home, you can typically slide the chair with the booster seat attached under the table for less clutter when not in use. Weight limit is 50 lbs.
Boosters allow your little one to eat with the family, though depending upon chair and table height as well as booster amenities such as adjustable height, they may not rise up to table height. Close monitoring of a child in a booster attached to a chair is essential as there is always a potential that they can push themselves against the table, tipping the chair backwards.
The downfall with these seats is their bulky size making them less portable. Even if they collapse down, they still tend to be a lot to carry. The exception to this is the Munchkin Travel Booster Seat which does in fact fold into a bag and is very light. On the flip side, the Prince Lionheart BoosterPOD doesn't fold down at all.
Ease Of Use
When setting up a chair, you should take into account the amount of items you have to assemble and the average time it takes to setup. In these cases, becoming a minimalist is approved. When you've got a starving a toddler and a time consuming chair to setup, you've got a recipe for disaster. A portable high chair that pops-up and easily clamps to the table or comes in one piece is very nice.
Table, countertop, and chair compatibility can become a real issue when dining out. Booster seats will fit on almost any dining chair but becomes problematic when faced with a booth. Some Hook-Ons do not fit all round-edged tables or those with vertical skirts. In addition, there are some very clear limitations with hook-on chairs such as: glass table tops CAN NOT be used and flimsy or pedestal tables are out of the question. We were delighted with the Inglesina Fast Table Chair which earned our Editors' Choice Award as it is a very versatile Hook-On.
Safety and Quality
Your peanut's safety is first and foremost when dining in a Portable High Chair. Most come with a 3-point harness. If so, having both adjustable crotch and waist straps are key to a good fit. We really like that the Phil and Teds Lobster has a 4-point harness around the upper body with an additional crotch panel. Look for a substantial seat, one deep enough with a high seat back. By no means should a child be able to "houdini" themselves out. Also, attachment mechanisms should secure the Hook-On or Booster firmly without give or movement such as sliding on a chair if too loose.
The Phil and Teds Lobster, the Inglesina Fast Table Chair and the Fisher-Price Healthy Care Deluxe Booster Seat, each have high sides and nice seat backs as well as sturdy harnesses and attachment mechanisms. The Inglesina was the most comfortable with a deep seat, lifted backrest, comfortable adjustable harness with attached but separate crotch strap panel (that needs to be secured into place prior to placing the seat via O-rings) and nice cushioning providing both support and comfort.
We were disappointed in the lack of support that the Prince Lionheart BoosterPOD and the Munchkin Travel Booster Seat provided. They both have low sides, meaning the baby could lean to one side or the other easily. Furthermore with each, we experienced attachment straps were either flimsy or awkwardly placed. In our opinion, they just weren't touch enough to provide enough resistance against a toddler's strong movements.
The desirable mark of this category is portability. We advise taking a close look at the overall weight of the chair you are considering. Less is more here. The chairs we tested ranged from 4 ounces to 7.2 pounds, and wow, that's a big difference. If you're carrying your baby and diaper bag in on one arm, you probably don't want to carry a 7 pound chair in the other unless you haven't made it to CrossFit that day. You'll also be more satisfied with one that can fold down into low bulk as well as something that offers a carry option such as an included bag or padded shoulder strap.
The issue with Boosters is their inability to fold and flatten, so if you are taking it with you to dine out or for traveling with baby, you are typically stuck with carrying a pretty massive item with you. The exception here is the Munchkin Travel Booster Seat, which is both light and fairly compact for a Booster. We found the Hook-On chairs, with the exception of the Chicco Caddy Hook On, folded down to a decent size and included their own carry bags. This is great, you fold the chair to a flat size and slide it into a bag that you can toss over your shoulder or, as in the case of the Phil and Teds Lobster, place in a diaper bag.
Ease of Cleaning
As these chairs will get pretty messy, finding one that is easy to clean is holy. It's truly a matter of simplifying your life and easing the pain of cleaning the chair. After all, cleaning up after our little ones is a daily, if not, hourly routine. Fabrics and chairs with crevices tend to be more difficult to clean. Removable fabrics that can be hand washed and hard, smooth plastic that can be either washed in the sink or literally hosed down outside is awesome. The Fisher Price Healthy Care Deluxe has a removable tray that is small enough to be hand washed in the sink. Huge plus as you can simple carry the leftovers to the sink on the tray and voila.
We found the Munchkin Travel Booster Seat and the Chicco Caddy Hook On to be the most cumbersome and abyssmal to clean. The Chicco has the added negative of having a large 6" gap between the dining surface edge and the seat, causing a good amount of food to fall to the floor.
Purchasing a Portable High Chair is a good move if you dine out or travel a lot with baby in tow. It can also be nice to have it over at grandparent's home. And, for those on a budget, it can be all you need for baby to eat comfortably at home until ready to sit in a regular chair. Our favorite Hook-On won our Editors' Choice Award, the Inglesina Fast Table Chair and Best Value went to a sturdy, workhorse with very nice features that will take baby from 1 year onwards, the Fisher-Price Healthy Care Deluxe. In the end, safety, comfort, functionality, and portability are key components you will want in a high chair that can travel to wherever you and baby happen to wonder. Eat well.