I put six of the most popular models through a vigorous test that included lots of hardcore beer drinking and reclined lounging
Nothing quite beats having a place to rest your butt at camp. And I’m talking about more than just a rotting stump you found trailside. From the ultra pared-down to the high-end luxuries I'd consider using as living-room furniture (check out the Nemo recliner), there is a camp chair for every trip.
To start off, I put these six chairs on my back porch for 10 days. I drank coffee in them in the mornings and a post-work beer in them in the evenings. I then sat in my Jacuzzi for a bit before moving to the chairs to see how well they interacted with wet trunks. Finally, I placed them on the gravel in my backyard to check their stability.
Nemo Stargaze Luxury Recliner Chair ($220)
Best For: Lounging
Luxury is right. Without a doubt, the Stargaze is the most comfortable camp chair I have ever tested. More like a mini-hammock than a chair, it swings effortlessly and reclines easier than a La-Z-Boy. Nemo calls the system “auto-reclining hardware,” which more closely resembles a cam and webbing system you’d rig up for rafting or climbing than something you’d expect to see on a chair. The result feels equally solid sitting fully upright and tilted fully back. (Hell, I leaned back so far I was almost parallel to the ground but didn’t feel like I was going to tip over.) The vast majority of the base is a breathable mesh, which helped trunks dry quickly, and the wide stance of its legs made the Stargaze feel solid on gravel. My one gripe is that the cup holders sat at an awkward angle, and I was nervous my drink would spill. It’s wild that a $220 chair is not the highest priced in the test, but that tag does still beg the question of whether it is worth it. If comfort is your priority on a camping trip, it is.
Yeti Hondo Base Camp Chair ($300)
Best For: Sitting Out the Apocalypse
If someone had told me ten years ago that I would be testing a $300 camp chair, I would have laughed in their face. That, of course, was before Yeti made an empire out of overbuilding gear and charging a premium. The Hondo did not disappoint. This rock solid chair was both overbuilt and minimalist and looked capable of surviving the end of days with its welded joints and reinforced aluminum frame. At 16.5 pounds, the Hondo was damn heavy and the largest of the bunch when folded up, which is not that big of a deal since you’ll likely only be taking it car camping. But it was the easiest, by far, to set up, requiring just a single pull. It also had an incredibly solid, stiff feel even with the entirely mesh seat and back—though that made it the second best for sitting in with wet trunks—but not to the point of being uncomfortable. If you sleep on a firm mattress, you'll probably be into this chair, too. (Though if you prefer to really sink into a chair, look up to the Nemo.) The bare and rugged, dare I say spartan, design was pushed further by a lack of a cup holder which helped the aesthetic, but bummed me out when trying to balance my morning coffee between my legs. (Though Yeti assures us that the final production model will have a cup holder.) Is it worth $300? Depends. I’ve always stood by Yeti hard coolers being worth the steep price tag, but, unlike a cooler where you can get away with having one, chairs are better bought in pairs, making that high price tag particularly tough to swallow.
REI Camp Chair Xtra ($60)
Best For: Creature Comforts
The Camp Chair Xtra looks like a classic model at first glance, but it has some really simple comfort details that made a considerable difference in how cushy it felt. The 24.5-inch-wide seat allowed me to sink in, while the relatively rigid back still delivered support. With two ample drink holders and a side stash pocket, the Xtra offered the most space to stow stuff like beer, my phone, and a magazine, all the better for having everything within arm’s reach and not leaving my seat. It didn't perform so well in the wet trunk test given its solid seat and back but was decently stable on gravel.
Helinox Chair 2 Rocker ($180)
Best For: Lightweight Rocking
From my experience, Helinox has always been the best at matching light weight with comfort, and the Chair 2 Rocker fits that bill. At 4.1 pounds, it was the lightest of the test, but thanks to its high back and deep seat, it still got comfort marks on par with chairs twice its weight. My bum sunk nicely into the deep seat, which was also mesh for fast drying, and the high back allowed me to really recline even without the fancy technology of the Nemo offering. The rocker feature allowed for a surprisingly deep recline, but was a little awkward rocking back and forth because the steep curve of the skids propelled the chair into a lurch more than sway. The thin skids were solid on my wood deck and held up on gravel, but wouldn’t have been my number one choice for deep sand riverside.
Coleman Aluminum Deck Chair ($40)
Best For: Potlucks
A classic design, the Aluminum Deck Chair is straightforward, with a solid seat and back that made sitting for a long time quite comfortable. The chair was a no frills hearty aluminum under solid canvas seat and back design and delivered as expected, its hearty plastic tray that swivels off up from the right armrest really made it stand out. The ability to have a drink and entire meal at hand (without having to balance a plate of food in your lap) is a luxury on a camping trip, and while it doesn’t necessarily have the sex appeal of a full reclining chair, not stressing about spilling macaroni salad on yourself is priceless.
Kelty Mesh Lowdown ($55)
Best for: Sitting Near (or In) the River
At a mere foot off the ground, the Lowdown was the shortest chair in this test. But I didn’t mind the deeper squat to get in and out thanks to its excellent mixture of a wide mesh—the best for letting a bathing suit dry—with sturdier fabric right at the thighs and along the back delivering excellent support. While the low height was not ideal on my deck, this is definitely the chair I would want to plop into a river if I needed to cool down on a hot trip. The squat powder coated legs resist rusting, and the low seat makes getting submerged up to your stomach a piece of cake.