In this review, we tested 10 chairs over a summer season, mostly by using them in car camping scenarios, but also by bringing them to the beach, to football games, and to barbecues. We rated them not just according to their portability and ease of assembly, but also according to their comfort and durability. That's right-camping chairs can actually be comfortable! In this article, we will guide you through the process of purchasing a chair that perfectly suits your needs! Read on to learn more!
Typical Uses for Camping Chairs
To help guide your purchase, we first recommend considering how you might use your camp chair. Below, we list several typical use scenarios:
Car Camping & Tailgating
These activities demand the most comfort, which was our most important metric. Car camping and tailgating typically don't involve a lot of walking, so bulk and size aren't much of an issue. Superior value and durability are always preferred, but let's face it: after a long day of hiking or climbing, you don't want to collapse into the chair that is the best bargain, you want to sit in the model that is the most comfortable. The ALPS Mountaineering King Kong, our Editors' Choice selection, is pricey and bulky, but it was so cozy that testers would fight over it after a long day in the mountains. The Kijaro Dual Lock Folding Chair is another super popular model for lounging, but it offers a little more back support than the King Kong. It doesn't have much of a "slouchy" feel, and many testers preferred the tautness of its seat. Another good contender if you frequently car camp or tailgate is the REI Camp X. This affordable model is one of the smallest traditional models that we tested and takes up less space in the back of your truck with all your other pre-game supplies. It also has well-ventilated fabric and a creative cup holder that can fit drinks of many sizes.
Bringing a camp chair to the beach is an excellent way to read, sunbathe, and lounge all day long (without getting sandy or straining your neck to read). For beach use, we recommend seeking out a mesh chair and trying to choose a lighter color that won't get too hot in the sun. The mesh will keep you well-ventilated as you soak up the sun. It's also important to purchase a chair with good stability since sand is already inherently less stable.
Finally, be sure to consider how far you'll be walking. A trip to the beach can include a whole arsenal of supplies and adding a big bulky chair to a long walk can really weigh you down. If you have a short walk to the beach, we highly recommend the Eureka Curvy High-Back. Of the models we tested, it was the most comfortable one to sit in for long periods of time. Its unique tall back provides good head support and it has much-needed ventilated fabric behind your whole back and tush. It also has a large side pocket for holding drinks, sunscreen, and other necessities. If you have to park farther away and have a long walk to the beach, the REI Camp Stowaway Low is another great beachside lounger. It is highly portable, has a well-ventilated back, and sits just a few inches off of the ground.
Short Backcountry Trips
This category includes anyone who feels that the size and weight of their camping chairs are of large concern, such as for activities like backpacking, fishing, walking to an outdoor concert, etc. For example, let's say you're planning a backcountry camping trip and even though you'll be hiking a few miles with your backpacking backpack, you want to really be able to kick back and relax once you're at camp. In this scenario, a portable camp chair is a great option. It will only add 1-2 pounds to your pack, but you'll have a cozy off-the-ground seat for toasting marshmallows. Our favorite model for these types of situations is the Big Agnes Helinox Chair One. It was only a few inches away from being our smallest model, but still only weighed 1 lb and 14 oz. One of the biggest problems with the Helinox is its lack of stability. If stability is a concern for you, then check out the REI Stowaway Low, which still only weighs 5 lb and 6 oz and is much more portable than any of the traditional models. It is incredibly sturdy and great for lounging. If you're interested in even lighter weight chairs, read up on backpacking chairs below.
Identifying Your Needs
Now that you've thought about how you might use your camping chair, start thinking about how those uses translate into specific needs. For example, have kids? Well then maybe storage is a very important feature for you. From snacks to sunscreen, you need quick and easy access to an array of necessary items. The REI Camp X is a chair with great value and good portability that is not only easy to carry, but can easily hold all of your essentials. If you live in a rainy climate or plan on using a chair for water activities, make sure to check out the models that dry the fastest. We like the REI Stowaway Low for these situations. For particularly tall or older shoppers, maybe consider some of the models with higher seat heights. They are significantly easier to get in and out of and will make you more inclined to want to use the chair. The King Kong and Coleman Oversize Quad Chair with Cooler had higher, more ergonomic seat heights.
Types of Camping Chairs
The chairs we reviewed fell into one of two categories: traditional or portable. We tested six traditional chairs and four portable models. Each category has its own set of pros and cons.
Traditional-Style Camp Chairs
Traditional models are generally more comfortable because they offer more back support and they are higher off of the ground so they are easier to get into and out of. If you want to buy a camp chair specifically with lounging in mind, then we urge you to consider the traditional models. These are a great choice if you have lots of space in your car and don't mind lugging around extra weight. The traditional models we tested were all one piece (even when collapsed) and required just seconds to set-up. Generally, all one has to do in order to set up these chairs is pull apart two opposing ends of the chair and it will set up practically by itself.
Portable Camp Chairs
The portable models scored highest on our portability metric (surprise!). These chairs are smaller, lighter weight, lower to the ground, and required more time to assemble. They were also less comfortable than our traditional models and significantly less stable. They are an ideal chair to have if you want a seat that you have to carry for a significant amount of time or if you are severely limited on space. The REI Stowaway Low was the most comfortable and stable of the portable models that we tested, but it was also heavier and bigger than its competitors in this group. The Therm-a-Rest Treo was a contemporary and attractive looking model that packed down to the size of a one liter water bottle. The down side to the Treo was that its three leg base was incredibly unstable to sit on and never failed at threatening to buck testers out of its seat. If you're in the market for a portable chair, we highly suggest the Big Agnes Helinox Chair One, our Top Pick for Portability.
Backpacking chairs are lighter and more packable than their portable camp chair cousins. This is the type of chair to purchase if you're planning to hike into the backcountry and want a chair that prioritizes low weight and bulk over comfort. By comparison, the portable chairs that we tested in this review still offer a fair amount of comfort, but are a little bit heavier and bulkier. We didn't review any backpacking chairs in this review, but you can learn more about these lightweight seats in our Backpacking Chair Review.
The final decision to make when purchasing a camping chair is whether or not you want extra bells and whistles with your chair. None of the portable models we tested had any additional features. These models, which were also smaller in size and therefore lower to the ground, had much easier ground access for your beverage and other necessities. Nonetheless, some people want to be able to keep things like a phone or keys out of the dirt. Most of the traditional models we tested had at least one cup holder and one storage pocket. Many models had more, for example, the Sport-Brella Recliner came with a detachable footrest, umbrella, bottle opener, and cooler! If you know you want to have at least a few storage features, another affordable option with great storage is the Coleman Oversize Quad Chair with Cooler.