When you tell someone you're bringing along a camping chair for your weekend adventure, most of us picture a heavy folding 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 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, and at crowded game and movie nights. 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 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, packable models, and specialty chairs. Mostly, the traditional chairs were a bit higher from the ground and weighed more, while the packable chairs tended to be a bit smaller, a bit lighter, and require a bit more set-up. The specialty chairs are somewhere in between and are made with more specific lounging styles in mind, like swinging or rocking. 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 packable chair, or even a backpacking model.
Related: The Best Backpacking Chairs of 2020
We found that traditional camping chairs are a bit more comfortable and less portable. Most of them have higher seats, making them 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. These models also tend to be larger, giving you more space to move around and find several comfortable positions.
These chairs are also easier to set up - most required simply pulling two sides apart to extend the frame and voila! However, these chairs tend not to be particularly portable, easily weighing more than 10 pounds. 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, this amount of weight is going to feel more noticeable with each step.
The packable models are - you guessed it, packable! For the most part, they are relatively small and lightweight. As these products break down further than traditional models, they also require more time and effort to put back together. The fabric comes off the poles, and the poles break down into smaller segments to fit into an included carrying case.
We also tested some specialty chairs, some of which cross boundaries into packable or more traditional style chairs. The ALPS Rendezvous folds and feels like a traditional chair but rests just 3 inches from the ground! The Nemo Stargaze Recliner Luxury packs up like a packable chair but swings like a hammock and reclines to let you watch the meteor shower. And the GCI Freestyle Rocker has a simple folding mechanism and overall size and shape like a traditional camping chair but features spring-loaded shocks that let you rock much like you would in your grandfather's old chair, but outside on just about any ground surface.
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. 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, is 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. The GCI Freestyle Rocker provides similar support but with the added excitement of rocking yourself to sleep outside. 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.
One excellent beach day option is the ALPS Mountaineering Rendezvous. At just over half the weight of many of the traditional camping chairs, this close-to-the-ground chair is a very comfortable and spacious option for beach days. The Nemo Stargaze Recliner is a completely mesh chair that's quite breathable, though its pokey seams weren't our favorite - especially in a bathing suit. Most of all, we love the Helinox Beach Chair for spending a day in the sand. Close to the ground like the Rendezvous, 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, this chair easily became our new favorite beach day accessory.
Hanging Out in Your Own Backyard
Your backyard, patio, porch, balcony, or whatever outdoor space you have is a space most of us cultivate to both look and feel like a fun or relaxing space to enjoy the great outdoors from the comforts of our own homes. While you may choose to put patio furniture, a hammock, or even your old couch outside, an excellent camp chair may also do the trick.
This is where a lot of those specialty models come into play. Love your living room rocking chair? Try the GCI Freestyle Rocker as you watch the birds at the feeder. Want to stare into the night sky and contemplate if we're alone in the universe? The Nemo Stargaze Recliner Luxury Chair will put you in the perfect position. Inviting over some friends to roast marshmallows over the fire pit? The Kelty Low Loveseat can keep you cozy side by side as you make memories that last a lifetime.
Now that you've considered what activities you might like to use a camping chair, start thinking about how those uses may 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 hold your essentials in an extra pocket. 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 Nemo Stargaze Recliner 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 GCI Freestyle Rocker have 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 have 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 packable models tend to have fewer features, but even still we found a few that can hold a phone, book, or beverage nearby or cradle our heads with a nice headrest. The traditional models more frequently have 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 helps 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!