Call it what you will – travel, camping, folding, collapsible – a portable chair or stool has many uses.
One is especially useful for anyone with back or knee trouble. Even if you are healthy, a chair is good for long waits: queues, trains, outdoor sketching (plein air), fishing, camping, hunting, concerts, sports.
Prices start from $10. Seat heights range from 12 to 24 inches, with 18 inches being average. The chairs typically weigh from 2 to 5 pounds, and can support 200 to 300 pounds.
Types of Portable Chairs
There many types of folding chairs, the main categories are:
- Stools. These are small and light, suitable for hiking and backpacking. Most weigh around 2 to 3 pounds. They aren’t very comfortable, but are better than sitting on the ground.
- Chairs. Chairs have a backrest and are usually taller and wider as well. Some have arm rests, a cup holder, a foot rest and even a canopy (top shade). Their weight makes them more practical if you have a vehicle to haul them with.
- Cane/walking stick chairs. These are walking sticks that fold out into a chair or stool. They are higher than stools, but the seat is smaller than a chair’s. The handle can sometimes be used as a front arm rest (depending on whether on not the seat is comfortable when sitting in that direction), but usually can’t be used as a backrest.
Camping Chair Design Details
While a chair might look simple, the various little design details can make a difference:
- Legs and support material. Aluminum is the most popular material for the legs and other structural parts. It is light and doesn’t rust. Steel is used for heavier and tougher chairs.
- Number of feet. Most chairs are have either 3 or 4 feet. Those with 3 feet (tripod) are smaller and lighter, but less stable and less comfortable. Chairs with 3 feet are more stable on uneven ground.
- Type of feet. Most chairs have round rubber feet, covering the end of the leg. They are small and will sink into sand and soft ground (and damage grass). The rubber feet are also easily lost. Feet that have a horizontal bar connecting two feet, spread the weight more. Some tripod-style stools have a triangular piece of fabric tied between the feet, to stop the stool from sinking.
- Seats. Seats are either fabric (nylon or polyester) or solid (plastic or aluminum). Fabric seats are lighter and smaller when folded up. They can last but cheaper models will have durability problems, especially around the holes that connect to the legs. They are also less stable. It is easy to tip over if you need to dodge a ball (say when watching a game).
- Folding mechanism. The simplest folding mechanism is just a fabric seat and three or four straight legs that are tied together in the middle, looking like a bundle of firewood. The seat can be rolled up like an umbrella. The main disadvantage is lack of stability. A more traditional design has a scissors folding mechanism at each side of the chair. The chair folds flat, but isn’t as compact as the umbrella type. More complicated mechanism exist, most fold flat.
How to Choose the Best Collapsible Chair
Choosing the right chair is a matter of trading off weight and comfort. If weight is an issue and you are only going to rest for a few minutes at a time, a small stool will do. For lounging around for hours, you’ll need something sturdier and heavier.
Based on user reviews of camping chairs and stools on the Amazon.com website, common complaints are: flimsy chairs (collapse after a few uses), uncomfortable seats (too small, support bar digs into thighs), unstable chairs (need to balance all the time) and seats that are too low.
It is therefore a good idea to test out the chair before purchasing. After buying a chair, test it out for a few hours first. Watch TV with it for a few hours, make sure that it doesn’t break. If it does break, at least you’ll fall on your carpet at home, instead of muddy ground.