Search for a Perfect Camping Chair

The humble folding camping chair performs reasonably well in a backyard of grass or pavers, but put it to the test on the hard, uneven ground of the bush and things can become a little shaky.

chair lineup in shop

Our search for the perfect camping chair has at last come to an end. Not because we can quote a brand and model of chair that actually performs, but because we have given up hope of finding one.

A Short Life

These days we treat camping chairs as disposable and if we manage to get 4 to 5 months life from them, we are reasonably satisfied.

The chairs we use are stored on the roof rack of a 4WD and, in our desire to avoid Australia’s southern winter, they bear the brunt of a constant rooftop baking. They get opened and closed a minimum of once a day and the ground they rest on ranges from salty beach sand to uneven granite. They are left outside in the elements every night and when they are packed away on the roof they usually get a belly full of dust and shaken to bits. In short they get thoroughly used - and somewhat abused.

The Right Chair for You

Chairs are somewhat of a personal accessory and differing styles and ergonomics will appeal to different people. While it’s always nice to have generic type camping equipment, camping chairs are one area where a one size fits all mentality doesn’t always work.

Bad backs, health issues, height, weight, posture and personal preference are all factors for consideration when purchasing camping chairs or any equipment that requires fitting (backpacks, camelbaks, camera cases etc.) If you are buying a camping chair for a touring holiday or extended camping trip then you probably plan on putting it to a fair bit of use.

Have a good look at the way a potential purchase is constructed and spend at least 5 minutes sitting in it at the store. The best looking seat can become uncomfortable after a few minutes and it will quickly become a regretted purchase every time you use it.

In tribute to the trail of broken camping chairs left in roadside bins across Australia we’ll try and outline a few things to consider when buying a new seat.

General Construction

Not surprisingly, costs for camping chairs range from $9 throwaway units right up to quality household furniture prices and construction materials and techniques vary accordingly.

Most frames will be made from either steel or aluminium in a variety of sizes. Very simply, steel tends to be stronger than aluminium for any given profile or section. This means that for an aluminium chair to be as strong as a steel chair it needs to made from a larger section of aluminium or utilize a smarter design.

Steel frame chairs usually come in 16mm, 19mm, 22mm or 25mm round tubular construction and may or may not have additional bracing. 22mm steel makes a reasonably solid foundation for a camping chair while 25mm is obviously better. 25mm round aluminium should be the absolute minimum profile used in conventional chair design while many acceptable designs use a 42 x 44 x 25 mm rectangular section.

Weak Spots

The single weakest point in any chair, including those made with heavy tubing, is the linkage system.

Folding chairs are usually constructed using moulded plastic cleats and steel pins or bolts. These cleat and pin arrangements allow the chair to fold but also introduce an Achilles' heel that will eventually fail and dump you in the dirt.

Plastics are affected by UV and stressed by movement so look for lots of strong, thick plastic in all the bits and pieces that hold a chair together.

Pins or bolts should be of large diameter and solidly fastened.

The strongest looking camping chair will only be as good as the components that hold it together.

Fabric may be advertised as 600D heavy polyester which probably means nothing to most of us. 600 is the weave count and D stands for ‘Denier’, a type of weave common in outdoor and camping fabrics. Look for heavy fabric with plenty of weather and UV resistant stitching and binding.

The holes where the chair frame passes through the fabric should be heavily reinforced with a rubber type ‘gusset’. Turn the chair upside down and ensure these gussets or any other reinforcing wont eventually wear through the fabric.

2 styles of folding chair
Quad Fold Chairs

Are the typical four corner folding camp chairs and are generally the lightest design of all the camping chairs. For many people they fold into the mostcompact shape for transporting and storage and offer a range of price points and qualities. To get one that will take real abuse means having to spend a reasonable sum but these seats can be extremely comfortable. The linkages and pins are crucial to durability in these designs and although some manufactures have begun replacing the plastic cleats with aluminium - the pins and bolts still remain a suspect area.

Flat Fold Chairs

Flat fold chairs unlike Quad Fold Chairs which have four unsupported points touching the ground, many flat fold chairs have only two points – front and back or side to side. This can make for a very rigid frame that flexes much less than a Quad Fold but can be harder to level. Flat fold camping chairs can fold from front to back or side to side and while they generally close with a very low profile they still have a large ‘footprint’. Some will have a reclining option and allow the backrest to be set at various levels. Because of over engineering or a difficult design brief some of these chairs can be a nightmare to fold up. Make sure to open and close a flat fold chair before you buy it.

We can’t really abandon the quest to find the perfect folding camping chair. A new brand arrived in one of the large camping chains recently and on initial inspection it ticks all the right boxes and looks like it may have real potential. It is a Flat Fold style and while not quite as comfortable as a top of the range Quad Fold it will probably last longer.

If not you may find it in a roadside bin somewhere.

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