When you tell someone you're bringing along a camping chair for your weekend adventure, most of us picture a heavy, folding fabric chair that's so-so to sit in and can get put in a carry case and slung over your shoulder to take along. But that's just scraping the surface of what a camping chair can be! In reality, you no longer have to give up convenience or comfort to spend the weekend lounging at a campground or day getting tanned on the beach. Just like you, we are stoked that new options are out there for setting your bum in the outdoors. But how many options there are! It's almost overwhelming how many types and styles (and prices!) of camping chairs exist in today's market. You can pick up camping chairs not just from an outdoor store, but from a grocery store, general shopping center, and even a gas station!
However, as you may have surmised, not all chairs are created equal. Fortunately for you, we have done the legwork to get you matched with the chair that will best suit your needs. We have researched and tested waves of chairs, not once, not twice, but several times over multiple years and hundreds of hours of lounging to bring you the best chairs out there. We used these chairs to car camp, hang at the beach, cheer on our favorite sports teams, enjoy backyard barbeques, take to crowded game nights and movie nights, and even on backcountry journeys! We tested these chairs to the max and rated them on their comfort (obviously), portability, ease of assembly, and durability. This article is meant to guide you through the surprisingly challenging process of choosing the right camping chair to suit your needs. If that sounds like what you're aiming for, then read on!
Types of Camping Chairs
We tested a couple of main types of chairs, as well as a handful for specific purposes. Mostly, though the chairs we tested can be divided into more traditional camping chairs and portable models. Mostly, the traditional chairs were a bit higher from the ground and weighed more, while the portable chairs tended to be lower to the ground, smaller, and a bit lighter. If you're searching for a camping chair with more space, that's easier to get in and out of, and a cinch to set up, you're probably searching for a traditional camping chair. If you're looking to carry this chair a mile down the beach, cart it around to all your friends' summer get-togethers, or take it along on your mountain bike adventure, you're probably going to be happier with a portable chair.
We tended to find that the traditional camping chairs were a bit more comfortable and less portable. The ones we tested were the ALPS Mountaineering King Kong, Eureka Curvy High-Back, Kijaro Dual Lock Folding Chair, and REI Camp X. With higher seats, they were easier to get in and out of, which is great if you've got sore knees, are tall, or just generally not interested in sitting less than a foot off the ground. They also tended to be larger, giving you more space to move around and find several comfortable positions - since we all know that no one position will keep you comfortable and happy three hours into a little league tournament or beach barbeque! These traditional chairs were easier to set up - most required simply pulling two sides apart to extend the frame and voila! However, these chairs tended not to be particularly portable, easily weighing more than 10 pounds - or 15.5 pounds, in the case of the double-seater, Kelty Low Loveseat! This isn't too much to handle if you're only chucking it out of the back of your van or walking across a parking lot, but if you're heading half a mile down the beach or six miles into the woods, this amount of weight is going to feel un-carriable in short order.
The portable models were - you guessed it, more portable! For the most part, they were quite small and lightweight. Some could even arguably be carried on a backpacking trip - maybe even a thru-hike! A few of these portable models though, like the ENO Lounger DL and Helinox Beach Chair, fell into that middle ground of being smaller and lighter than traditional camping chairs, but larger and heavier than we felt a regular person would be willing to stick in a backpack. However, these chairs also were both a bit of a novelty item, not meant for the backpacking world, so we didn't hold it against them too much. And they were both lighter than all the traditional models, larger than the portable models, and more comfortable. But if portability is critical for you, you're probably interested in the four chairs we tested weighing 2 pounds or less: the Helinox Chair Zero (1 pound), REI Flexlite (1.63 pounds), Helinox Chair One (1.94 pounds), and Moon Lence Ultralight (2 pounds).
While we've already called out some of the unique chairs included in this review, there was one that just didn't fit into either the traditional or portable chair category. The ALPS Mountaineering Rendezvous. It folds out like a traditional chair, has lots of space like a conventional chair, but is a mere 3 inches from the ground! This chair defied our binary categorization with an exciting combination of comfort, portability, and ease of set-up.
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 a lot of comfort, which was our most important metric, at 40% of each chair's overall score. 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. Nearly as comfortable, and seating TWO people was the Kelty Low Loveseat, which held occupants just about every time we turned around.
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 and lightest traditional models that we tested and takes up less space in the back of your truck with all your other pre-gaming 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 a wide base or wide feet or to plan ahead to find ways to keep your chair from sinking into the sand while you lounge. We did find that some models without these wide feet can be easily fitted with discs or other add-ons to keep them from sinking until you're resting on the ground.
From the many models we tested, the Eureka Curvy High-Back was one of the most comfortable ones 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. Another excellent option is the ALPS Mountaineering Rendezvous. At just over half the weight of the Eureka, this close-to-the-ground chair was a very comfortable and spacious option for beach days. But most of all, we loved the Big Agnes Helinox Beach Chair for spending a day in the sand. Close to the ground like the Rendezvous but without the extra features of the Eureka, the Beach Chair kept us very comfortable while up off the sand and supported our heads while we enjoyed watching the waves. Its storage sack can also be easily converted into a pretty slick little pillow if you feel the urge to doze off. Big Agnes even sells an all mesh version, if your chosen beach is unusually hot, or you anticipate a lot of sand getting tossed your way. With well-designed feet to prevent sinking, and a low weight and size, we felt this chair easily became our new favorite beach day accessory.
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 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. Too much for your budget? Check out the visibly and eerily similar, Moon Lence Ultralight, weight just 2 ounces more. To save a few more ounces, you might consider the REI Flexlite, which is another 4 ounces lighter than the Chair One. However, if you're interested in saving weight while staying comfortable, check out the Big Agness Helinox Chair Zero which weighs just a pound! Or if that's still too much, read up on other backpacking chairs below.
Now that you've considered what activities you might like to use a camping chair, start thinking about how those uses translate into specific needs. For example, do you have kids? Well then maybe being able to store your belongings within easy reach is an essential 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 fairly 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 all-mesh version of the Helinox Beach Chair and the REI Co-op Flex Lite 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, Kijaro Dual Lock, and Eureka Curvy-High Back had higher, more ergonomic seat heights.
The final decision to make when purchasing a camping chair is whether or not you want extra bells and whistles with your chair. Several of the chairs we tested had additional features, from as simple as a small pocket or adjustable headrest to as complicated as cup holders, multiple laptop-sized storage compartments, and padded armrests. In general, the portable models tended to have fewer features, but even still we found a few that could hold a phone, book, or beverage nearby or cradle our heads with a nice headrest. The traditional models more frequently had extra features including insulated cupholders, high supportive backs, and over-sized storage compartments with extra pockets to keep organized. Yes folks, camping chairs these days can do so many things!
We hope this article has helped you to find the chair that's right for you. Read up on the chairs that interest you to find your perfect new bum-holder!