Sitting Pretty

The best portable beach chair.

Nature is, among other things, uncomfortable. This is a fact often overlooked by chroniclers of the outdoors. They are too busy remarking on its alleged beauty and so-called charm to notice that there’s nowhere to sit.

And so God, in His infinite wisdom, gave us lawn chairs. But old-fashioned lawn chairs, with their flimsy aluminum frames and fraying, crisscross mesh, leave much to be desired. Fortunately, these days there are innumerable options when it comes to alfresco seating—so many choices, in fact, that you might feel overwhelmed.

Take heart, however: Slate, in the form of me, has invested considerable time and significant effort evaluating portable outdoor chairs in order to find you the best one. This has meant hour upon hour, day after day, of sophisticated, scientific testing that would be, even if I had room to explain it here, incomprehensible to the layman. OK, mostly I sat in them. But I did enlist the assistance of several family members, including my mom, dad, and sister. They sat in them, too. We Bartletts have long been known as judicious sitters. It’s a point of family pride: We don’t put our butts in just any old place.


Portability (10 possible points): An outdoor chair must be portable. If portability weren’t a factor, you’d take your Barcalounger to the beach. It should be relatively light and not cumbersome. A carrying strap is nice, too.

Ease of setup (10 possible points):  If a chair takes more than, say, eight seconds to set up, I want no part of it. Also, it shouldn’t require instructions. Why? It’s a chair, that’s why.

Comfort (10 possible points): No bar should hit me in the back of the neck or knee. While I don’t expect it to be as comfy as my couch, I don’t want to feel like I’m being tortured, either.

Design (10 possible points): A catch-all for attractiveness and features, with an emphasis on simplicity. I like a nifty cup holder as much as the next guy, but let’s not get too fancy.

The results, from crappy to cushy:

Office To Go Ergolounger, $59.95 First, some faint praise: The Office To Go Ergolounger is ambitious. Other chairs are happy just being chairs. The Office To Go has a detachable laptop table, an ottoman, a large side pouch for books, and an adjustable lumbar support. A definite A for effort.

But an F for execution. While the laptop table holds a laptop, it’s difficult to attach; I’d rather use my lap. The ottoman fell apart every time I used it. The lumbar support did nothing for me. And heaven help you if you forget to lock the legs in place before sitting down.

It’s ugly, too.

On the upside it’s … uh. Did I say ambitious already?

Portability: 4 (out of 10)
Ease of Use: 3 (out of 10)
Comfort: 4 (out of 10)
Design: 2 (out of 10)
Total: 13 (out of 40)

Travel Chair Teddy, $31.50 Eh. That pretty much sums it up. But for your benefit, I’ll pad this out a bit. It’s hard to get out of the Travel Chair. And once you’re in it, you’ll want to get out, because it’s not very comfortable. For example, it has these little plastic things at the edge of the seat that will scratch the underside of your legs. What’s more, your rear end will hang low, causing you to scrunch over like you’re prematurely old. If you already are old, it will make matters worse. Portability: 6 Ease of Use: 6 Comfort: 4 Design: 5 Total: 21

The Wilderness Recliner, $49.99 The Wilderness Recliner is classy. Maybe too classy. The armrests are made of fine mahogany, for goodness’ sake. All right, that’s probably not real mahogany. But still.

Unfortunately, the insulated cup holder doesn’t quite fit a can of Coke—or at least not my can of Coke. The straps that connect the seat to the back make it hard to rest your arms on those “mahogany” arm rests. Everyone who tried this chair had the same complaint. While this may not sound like a big deal, it is. If you don’t believe me, come to my house and I’ll show you what I mean. On second thought, don’t come to my house. I don’t know you.

Portability: 6
Ease of Use: 8
Comfort: 5
Design: 5
Total: 24

Kelsyus Backpack Beach Chair, $44.95 The packaging shows a shirtless, vaguely European dude reclining beneath the chair’s broad, sun-reflecting canopy. He has that no-expression expression that models must spend hours perfecting. But I know what he’s thinking: “Please, please let me out of this awful chair!”

Well, maybe it’s not that bad. The canopy, while a tad dorky, is effective and packs down to an easy-to-carry size. The chair itself is surprisingly lightweight. Yet the head cushion is too low, making it uncomfortable to lean back. The arm rests are flimsy and annoying (one of my arm rests was broken when it arrived—which may not speak well of quality control). Unlike some of the other reclining beach chairs, it’s not adjustable. And the canopy is a chore to set up.

Portability: 8
Ease of Use: 5
Comfort: 6
Design: 6
Total: 25

Everywhere Chair, $39.99 The Everywhere Chair is just like me: simple, easy, and cheap. This is the chair you want to bring to a hillside concert. Or to watch fireworks. It’s extremely easy to set up (unfold it) and has a useful shoulder strap and a padded backrest. It’s surprisingly comfortable as well. You could fall asleep in this chair.

It does not have an armrest, headrest, cup holder, or sun shade. But what it lacks in features it makes up for in utility. “To Maximum The Ultimate In Comfort!” declares an ad for the Everywhere Chair. I don’t know what that means, but I couldn’t agree more.

Portability: 7
Ease of Use: 8
Comfort: 7
Design: 6
Total: 28

Rio Brands Backpack Beach Chair, $40.00 The perfect beach chair—almost. The only thing the Rio lacks is a built-in sun shade. If you can get by without one of those, then you’re golden. Or perhaps golden brown.

It has four—count ‘em!—four positions. You can go from more or less upright to lazily reclined simply by lifting the arm rests. It has straps so you can wear it like a backpack. It has a roomy compartment for your beach essentials. The cupholder isn’t too bad, either.

But what I like best about this chair is the headrest. On two of the other chairs (the Wilderness and the Kelsyus), the headrests do little to protect your head. The fine people at Rio Brands realize that not all of us are the same height, and so their headrest is adjustable. Nice.

Portability: 7
Ease of Use: 8
Comfort: 8
Design: 7
Total: 30

Renetto Canopy Chair, $ 49.99 * I’m writing this sentence while sitting outside in my Renetto. A guy just drove by and yelled something incomprehensible in my direction. Same to you, buddy. He’s probably just jealous of my chair. And why wouldn’t he be? I like the Renetto so much I’m at a loss for words. It’s awesome. It’s spiffy. It’s the most portable chair I tested, folding up niftily into a non-goofy-looking backpack (go to the Renetto Web site to see a movie of the chair folding in action). It’s solid, stable, and comfortable. And the retractable, ingenious sun canopy turns into the chair’s carrying case. How about that?

Portability: 9
Ease of Use: 9
Comfort: 8
Design: 9
Total: 35

Correction, July 3, 2007: An earlier version of this piece misstated the price of the Renetto Canopy Chair. It is $49.99, not $39.99. ( Return to the corrected line.)