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Travel Chairs

Why carry a chair?

Unthinkable to most cyclists, carrying chairs on our bicycle tour makes perfect sense to us. We aren’t out on the road for two weeks, or a month, or four months, where the discomfort of sitting on the ground day after day is a minor inconvenience to be endured for the short run. We are out for ten years, maybe a few more.

Not only are we out for the long run, much longer than the average touring cyclist, we are using our laptops extensively as we document our adventures and earn money to support our trip. Our chairs are a tool of our trade, just as much as our laptops are.

It’s not only the work we do that requires a decent place to sit – we are on the road in difficult circumstances day after day, cycling six to ten hours a day. Most of the time there’s no place to rest except to sit in the dirt, in the heat, with the stickers and fire ants.

It gets pretty miserable month after month having no place to rest. One of our dreams has been to have a chair that we can flip off our trailers, plop down for a fifteen-minute rest, flip it back on the trailers, then be on our way. We’ve also longed for a chair that we could sink into at the end of the day to rest our weary legs in peace and comfort.

Features and functions of travel chairs

The challenge has been trying to figure out exactly what we want in a chair. Of course we want it as light as possible. Right after that is low-profile – we want to pack the chairs and get them out easily and quickly. They should be easy to carry. But do we want them low to the ground or regular height? Do we require arms? Will they dry quickly in rain and humidity?

What about back rests? What about comfort issues – are we relaxed when we sit and can we sit comfortably for a number of hours? Do we want a cup-holder or a spot for our books and maps? Should it recline? Can we attach an umbrella to it?

Thus far we’ve either gone without or we’ve taken a minimalist approach to our chairs.

Eagle Creek stadium chairs

When we left in 2007, we realized how much having some back support would ease our lives, so we brought along our Eagle Creek stadium chairs. You’ve seen the kind – they are flat foam pads with straps attached; they fold out into a seat bottom and back rest, with the straps keeping them together. Sitting, your bums are on the ground or the stadium bench, or wherever. When finished, they fold up flat.

I soon realized they wouldn’t be our long-term solution. With my legs stretched out in front of me, holding the laptop and keyboard for an hour or more at a time, I found my back aching fiercely combined with sharp twinges down my legs. Despite how much I’d wiggle around while typing, I couldn’t get comfortable. It was easier if I put the chair on a picnic bench, but picnic benches were in short supply.

We kept the stadium-style chairs through our time in the Florida Keys, but when we left again the chairs stayed behind. We still use them on our kayaking trips on the Loxahatchee River and they are perfect for that situation – a short break on our remote dock.

GCI Outdoor Everywhere Chair

We went without chairs for quite awhile after the stadium-style chairs, but not for want of looking. Over the next six months we looked in every outdoor store we could find, testing every chair we found from Maine to Seattle to Santa Barbara.

We’d found the GCI Outdoor Everywhere chair in Maine and then again at REI in Seattle, and of the chairs we’d tried, it seemed the most likely to be a success. We liked the fact that it folded flat, and we liked the extra back length and the fact that we could recline in it. When we reached REI in Mission Viejo in California, my sister gifted us the money to get the chairs (at a weight of six pounds and thirty dollars apiece we had to think seriously about it); we were now the proud owners of two travel chairs.

Our love affair was short lived. Sitting as close to the ground as they do, we were at crotch level to everyone else at fairs and festivals– not the view we wanted for the whole day. Carrying the chairs was amazingly awkward because of the way they folded, with the frames pinching into our backs as we walked, and they felt heavier than six pounds.

When sitting in them and typing, the straps on the sides cut into our arms; and the angle of sitting (leaning backwards putting the torso in a V) caused the circulation in our legs to be restricted. Getting out of them was quite a challenge from that V angle and being so close to the ground – we finally perfected a sort of twist and roll, in effect dumping ourselves out onto the ground on our knees so we could then get up.

The final annoyance was how we had to carry them on our bikes, or rather our bike trailers. Folding into a square, they fit flat across the trailers. That’s fine, except that they were stiff and inflexible, running side to side on the trailers, which caused our loads to slip and slide as we bumped along the potholes and rough roads.

We solved that at first by tying the chairs down separately, then later we simply put them inside our cavernous dry bags. Both these solutions defeated one of our main goals in having the chairs, which was to be able to use them quickly and easily on the side of the road during our long rides.

We ended up using our chairs so little that we returned them in near-perfect shape to REI.

Walmart lawn chairs

We weren’t ready to give up on chairs yet, so I kept looking. In Louisiana we had friends who bought lawn chairs from Wal-Mart, the classic kind that has a telescoping fold-up system. They were only five dollars, and they only weighed five pounds. Our friend Heuetta saw our interest in them, and told us to take them when we left.

That sounded wonderful, so Chelsea and I talked it over and decided we’d try it. Unfortunately, by the time we left about six weeks later, the five-dollar chairs had already torn and wouldn’t hold anyone. Sigh…another possibility down the drain.

Costco chairs with canopy

Back in Florida we’ve been frequenting Costco, and we always check out their outdoor section. One day we found a very nice folding outdoor chair, complete with a cup holder in the arm and an overhead canopy.

We couldn’t resist sitting in it, imagining ourselves pulling it out by the side of the road and relaxing. The weight alone was a huge no-no, but we got a case of the giggles thinking of the double-takes we’d get from passing cars.

Travel Chair Teddy Chairs

Then I ran across the Teddy Travel Chairs in one of my online research sessions. At six-plus pounds they were within the range we were willing to carry (we’d already carried almost seven pounds in the GCI chair); they are aluminum – several pounds lighter than their steel counterparts.

At sixty dollars apiece we thought for a long time about getting them, but knowing we’d be home be for a few months and could ship them back easily if they didn’t work out, we took a deep breath and ordered them.

Though we haven’t tested them on the road yet, we are delighted so far. The wide angle of the back means no unpleasant pressure from the frame; the seat width is very comfortable; the arms have straps on the back which allow us to raise or lower the arm height; they have a cup holder (our water bottles will always be at hand); they are extremely easy to close one-handed; and when folded they stand solo on their feet without needing to lean them somewhere – a nice plus under difficult circumstances.

A webbing strip runs in an X shape from each side of the upper back down to the opposite corner of the seat, and the seat has another X of webbing running from corner to corner. This design gives great support for the back and seat, with extra support for the sit-bone.

The fabric is nylon mesh, which will dry quickly in the wet humid weather we are often riding and camping in. The mesh is wonderful on hot days, but on cool days I can see that we’ll need to sit on a jacket for warmth.

The arms are too wide for us to rest our arms while typing, which is a downside, but we can stick our elbows out and rest them periodically, which helps. The chairs feel a bit like a comfy sling, molding to the body a bit. We find that we can sit for hours reading or working on the laptops with no difficulties.

They are (relatively) lightweight but feel very sturdy. We love the beautiful blue color. Though we’ve let our household know these chairs are ours, everyone automatically gravitates to them as the first choice of a place to sit.

Yes, these chairs are heavy and a bit awkward for toting around on a bicycle, but given our strong need and desire for a decent place to sit, we’re willing to carry the weight. We like the fact that we will be sitting at a normal height; we like the ease of getting in and out; and we really like the comfort of the long hours in the chair.

We don’t like the weight and we don’t like the size folded up – it would be very, very tough to carry these without our trailers.

Several weeks ago I discovered that Travel Chair now offers an Insect Shield Teddy Chair. It’s been treated with permethrin in the factory, which makes it insect proof. We’d love to try that one, but at eight-plus pounds it’s over our self-imposed limit. Who knows, though; if it really works, it may be worth it – after all, we’re headed out for seven years in Central and South America.

Another chair we’re dying to try is their Larry Chair (check out the really cute video, Where in the world is the Larry Chair?). At 3.6 pounds and only forty dollars, it’s a lot lighter and less expensive. We love the fact that it fits into a messenger bag – it would be easier to pack, and we can see ourselves using it for times when we’d want to throw it on our backs, leaving the trailers behind.

We’d be lower to the ground, and wouldn’t have arm support, but perhaps the weight and easier packability would offset that.

The final item on our wish list is their umbrella. We’d been given two sun umbrellas at a campground in North Carolina Outer Banks, but the clip to fasten them was broken. We still used them occasionally, though, under high-sun circumstances, but having to hold them with one hand countered much of the desire to use them. Still, they came in handy in the 110 degree heat in Texas when we’d stop with no shade in sight.

We may try the Travel Chair umbrella. It does clip to the back of the Larry Chair. We’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, check out all the Travel Chairs at www.travelchair.com, and we’ll keep you posted on what our ongoing field testing results are. We love their series of videos on YouTube – TravelBench – Instant Seating Session; TravelBench vs Truck; TravelBench 35 foot drop test; Larry Chair by TravelChair; Where in the world is the Larry Chair?; and Insect Shield TravelChair.

Other chairs

Travel Chairs

Travel Chairs is a good first stop because they have a wide variety of chairs suitable for everything from expeditions in the Antarctic, to the Insect Shield chair, to Lounge Lizards and a “fast and light” series that would be attractive for weight reasons.

A-Lite Chairs

You should also check out the unusual design of the A-lite chairs. It’s an extremely clever design, and at 1.35 pounds with a packed size of 4.5” by 13”, they are certainly tempting.

The only downside for us is that they balance on two legs, and given how many hours we sit working, we just couldn’t see the two-legged approach for us. It may be just the ticket for you, though.

REI

REI is now showing an impressive array of outdoor chairs (I suspect it may be seasonal), from a twenty-four pound lounger to ultra-light models. Use your own personal checklist of features and functions, then read the specs and the reviews.

Whatever your final decision, whether to forgo chairs completely or to invest in your own comfort model, you can rest assured that technology will keep on improving, and we may someday have every luxury feature we want in a two-pound model. I for one will be ready for that day.