The Best Office Chair
Our mission: Find an office chair that's customizable enough to support our bodies as we adjust our posture throughout the day. Eleven chairs and one week of sitting, swirling, and slouching later — we found the one chair that could effortlessly accommodate sitters of all heights, shapes, and sizes.
The most customizable and comfortable chair we tested — thanks to its unique 360 degree armrests and curved back that mimics the spine. It looks sleek, too. Testers were immediately drawn to its square frame and leather material. ($900)
The Best Office Chair
What makes an office chair worth nearly $1,000? Customization. We naturally move and change our sitting position throughout the day, and your chair should too. Chairs that confine us to one rigid or slouchy position lead to fatigue and frustration. The best office chair will shift and customize to fit both your physical shape and your changing postures, with a million different ways to sit in them.
The Steelcase Gesture checked all those boxes and looked good while doing it. It was the best at accommodating us when we rested back, leaned to the side, and perched forward. Our testers were instantly comfortable in the chair before even toggling the many adjustments. That’s all thanks to its flexible “LiveBack” design that conforms to your spinal curvature for consistent support. If you aren’t sure how you like to position your chair, the Gesture allows for lots of ways to figure that out. Each lever and knob is easy to find as they’re all lined up just on the right side — we found our perfect fit quickly, without needing to reference the instruction booklet.
For sitters that crave a big chair with lots of back support, we recommend the Raynor Ergohuman. Its tall, mesh back and curved stainless steel spine may resemble a praying mantis, but its individual back plates provide the best back and neck support. The mesh material also made the chair feel more breathable — good for those of us who run warm. Changing seat depth was smooth too; this chair shifted with our subtlest natural movements.
If you’re looking for a step up from the typical office chair you have now, but want something more discreet, go with the Steelcase Leap. It’s unassuming but comfortable and customizable — not to mention it can be found for about $300 cheaper than the Gesture. The Leap has all the other adjustments you could want, including a dial to increase and decrease lower back pressure — so you’re supported even while perched upright. Its only downside is that it doesn’t go very high. Our 5’7” testers were flat on their feet at its highest level, and taller testers disliked how much pressure that put on their feet.
How We Found the Best Office Chair
Our goal was to find the most popular office chairs and figure out how they earned their notoriety. We wanted to uncover the most comfortably customizable chair that could support sitters of all sizes, in a range of positions, for hours at a time.
So, we started with the 11 most popular chairs — ones that consistently top “best of” lists from Smart Furniture and Business Insider, plus best-sellers on Amazon.
- Amazonbasics Mid-Back Mesh Chair
- Flash Furniture Mid-Back Mesh Chair
- Herman Miller Aeron
- Herman Miller Embody
- Herman Miller Sayl
- Humanscale Freedom
- Ikea Markus
- Raynor Ergohuman
- Serta Executive
- Steelcase Gesture
- Steelcase Leap Chair
We perched, slouched, and shifted.
We wanted to find chairs everyone loved to sit on, so we assembled a team of 10 testers to spend a full workday in each chair, taking note of what they loved or hated about each chair.
While sitting upright is always better than slouching, the ergonomists we spoke to agreed: It’s best to change positions. With that in mind, we compared how easy it was to shift our posture as we leaned on one arm to chat with a desk mate, perched forward to take notes, or tilted back to read through our email.
Immediately we realized that our cheaper chairs were too rigid. Our Amazonbasics Mid-Back Mesh Chair only moved up and down; our Flash Furniture Mid-Back Mesh Chair let us lift the armrests — but we still felt confined to the default position.
We also paid close attention to which features made the most impact.
After a week of sitting, it was clear the best chair had to be more than just soft. One tester complained that the Serta Executive Office Chair “was squishy, but I felt the absence of lower back support pretty quickly.” Lumbar and back support are critical. When our backs were well supported, we found ourselves to be less fidgety, more focused, and simply more comfortable.
“If your job requires you to be sitting for most of the day, then specific chair features become more important. Those include lumbar and total back support, adjustment so that one’s feet can be supported by the floor or a footrest, and armrests that adjust both vertically and horizontally."
As writers who spend most of our day sitting, save for a few meetings, we noticed there were some features we never bothered with. Tilt tension, for example, is how fast your seat will tilt back and we found it wasn’t a priority for us. The speed at which that happened didn’t make an impact — it never threw us back or inched along.
Both tall and short testers valued chairs with adjustable seat depth and height. When the seat on the Herman Miller Sayl was too shallow, our 5’8” tester complained that half of her leg was hanging off. Shorter testers valued a seat that could also shift to that shallower depth so they could rest their feet on the floor.
And how easy it was to adjust them.
Levers too hard to reach or knobs too tight to turn were essentially useless — an additional adjustment isn’t a plus if we’d never use it. Take the Herman Miller Embody, for example. Its handles on the edge of the seat are supposed to adjust seat depth. After watching guided videos, re-reading the manual, and pulling as hard as we could, we felt stumped.
By comparison, the Ergohuman combines most of its adjustments into one easy-to-use handle. You lift to adjust the height, pull back to open the backward recline, forward to adjust the seat depth, and then move to the middle to lock adjustments. We liked leaving the seat depth unlocked though, so the seat would naturally shift back and forth as we reclined or sat up.
In the end, all of our chairs could work for someone, but our favorites work for nearly everyone.
Our Picks for the Best Office Chair
The Steelcase Gesture was designed with the idea that new technology and more casual work environments have created new sitting postures, ones that traditional office chairs don’t support.
Steelcase claims to have “deconstructed the chair” and returned “to the essence of the sitting experience.” While the Gesture is by no means a revolution, its design is more customizable than any other chair we tested.
The Gesture’s armrests are meant to mimic natural arm movement, so they can shift and rotate in any direction. All the other adjustments are on the right side of the chair, so you won’t be blindly tapping around for the seat tilt only to accidentally plunge the seat down instead. To adjust seat depth on other chairs, you have to lift a lever while also lifting part of your body and sliding back and forth. (The Steelcase Leap and Humanscale Freedom are a few of the guilty.) On the Gesture, adjusting seat depth is handled with a simple dial — no half thigh lifting or scooting necessary.
The Gesture has what the company calls a “3D LiveBack” — a curved, flexible back that moves with you. The slits in the plastic bend and tilt with your lower back. Its sliding lumbar support strap supports that one spot in your spine that always rests just off the chair. The only drawback: The strap is a bit tough to slide up and down behind you.
We found its range of easy adjustments made the chair immediately comfortable. Our testers described it as instantly luxurious and pleasantly firm. There’s a satisfying sturdiness from the Gesture that demonstrates its well-built construction — no flimsy plastic or creaking hinges here. It’s a great chair for someone who frequently changes positions.
We liked that you can choose from an endless range of custom colors and materials too. We chose the espresso-colored leather — testers thought it would fit perfectly in a mahogany-rich library. But if you want something more suited for a station on the USS Enterprise, it can also come in orange fabric with a platinum metallic frame. Those customizations come at a high price though, ranging from $900 to $1,300 depending on materials.
Though the Raynor Ergohuman may resemble something out of an alien’s dentist office, we promise it’s comfortable. In fact, it has the most consistent back support. Its two adjustable back plates mimic the natural curvature of the spine, which makes it great for people with chronic back pain. A back rest that doesn’t move with your back will create fatigue and discomfort.
You can take the armrests off. The Raynor Ergohuman lets you easily unscrew and remove the armrests for unobstructed twisting or for a wider sitter. Other brands, like both Steelcase chairs, often let you purchase the chair without the armrest.
Rather than curving to mimic the spine like the Steelcase Gesture, the Raynor’s shape inverts the spine’s curve to meet your back in all the right places. The lumbar support section, for example, protrudes gently into your lower back and moves with you to support your back even when perched in your seat. Some testers felt the chair was actually too supportive, like they were being pushed out of their seat.
We weren’t sure if we’d like headrests — only a few of our chairs had them, and they looked excessive. But the Raynor’s sits nicely into the nape of your neck and supports it without the need to lean back. You likely wouldn’t use it when sitting forward, but after straining your neck to look down at a phone or focusing into a laptop, that rest felt great.
The Ergohuman’s design might seem more lounge-like, but for those who value conforming back support or prefer the breathability of mesh fabric, the Raynor Ergohuman is a solid (and slightly more affordable) choice. This chair retails for around $620, a fair price in the world of office furniture.
Of our favorites, the Leap most resembles the typical task or office chair. It doesn’t look as high-tech as the Gesture, but it’s almost as ergonomic. It uses the same 3D LiveBack design paired with a sliding adjustable lumbar strap, but also goes a step further and includes a dial for lower back firmness. It takes those LiveBack bars of plastic along the lower back and allows you to tighten or loosen them together to increase or decrease lower back pressure. This adjustment makes it easy to sit with good posture, but still rest against the chair.
Testers also commended its well-cushioned support and said it was comfortable enough to use for long hours. The Leap’s armrests are slightly more limited than our other favorites — you can’t swing them out wide like the Gesture. But it’s still easy to adjust; if you’re not sure which lever to pull, there are well-hidden guides under the armrests.
However, the Leap’s biggest flaw will be a dealbreaker for anyone over 5’7”. Its maximum height was a full 2 inches shorter than other chairs. For our taller sitters, this not only put their feet flat on the floor, but also kept their knees slightly angled. Brand new, the Leap can retail anywhere from $600-950. But because the Leap has been around for so long, you can usually find it used or discounted for significantly less, around $300, in local furniture stores or on sites like Ebay.
Did You Know?
There’s a right way to sit in your chair.
Purchasing a fancy chair isn’t going to immediately solve any workstation-related health issues; you have to be mindful of how you’re using that chair.
OSHA has a few tips — like keeping your elbows close, wrists rested parallel, feet placed on the floor, and your shoulders relaxed. You’ll also want to be sure your monitor is tilted slightly up, so your neck isn’t craned forward.
However, Gary Allread, program director at Ohio State University’s Spine Research Institute, says the most important thing is to keep moving: “The prevailing mantra these days in the ergonomics community is, ‘The next posture is the best posture.’ Change is good, because, in this case, it allows different muscles to be used to provide the support while other muscles can rest and recover.”
You can adjust nearly everything on an ergonomic chair.
Ergonomic chairs boast a variety of adjustment features that slightly change the structure of the chair. Here’s what those adjustments actually do:
- Seat Depth: The seat will slide forward and backward to support different legs lengths and provide distance between your tailbone and the lower back of the chair.
- Tilt Lock: Back stops let you lock how far back the chair goes.
- Tilt Tension: The speed and pressure of the chair’s recline function.
- Height: The height of the chair from the seat to the floor.
- Armrests: Adjustable armrests let you raise and lower, move forward and back, shift inward and outward at an angle, and sometimes swing out wide.
- Lumbar: The pressure support along the lower half of the back, lifted up or down to conform to spinal curve.
No, sitting isn’t the new smoking.
Recent health think-pieces claimed that sitting all day can lead to obesity and raised blood pressure.
While that sounds scary, the solution to those health risks associated with sitting is simple: Stay moving. Experts recommend a combination of both sitting and standing throughout the day and taking frequent breaks to walk around. While standing desks have become more popular, standing all day comes with its own health risks — such as hip and knee fatigue, plantar fasciitis, and varicose veins. So don’t feel like you have to completely give up sitting or convert to standing all day. Just keep moving.