If you’re looking for a durable, portable camping chair, we have some suggestions. First, consider where you use your chair most often. Are you a car camper or do you plan on socializing in friends’ backyards? Choose a comfy chair with ample beverage storage. Do you love watching movies outdoors? Opt for a low-slung chair that adjusts for uneven ground. Are you a backpacker? Your perfect seat is slight and light. Do you prefer the shade? Select a chair with a built-in canopy, which will give you a little patch of cool at any campsite or cookout.
Every big-box and outdoor-equipment store sells camp chairs that have a similar design to the Coleman Oversized Quad Chair With Cooler. But after three group camping trips and six months of regular backyard use, we concluded that the Coleman chair is far more durable than the cheapest chairs of this design. And it’s also more comfortable and functional than similar chairs that cost over twice as much. With ample storage for beverages, a wide seat that testers of all sizes appreciated, and an affordable price, this is the Ford F-150 of camp chairs: big, tough, and widely beloved.
The Renetto Original Canopy Chair, a cleverly designed specialty seat, is ideal for anyone who wants sun protection and doesn’t mind a heavier, bulkier chair. Despite the Renetto’s weight, though, our testers found it easy to carry and simple to set up and adjust. We discovered that even though most testers had not previously considered a shade-equipped camp chair, once they used one they appreciated the comfort and convenience of built-in sun blocking.
A low-to-the-ground chair can be ideal for outdoor movies, concerts, theater performances, and other events where you want to avoid blocking other people’s view. Our testers liked the comfort and back support of the GCI Outdoor Everywhere Chair, as well as the ability to adjust it to sit on uneven ground. They also appreciated its cupholder (rare in chairs of this sort) and its quick close-up-and-carry design.
Today’s specialty backpacking chairs are impressively small and light. They’re also far more expensive and significantly less comfortable than typical full-size camp chairs. We recommend buying this type only if you intend to carry your chair long distances, whether you’re backpacking or trekking across Central Park. If you do need a fits-in-a-knapsack chair, we recommend the Helinox Chair One. We found this model to be slightly more comfortable and easier to pack than other, similar chairs.
Cheap child-size chairs bought at big-box stores are unlikely to last more than a summer or two. The fold-up REI Co-op Camp Chair - Kids’ uses more-durable fabric and materials and has a stable design that resists toppling toddlers. You could buy this chair for a 2-year-old and expect the child to outgrow it before it gives out.
Everything we recommend
- Who this is for
- How we picked and tested
- Our pick: Coleman Oversized Quad Chair With Cooler
- Built-in sun protection: Renetto Original Canopy Chair
- A low-to-the-ground option: GCI Outdoor Everywhere Chair
- A packable chair: Helinox Chair One
- Also great: REI Co-op Camp Chair - Kids’
- What to look forward to
- The competition
Who this is for
Camping trips, beach days, picnics in the park, outdoor movies and theater performances, a fresh-air get-together with friends—there are countless occasions when you might use a camp chair.
Walk around any campground or tailgate party, and you’ll notice the popularity of this variety of accordion-style seat. You can pick one up at just about any big-box store (sometimes for as little as $10), order one with your favorite sports team’s logo, or pay a premium for a similar model from Cabela’s or REI.
Portable outdoor chairs are also helpful for anyone who doesn’t have the room or budget for permanent backyard furniture. And they can save your back, make it easier to juggle a picnic plate and a cold beverage, and generally help you to relax comfortably outdoors.
How we picked and tested
We conducted 14 hours of online research, grilled friends and acquaintances about their portable-chair experiences, evaluated 11 highly reviewed folding chairs on three group camping trips, and used the chairs regularly in a backyard over a six-month period to tease out the distinctions between a good chair and a great one. Because people use outdoor chairs for an array of purposes and have different preferences when it comes to comfort, it was almost impossible to choose just one best chair. We did select our favorite upright chair for car camping and tailgating, and then additional low-to-the-ground, ultra-lightweight, and canopy picks, as well as a great chair for kids.
Our pick: Coleman Oversized Quad Chair With Cooler
After six months of regularly using the Coleman Oversized Quad Chair With Cooler, we think it’s the best choice for most people who are seeking an upright chair for car camping, tailgating, and outdoor gatherings. We noticed during the first of our three camping trips—a weekend in California’s Joshua Tree National Park, with a total of seven families—that, given the choice, campers prefer to take the biggest seat. When we set up a dozen chairs around the campfire without comment, people consistently claimed them from largest to smallest.
On a later trip, to Wheeler Gorge Campground, near Ojai, California, we systematically polled four camping families about their seat preferences, playing multiple rounds of music-less musical chairs until each camper was able to identify a favorite. Overwhelmingly, the Coleman came out on top, with campers praising its comfort and stability.
The Coleman was the only chair of those we tested that had a built-in cooler bag. The bag can hold four standard-size beer or soda cans. The chair also has the round mesh cupholder found on most chairs of this type, plus a roomy mesh pocket for stowing a phone, book, tablet, and maybe a headlamp. “This is the Platonic ideal of your camp chair,” one of our Wheeler Gorge campers gushed. “It really just feels so stable. It has your cooler, your cupholder. It’s not too fancy, just very comfortable to sit in.”
Like most chairs of this type, the Coleman Oversized Quad comes with an over-the-shoulder carry bag. It weighs 7½ pounds and is rated to hold up to 325 pounds.
After six months of sitting mostly outside in the Southern California sun, our gray Coleman chair was noticeably less faded than our Walmart and Renetto chairs, the latter of which had bleached from bright red to pink.
Beyond that initial six-month testing period, the Coleman has held up well since it was purchased in 2016. We’re confident that this comfortable, functional chair is a great deal, and well worth the extra cost versus a bargain-basement version at a big-box store.
Built-in sun protection: Renetto Original Canopy Chair
Before we tried the Renetto Original Canopy Chair, we had never considered buying a shade-equipped camp chair. There’s always a sun hat or an umbrella, after all. But the Renetto’s utility was immediately apparent on our inaugural chair-testing excursion, a “winter” camping trip in California’s Joshua Tree National Park, where the beating sun made temperatures in the high 70s feel like the mid-90s. The shaded Renetto chairs were consistently the first seats snagged at a beautiful but harshly exposed Indian Grove group campsite.
At more than 15 pounds, the Renetto chair is big and heavy (twice as heavy as the Coleman Oversized Quad Chair). That’s because each chair incorporates heavy-duty, 600-denier mesh-lined polyester and steel poles, which the company says are three times the thickness of those on cheap store brands. (The term denier refers to the thickness of the fibers in a fabric: the higher the denier number, the stronger the fabric.) The seat has a strip of breathable mesh down the middle, and the canopy is big enough to block most, if not all, sunlight any time of day; if you want to catch some rays, just flip the canopy back. You can see a video of all the features in action on the company’s website.
We were impressed with the usability of Renetto’s signature design. The canopy quickly and easily transforms into a carrying case—just wrap it around the chair and snap it closed with two plastic buckles, and you can carry the whole thing on your back like an oblong backpack. We brought this chair to a dense Los Angeles neighborhood to watch Fourth of July fireworks. Parking was scarce, and when we finally found a spot, more than half a mile from the festivities, we considered leaving the bulky chair in the car, especially since we were also pushing a stroller loaded with a toddler, a blanket, a picnic setup, and three other folding chairs. But carrying the Renetto was comfortable and unobtrusive. We got some admiring nods en route to the celebration—and we had one of the more comfy seats at the show.
Wirecutter's Dan Frakes has owned three Renetto chairs. “Every time we take ours camping or to a kid’s soccer game, people ask us where to buy one,” he told us. His family has found that the backpack straps make the chairs easy to carry, and the canopy is an appreciated feature. “They’re so great for so many things—camping, the beach, kid events, outdoor concerts—that we’re glad we spent a little extra for the Renetto.”
The Renetto chair usually comes in between 8 and 10 colors and is rated to hold up to 350 pounds. Note that although Renetto licenses its patent to a company called Kelsyus—which makes cheaper versions of the chair for big-box stores such as Sears, Target, and Walmart—Renetto company president Steve Tinto told us in an email that the quality of the Renetto-brand chair is far better and that the Renetto chair includes features not found on the less expensive versions.
One caveat: After it sat outside for six months in the relentless Los Angeles sun, the bright red chair we received in January had faded considerably. We purposely left our chairs set up, often for weeks at a time, to see how they responded to the elements (though Renetto and most any other outdoor-gear company would advise that you keep chairs put away and out of the bright sun or rain when you’re not using them).
Renetto chairs have a standout one-year warranty.
A low-to-the-ground option: GCI Outdoor Everywhere Chair
A close-to-the-ground chair is often the ideal choice for outdoor concerts, movies, theater performances, and other events where you will be concerned about blocking other people’s view. After six months of using the chairs on three weekend camping trips, in the backyard, and on occasional local excursions to the park and beach, we concluded that the majority of people find the GCI Outdoor Everywhere Chair to be the most comfortable of the bunch, as well as the simplest and fastest to fold up and carry.
The Everywhere Chair keeps your bottom about 4 inches off the ground. The strap that supports the back (and doubles as a carry strap) allows adjustments to control your angle of recline, from upright to a stargazing-appropriate angle. Unlike other portable chairs, the Everywhere Chair is designed to sit on uneven slopes; this can be handy when space is limited at a fireworks show or an outdoor theater performance. Our panel of testers at the Wheeler Gorge Campground deemed the Everywhere Chair to be the most comfortable of the three low-to-the-ground chairs we tested.
This chair doesn’t come with a stuff bag. But after half a dozen excursions, we found—as we had with the Renetto Original Canopy Chair—that having a chair you can easily carry without a bag is preferable. In real-world conditions, you’re often packing up fast to try to get ahead of crowds or traffic. So you can easily misplace a carry sack on a dark night in a crowded field, especially if you’re in a large group or have a lot of stuff. At a fireworks show and at the beach, we appreciated a chair that was ready to go without even 30 seconds of hassle. The Everywhere Chair closes like a book—simply lift the padded strap and go.
Another basic but important distinction: Unlike the Coleman Kickback Breeze, for instance, the Everywhere Chair has a cupholder. Again, in the dark and in a crowd, a small thing becomes a significant advantage. When you’ve lugged a bottle of wine with your picnic, you don’t want a precious glass to end up spilled in the grass.
The GCI Outdoor chair also has a pocket built into the back that can hold a phone or a book. This chair comes in green or blue and is rated to hold up to 250 pounds.
A packable chair: Helinox Chair One
After two hours of initial online research, three camping trips, and several months of use in a Los Angeles backyard, we determined that the Helinox Chair One is the best outdoor chair for anyone who requires an especially lightweight, easily portable seat.
The Helinox Chair One weighs about 2 pounds, compresses smaller than a 2-liter bottle of soda, and is the most comfortable and easy to stow of the three top backpacking chairs we tested. Like competing chairs, the Chair One has a nylon and mesh seat and aluminum legs, which are linked with shock cord (the chair legs are made out of the same material as high-end tent poles). Simply snap the legs into their slots and stretch the rectangular seat onto the resulting frame, and you have an upright chair that’s small and light enough to consider bringing on a backpacking trip, or even sliding into a large purse or laptop bag for an after-work outdoor movie or concert.
We also tested REI’s Flexlite Chair, which was remarkably similar to the Chair One in design, size, and price. (That chair has since been replaced by the Co-op FlexLite Camp Chair, which has a nearly identical design but uses ripstop polyester instead of nylon.) Although the Flexlite had the advantage of being slightly lighter than the Chair One (a factor that could be key for hikers who are planning on carrying their chair miles into the backcountry), we otherwise found a number of small details that were superior on the Chair One. Most important: Although the dimensions of the two seats are almost identical, the fabric on the Helinox seat had a cut that made it feel roomier and more comfortable to anyone with anything other than a pencil-thin behind. Also, after several months of use, some of the paint on the legs of the Flexlite has scraped off. And the Helinox’s carry case, which is shaped like a doll-size ski bag, is easier to use than the stuff-sack-style bag that came with the Flexlite.
The Chair One is rated to hold up to 320 pounds, versus 250 pounds for the Flexlite and for the third chair we tested, the Alite Monarch Chair (the latter chair is no longer available, as Alite went out of business in late 2019).
A perhaps-obvious caveat: Sure, if you’re in the wilderness and your other option is sitting on a rock, a chair like this like one will seem impressively comfortable—even luxurious. But it feels like sitting in Baby Bear’s chair compared with the comfort of our other top picks, such as the Renetto Original Canopy Chair or the Papa Bear–like Coleman Oversized Quad. The bottom line: If you don’t specifically need a chair that’s small and light, get a bigger, more comfortable chair that also has the advantage of costing half as much.
Also great: REI Co-op Camp Chair - Kids’
Aside from testing 11 chairs to determine our regular picks, we also spent several hours researching kid-specific camp chairs, after which we narrowed the field to five favorite child-size models and then compared them over three camping trips that involved a total of 16 little kids. We also let two boys, ages 1 and 5, play with them and sit on them in the backyard for six months. After all that, we concluded that the REI Co-op Camp Chair - Kids’ is the best choice for anyone who wants to buy a practical, portable outdoor chair for a small child.
Our not-too-discriminating underage testers liked all the kids’ chairs, though over time we found several reasons to declare the REI Camp Chair the best of the bunch. The REI chair’s polyester seat material feels both more forgiving and more durable than the thinner material on the Ozark Trail Kids’ Folding Camp Chair from Walmart. The box-shaped cupholder is a little roomier than the round cupholders on the Coleman and the L.L.Bean Base Camp chairs—better for stubby water bottles or mugs of hot chocolate around the campfire. We found that the cheaply constructed Walmart chair had a cupholder that was too small for a soda can, or any of the hard-plastic or metal water bottles that the kids we know brought on a camping trip. It will fit a Capri Sun pouch or a narrow, rectangular juice box, but that’s about it.
The 4-pound, steel-construction REI chair has an attached carry strap, rather than a carry bag like the other chairs. After a couple of camping trips, we concluded that a strap is more convenient than a bag—the quicker and easier for a kid to grab the chair and go, without parental help. The REI chair is rated to hold up to 150 pounds, the same as the L.L.Bean and Walmart chairs. (The Coleman chair and the Helinox Chair One Mini are both rated to hold up to 200 pounds, though it’s impossible to believe that a 200-pound person could fit comfortably in either one.) We think the REI chair is most appropriate for toddlers and kids up to about 7 or 8 years old, though reviews reveal that some small adults have found this to be their favorite seat. It comes in grey or blue, and as of this update it gets 4.8 out of five stars from reviewers on the REI site.
We think the REI chair functions better and will last much longer than the similar chair from Walmart. But the price difference is significant—and after six months of near-constant outdoor use, the Walmart chair was still in decent shape. If you are looking for an ultracheap choice, the Walmart chair is one.
What to look forward to
Although our work has been delayed by the usual pandemic-related factors, we still plan to try out a couple of budget chairs clearly inspired by the Helinox Chair One—Decathlon’s Quechua Camping XL Folding Chair and one of a flock of sold-on-Amazon knockoffs—plus Nemo’s Moonlite Reclining Chair and a cooler-equipped version of the Ozark Trail Oversized Mesh Chair.
Standard camping chairs
The Ozark Trail Oversized Mesh Chair from Walmart, although similar to our pick in size, was far less comfortable, with rough-feeling material that was obviously of lower quality. We later found, after six months of frequent use, that the stitching along one arm had come unravelled and that the small straps holding up the back of the armrests had both ripped in half.
We found the Coleman Kickback Breeze Chair to be a simple yet very comfortable seat, though women liked it more than men did (many of them judged it to be too snug). Anecdotally, we found that this chair category in general is more popular among women than among men, who generally prefer a higher, upright seat.
The REI Co-op Camp Stowaway Low Chair, which also had an ultralow profile, was extremely comfortable for most people, though its fold-up mechanism wasn’t completely intuitive. (This chair has since been discontinued; REI now offers an REI Co-op Camp Low Chair, which is two inches taller and, like the Stowaway and unlike our pick, has no cup-holder. If, however, you’ve owned the Stowaway, loved it, and wanted another, know that ALPS Mountaineering makes a chair, the Rendezvous, that looks identical.)
REI’s Flexlite Chair has been replaced by an entire flock of Flexlite chairs; the one that is the closest to replacing the original Flexlite in the lineup is the Co-op Flexlite Camp Chair. The design, size, and weight is nearly identical, but the nylon fabric has been replaced with polyester.
At just 21 ounces, the Alite Monarch was the lightest of the three chairs we tested in this category, as well as the most compact, but its two-legged design required your own legs to serve as the third leg of the stool. Also, Alite went out of business in late 2019.
The material on our kids’ chair pick feels both more forgiving and more durable than the thinner material on the Ozark Trail Kids’ Folding Camp Chair from Walmart or the stiffer material on the Coleman Youth Quad Chair. The cheaply constructed Walmart chair had a cupholder that was too small for a soda can or a hard-plastic or metal water bottle. It will fit a Capri Sun pouch or a narrow, rectangular juice box, but that’s about it.
The cupholders on the L.L.Bean Kids’ Base Camp Chair aren’t as roomy as those on our picks, and they are not as adept at holding stubby water bottles or mugs of hot chocolate.
The Helinox Chair One Mini was possibly the cutest chair we’ve ever seen, and it was passionately beloved by our 1-year-old tester. But we found that most kids, like adults, choose a bigger chair when given the option. Unless you want a kids’ chair to bring backpacking, are extremely tight on space, or put a particular premium on adorableness, the Chair One Mini, which costs more than twice as much as any of the other chairs we evaluated, is not the most sensible option.
About your guide
Kalee Thompson is the senior editor heading up the team responsible for health, fitness, sleep, and baby/kid coverage. She has been a writer on the emergency-prep and outdoor beats at Wirecutter and has also covered natural disasters for Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines.
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