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Front Runner Expander Camp Chair: The Most Rugged Camp Chair out there?

Updated: Jun 17


No B.S. Gear Reviews

We're committed to giving you brutally honest and no frills gear reviews, so, you as our faithful reader, can hopefully make an informed decision as to whether a certain piece of gear meets your needs. You won't find advertisements parading around as so-called gear reviews on OTG. We'd never recommend a piece of equipment that we wouldn't stand behind ourselves. This typically involves prolonged usage of said equipment in real world scenarios. Because who wants to buy a piece of equipment that is prone to break after minimal use? For this gear review, we purchased a pair of Front Runner Expander Camp chairs at full MSRP in 2021, and they've been used on dozens of trips. In 2024, we purchased the Front Runner Expander Chair storage bag, which has made it easier to pack these chairs away in the back of our Ram 3500 camper shell.

The Expander Camp Chair with the 2-chair storage bag bag
Finding the Perfect Camp Chair for Overlanding

Whether you're a weekend warrior heading to the campground or a full-time traveler, a reliable and comfortable camp chair is essential for every overlander. In the past five years, the market has seen a surge of new brands and innovative chair designs. It seems like there's a chair out there for everyone's needs. But which camp chair is right for you?

First, Figure Out What Matters to You

Before you go buy the lightest, coolest, or smallest packing camp chair out there, it’s best to first pump the brakes and think like a business school student.  What the heck do we mean by that?  All too often we see folks failing to survey what matters to them when buying a product.  For example, if you’re a full time overlander  you’ll be carrying a lot of gear and using your chair on a nearly daily basis.  It’s safe to assume that packing size and durability will be at or near the top of the list.  For the weekend warrior that goes on half a dozen weekend trips per year, comfort may be at the top of the list.  

Here are some common variables to consider: price, durability, weight, comfort, aesthetics, build quality, features, and pack size.

The Expander chair folds down to an impressively small size, approx 17x17x2.5 inches

My Priorities: Durability & Pack Size

I like to approach packing and preparations logically. Even when trying not to overpack, space is limited in my vehicle setup. This was true with my old Land Cruiser and still holds with my larger Ram 3500 and pop-top camper. With this in mind, I needed a camp chair that would be compact when packed with the rest of my gear. I also tend to be hard on gear—not that I don't take care of my stuff, but I use it frequently and don't have the gentlest touch. Overlanding is inherently tough on vehicles and gear. Durability was a top priority for my camp chair, along with a reasonable degree of comfort and quick setup. These priorities led me to the Front Runner Expander camp chair. It has been a constant on my trips over the last three years.


The impressive frame and folding hardware consists of heavy duty steel, built for the long haul.
In-Depth Look at the Front Runner Expander Chair

Front Runner, a South African brand acquired by Dometic in 2021, is known for designing and manufacturing high-quality camping and overlanding gear. The Expander camp chair features a folding black powder-coated steel frame and black 600D polyester fabric. Weighing in at 9 pounds, it's heavier than many options due to its robust steel frame. As of June 2024, the Expander camp chair is priced at $79.95.

Front Runner claims the chair is comfortable, extremely portable, folds in three easy steps, doesn't sink in sand, is comfortable at table height, and includes a cup holder. These claims are mostly true. However, the 3-step setup and breakdown process takes some getting used to but becomes second nature after a few tries.

Key Features

  • Rugged steel frame

  • Folds down to the size of a large laptop

  • Comfortable and extremely portable

  • Easy 3-step setup and breakdown

  • Comfortable table height

  • Cup holder and armrests

  • 9lb weight


This velcro strap keeps the chair in closed position while transporting it. The other chair is missing its velcro strap, which was due to user error (attempting to open the chair on numerous occasions before removing the velcro loop application).
Aesthetics, Build Quality, and Weight

At first glance, the Expander chair looks more like a director’s chair than a typical camp chair. Its elevated seat puts the user in a more upright position, unlike many camp chairs that allow you to sink in and lean back. The polyester material, though unremarkable, is rather tough. The heavy-duty steel frame adds several pounds but enhances durability. While lightweight materials like carbon or aluminum could have been used, Front Runner's choice of steel ensures a moderately priced, durable chair.

The chair's heft is noticeable, especially when carrying a pair of the Expander chairs for a short walk. Weighing nearly 20 pounds, the weight is evident. Despite this, the Expander chair's rugged construction suggests it can withstand years of use.

Another look at the rugged construction of the camp chair.
Comfort, Pack Size, and Features

The Expander chair is reasonably comfortable but not as cozy as other options due to its upright position. It's great for sitting at a table but less ideal for lounging by the campfire. The chair's wide metal frame footprint prevents it from sinking in sand but can make it tippy if you lean back too far.

One of the chair’s highlights is its compact packing size. Unlike most folding chairs, the Expander doesn’t fold into a cylindrical shape. Instead, it folds to a compact 17.5” x 16.4” x 2.4”, making it easy to pack with your other gear. It also features a single cup holder, two armrests, and a double storage bag with a carrying strap sold separately for $24.95. This bag provides protection and keeps the chairs organized.


The tough polyester ripstop fabric is damaged easily by embers.
Performance

After three years of heavy use, the Expander remains my go-to camp chair. It may not be the lightest or most comfortable option on the market, but its rugged durability and compact packing size have made it a mainstay in my overlanding and camping gear.

The 3-step setup and breakdown take some getting used to. Even today, I sometimes forget to undo the velcro strap that prevents the chair from accidentally opening when folded. If a small rock gets caught between the legs of the frame, the chair can be difficult to close. Over time, the chair doesn’t open and close as smoothly as it once did, but I don't anticipate it failing anytime soon. I expect that any failure will likely come from exposure to the elements, specifically rust after many years of use.

One of my chairs has already suffered the failure of a velcro strap, a result of heavy use. Despite this, the chair still stays closed during short-distance transport. The polyester fabric used for the seat, back, and armrests, while relatively tough, is vulnerable to burning embers. One of my chairs has several holes, including one about half the size of a dime, caused by embers. It would be beneficial for outdoor brands to use more fire-resistant materials, especially for gear that is often near a campfire.

The chair's hefty and rugged design is both an asset and a drawback. The heavy-gauge steel frame creates a robust chair, but carrying two chairs for more than 50 yards becomes burdensome. Unlike other camp chairs that can be slung over your shoulder, the Expander must be carried like a briefcase. Nonetheless, building one of the most rugged and durable camp chairs on the market involves making some trade-offs.


The ski-like base of the chair prevents it from sinking in sand, but it's also rather easy to nearly tip over when leaning back in the chair.

Conclusion

For the camper/overlander that seeks a camp chair that packs down to a small size, and is up to the challenge of standing up to many years of abuse, the Expander chair is a fantastic option, especially at what we consider a very competitive price point.  Those who seek an ultra-comfy or lightweight camp chair, the Expander chair is likely not going to be your pick.  Even though the Expander Chair is likely to remain in the back of our rig for years to come, that's not to say we wouldn't like to see a few improvements. For one, we'd love to see Front Runner experiment with other, more fire resistant fabrics. Another relates to its weight and portability. It would be nice to see Front Runner add some shoulder straps to their carrying case, so that the chair(s) could be carried similar to a backpack, making it easier to carry down the trail to a lake or river. Honestly, there's not much to gripe about this chair, and there's a reason that it's one of the more popular camp chairs among the overlander crowd.


Expander Chair Pros

  • Rugged, steel frame design

  • Extremely durable

  • Very compact pack-down size

  • Competitively priced

Expander Chair Cons

  • Heavy

  • Not the most comfortable chair

  • Can tip over when leaning back

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