Since comfort is a personal thing, getting a good chair is often about finding the chair that fits you personally. It’s always worthwhile to try out a few options because what works for one person might not for another. In fact, the majority of the chairs we tested weren’t bad at all; frequently they just didn’t fit a wide enough spectrum of our testers.
As part of our ongoing mission to recommend high-quality office chairs at different prices, for our latest round we looked for chairs priced under $300 that met our criteria for adjustability (lumbar support, height, seat depth, armrest, and tilt/tension) and also had a warranty of at least five years. In our most recent research pass, we dismissed the Staples Hyken Mesh Task Chair and the Office Star ProGrid Mesh Manager’s Chair for a lack of seat-depth adjustability; we also eliminated the Staples Kroy Mesh/Fabric Task Chair and the Tribesigns T18 Ergonomic Office Chair over concerns about a limited seat height range (3 inches) or a too-high minimum seat height (over 18 inches).
We also tested the HON Convergence, but we found the seat a bit too squishy, with thinner, less durable fabric; on top of that, the mid- to upper-back support was not as good as that of the HON Ignition 2.0.
The HON Exposure was our previous budget pick. We replaced it with the Ignition 2.0 because that model offers a more comfortable seat, better lumbar support, a higher weight capacity, and a less boxy design for about the same retail price.
Two of the newest chairs we tested came from Steelcase and Herman Miller. These chairs look sleeker and do away with most adjustments in favor of attempting to automatically conform to your body. Some people liked them, but we found in general that being able to manually fine-tune the Gesture led to greater comfort and fit for most of our testers.
The Herman Miller Cosm (available in low-, mid-, and high-back versions) is a chair built with the idea that it shifts and moves with you. It costs about the same as the Aeron, and it scored well with our panelists in comfort, back support, ease of reclining, and overall appearance, but the Aeron still edged this chair out by a hair in all of those categories. We tried the Cosm’s new Leaf armrest design, which is more like an elbow cradle than an armrest; we found it comfortable for relaxing our arms at the chair but not for supporting them when we were typing or reading a book. Overall, we preferred the adjustability of the other chairs, as well as the other size options not available on the Cosm.
The Steelcase Silq boasts an adjust-to-your-body engineering design similar to that of the Herman Miller Cosm, but we found the chair to be less comfortable for sitting for long periods of time than other, comparable chairs. The Herman Miller Sayl, specced for around the same price with more adjustments, was more popular with testers. One size C tester found that the Silq pushed them forward in an uncomfortable way and that the armrests dug into them. This chair might be better as a task chair in a conference room or if you tend to get out of your chair regularly throughout the day.
Humanscale’s Freedom offers plenty of finishes and is a compact chair. The model we tested was fully loaded in leather and a polished aluminum frame, a configuration that retails for over $2,500. But that pricing didn’t factor into our blind testing, where our panelists rated it just average across most of the categories, including comfort, back support, and ease of adjusting. It has a very firm seat. On the plus side, the Freedom’s arms can lower to seat height, which makes it easy for you to get in and out of the chair and to fit it under any desk. If the sculpted foam design appeals to you, the Freedom might be worth trying out for yourself if you can find it at a nearby retailer and if you feel comfortable shopping in person.
The Autonomous ErgoChair 2 combines a mesh back and a foam seat for a decent (about $360) price. But this was our panelists’ least favorite chair, with one tester saying that sitting in it for 90 minutes “felt like an eternity” and another remarking that it might motivate them to get a standing desk. The back pushes you forward more than natural, the headrest is uncomfortable, and the adjustments are difficult to control.
IKEA’s Hattefjäll is a budget-friendly, $260 option that stands out from typical all-black inexpensive office chairs thanks to a gray, pink, or white cloth finish and a curvy design. We found the foam seat too firm, however, and we had concerns that the seat design—it’s Velcroed to the base—may mean it’s likely to collect dust, lint, and other detritus akin to what you’d find under a sofa cushion. Although the back is notably firm and supportive, because of its size this chair is best suited to petite people.
At under $60 at the time of our review, the AmazonBasics Mid-Back Mesh Office Chair was the least expensive chair we tested. It’s a no-frills chair with fixed armrests and a one-year warranty. Our petite-size testers had difficulty sitting in the chair comfortably and getting full back support because of the seat-pan depth. That problem, coupled with an extremely firm seat and an inability to recline more than about 15 degrees, led us to conclude that you’re better off saving up for a more comfortable chair. This chair might do in the short term, but you’ll have to plan on replacing it soon if you want to invest in a chair for the long term.
For previous versions of this guide, we also tested and dismissed the following office chairs:
The Steelcase Leap was once our pick for the best office chair and later became our runner-up. It’s still an excellent chair with a solid amount of adjustments and a comfortable back, but most of our testers didn’t think anything about the Leap separated it from the Gesture or Aeron. If you find one used for a good price, if you prefer the look of the Leap, or if you just don’t need the arm adjustability of the Gesture, the Leap might serve you well. Keep in mind, however, that in long-term testing we’ve found that the Gesture’s and Aeron’s seat comfort is better.
The Haworth Fern was a favorite of a couple of our testers, but others couldn’t get comfortable in it no matter how hard they tried. The biggest point of contention was the high back: The Fern is taller than the Gesture but not as tall as the IKEA Markus, which puts it in an odd spot. If you find the Sayl to be overdesigned but think the Gesture is too boring, the Fern is a nice in-between choice.
The Haworth Zody is a mesh-backed office chair with a foam seat cushion that comes in a few color options. We didn’t test it this time, but it tends to review well and is worth a look if you like a foam seat but want a mesh back.
Herman Miller’s Embody is a strange-looking chair, but when it comes to comfort, it’s one of the most adjustable, high-tech chairs available. Although the Embody is comfortable, it has a starting price even higher than the Gesture’s, it lacks the Gesture’s arm adjustability, and Herman Miller doesn’t provide the fabric variety that Steelcase offers.
The Herman Miller Mirra 2 is a good office chair that’s priced comparably to the Aeron. We think the Aeron is a better chair with a more comfortable seat and better tilt controls, though.
For at least one tester, the Steelcase Amia ranked in the top three among office chairs. Overall, however, its unremarkable design and limited features keep it from excelling. Priced between the Sayl and the Gesture, it’s a good option for anyone who is not willing to spend up to a grand on a chair but who still wants something normal looking and comfortable.
The Steelcase Think is similar to the Amia in that while none of our testers found it bad, only one person put it in their top three. It’s inoffensive, and the mesh back means it’ll be breathable in the summer. The cost is close enough to that of the Gesture, however, that most people considering the Think will likely prefer to move up to the Gesture instead.
Much like the Haworth Fern, the Knoll ReGeneration was a divisive chair. Some testers had difficulty getting comfortable in the ReGeneration, and they complained about the back of the chair pushing awkwardly on their lower spine. Others found the recline, which shoves your crotch into the air as you push back, a little awkward. If you’re the right size, though, it’s a good chair at a good price.
None of our testers liked the Steelcase Series 1, complaining that it was too short, the arms were too tall, and it was generally uncomfortable for sitting longer than a couple of hours at a time.
The IKEA Markus is a budget office chair that several Wirecutter staffers still own and like. However, in previous rounds of testing, it was universally reviled. Our shorter testers found that the high back made them feel like children sitting on a throne, while taller testers found that the non-adjustable arms were far too low for comfort. The Markus is still well-loved across the internet, so if you’re looking for an inexpensive chair it’s worth testing out at IKEA if you have the chance, but your mileage will vary depending on your height.