Types of Camping Chairs
We tested two main types of chairs: traditional camping chairs and portable chairs (with a few notable outliers). The traditional chairs were elevated further from 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 (with the exception of the Onepack, a hybrid model). As a result they tended to be 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. Nevertheless, 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 - except for the 1lb Helinox Chair Zero! - but they could still fit in a beach bag or large pack.
There were two additional chairs that we added later to this review that don't quite fit into either category, but were well worth testing and discussing. The Caravan Sports Infinity Zero Gravity and the Kelty Low-Love Seat. The Caravan has the ability for you to sit normal and upright or to recline almost to the point where your feet are as high as your head! The Kelty looks and sets up like a traditional camping chair, but seats two people! So while they may not fit neatly into the 'traditional' or 'portable' categories, depending on what you want out of your next camping chair, their unique features might be enough to win them a spot in your life.
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. Nearly as comfortable, and seating TWO people was the Kelty Low-Love Seat, 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 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 wide feet, or to plan ahead to find ways to keep your chair from sinking into the sand while you lounge.
Of the models we tested, the Eureka Curvy High-Back 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. Another comfortable sunbathing chair is the Caravan Sports Infinity Zero Gravity. The ability to recline almost horizontally on a full mesh seat and back is a great instigator for a nap. However 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. The Onepack Ultralight (link) is another great option for a farther-away beach. At just over a third the weight of the Stowaway, the Onepack is not only more portable, but also has handy little discs on the bottoms of its feet to stop that pesky sand sink. Though it has less mesh and no cupholders or other storage, the Onepack can still make a great portable beach chair for folks looking for a further (more private?) beach.
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, check out the Big Agness Helinox Chair Zero which weighs only a pound! Or read up on other backpacking chairs below.
Identifying Your Needs
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 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 and 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, Coleman Oversize Quad Chair with Cooler, and Caravan Sports Infinity Zero Gravity had higher, more ergonomic seat heights.
Types of Camping Chairs
The chairs we reviewed mostly fell into one of two categories: traditional or portable. We tested six traditional chairs and eight portable models and two chairs (the Kelty Low-Love Seat and Caravan Sports Infinity Zero Gravity) that didn't quite fit into either category but have their own unique merits. Each type of chair 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 long period of time or if you are severely limited on space. The REI Stowaway Low was one of the most comfortable and stable of the portable models that we tested, but it was also significantly heavier and bigger than its competitors in this group. If you're truly in the market for a portable chair, we highly suggest the Big Agnes Helinox Chair One, our pick for Best Portable Camping Chair and rated equally as comfortable as the REI Stowaway Low during our testing. However, if you can't quite justify the paying the price of some of these portable models, we recommend considering the Moon Lence Ultralight, our portable camping chair Best Buy on a Lean Budget award winner.
Backpacking chairs are typically lighter and more packable than their portable camp chair cousins. These are the chairs to purchase if you're planning to hike into the backcountry and want a chair that prioritizes low weight and bulk over comfort. However, with newer technology, some portable camping chairs are now just as light or lighter than many backpacking chairs, while offering increased comfort. At 1lb. 14oz., the Helinox Chair One and Alite Mantis Chair are the same weight as the heaviest backpacking chairs we tested. Even lighter, the REI Flex Lite is extremely comparable to backpacking chair weight. Most impressively, the Helinox Chair One is lighter than 4 of the 6 backpacking chairs we tested. While these portable camping chairs are not specifically sold as backpacking chairs, their added comfort may make you take them along anyway. To learn more about chairs advertised as backpacking chairs, check out 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. Only two of the portable models we tested had any additional features, though none could hold a beverage, book, or your feet off the ground as you lounge. However, these models, which tended to be smaller in size and therefore lower to the ground, had much easier ground access to be able to place your beverage and other necessities. Nevertheless, 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.
We also tested two chairs that didn't quite fit snugly into either category, specifically because of their features. The Kelty Low-Love Seat seats two people! That can be a great feature if you have kids or a furniture-dog, or if you like snuggling up with your significant other or just sharing with your friend. Not only did this seat fit two people, but we found it to be just as comfortable and easy to use as traditional camping chairs. Another special chair we tested is the Caravan Sports Infinity Zero Gravity, which what it lacked in portability it made up for with the ability to recline until your feet are nearly as high as your head! If you plan to take many naps in a camping chair, the Caravan might be what you seek.