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Best Ergonomic Office Chair

By: Tara Tuckwiller on December 20, 2017

The right office chair will have you sitting pretty

Ergonomics are very personal: The office chair that cradles one worker in bliss might (literally) torture the worker at the next desk.

A single ergonomic office chair can't fit everybody's body, but the Steelcase Leap (Est. $770 and up) comes mighty close. Professional testers and ergonomics experts recommend it more often than any other office chair – and it earns the most consistently high praise from owners, too.

Bottom line: It's just comfortable, testers say. The Leap doesn't look weird, or force the sitter into unaccustomed positions. Instead, it works with the user's body. The padded back flexes with the user's spine and has adjustable lumbar support, upper-back force and lower-back firmness. A variable back stop allows users to set the recline angle in two positions. Seat height and depth are also adjustable. A headrest (Est. $140) and fully adjustable arms (Est. $175) are optional.

The Leap's extensively adjustable features mean it can be customized to fit even the most pressure-sensitive worker's preferences. The Leap is available in multiple types of fabric and leather (leather costs $430 extra), with hundreds of color choices. There are also three frame and base colors, but depending on the retailer, you'll pay more for anything other than black. The Steelcase Leap can accommodate most larger workers, but the company recommends the Steelcase Leap Plus (Est. $1,245 and up) for users from 300 up to 500 pounds.

Reviewers appreciate the Leap's breathable, cushy padding – and the fact that the seat's edges are all padded, too, so they won't cut into the sitter's thighs. The front seat edge can flex 1 ½ inches, as well, to prevent thigh pressure.

Owners report few durability complaints with the Leap, saying the chair feels solid and materials are high quality. Steelcase backs the chair with a limited lifetime warranty (12 years on mechanisms, pneumatic cylinders, arm caps, foam, casters and glides).

The newer Steelcase Gesture (Est. $900 and up) adds fancier adjustable armrests, but it takes away other important features – namely, you can't adjust the lumbar support or seat angle, and there's no available headrest. Testers are divided: Some like it a bit better than the Leap, while others think it's a step backward.

"It is a chair that shows how difficult it is to improve upon the Leap," says Tomasz P. Szynalski on his blog Hope This Helps, after extensively testing the Gesture. For Szynalski, the Gesture's permanent, heavy lumbar curve proved "a bit too much." The Gesture's higher-friction armrest covers prevented him from using his mouse smoothly. Its thicker foam seat puts more pressure on his thighs than the Leap (a fellow tester finds the pressure "uncomfortable,"), and it makes the chair hot, too. "The Gesture is the hottest chair I've ever sat in, and I'm certainly not the only one who has this opinion -- some Amazon reviewers call it the ‘swamp chair,'" Szynalski writes.

David Pogue, writing then for The New York Times, finds the two chairs extremely similar: "You can adjust the Leap in most of the same ways as the Gesture, but it costs less." Wirecutter's testers agree – "In fact, were it not for the redesigned armrests and improved control scheme, the Gesture would pretty much be the old Steelcase Leap by a different name" – but they still recommend the Gesture as the best office chair, with the Leap as runner-up. "Considering how important proper arm support is to a comfortable posture and a healthy back, we think you can easily justify spending the extra amount for fancy armrests," they write. However, the Gesture lags behind the Leap in owner reviews at Amazon, with several owners wishing for a headrest and some way to fix the lumbar and seat tilt to their liking.

If you "run hot," consider a mesh office chair. The iconic Herman Miller Aeron (Est. $960 and up) does away with padding entirely, instead simply stretching breathable mesh across the seat and back frames. The Aeron was groundbreaking when it launched in 1994, and users say it really does keep them cool – but not everyone appreciates a cushionless seat.

"The Herman Miller Aeron is the most liked chair, and it's also the most disliked," ergonomics expert Rani Lueder tells Wirecutter. The main gripe? The Aeron's hard plastic seat rim. It's "murder" if you don't sit directly in the middle of the seat, Wirecutter testers say. "You can't sit sideways even for a moment, because it hurts to rest your leg against it," says Christopher Null at Wired. Pogue agrees: "Its sharp, rigid seat edges could lop your leg right off."

The newer Herman Miller Embody (Est. $1,260 and up) feels more comfortable, Wirecutter testers say. It uses the same breathable mesh, but with a springy underlayer and fewer hard edges. Testers find it comfy enough on the tush, but with drawbacks. Like the Aeron, the Embody tends to force you into a single position – "the ‘intensive working' position," Szynalski says. It also presses painfully on his and another tester's spine. Wirecutter's testers like it better ("very comfortable," they judge it), but they find it looks and feels "chintzy," despite its expensive price. Herman Miller backs its chairs with a 12-year warranty. The Embody works for users up to 300 pounds; the Aeron comes in versions for users up to 350 pounds.

The Herman Miller Sayl (Est. $510 and up), praised for its comfort and style, is also worth a look for those who don't want to break the bank on a quality office chair, but you'll need to resist costly upgrades to keep the price from escalating. The Sayl is ideal for a design lover because it is so customizable: A rainbow of colors are available for the chair back (some cost an extra $40), seat material and even armrests, and there are four possibilities for the base (although anything other than black is extra).

The Sayl's distinct webbed back was inspired by suspension bridges, and owners say they like the way it conforms to and supports their weight while still allowing plenty of airflow. Reviewers have few complaints about the seat padding and fabric. But many of the ergonomic adjustments standard on pricier chairs cost extra with the Sayl, and for that reason, some experts say it's best in home offices and other non-full-time settings. Adjustable arms range from $50 to $100 more, while adjustable seat depth and lumbar support tack on another $50 each. A tilt limiter is standard, but adding a seat angle adjustment will add $40 more. There is no headrest. Weight capacity is 350 pounds, but a handful of very tall users say the chair is uncomfortable for them.

Some reviewers say they're willing to accept fewer adjustments in exchange for Herman Miller's reputation for durability. Though most say it lives up to the brand in this regard, a handful of owners complain that the chair squeaks, and a few say the foam on the padded armrests breaks down too soon. Like other Herman Miller chairs, the Sayl has a 12-year warranty.

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