The Sunyear Compact chair easily steals our Best Buy Award this year for its comfort and extremely low price. We find the comfort on par with most of the other similar models we tested, and it could only be improved by using a softer fabric and sitting the user up a bit more vertically. Mesh panels in this chair make it a great option for summer, and we were stoked to find a hanging pocket that fit our phones. This isn't one of the lighter seats we tested, but it's a good choice when price is your main concern and you also want something you'll actually look forward to sitting in.
Sunyear Compact Review
Cons: Rough fabric, not one of the lighter models
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The price of the Sunyear is the immediate differentiator. We were surprised by the features and quality offered for a fraction of the cost of most tent-style chairs we tested. It is comfortable with a wide seat, feels more stable than many models in our test, is easy to both set up and pack away in its bag, and is the only chair in our test to have a hanging pocket! Read on to see if this inexpensive option can offer you everything you want in a backpacking chair.
We find the Sunyear chair to be comfortable because the seat is wide and not confining on the edges, so it accommodates many bum sizes. Also pleasing is that the back comes up fairly high, around the middle of the shoulder blades on our 5'8" tester, which means it feels smooth across the back and doesn't cut into the flesh. This chair puts your bum 9" off the ground, which is around average for models we tested. Only the tallest users will feel like they have to go into a full crouch to get into the chair, and unless you have trouble getting up from a moderate squat, you will find it easy to extract yourself from this seat.
Though we really like the overall comfort of this chair, there are a few quirks. In a choice that seems like overkill, Sunyear uses a whopping 500 denier nylon which, while super durable, has seams that can be a bit rough on bare legs. Also, when leaning against the seatback, you are able to feel mostly relaxed, but its position reclines a bit too much, causing some neck strain. We found ourselves wanting to sit up straighter. When cooking on the ground in front of the chair, you are likely to tip forward when you lean down to work on your meal.
Mesh side and upper back panels give the Sunyear more breathability than others we tested, making it a good choice for summertime activities like group campouts and neighborhood BBQs. Overall, the chair is plenty comfortable and ranks above average in models we tested. There are chairs that offer more comfort, but we really didn't find much to complain about here!
Size & Weight
The Sunyear ranks low in the weight metric — it's one of the heaviest models we tested at 35 ounces. As mentioned, they didn't skimp on fabric durability, which adds significant ounces. That said, for its heavier weight, it still offers a fairly small package. And, for the price, it's really no surprise that expensive ultralight materials weren't on the menu.
In its bag, this chair can fit into the side storage of some packs, but it will be too large for many. However, if your main reason for getting a compact camp chair is to use it in more of a front-country setting, the Sunyear packs plenty small and weighs little enough to throw in your car or bring along in a day pack without much thought.
Most tent-style chairs in our test have a similar size base — that rectangle on the ground bounded by the points of the four legs. The Sunyear chair falls in with these similar base sizes, but we were impressed by the stable feel both when sitting still, as well as when we needed to shift around and sit down quickly.
The hubs are solid, the poles rigid, and the fabric well-tensioned without much stretch. These aspects give you the feeling of a solid chair under you rather than one that flexes and feels as if you might break a pole if you lean over to grab something out of your pack or pluck your beer off the ground.
The rubber feet are rounded and slightly larger than some models we tested, but not significantly enough to impact the stability in soft ground. This isn't, however, a chair you would want to set up on loose sand or saturated soil if you don't want to sink in and slowly tip over.
Ease of Use
A tent-style chair is always going to be more involved to set-up than a basic taco-style model, but we found most, including the Sunyear, to be fairly intuitive and quick to set up.
The Sunyear comes in a zippered nylon bag that opens plenty wide to get the chair and its poles out. Inside, a tag has instructions on how to put it together, should you feel the need to read them, but we found that the logo on the chair back was cue enough for our testers to know if they had the fabric facing the right way.
The poles fit smoothly into a molded plastic hub aided by a shock cord that keeps everything together, and the fabric stretches onto the frame without too much force. A few models we tested required more force to get together, which was frustrating; conversely, some required less force, which made us think twice about picking up the chair because we didn't want the fabric to slide off the frame.
Breaking down this chair for storage is also quick. While there are no instructions for getting it back in the bag, we found that whether we folded the fabric into halves or thirds, we could wrap the poles up inside and fairly easily tuck it back into the bag. The hardest part is containing all the spidery legs while breaking the others down, but this isn't unique to the Sunyear.
The Sunyear chair proves that the top brands aren't the only ones who can do outdoor gear well. You aren't getting a light chair from Sunyear when compared to the high-end backpacking models we tested, but if weight isn't a concern to you and what you want is a comfortable, durable chair that is compact enough to toss in with your camping or tailgating gear and even load onto your backpack for certain trips, this chair's value can't be beat.
Overall, we feel the Sunyear chair is decently comfortable; it leaves a little to be desired in the reclining position, and the fabric is rough on bare legs, but for the price, it offers a high level of durability and is well constructed and easy to use. We don't recommend it as a good pick for backpacking due to its weight, but we think you'll be stoked on it for sunset hikes and car camping trips where trunk space is limited. This was an easy pick for our Best Buy Award, and we think you'll be pleased to lounge in it for seasons to come!
— Elizabeth Paashaus