The Ultimate Guide to Portable Chairs

Portable chair

Our mission is to get people outdoors, not sell gear. That's why our guide starts with the core function that needs to be addressed, then helps you evaluate your options holistically, since sometimes you may not need any gear & can use what you have at home. We want you to think critically about what you need, which is personal to you with no right answer (some people go venture outside naked without any gear, survive & have a great time).

Core function: To relax & hangout, it's nice to have a reliable surface, whether it's spreading a blanket or tarp on the ground, a camping picnic table, rock, log, or actual portable furniture.

Is either the core function or the outdoor-specific gear made for it an essential?

No .

For rationale, read our 'what you really need' protip

What to use & how to choose

Key factors

Cool zippers, new waterproofing, etc... sometimes it's easy to get lost in all the hype (over-spending happens on features). Our guide focuses on the fundamental factors you should always keep in mind (thus, this short list is similar across all items). Then only at the end do we have some questions to get you thinking about other minor features.

We highly recommend reviewing Type or Style first, where we review what you can use to address the Core function--a regular item you have at home may work! The other factors are secondary & depend strongly on the Type or Style you've picked.

While we encourage you to use regular items wherever possible, as an outdoor gear shop, we only carry outdoor-specific products

Type or Style

We've organized the most commonly used items people use to address the Core function below, with example images, characteristics, features, etc.

Our category name Hard-sides Soft-sides
Folding style Collapsible style Picnic style Pitched style
Example qualities & features Example images Folding-style chair Collapsible-style table Picnic-style table Pitched-style chair
How to set up Just unfold or open up Set-up poles, stretch fabric across poles, like a really easy tent!
Seat height

Standard 18-20in*

(46-51cm)

N/A; on the ground

11-16in

(30-41cm)

Seat surface material & how it sits Hard plastic or metal Fabric
Flat surface. Back may be straight or angled Surface dips slightly to accommodate weight (usually can still be used by anyone). Back may be straight or angled Flat surface; may or may not be padded/ Back usually straight Surface dips to accommodate weight (combined with lower height, may not be the best option for older people). Back usually angled
Weight capacity (adult model)

500+lbs

(227+kg)

Usually not an issue

200-300lbs

(91-136kg)**

200lbs

(91kg)***

200-300lbs

(91-136kg)**

Is it permitted at music festivals?*

Effect on secondary factors

For a single person Capacity chair

Price $10-20 $10-50 $60-120
Weight

5-10lbs

(2.3-4.5kg)

2-5lbs

(0.9-2.3kg)

1-2lbs

(0.5-0.9kg)

Size You'll need a vehicle to transport this ~2-3ft (0.6-0.9m) long & maybe bulkier than a camera tripod Like a big laptop A little smaller than a 2-liter soda bottle
Can be slung over-the-shoulder May fit in larger backpacks Can fit in almost any regular backpack, or extra large purses
Rationale Less technical & more material, no consideration for Weight & Size More technical & less material, Weight & Size specifically optimized

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Not specific enough for outdoor use There may be issues with durability & not as versatile for multiple use cases Doesn't add that much more value than sitting on the ground, which is free

Versatile for most outdoor uses, therefore more worth the money

*Many music festivals don't allow seating that's standard height, since it may block the view for others behind you

**These chairs use more delicate materials to reduce Weight & Size. Take care if you are a larger person using a lower end model as poles may bend (even if they don't break, the chair may feel wobbly)

***This type of chair sits on the ground. If it does have a weight rating, then it means the bottom is cushioned; above this weight rating, you won't feel the effects of the cushioning anymore. If it doesn't have a weight rating, there's no cushion, just a pad between you and the ground.


Price

One of life's certainties is the trade-off between price & quality. This creates an inherently unfair situation. If you save money today by buying something lower end, you'll end up replacing it more frequently, spending money & time each instance so that at the end, you probably haven't actually saved anything. On the other hand, if you decide to invest in something higher end, you'll need a lot more upfront money, and you need to be able to use the item frequently enough to make it worthwhile.

We developed our rental program to address this unfairness. We don't sell lower end items. But for our higher end items, we offer them for rent at up to 90% off retail price, generally well below the cost of buying even the cheaper option. That's a win-win!

It may seem like the price & quality trade-off is disappearing, because you can find a cheap version of almost anything for tens of dollars that still has good reviews (assuming the reviews are real). Remember 2 things:

  • Many reviews are written after only a trial use, first use, or infrequent use: We've seen entire review videos of gear done at home, which is very different than actually being outdoors!
  • The point of gear is to give you a good experience because you've already spent money to be on vacation from work! Don't let quality issues affect your relaxation

For gear specifically, the quality issues center around performance & durability.

Performance

  • The chair wasn't very durable: we unfortunately have a lot of experience with this. The lower end collapsible & pitched styles that cost $10-20 can sometimes feel single-use: the poles significantly bend & it's uncomfortable & wobbly to continue sitting

Durability

Maybe you are the average person that goes 1-2 times per year, you don't mind the hassle of replacing gear that doesn't last, and you also don't care about the performance differences. Then use our borrow program & get free gear where available! Or for a little more, use our rental program.

Methodology notes on prices shown on this page

Capacity (size)

There are so many types of camp chairs that start with one of the our types as a baseline and then evolve beyond, like reclining chairs, rocking chairs, love seats, chaise lounges, etc. Chairs may also seat more than 1 person, or be sized specifically for youth or kids. As you can imagine, as capacity increases, so does price and weight & size.

Weight & Size (Compactness) for Backpacking

If you're thru-hiking 20+ miles (32+km) per day, every advantage counts! In this case, size refers to compactness. You can carry more gear in the same size backpack if all of it is very compact, or for more weight savings, you can get a smaller size pack.

To reduce more weight & increase compactability, manufacturers reduce the amount of material used (e.g., fewer features, thinner fabrics, etc.) and, where possible, use more technical materials to prevent performance loss. For example, ultralight fabric used in clothing has to still be waterproof. These strategies create 2 general consequences

  • Lightweight gear tends to be less durable: Sometimes, light-weight gear is just thinner & so more prone to damage (even a more technical material may not fully offset the loss in durability)
  • Lightweight gear tends to be more expensive: While less materials = lower cost, the more dominating effect is often that thinner materials = more technical = greater cost

For these reasons, the lighter the gear, the more you should treat it as an investment! Is the price difference worth the weight or size savings? This depends on you & your trip.

Pitched style Regular Ultralight
Weight

~2lb

(0.9+kg)

1lb

(0.5kg)

Effect on other factors Price $60-80 $120
Rationale Less technical material More technical material

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Standard for most outdoor uses for this type (other types not carried, see Type or Style section)

Much more expensive relative to the improvements in weight savings; most people who care that much would just not use a chair
Methodology notes

Minor features that may be important

Here, we give you a list of questions to start thinking about minor features. We hope our approach of savings these features for last gets you to more critically think about what you need & not get caught up in the hype of what's cool and over-spend your budget.

  • Does it have cup holders?
  • Does it rock or recline?
  • How high is the seat back (for taller people)?

What we carry

General Notes

  • We choose what we carry based on extensive research on what's the best value to our customers (e.g., price given performance & durability features) across all the top brands. We specifically do not carry every brand & model; for details on why we do/don't carry certain items in the How To Choose section
  • Buy prices are MSRP with tax, i.e., what you see is what you pay. Prices may differ in-store due to change in models or discounts, but this is rare. If we don't sell what we rent, we list MSRP value with tax
  • Rent prices are the starting prices; enter trip dates on our Catalog to get exact prices (based on total trip length, not per day!). We also don't charge sales tax, an automatic savings of almost 10%!
Pitched style
Set-up poles, stretch fabric across poles, like a really easy tent!
Model TravelChair Joey portable chair
TravelChair Joey

Buy

MSRP with tax

$60
Rent $6+
Weight

2lbs

0.9kg

Carry size & notes 2 really big burritos; could even fit in a large purse

When you rent online, we will pick a model for you. You can change the model if you pick-up in-store, subject to availability. On the Options page of our online order process, you can also select options or write-in any preferences. This section describes the majority of our models & options, but sometimes we carry others. We will only pick something else if it doesn't conflict with your choices indicated on the Options page; moreover, if there's a major functional difference (e.g., capacity), we will attempt to contact you first

Maintenance tips

These tips will really vary based on type. For example if you have a plastic or metal folding model (like the ones they use for outdoor events), a good wipe constitutes a good cleaning, and rusting can be a major maintenance concern. Whereas with the soft-side ones that have fabric & poles, you can almost treat them like a tent. Since that's more complicated, tips below apply to the soft-side type.

Repairing

Poles: TentPole Technologies can repair almost any pole issues, from re-stringing when the shock cord snaps, or entire segments that are broken or too-bent, expect to spend ~$10 per segment replaced or $10 to do work such as re-stringing a pole set

Rips, tears, holes: For small ones, you can stick on a patch of Tenacious Tape yourself. For larger ones, you may need to sew on a replacement fabric patch; most tailors can help with this (if you're doing it yourself, most technical fabrics are rip-stop nylon and this is sold by many fabric stores; most meshes used in outdoor gear however is not widely sold). Remember, sewing compromises waterproofing, since it adds punctures. Ultralight gear with thinner fabrics may require specialists. Two repair specialists are Narain's & Rainy Pass Repair; both accept gear shipped in, expect to spend $30-100

Cleaning & Storing

Gear not in use should be cleaned & dried and then stored loose & in a dark environment, check out our entire protip on the topic here.

We have a general protip on how to store & maintain gear that we highly recommend reviewing as well. If you send us video or a good photo series, we may be able to help you evaluate your repair needs.

The exact numbers (e.g., weights, dimensions, prices, etc.) used were updated as of September 2019 . That said, there usually isn't dramatic change; we update & review the market roughly biennially.


Thoughts, ideas, questions? Let us know in the comments below! We're Last Minute Gear, the only outdoor gear shop where you can buy, rent, or borrow gear!