The Best Camping Chairs for the Backyard and Outdoors
When choosing the best camping chair, we had a lot of demands. It must have portability and durability just like other camping equipment, but also maintain the comfort and utility of a standard chair. These are pieces of equipment that regularly get thrown in and out of vehicles, dragged across campsites, and might live on your front porch for months on end. Through all this abuse, we still expect them to let us "sit back and relax." During this review, we wanted to find a chair that soared in comfort, portability, durability, and ease of set up. Fortunately, we tested several excellent products that really raised our expectations of camping comfort. Read on to see how these chairs performed!
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Camping Chair
ALPS Mountaineering King Kong
Best Bang for the Buck
Kijaro Dual Lock Folding Chair
Top Pick for Portability
Big Agnes Helinox Chair One
Analysis and Test Results
Camping chairs are a useful luxury item that can be used not only while camping, but as additional seating for a barbecue, for hanging out at the sidelines of a soccer game or on the beach, or for tailgating. They should be comfortable, relatively portable, and user friendly. And need we mention, versatile? The main problem with typical lightweight camping stools and chairs is that they often forgo comfort as if the austere conditions of the camping environment exclude kicking back and relaxing. Fortunately, we were able to test several models that offer a variety of features but still hold up to the one golden criteria: comfort.
So why even have a camping chair? Well, in regards to car camping, the easy answer is that you don't actually need one. In fact, there are probably millions of people in campgrounds all around the US lounging about on the ground or sitting on the hard bench of a picnic table as we speak. These alternatives, however, are far less comfortable. Once you take a camping trip using camping chairs, you won't want to be without them again. They make eating significantly easier, lounging more enjoyable, and most of them even keep your adult beverages chilled for you. Ah, modern innovations! For other uses where sitting is the predominate activity, such as spectating at sporting events or tailgating, we feel that a good camping chair is more of a necessity. They make cheering on your favorite team much more pleasant and can provide valuable storage for many of your day use items.
Types of Camping Chairs
We tested two main types of chairs: traditional camping chairs and portable chairs. The traditional chairs were elevated off of the ground and had four points of contact with the ground (except for the Sportbrella, which had more due to its foot rest). Testers unanimously favored the traditional chairs for comfort, stability, and presence of additional features, like cup holders, coolers, etc.
The portable models were significantly lighter weight and smaller than the traditional chairs. They were cute, but their smaller stature meant that their seat height was much lower to the ground. As a result they were harder to get out of. The smaller frames of these models were less stable and some models made testers fear that they would literally fall out of their chair if they leaned too far to a given direction. Nonetheless, these models could be worth sacrificing a little comfort and stability if you want to have a portable seat that packs well and is light weight. The majority are far too bulky to be Backpacking Chair candidates, but they could still fit in a beach bag or large pack.
In order to decide if a traditional or portable chair would be best for you, check out our Buying Advice article!
Criteria for Evaluation
Comfort was our most highly weighted metric, accounting for nearly half of the overall score of the camping chair. After all, deciding to buy a chair instead of sit on the ground means you probably value comfort. So don't waste your money on a chair that isn't comfortable. Factors we considered when evaluating comfort were arm rests, lumbar support, a head rest, back ventilation, and overall design of the chair. For the most part, we felt that all of the chairs were reasonably comfortable, with the portable chairs being the least so of all of the models we tested. That being said, even our lowest ranking chair in the comfort criteria is significantly more comfortable than sitting on the ground for an extended period of time.
There were two chairs that we thought were exceptionally comfortable, the ALPS Mountaineering King Kong and the Eureka Curvy High-Back. The Alps was roomy, slightly padded, and had large arm rests. It was supportive but still cozy. The Eureka has a high back, which was unique among the models that we tested. This provided good head and upper back support and although the chair does not recline, did make it feel recline-able as you could relax with your head back. The center of the chair's back and seat had mesh fabric which provided for much needed ventilation if you were using this chair in the sun. One component that affected this chair's comfort were its armrests. They were small and almost too low to be functional. The armrests weren't missed if you were sunbathing, but reading, eating or drinking was kind of a nuisance without any place to rest your elbows.
The least comfortable chair that we reviewed was the Therm-a-Rest Treo. Its small, narrow build demands that your hips and thighs conform to its awkward egg shape. Most testers preferred it to sitting on the ground, but not by much. Its small frame makes the chair unstable, so sitting is a bit of an interactive experience as one must be wary of leaning too far in any direction or the Treo's tripod could topple. The smaller the person was, the less they seemed to mind this small seat. Regardless, if you want something that is compact, we would recommend our Top Pick for Portability, the Big Agnes Helinox Chair One, which is slightly more comfortable.
This metric was the second most important rating criteria that we evaluated. It accounted for a quarter of the overall score of the product. Given the variety of ways you can use your camping chair, it is mandatory to choose a product you won't mind moving and transporting. Factors that affected a chair's portability were its packed size, weight, and its traveling bag. Because of their design, the portable models scored higher than the traditional models in this metric.
The Big Agnes Helinox and the Alite Mantis tied for the most portable chairs that we tested. They both weighed less than two pounds and packed down in to compact little bags that were smaller than a two-liter water bottle. The Mantis packs down a few inches smaller than the Helinox. The Treo packs down smaller than either of these models, but it weighs over a half a pound more. The Helinox and Mantis come with separate storage bags, while the Treo packs into its base stand. Although we liked the idea of the the chair packing in to its base, some testers questioned the durability of this storage system. The regular storage sack was a failsafe option and very easy to transport.
To no one's surprise, the Sport-Brella Recliner was the least portable chair. It was truly a pain to have to bring this chair anywhere. If you try to carry it without its storage bag, be cautious of tripping on the umbrella or the footrest which likes to flop out. What's more, it is heavy. So don't misplace the storage sack and try not to have to carry it very far.
Like anything you spend money on, you want it to be durable. Almost all of the chairs we tested seemed to be very durable, meaning that testers felt they would be able to get multiple seasons of regular use out of a product. Wear and tear on the fabric and features and flimsiness of the frame were the most important specs that were monitored.
It should be no surprise that the only chair that can hold up to 800 lbs got our best scores on durability. The Alps Mountaineering King Kong's steel frame and 600D nylon fabric surface didn't show any wear or tear after several months of testing. The frame doesn't shift or creak under load. The high denier fabric is not as breathable as the mesh that some of the other chairs has, but it will last a long time. Due to the high demand for this chair from testers, it sustained many ember burns from being around so many campfires. Despite these small melted holes, the fabric showed no extra signs of strain or wear.
Even after our three month long testing process, testers still had doubts about the durability of the three lightest portable chairs, which have thin, lightweight support poles that sometimes creaked under the load of a single person. This led to the logical question of "what would it take to break these seemingly fragile chairs?" Well, not much it turned out. One enthusiastic tester destroyed the following chairs, one by one by one:
The Alite Mantis, Therm-a-Rest Treo, and Big Agnes Helinox were all subjected to two tests: the "dynamic jump-and-sit" and being stood on. We felt both tests either 1) could happen and/or 2) represent the effects of general use over time. The Mantis withstood a few jump-and-sits, but when stood upon its frame cracked. This damage rendered the chair completely useless. One of the foot pads on the Treo cracked off the first time someone leapt into its seat. After disassembling the chair, it was discovered that one of its support bars broke at some point as well. The Helinox failed after the second jump-and-sit. And by failed, we mean one of its aluminum frame bars cracked in half!
Due to its significant wear over time, the Sport Brella received our lowest marks in durability. Halfway through our testing process one of the buckles on the footrest failed. A couple of weeks later, it was noticed that the whole underside of the seat fabric was delaminating. At the end of the testing process. the stitching on the seat was starting to look stretched and stressed and testers knew to approach the Sport Brella with caution. We liked the idea behind a chair with so many bells and whistles, but could not recommend a chair that won't even last a full season outside.
Ease of Set-Up
Ease of assembly referred specifically to how hard it is to assemble the chair. Fortunately, the mental capacity that is required to assemble these products is limited. Most of the traditional models only required pulling apart two opposing vertical frame pieces in order to be set up. The most complex of the traditional models, the Kijaro Dual Lock Folding Chair, has a single button that must be pressed in order to assemble and disassemble the chair. The portable models had a more involved set up. The Helinox, Big Agnes, and Alite all had a separate frame and fabric seat that had to be assembled. It wasn't difficult, but it was certainly more involved than the assembly of any of the traditional chairs.
Many chairs received a perfect score in ease of set up: the Alps Mountaineering King Kong, the Coleman Overside Quad Chair with Cooler, the REI Camp X, and the REI Camp Stowaway Low. All of these chairs just needed to be pulled apart at opposite ends and would be set up in 3 seconds. Several other models opened in a similar fashion, but had materials that would catch or were just slightly awkward for some reasons so they didn't get perfect scores. The Stowaway Low was the only portable model we tested that received a perfect score.
The Therm-a-Rest Treo received the fewest points in ease of set up. It has the most parts to assemble (6) and the pole/seat connection wasn't as secure as it was for the Helinox or the Mantis. This junction was only secure when all four poles were attached. Until this point, you could repeatedly set the pole in its little pocket in the chair fabric then watch it immediately slip out.
Although we did not rate the chairs according to their features, we have included this section to describe the bells and whistles some of these chairs have. Really want a chair with a built in bottle opener? Then skim through our individual reviews to narrow down which models have this feature. Want a chair that has a cup holder big enough for your favorite mug? Then add that to the list of specs to check out too.
All of the traditional model chairs come fitted with extra features, but the Sport Brella possessed all of the bells and whistles you would expect from a new age camping chair - plus an umbrella. In addition, this chair has a foot rest, cup holder, arm cooler, bottle opener, and two storage pouches. If you want to give yourself as many reasons as possible to not get out of your camping chair, then you better get the Sport-Brella.
An unfortunate result from making some chairs more portable was that they lost all of these extras. Neither the Treo, Mantis, Stowaway, or Helinox had any kind of storage. Fortunately, the ground is only a couple of inches away in these low riding models, so it was readily accessible for storing beverages but not a safe place to store a phone, keys, etc.
The luxury of having a comfortable chair while camping can really amp up your outdoor experience. Not only can a chair maximize your lounging enjoyment, but it can make eating easier, while holding your drink and keeping it cool at the same time. To find the right chair in this category, we consider comfort to be key, while size and portability are important features as well. Depending on whether you are using the chair around a campfire, at the beach, or on a backpacking trip, the best model for you will ultimately depend on your lifestyle. It is our hope that this review will help you when shopping for your new chair. For further assistance, check out our Buying Advice article to find the model that best fits your needs.
— Laura Lingeman
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