The best office chair for your health and productivity

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

By Thorin Klosowski. This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Ladders may earn affiliate commissions.

After spending over 600 collective hours sitting in 10 office chairs and talking to four ergonomics experts, we think the Steelcase Gesture is the best chair for most people. It features all the adjustments you’d expect from a great office chair, like height, tilt, and seat depth, and it’s the only chair with ball-and-socket style armrests that are easy to adjust and make comfortable no matter what type of work you do. In fact, we found that the Steelcase Gesture is one of the most adjustable chairs available—no matter how you sit or what you do at your desk, you can make the Gesture fit you.

The Gesture is an investment at over $1,000, but if you sit for long periods, the expense is well worth it for something that will likely last more than a decade—the Gesture comes with a 12-year warranty from a company known for durable products. That durability shows in the chair’s build quality, from the quality fabric to dependable adjustment knobs, and we’ve had no issues in long-term testing since we first made the Gesture our top pick over three years ago. The Gesture also has the widest range of fabrics and other finishing options, so you can customize its appearance for your workspace.

The Herman Miller Aeron is a classic, comfortable and durable, and the mesh back and seat make it a better option than the Gesture if you run hot or work somewhere without air conditioning. The Aeron isn’t as adjustable as the Gesture, so it’s not as versatile for different tasks, but if you mainly want a chair that props you up ergonomically and is comfortable for long hours of typing at a desk, the Aeron will suit you well. Like the Gesture, it’s an investment: With the options we recommend (medium “B” size, PostureFit SL, standard tilt, height-adjustable arms, and arm pads), it can cost nearly $1,000. But it also comes with a 12-year warranty, and because it’s been around so long, we know that Aerons can last for a decade or more.

If your desk is in a high-traffic area of your house or office, you might be looking to make a design statement. The Herman Miller Sayl is the type of chair that demands you notice it, and the range of color options let you make it fit—or stand out in—your space. It’s not as adjustable as the Gesture nor as comfortable for such a wide variety of tasks, but for standard office work, it’s on par with the Aeron. It has the same 12-year warranty as the Aeron, and while it doesn’t feel quite as bomb-proof (and while its soft plastic requires more care to keep clean), it’s still a durable chair. It’s also much less expensive than the Gesture and Aeron.

Not everyone has $1,000 to spend on a chair, or even $500. You lose a lot of features with a budget chair, but the HON Exposure makes the fewest sacrifices of any inexpensive office chair we tested. It has the standard adjustments we like to see in a chair, including depth adjustment, tilt tension, tilt lock, seat height, and height-adjustable arms, and it’s the only budget model our testing panel found comfortable for sitting longer than three to four hours. It’s not as durable as our other picks—we don’t see it lasting nearly as long—but for around $200, you get a solid chair that will at least be comfortable for the time it does last.

Why you should trust us

Before joining Wirecutter, Thorin Klosowski spent six years at Lifehacker writing about productivity and technology. He’s had a home office, complete with office chair, for over a decade. He’s spent far too many hours with his butt in that chair, including over 200 hours of sitting in chairs for this guide.

To help us figure out what ergonomics matter, we interviewed several experts: Professor Alan Hedge, director of Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory at Cornell University; Rani Lueder, the founder of the California-based firm Humanics ErgoSystems; and Jenny Pynt, a physiotherapist and the author of A History of Seating 3000 BC to 2000 AD: Function Versus Aesthetics and The Design and Use of Healthy Seating.

Since 2013, we’ve asked various staff to test and report on dozens of chairs; for this round of testing, we had six people test 10 chairs for at least one day of work, if not more. We also surveyed staff members who’ve owned any of our current or previous picks for their long-term testing notes.

Who this is for

If you work at a desk for more than six hours a day, it’s worth investing in an office chair that fits the type of work you do. (Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald)

14,000 hours. If you have a full-time desk job, that’s the minimum amount of time you’ll spend sitting over the next 10 years. Add the nights you have to work late, the weekends you’re called into the office, and those unfortunate occasions you end up scarfing down lunch in front of your computer and the hour count only goes up from there. We now know that any sustained ass-in-chair time can be detrimental to your health, but a bad chair only adds to the problem by putting you in positions that add to long-term risk. If you have a home office, finding a chair that makes your desk time more comfortable and better for your health is a worthwhile endeavor.

If you don’t spend that much time sitting in front of a computer, you don’t need a nice office chair like the ones we focus on here. If you just occasionally sit down to check email or play games, buy whatever chair you’re most comfortable in or like the look of.

Ergonomics expert Alan Hedge told us that finding the right chair is like finding a good pair of shoes: You want it to follow certain design principles, and you’ll of course consider materials, quality, and aesthetics, but ultimately you want something you feel comfortable in. Since everyone is different, for this guide we found chairs that fit a range of body types, but you should always try a chair out before purchasing.

A good chair might not be enough to save you from the problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Over the past few years, research indicates that the central workplace health risk is not in using ill-fitting chairs but in remaining sedentary for long periods of time—whether that’s sitting or standing. We outlined the scientific case against sitting at length in our guide to standing desks, but here’s the gist: Recent studies have shown that long periods of not moving put you at higher risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and a handful of forms of cancer.

How we picked

All the chairs we tested for the latest update. (Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald)

Before testing for the latest update to this guide, we combed through older versions to make sure previous dismissals still made sense. We scoured manufacturer sites for new models, then read reviews on Wired, Digital Trends, and a variety of blogs, as well as user reviews on sites like Amazon. Using the following criteria, we then whittled down our list of nearly 50 chairs to 14 models we wanted to test.

  • Comfort: All the experts we talked to stress that every person’s body is different, and finding the perfect, most comfortable chair is a subjective endeavor that also depends on the type of work you do. Rani Lueder recommends testing a new chair for at least 30 minutes in the type of setting you’d be using it—at home or in the office.
  • Adjustability: A more adjustable chair will ensure a better fit for a wider range of people. We looked for chairs with at least adjustable arm height, seat height, and tilt. Some chairs also include seat depth adjustment and rotating armrests; the best chairs also let you customize the tilt distance and the amount of force required to lean the chair back.
  • Warranty: Think of your office chair like an appliance, not a piece of furniture. Where a typical no-name chair might be covered for one or two years, most high-end chairs come with at least a 10-year warranty, meaning the manufacturer will happily replace anything that breaks. We looked for chairs with at least a five-year warranty, preferably longer. Similarly, where many expensive chairs have a warranty that covers just about anything short of theft, cheaper chairs have limited warranties that don’t cover normal wear and tear.
  • Durability and build materials: A chair should last as long as its warranty, if not longer. A lot of minor things can go wrong with a chair: The arms might come loose, a knob could crack, or a piece might break off entirely. Cheaper chairs notoriously develop weird squeaks and creaking sounds over time. If a material feels cheap or like it will crack under stress on day one, chances are it’ll be destroyed entirely by day 500. Seat cushions in particular can give out quickly, with cheaper foam leaving you with a chair that feels different on day 400 than it did on day one.
  • Price: The difference in quality between a $200 chair from a no-name manufacturer and an $800 chair from a respected company is significant. Most notably, chairs below $300 are made with cheaper plastic and metal, but they also tend to look bland and have shorter or less-inclusive warranties. Starting around $500 you get more-adjustable chairs built with high-quality materials, warranties that replace nearly anything, and a variety of color and accessory options to choose from.
  • Appearance: We prioritized comfort over appearance, but we understand that many people with home offices are put off by the bland blacks and grays of most office furniture. We considered fabric choice, color, and other customization options as a bonus.

Based on our conversation with ergonomists, we avoided two types of chairs entirely:

  • Executive-style chairs: Jenny Pynt told us to “avoid chairs that force your upper spine, that part between the shoulder blades, forward. So-called ‘executive’ chairs often do this.” Basically, you want something that’s supporting your back, not sculpting it.
  • Chairs without backrests and with partial backrests: Pynt pointed out a few other categories that often spell trouble, recommending against stools and other seats without backrests, at least as full-time accommodations, “because no matter how virtuous you are, you will slump.”

How we tested

Our panel testers sat in each chair for a day of work. (Photo: Rozette Rago)
We set up a whiteboard to make sure each tester sat in every chair. (If a tester wasn’t able to try every chair, we didn’t use that person’s rankings.) (Photo: Rozette Rago)
Every tester filled out a short questionnaire to detail their experience. (Photo: Rozette Rago)

To narrow our list of contenders, we used each chair for a quick hour of work, making basic adjustments and assessing overall build quality. During that time, we eliminated any chairs with obvious quality or sizing issues. This got us down from 14 to 10 chairs we wanted to test with a panel of people.

Because chair comfort is such a personal thing, we asked staff of various body types from petite to tall to test each chair at our Los Angeles office. Over the course of three weeks, we asked six staff members to sit in each chair for at least one workday and then fill out a questionnaire of what they liked and disliked. Once that testing was complete, each person ranked their favorites in terms of comfort and we weighted those rankings against long-term testing notes from staffers outside Los Angeles.

All testers ran the chairs through the same basic testing gauntlet, looking at adjustability, comfort, and durability. This meant sitting in the chairs and using them at desks and tables of varying heights. We sat in them while using laptops and desktop computers. We played video games, wrote emails, sat through meetings, and did design work. We sat in them properly and improperly, we aggressively twisted knobs, and we wheeled them recklessly around the office.

I personally sat in each chair for at least a couple of days of work, and at the time of publication have spent over a hundred hours in our current picks.

Our pick: Steelcase Gesture

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

The Steelcase Gesture is the best office chair for most people because you can adjust it for a wide variety of body types and it remains comfortable regardless of the task. You can rotate the arms more than with any other chair we tested, and the seat-depth adjustment is the simplest to use. The Gesture’s 12-year warranty covers everything that typically goes wrong with chairs, including the pneumatic cylinders, and it’s proven sturdy in our testing over the past three years of heavy use. The Gesture is expensive, usually selling for over $1,000, but it comes fully loaded with everything you need, and Steelcase offers a variety of color options.

Every one of our panel testers included the Gesture in their top three chairs, and half of them thought it was the most comfortable chair they tested overall. The Herman Miller Aeron was the closest competitor, showing up in four of six testers’ top three, but it was never rated higher than second.

Compared with similar foam seats, our testers said that the Gesture hits the right balance between firmness and comfort, besting chairs like the HON Exposure, which was too firm. And Wirecutter staff who’ve owned the Gesture confirmed that the cushion is as comfortable after three years of heavy use as it was on day one.

The Gesture’s understated appearance doesn’t draw a lot of attention, but that’s part of the appeal. (Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald)

The Gesture is also comfortable across multiple tasks—this is a chair built for more than just typing at your computer. Our testers include writers, editors, and photographers, and everyone was able to adjust the Gesture so that it was comfortable for the work they do, regardless of whether they were awkwardly hunched over a desk taking handwritten notes or casually leaning back during a meeting. I even spent a day breaking ergonomic rules, hunched over a laptop with my legs crossed, and the Gesture never punished me for sitting poorly.

What sets the Gesture apart from every other chair on the market is its incredible range of adjustability. Using knobs on the right side, you can move the seat depth forwards and back, change the tilt tension, adjust how far back the chair can lean, and move the seat height up and down. One tester pointed to the depth adjustment on the Gesture as the best of the bunch, saying, “I love the rolling adjustment for sliding the seat back and forth. It’s so smooth compared to others that require your body weight or standing up.”

All of the Gesture’s control knobs are on the right side and easy to access. (Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald)

Each control knob is responsive immediately, so you always know what you’re changing and to what degree. This is most noticeable on the tilt tension control knob, for which a quarter turn generates a noticeable amount of change in the force required to tilt back. Some other chairs, including the Sayl, require a full turn of this knob before you start noticing the difference; the Gesture’s immediate response makes it much easier to fine-tune the comfort. And unlike all the other chairs we tested, which have controls on both sides of the chair, the Gesture’s controls are all on the right side, so you can use one hand to make all adjustments.

The Gesture is shaped to match the natural contour of your back, and the tilt of the back attempts to support that natural contour. Most other chairs pivot back, but the Gesture’s back is designed to flex as well, since your spine has a different shape when you’re reclining compared with when you’re sitting up straight. You might not realize it, but reclining in your chair is beneficial. Rani Lueder explained, “[When] leaning back, not only are you intermittently relieving the loads on your spine [but also] in the process, opening up your thigh-torso angle. When you move, you redistribute pressure [and] you help promote circulation.” Our testers all agreed that the Gesture’s recline is one of the most comfortable of all the chairs we tested. You can add lumbar support to the Gesture at the time of purchase for $20, but the design of the chair makes it less necessary than it is on other chairs like the Aeron.

Most good chairs have armrests that can move up and down, shift back and forward, and angle in or out; budget chairs rarely give you even that much adjustment, usually allowing for up and down movement at best. The Gesture is the only chair we tested with ball-and-socket-style armrests that you can rotate and move into nearly any position. You just hold down a tab under the armrest to unlock the arm, and then rotate the whole arm freely to make it comfortable for whatever you’re doing.

You can customize the Gesture so it’s comfortable to sit in no matter what you’re doing. (Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald)

The arm support is important, according to Jenny Pynt: “Any posture where you are leaning forward from the vertical without arm support will require the back muscles to work overtime to maintain an erect posture, leading to muscle stress and resultant pain.” I found this useful for when I wanted to lean back to read for a while. I could adjust the armrests so it was easy to prop my Kindle right in front of my face. I also brought in my Nintendo Switch for a day and found the Gesture was the only chair that allowed me to move the arm rests into a position where I could play comfortably. I can also see the arms being beneficial for illustrators who might lean over a drawing tablet for long hours, or for anyone who reads often at their desk and wants the extra arm support.

When you’re spending this much on a chair, you want assurances that it will last, and Steelcase has a reliable track record when it comes to durability. Go to any office-furniture liquidator, and you’ll find dozens of old Steelcase task chairs in perfectly serviceable condition from decades prior. The Gesture, while more complex than older chair designs, has all the characteristics of a sturdy design: Nothing feels hollow or chintzy, and there’s no rattling and little play in the moving parts. Adjustments happen smoothly and predictably with no jerkiness.

And the Gesture’s high price tag is at least all-inclusive. Whereas other chairs—including the Herman Miller Aeron and Sayl, and even many of Steelcase’s other chairs—start with a more-basic design but give you the option to pick and choose the features you want (for more money, of course), the Gesture comes with everything you need. You just choose the material (from over 17 different fabric colors or leather covers), the color of the base, and the type of casters (for hardwood or carpet). You can also find models from some retailers with a headrest included. If you don’t care about specific colors, you can often find the Gesture for less than $500 at office liquidators online or locally. You’ll lose the warranty buying used, but the savings will likely be worth it.

The Gesture’s design certainly won’t turn any heads, but it’s at least not as office-like as the Aeron—and it’s unlikely to be as polarizing as the Sayl.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

If you run hot, work in an office without air conditioning, or live in a warm part of the world, the Gesture may not be the best chair for you. The foam and fabric don’t breathe well, and you may find yourself with a sweaty back on hot days. If this is an issue for you, our other picks all have mesh backs that are much more breathable.

The arm adjustments are typically pretty sticky and not prone to moving by accident, but Wirecutter editor Kimber Streams found that they have a tendency to slip if you lean on one instead of both to get out of the chair. The Gesture is not the only chair with this problem—you’ll likely notice this on any chair with sliding armrests.

While the Gesture is a comfortable and well-built chair, it’s not the ergonomic revolution its marketing materials suggest—fancy armrests aside, the Gesture feels similar to any other ergonomic task chair in the $1,000 range. What sets the Gesture apart is that it excels for people who switch tasks throughout the day. If you stick to one task, especially if sitting with a keyboard and mouse, you may be well served by a chair that forces you to sit upright, like the Aeron or Sayl.

Runner-up: Herman Miller Aeron

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

If the Steelcase Gesture isn’t available or you want a more breathable chair, get the Herman Miller Aeron. The mesh seat and back make the Aeron a better option in warm climates or for anyone who runs hot. It’s not as comfortable as the Gesture if you swap tasks at your desk because it lacks highly adjustable arms, but if you’re usually working at a desk with a keyboard and mouse, it’s just as good as the Gesture. The Aeron comes with a solid 12-year warranty and is built like a tank (and weighs nearly as much). The newest model is priced similarly to the Gesture, but it’s so popular (and it’s been popular for so long) that you can often find older models or lightly-used chairs at a substantial discount.

Herman Miller redesigned the Aeron in 2016 with new style of mesh weave that can provide different firmness in different places. For example, on older models of the Aeron, a foam piece underneath the mesh at the front of the chair provides padding against the harsh plastic frame. On the current Aeron, that foam piece is gone because the mesh is now a tighter weave that can stabilize your legs without help. The new Aeron also has a different lumbar support system with a fully adjustable dial and a redesigned tilt mechanism that we found more natural than the older model’s. The current Aeron is the chair we tested and talk about most extensively here. (It’s noticeably better than older versions, but if you already have an Aeron, we don’t see a compelling reason to upgrade.)

The PostureFit SL option gives you two lumbar-support adjustments—lower and upper—which makes it easier to dial in just the right level of support than with most chairs. (Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald)

Four out of six of our testers picked the Aeron in their top three chairs. However, our shorter testers found that the seat’s edge dug into their quads. This happens because unlike chairs (including the Gesture) that have one chair size but adjustable seat depth, the Aeron comes in different sizes. Our test Aeron was the “B” size, recommended for people between 5′2″ and 6′6″—which explains why our shorter testers found it uncomfortable. You can remedy this by getting the smaller “A” size, but if you share a workspace with someone else, you might not be able to find a size that fits everyone.

As long as you have the right-size chair, the Aeron is comfortable for long hours of work. The breathability of the mesh means most people won’t overheat or find a gross sweat stain on their back on hot days. In fact, the Aeron’s mesh has a springiness and breathability that some of our testers preferred. And compared to other mesh chairs in this price range that we tested, our testers found the mesh on the Aeron to be springier and more comfortable for long hours of work.

However, the Aeron is designed around desk work, and whereas the Gesture works around your bad habits, the Aeron punishes you if you don’t sit ergonomically. Try to sit with your legs crossed in an Aeron and you’ll find it uncomfortable immediately. Do so on a Gesture, and you might totally forget your legs are crossed until you go to stand up. For some people, the Aeron’s forced ergonomics are nice, but others might find the chair to be too rigid.

The Aeron is also not as adjustable as the Gesture. You cannot adjust the seat depth, and instead of fully movable arms, the Aeron’s arms go only up and down, while the armrests optionally move diagonally in and out, and forward and backward. The arm height is also a pain to adjust: Instead of just pressing a tab underneath the armrest and moving the arms as you see fit, as you do with the Gesture, the Aeron requires you to unlock the arm with a switch on the chair’s back, move the arm, and then lock it back into place. In an ideal ergonomic world, you would set your arm height once and leave it there, but most of us don’t sit perfectly all the time, and many of us switch tasks throughout the day.

The Aeron also allows you to adjust the tension required to tilt the chair back. For additional cost, you can add a tilt-lock adjustment to adjust how far the tilt goes, but we found the lock unnecessary. Awkwardly, the controls for each of these settings are on the opposite sides of the chair. Once you dial it in, the tension on the tilt is natural, and as you lean back you can feel the chair adjusting to keep you comfortable. This was my personal favorite tilt of the all the chairs we tested because it was the one I noticed the least—I never felt like I was falling backwards, nor did I feel like I had to use my core to pull myself up.

When it comes to looks, the Aeron is the landmark design that defines what most of us think of when we think of office chairs. The current model is available in a new Mineral color if you’re looking for an off-white chair instead of boring black. Our panel remarked that the Mineral model we tested looked less monolithic than the black version and might blend in better in some homes. You can also splurge on options, like a polished or satin aluminum frame, to spruce it up a little.

Because of the mesh seat, the Aeron collects a ton of dust very quickly on the hardware below. (Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald)

The Aeron comes with a 12-year warranty that covers all repairs and parts. Many of these parts are easy to replace yourself: Unlike the Gesture, which hides its moving parts, the Aeron wears its skeleton proudly. Glance at the chair, and you can see the exact bolts you need to remove to replace a piece. Compared to the Gesture, the Aeron feels much more durable and harder to break—it’s mostly metal, hard plastic, and mesh. (I’ve had a classic Aeron for nearly a decade. I’ve moved with it many times, including twice to different states, and it still looks brand new. ) This construction also means the chair is heavy, though.

For most people, we suggest the medium “B” size with the adjustable PostureFit SL, the standard tilt, height-adjustable arms, and the standard arm pads. This combination puts the price at $920 directly from Herman Miller, which is around a hundred bucks more than other mesh chairs we considered. If you want the fully adjustable arms to add depth adjustment and inward and outward movement, that will cost another $60. A Herman Miller rep told us that most people don’t need or use the tilt limiter or forward lean, and we found it unnecessary in our testing as well. But if you lean forward a lot, you may want to invest $100 in the tilt limiter and seat angle add-on.

We think it’s worth adding in the Aeron’s new PostureFit SL feature for $95 at the time of purchase. This two-piece design adds extra support for the base of your back, adjustable via a dial on the back of the chair, to help keep your spine aligned as you sit.

(The classic Aeron design sold prior to 2016 is still great for most people, and it’s still widely available at office liquidators and on Craigslist for less than $400—sometimes even new. If you can’t afford a new Aeron, or simply don’t want to spend $900 on a chair, old stock or used is an excellent route. With used, you lose the Herman Miller warranty, but if you’re slightly handy, you can replace almost anything on the Aeron with used parts you can find on eBay.)

The Aeron is easier to clean than the Gesture, Sayl, or any non-mesh chairs. You can wipe down the mesh easily, and the lack of crevices means you don’t need to worry about finding a piece of last week’s lunch jammed between cushions. If you have pets that shed a lot, a mesh chair like the Aeron might be a better option than the Gesture because it doesn’t attract as much hair. The mechanism below the seat does collect a ton of dust in a short period of time, however, so you’ll want to do a monthly wipedown unless you enjoy the post-apocalypse chic look.

Also great: Herman Miller Sayl

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

If the Gesture and Aeron are too boring looking for you, the Herman Miller Sayl is a chair that draws you in the second you see it. It’s comfortable, too, with a firm foam seat and a breathable plastic mesh back. It’s not as adjustable as the Gesture, lacking the highly movable arms and wide range in seat depth, and the arms are a bit clunky to move. But it has the basic adjustability most people need. It also has the same warranty and history of durability as every other Herman Miller chair, and at less than $600, it’s a good compromise between a cheap budget chair and a high-end chair.

The Sayl is comfortable enough to sit in all day, but its real appeal compared to the other models we tested is its design. The unframed rubber back provides a unique look that will draw the eyes of every guest who comes into your office or home. (It’s such a distinct look that it was even used in The Hunger Games.) You can pick between several colors for the back suspension, several base colors, and a number of different colored seat fabrics.

The rubber mesh back moves and stretches with you as you shift into it, and as the day goes on it provides plenty of support. You can purchase a PostureFit suspension system that slides up and down on the back, but most of our testers found this unnecessary since the Sayl naturally forces you upright. The seat is upholstered in high quality fabric and has a firm cushion that feels like it will last a long time.

Like the Aeron, the Sayl feels best-suited for single-task work at a computer; it excels in keeping you upright when you’re typing at a desk. Three of our testers put the Sayl in their top three, with one saying, “This is my favorite chair, it has a really comfy and adjustable seat, nice, soft armrests, and a comfortable mesh back.”

The unusual design of the back of the Sayl is part of its appeal. (Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald)

The Sayl has all the adjustments you need, but doesn’t go above and beyond that. Press a tab on the outside of the armrest and you can slide the telescoping arms smoothly move up or down, though the tab is covered in a piece of rubber that makes it harder than necessary to push. You can slide the armrests in and out, or diagonally inward and outward. You can adjust the tilt tension as well as how far the Sayl tilts back, but it takes a few turns of the tension knob before you really notice a change. At 16 inches deep, most people will find the Sayl’s fixed seat depth supports their thighs well enough, but if you need adjustability, an $85 adjustable depth lets you push the seat out to 18 inches.

The Sayl has the same 12-year warranty as the Aeron and comes from a company that has a history of making reliable, durable chairs. The Sayl is made of softer plastics and less metal than the Aeron, but the Sayl still feels like it’ll hold up over time. The mesh plastic back might look a little chintzy in photos, but after handling it ourselves, we don’t see any potential issues with it ripping. You might want to be careful with any rear buttons on your pants or dangling keys, as they could get stuck in the open mesh, though we don’t see that harming the chair in any way.

We recommend the Sayl with height-adjustable arms, a fixed seat depth, and no additional lumbar support. Depending on the seat fabric you choose, this costs about $580, or nearly half the price of a Gesture or an Aeron.

Budget pick: HON Exposure

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

If you don’t use your office chair all day, or you just don’t have $600 to spend, the HON Exposure is the best budget option we tested. It usually costs under $200, it’s reasonably comfortable, and it’s reasonably adjustable for the price. It’s a boring, bland-looking chair, but HON at least offers leather and fabric seat options.

It’s hard to get long-lasting comfort in this price range, but of the four budget chairs we tested, the Exposure was the only one that didn’t leave our testers in pain or annoyed at the end of a long work day. The armrests are a soft plastic with light cushioning that feels like they’ll last a while. The seat cushion is rock hard when new, but after three weeks we’d broken it in enough that it at least stopped feeling like an airplane seat—a step up from the IKEA Markus seat cushion, which even after weeks of testing still felt like a cushion you find at a bargain movie theater. The Exposure’s overall comfort is nothing compared to the Aeron it mimics, but compared to other cheap chairs we tested, the Exposure at least gets the basics right.

The Exposure’s strength is the adjustability. You can move the seat depth in and out, change the seat height, and telescope the arms up and down. The arms don’t go down as far as those on the Gesture, Sayl, or Aeron, however, and when the Exposure was the right height for me, I couldn’t slide it all the way under my desk. The armrests also can’t be moved inward like on the Gesture, Sayl, or Aeron, so if you don’t have really wide shoulders, you can’t move the arms in enough for them to be useful. The lumbar support in the back moves up and down, but none of our testers could even feel it.

The Exposure’s (left) cheap, black fabric is thin and less durable and premium looking than the Gesture’s (right). (Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald)

You can adjust the tilt tension on the Exposure, but you have to turn the tension knob dozens of times before you notice a change, and there’s not that much difference between the easiest tilt setting and the hardest. And when you lean back, just the back of the chair moves, unlike on the Aeron and Sayl, which also move the seat as you lean. The Exposure’s approach is far less comfortable, as it stretches your body out and makes it hard to keep your feet flat on the ground. But, again, these criticisms are in comparison with chairs that cost $600 to $1,200—compared to other $200 chairs, the Exposure’s comfort is commendable.

The mesh fabric on the back of the Exposure is thin and feels like the support will wear out over time. (Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald)

The Exposure comes with a five-year warranty, but it’s limited to catastrophic failures; it doesn’t cover normal wear and tear like the Steelcase and Herman Miller warranties do.

That said, the Exposure’s durability seems a little better than that of most chairs in this price range. The frame is built mostly with hard, matte plastic that feels durable (but looks ugly). The chair cushion is covered with a thin, cheap fabric that feels like the cloth you lay beneath a garden. (The company offers a version with a leather seat cushion that might be better in this regard, but we didn’t get a chance to test it.) Compared to the back on the Aeron, which has a tight weave that feels like a trampoline for your posterior, the Exposure’s mesh back feels like a camping chair you sink back into.

The mesh on the Aeron is much tighter and of higher quality fabric that feels like it’ll last a very long time. (Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald)

Most of these complaints are minor for a $200 chair. Chairs in this price range usually have a lifespan of a year or two before they start falling apart, and the Exposure at least feels durable enough to give you a solid four to five years, though we’ll need to do some more testing to confirm that.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendations or availability updates, you can read the full “Best Office Chair” guide here.