A good office chair makes sitting for long periods less of a pain
If you have an office job that requires you to sit for long periods -- or even a home office where you spend a lot of time organizing your family's life or doing other tasks -- it's likely that you've suffered the stiffness and back pain inherent in sitting too long. The good news is that the right office chair can make for a more pleasant, pain-free workday. And, for you employers out there: Studies show that better chairs in the workplace can boost a company's bottom line by keeping employees more productive.
For the past few years, other studies have been warning us that sitting too much is harmful to our health, but sitting in the wrong chair cam make things much worse. While the American Medical Association's recommendation -- to stand more -- is undoubtedly best for our health, for many of us frequent breaks to stretch our legs might be out of the question. That makes a comfortable, ergonomic chair even more important. By offering a wide range of adjustable features, ergonomic chairs allow the user to tailor the chair for his or her own comfort rather than forcing the user to adapt to the chair. A good ergonomic chair will feature adjustable seat height, width and depth; adjustable lumbar support; an adjustable backrest; and padded, breathable upholstery.
Unfortunately, the more adjustable the chair, the bigger the price tag: Ergonomic chairs with the most features can top $1,000. Aside from offering more adjustability, these high-end office chairs are often made with higher quality materials, including more breathable, durable fabric and denser padding. These are also built to stand the test of time and have the long warranties to back them.
Still, not everyone can afford to spend so dearly on an office chair. Luckily, there are well-reviewed chairs around $200 and under that can get the job done, they're especially appropriate for the more occasional use of the home office or if you also have the opportunity to take breaks to stand or walk. Even better, check out our report on standing desks for some great choices to pair up with your new office chair for the ultimate in ergonomic and healthy working.
How we chose the best office chairs
There are few detailed expert tests of office chairs, likely because the expense and time required to test them can be prohibitive. Still, a handful of sites such as TheWirecutter.com and Wired.com have made a stab at in-depth, comparative reviews. Amazon.com is the best resource for workers' reviews of how their office chairs stand up to daily use and abuse, especially for lower-end chairs that expert reviews and roundups often ignore. To pick the best office chairs, we evaluated all of these reviews by largely focusing on the two most important considerations: comfort and durability.
The best office chairs
While you can spend up to $1,000 or more on a top office chair, you don't have to. The market is packed with chairs around $200 and under that will offer plenty of adjustments to suit most people, including seat height and tilt control -- some even have lumbar support and adjustable arms.
The Ikea Markus (Est. $200) is a reasonably priced chair that earns very solid reviews for its breathability, support and durability. Tall and relatively sleek, the Markus has a mesh seat back and fabric seat cushion (except the black version, which has a faux leather cushion). It's available in black (a $20 upgrade), beige, dark gray and light gray. The black Markus comes with a silver frame, while the other colors come with a black frame.
The Markus has a high mesh seatback with an integrated headrest that reviewers say keeps them cool during long hours at their desk. The seat padding, however, was "the least forgiving among the chairs we tested," note Kyle Vanhemert and Michael Zhao of TheWirecutter.com. And while seat height and tilt are adjustable, that's about it -- there is no way to adjust the armrests, seat depth, or lumbar support. Though most reviewers say the Markus is comfortable despite these limitations, testers warn that the chair isn't deep enough for anyone who wants to sprawl out or slouch, and is probably not the best pick for anyone over 6 feet tall.
Durability, especially for the price, is where the Markus really shines. Vanhemert and Zhao say the parts "have a reassuring heft" that give them a much higher-quality feel than other chairs around this price point. Ikea's 10-year warranty is much more generous than competitors', but it doesn't cover normal wear and tear -- that's something you'll only see with much more expensive chairs.
Knockoffs of the pricey, high end Herman Miller Aeron are a dime a dozen, but reviewers say the Office Star Professional Dark Air Grid Back Managers Chair (Est. $180) is one of the most comfortable, reliable imitators. The seat has a mesh back and faux leather cushion, though you can also choose a mesh seat for about $10 less. Office Star also makes a version with a fabric seat with seven color options, but the eco leather version is available only in black.
The Office Star's seat is the subject of mixed reviews: While most users find it well-padded, some say it's too firm. More people are fans of the mesh back, which they say is supportive and keeps sweating to a minimum during long work sessions. For a budget chair, reviewers say the Office Star boasts a good number of features, including integrated lumbar support, adjustable tilt and tension, and adjustable-height arms. There is no headrest unless you upgrade to an executive model (Est. $300). Some shorter reviewers warn that the seat is too deep and too high to be comfortable on its lowest setting.
While many reviewers are pleased with the Office Star's durability, there are a few fairly common complaints: Some say the mesh is poorly stapled to the seat back, while others say the foam arm rests are prone to disintegrating. The seat has a lifetime warranty on component parts and three-year warranty on fabric and foam for any use up to 40 hours a week and 250 pounds.
If you simply need a chair for occasional use at a very budget-friendly price, the Boss Fabric Deluxe Posture Chair (Est. $60) could be a good pick, owners say. While its low price means you won't get a lot of frills, you will be able to choose from about eight colors. The chair's basic look won't win any design contests, but its small footprint could be ideal for smaller spaces.
Most reviewers say the contoured padding in the Boss chair is comfortable, though several wish for higher-quality fabric, saying the seat attracts lint and pet hair. The chair has built-in lumbar support, adjustable seat height and adjustable seat depth, but you won't find more advanced features such as tilt control and tension. Armrests are available for about $15 more. For the price, owners say they're satisfied with comfort, and its compact size earns praise from those with small office spaces who really just need a task chair for occasional use; and plenty of users to point out that this chair is not built for all-day sitting. Weight capacity is 250 pounds.
Durability reviews are mixed: Many reviewers (particularly those who use the chair only sporadically) say it has held up well, but some complain that the height adjustment mechanism is prone to failure and requires constant fussing. Others say the padding wears down too soon. The seat has a six-year warranty on component parts and two-year warranty on fabric and foam for any use up to 40 hours a week and 250 pounds. Boss also offers a 30-day satisfaction guarantee.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Ergonomic Office Chairs | Buying Guide | Our Sources