The Ultimate Guide to Portable Tables

Portable table

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 Accordion style Pitched style
Example qualities & features Example images Folding-style table Accordion-style table Pitch-style table
How to set up Just unfold Set-up poles, unroll table across poles Set-up poles, stretch fabric across poles, like a really easy tent!
Table height

Standard 28-30in

(71-76cm)

Most compatible with standard height chairs

14-16in

(36-41cm)

Most compatible with shorter pitched style chairs

Table surface Hard plastic Hard aluminum

Polyester

(flat, rigid surface, but still fabric-based, so may not be as good for cooking)

Effect on secondary factors Price $50-80 $40-100
Capacity Card table* to very long for groups Usually a card table* or slightly bigger Usually very small, designed to hold a few cups or bowls. Feels like an end table to casually hold things rather than a table to gather around. Largest may be just a card table*
Weight

10+lbs

(4.5kg+)

5-10lbs

(2.3-4.5kg)

1-5lbs

(0.5-2.3kg)

Size You'll need a vehicle to transport this (possibly a truck) ~2-3ft (0.6-0.9m) long & maybe bulkier than a camera tripod From a little smaller than a 2-liter soda bottle to just shy of the accordion style size (there's a wide variety)
Can be slung over-the-shoulder Smallest ones may fit in a regular backpack; will definitely fit in a hiking backpack
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

Versatile for most outdoor uses, therefore more worth the money

Small size makes it not suitable for cooking, a common use

*A card table seats 1 person on each side, roughly a square with length of 30-35in (76-89cm) on each side


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.

Methodology notes on prices shown on this page

Capacity (size)

There is a lot of variety in tables, including in shapes (e.g., circular tables) that can affect capacity. A big consideration here would be, do you want a table that you can pull up a seat to, or just a table to hold some items off to the side? As the table above shows, this varies by type.

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.

There isn't a separate comparison table, because weight & size are functions of type. Most people who really care about weight & size wouldn't bring a table. That said, the closest to a backpacking suitable table is the pitched style (similar to with portable chairs).


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 integrated cup holders?
  • How easy is it to clean the surface material? (e.g., fabric requires washing whereas plastic or metal can just be wiped down)
  • Is the surface suitable for cooking? (i.e., can it resist heat? remember, even if the bottom of the stove doesn't get hot, hot foods may spill or you may need to rest hot cookware on the table)
  • Can you sit on it? Many camp tables can't support body weight & will collapse

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%!
Accordion style
Set-up poles, unroll table across poles
Model REI Camp Roll Table CampChef Mesa Table
REI Camp Roll Table CampChef Mesa Table

Buy

MSRP with tax

$70

value

$152

value

Rent $6+
Capacity

28in square & 28in tall

71cm square & 71cm tall

48X27in & 27-39in tall (adjustable height)

122X69cm & 69-99cm tall

Weight

8lbs 8oz

3.9kg

22lbs

10kg

Carry size & notes Over-the-shoulder carry case, but will still fit into a 70L hiking backpack Large carry case, 48in (122cm) long, best to have a vehicle to transport

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

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!