The Best Beach Chair (For 9 Years Running)


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Oct 18, 2023

The Best Beach Chair (For 9 Years Running)

My parents bought a beach house—their dream—back when you could buy a New Jersey

My parents bought a beach house—their dream—back when you could buy a New Jersey beach house on a teacher's salary. They then filled it with all of the garage-sale and curb castoffs they could find, producing a mostly cute kitschy hodgepodge.

But their inability to pass up any heavy, saggy, rusted, semi-broken, or hard-to-use beach chair resulted in the storage area overflowing with dozens of them. That is, until I put my foot down.

The Tommy Bahama chair has straps for carrying it, plus great build quality and a cooler to keep your drinks out of the heat. You need to bring your own shade, though.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $84.

It all started with one Tommy Bahama Backpack Beach Chair, which I bought for my husband, the poor sap who literally gets stuck lugging a wagon full of sand toys and children uphill both ways. And then, as my kids got older and became able to carry their own stuff, we added a few more Tommy Bahama chairs for them. We’ve been using the chairs for years now, and the Tommy Bahama model is so much better than the competition, for several key reasons.

Wirecutter performed beach chair testing on the beaches of California and Hawaii, and the Tommy Bahama chair came out the victor over seven competitors for its mix of durability, portability, and comfort. (No wonder the company has cornered the beach chair market.)

But my long-term testing happens at the Jersey Shore. New Jersey beaches are packed, and it's a true blessing to toss a chair on your back and run the gauntlet of guys from Philly and New York talking loudly on their phones about whatever sportsball team or political situation they’re mad about at the moment. The padded backpack straps are comfortable even if you’re not wearing a shirt, and they distribute the weight evenly—it's a big contrast to having to lug a chair at your side, with it banging into your leg the whole time.

While everybody else is packing like they’re trekking the Sahara, with umbrellas, coolers, and countless other supplies in tow, true sun-seekers who don't need an umbrella (hopefully slathered in the recommended 1 ounce of decent-SPF sunscreen) will be able to fit their refreshments in the chair's attached cooler bag, which fits six 12-ounce cans. There's even a towel bar on the back to hang-dry your wet towel and keep it off the sand. I’ve also seen plenty of city folk using these chairs for park hangs and suburban types bringing them to their kids’ sporting events.

The chair is made out of strong polyester, and it has five seated positions (you use the armrest to adjust it), a foam-filled headrest, and padded shoulder straps. The one downside is that it sits low to the ground, which can be an accessibility challenge. As a result, we use different, higher chairs for the older adults in our family.

Wirecutter's guide says, "the only slight complaint we had is that the frame bar running along the front of the seat can push uncomfortably against your hamstrings during a long session in the sun." However—as the guide goes on to say—the chair is low enough to the ground that even when your legs are splayed out flat, the inconvenience of the bar is minor.

The frame is made of lightweight-but-durable, rustproof aluminum with a recommended weight limit of 300 pounds. Our pick is the version that has wooden arms, which weighs about 7.5 pounds, though Tommy Bahama also has a less-expensive version with plastic arms (we’ve found that version doesn't hold up as long as the wooden-armed one). "I’ve owned two wooden-armed versions of the Tommy Bahama since 2019. There's no zipper damage on the cooler pouch or rust on the frame, and the fabric has held up incredibly well under the intense Hawaiian sun," says senior staff writer Kit Dillon, who shot the photos shown here of his chairs on Oahu.

This year, I bought enough Tommy Bahama beach chairs that my family can finally have one per person. What are we going to do with our vast collection of castoffs? We’ll probably sell them to some bargain hunters at our next garage sale.

This article was edited by Catherine Kast and Christine Ryan.

Annemarie Conte

Deputy Editor

Annemarie Conte is a deputy editor at Wirecutter. She has written and edited for multiple outlets throughout her career, including Woman's Day, Seventeen, The New York Times, O The Oprah Magazine, and Jane magazine. You can follow her on Instagram.

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