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“I can’t believe it. These chairs are not even one week old, and now look at them!”I was disappointed, furious and frustrated at the same time.
I was disappointed, furious and frustrated at the same time.
“How can they call this quality?”
We were sitting on a beach in India and had just spent the Christmas holidays with family in the Netherlands. After reading about our ongoing troubles with our chairs, Kampeerhal de Vrijbuiter in Assen, the store where we had bought the chairs, had offered us an upgrade. So we combined our family visit with a mission to replace some of our cheap camping stuff with quality gear.
Before we started our trip in 2003, we researched what kind of chairs would stand the test of time and would fit in the back of the Land Cruiser. I thought we had a good deal when we bought our fancy folding chairs with an integrated leg rest. But what did we know? We were new to this type of camping. We both had crossed Europe with backpacks and tiny tents but had never brought chairs. So we were blank so to speak and bought what we thought was going to serve us well.
After three weeks on the road, those comfortable, integrated leg rests were showing signs of fatigue, so I emailed the Kampeerhal de Vrijbuiter with a complaint as well as ideas to improve the structure. Over the course of that year the chairs gave up on other fronts as well. Over the course of that following year a few other little failures started to appear and after extensive email contact with the supplier, he was willing to send us a new pair of chairs as they were under their 3-year warranty. Only these would be an improved model as “ours” was out of production. Great!
New Chairs in India
So here we were, camping on a remote but popular beach known to overlanders as Agonda Beach in Goa (India) when, only after a week of use, our new chairs started to deform. The two vertical back support poles started to bend towards each other and eventually touched at the top. This was insane and I couldn’t believe the manufacturer was saying (per email) that they had never had a recall on this particular model.
We sent them photos of the deformed chairs. They offered two possible solutions. Either they would give us our money back so we could buy some camping chairs in India — which are non-existent — or we could return them when we would be in the Netherlands again, which would be in a year’s time.
Now This is Service and Quality!
Luckily my father would be visiting us in a few weeks so he could bring new chairs. This time our contact person went really out of his way after I had sent them an email saying we liked a particular chair at their competition’s store across the street.
Guess what, he went over to that store, where a staff member remembered us testing this one particular chair. So they teamed up and got us two sturdy De Waard camping chairs (De Waard is a well-known brand in the Netherlands for high-quality camping equipment). My dad brought them to India and we never looked back for more than nine years. Talking about quality!
Actually that’s only half true. Mine started wearing a bit and after five years I fell in love with a smaller chair with added back-support at De Wit Camping Store (in the Netherlands). Karin-Marijke’s chair held out great for nine years. And note that we aren’t talking about three-week camping trips per year. We’re talking about nine years of almost daily use.
Of course we have patched them up and had minor repairs done over the years: a few nuts and bolts here, and a piece of fabric there. But both were still going strong when we donated them to our friend Graham, the most hospitable Aussie in Ecuador.
Weak Elements of Camping Chairs
So if we donated our chairs to Graham, what are we using now? Well, we had discussed buying new chairs over the last few years, especially because we wanted chairs that took less space in the car, but since ours still held out we never looked for new ones. What we did do each time we met other overlanders, was checking out their chairs to see how small they packed and how repairable they were.
Now we had learned that a chair may look cool and sit comfortable but that if it has rivets and plastic corner pieces you can bet your ass on it that you will have a hard time repairing it on the road.
Where to Find New Chairs?
I fancied the wooden-made Byer of Maine Campain Chairs, which I saw Pakistan (in 2004). Our overlander friends Irene, Pierre and Tobias had used them for years. They even had a nice wooden roll-table to go with it. I thought that, one day, we would end up with a similar setup until we met Curt and Claudia in their fancy Zebra Landy and they showed me their Kermit Chairs.
I had seen the Kermit Chairs online but could find only a handful of reviews and some uninspiring videos. To me the chairs remained covered with a layer of mystique.
One of the problems with being on the road 24/7, at least outside the western world, is that is difficult to find shops where you can hold and use an item that you have eyed on the Internet. You can read all the reviews you want and ask around in the forums until your head spins, the bottom line for me is holding a product in my hands.
Feeling the weight, smelling the materials, looking at the details of the craftsmanship. How does it work in ‘real’ conditions? Can it withstand some abuse? What are the likely weak points? And importantly, can I fix it myself?
Kermit Chairs – Sturdy, Comfortable, Repairable
When Curt shook a bag full of what looked like big wooden Mikado pieces from three feet above the ground out on the grass, I cringed. ‘Go easy’, I thought, but clearly Curt was on a different wavelength and had the Kermit assembled before I even noticed what he was doing.
“Have a seat” he gestured. I did.
“My! Karin-Marijke, you’ll have to try this,” I exclaimed and got up to let her have a seat. I started looking to the mechanics in detail.“Here, try to set this one up.”
“Here, try to set this one up.”Curt must have seen my inquisitive eyes and handed me a small black packsack.
The choice of thin yet solid oak pieces in combination with aluminum hinging and connecting parts is outstanding. You can see and feel this product was not put together in a few lost hours. There must have been years of developing, testing and refining it. And for sure the designers must have listened to the feedback of the first users.
I instantly fell in love with the Kermit Chair. These were going to be our next chairs.
Meanwhile Curt had taken a similar black packsack, albeit way smaller, and put together a side table. The design looks cool but, in my opinion, the table is too small and too cumbersome to set up. Besides we have a perfect little bamboo table. So I decided to stick to the chairs.
The next challenge presented itself: how were we going to get two Kermit chairs to Ecuador? We weren’t going to test the red-tape efficiency of customs in South America again, so when I heard of Christophe Noel of Expedition Portal was going to fly to Quito for a motorcycle trip, I jumped on the opportunity and set the wheels in motion.
Which brings me back to Graham and how we came to give our Dutch camping chairs to him. After unpacking the Kermit Chairs for the first time, and setting them up at Graham’s grassy field overlooking Ibarra, I handed him our old chairs, knowing he would put them to good use.
We have been using the Kermit Chairs for three years now and while setting them up needed getting used to, I can now assemble them in complete darkness.
It still amazes me how small they pack away. If you have ample space and don’t have to worry about packing away a couple of chairs, Kermit Chairs would still be a perfect choice in terms of sturdiness, repairability, and comfort. $140 buys you a quality chair where you don’t have to worry about it ever failing on you.
I’d love to hear what kind of chairs you are using and how satisfied you are with them. Feel free to use the comments below to keep me updated.
(Originally published in 2014 / updated in 2017)