Testing Scheel-Mann Seats for Overland Travel

Overlanders are a curious breed. We’ll lament quality versus price, vintage versus modern, what-everyone-else-has versus unique, spending months grappling with the decision as to how to best spend our precious money. Over the years, I’ve observed the items most likely to be quickly upgraded, irrespective of cost, are tires, wheels, and suspension—the predominate logic being that those items are in constant use—since if the vehicle is moving, those items matter all the time as the upgrade is instantly and constantly noticeable. In business terms, one gets immediate value and utility so the ROI is positive and quick. I can’t find fault with that as my inner MBA agrees with it. However, why then do people struggle with the decision to upgrade their seats? After all, the same logic applies: if your vehicle is moving, then your butt is in that seat 100 percent of the time.

I’m not throwing shade here as I fall into this same camp. I purchased all sorts of kit for my rig while going on many explorations—shifting in my seat and stopping to stretch my sore back multiple times per day. I had never seriously considered a seat upgrade and what it could do for me until 2017 when our adventures were getting longer and my back was getting sorer. We were on a multi-state overland trip and I was starting to pop Tylenol to just finish out the day and do some hiking. I was complaining to friends, and they started suggesting a seat upgrade. So, after that trip, my research started with multiple brands and styles. We attended some local off-road expositions and sampled several brands, all with very reasonable price points. But none of them felt like an improvement over my factory GM seats, and some I felt would actually be a downgrade from my factory seats.

Then, I stumbled across a gear review Chris Cordes had written regarding a set of Scheel-Mann Vario F XXL seats and, paraphrasing, they were the best thing since quinine and tonic water hooked up with gin and lime. So, I made arrangements to meet Chris at Overland Expo West to sit in his seats and, while there, to meet with Toby Pond, the Scheel-Mann-USA rep.

Opening the doors to Chris’ rig, the first thing that jumped out at us was the Scheel-Mann seats as their appearance is stunning—very stylish in design with high-quality materials, yet the conveyed message is all business. My partner, Michelle, always complains about how uncomfortable my factory seats are. So when we sat in Chris’ seats, we were instantly impressed with the support, feel, and overall comfort. We twisted the multitude of knobs on the sides to determine what adjusted where (sorry Chris) and were very impressed with the seat’s configurability. However, I did not like how high the seatback was, so that was very discouraging.

Finding Toby, he arranged for us to sample a set installed in a customer vehicle while he explained all of the features, materials, adjustments, and ergonomics. He also explained the seats in Chris’ truck were the XXL version, featuring a 3-inch taller seat back than the regular Vario F. It turns out Chris is 6’4” while I’m 6’1”, so, size matters. Toby took a ton of time with us and never made us feel like we were keeping him from other business tasks.

Toby reviewed Scheel-Mann’s offerings: multiple seat models, all custom made in Germany (you can choose fabric type, color, stitching color, heater, and armrests) at varying price points ranging from just under $1,000/each up to $1,995/ea. The price can increase with integrated seat belts and a few other options. Go ahead, say it with me, “For a SEAT?!?!?!”. I completely understand your sentiment and use of stronger expletives as I’m not a member of the “Money is No Object” crowd, so price point is a big deal to me. The different seat models are (priced lowest to highest) the Sportline, Touring, Traveler, and Vario with each featuring multiple variants. The main difference being you get more adjustability as you move up the product line to the fully adjustable Vario. Guess which one I liked? Of course, such is my life.

Scheel-Mann seats are ergonomically designed and the Vario is the granddaddy of them all. Ten-way adjustable, the Vario is ultimately configurable with key features being the lower cushion adjustment to match your femur length, adjustable upper bolsters to support your torso, and the unique four-way lumbar support that not only changes how much support pressure you feel but also where on your back that support is positioned. The F variant has shorter lower-side bolsters to allow for easier vehicle ingress and egress. To say these seats achieve a personalized fit is not an exaggeration.

Driving home from Arizona, still shifting in my seat and complaining about my back while lamenting the expense of something that I felt didn’t add to my vehicle’s capability or reliability, Michelle gave me a lecture on how much money I’ve spent on “just in case” pieces of equipment like a winch, recovery boards, recovery kit, etcetera. Her point being, I’d spent far more money, without hesitation, on products that I may only seldom use compared to spending money on something we would use every single time we got in my Avalanche. She was right, and made a very salient point: as expensive as the seats are, they would offer immediate and constant value and make every trip more enjoyable. Touché.

After reviewing my savings, I called Toby and ordered a pair of Vario F seats, all black, with cloth center, armrests, heaters, and the adjustable sliders—and yes, the cost hurt. However, upon receiving them, the quality and style are second to none. After install, the interior of my truck was transformed: they are stunning. Then I sat in them and my body instantly noticed the upgrade. It took us about 30 minutes of twisting knobs to get them close to perfect and another few adjustments while driving, and that’s it—dialed in. Our first trip in the new Scheel-Mann Vario F seats was a month-long 4,700-mile affair, and never once did I feel the need to stop and stretch my back or shift in my seat while driving. Offroad, I feel fully supported and confidently planted in the seat. Most notably, after driving a full day, upon exiting my rig it took a moment to realize what was missing: the normal hip, back, and knee pain/fatigue were just not there.

I’ve used the Scheel-Mann Vario F for 3 years now and they still look and feel like new. Over the years there have been some purchases I have regretted, but the Vario F seat isn’t one of them. I often get asked what my favorite piece of kit is, to which my reply is, “my Scheel-Mann seats.” Looking back, my only regret about the Scheel-Mann seats is that I didn’t purchase them sooner. scheel-mann.com


Hailing from California, Billy grew up enjoying the outdoors. His first remote exploration trip was in the ‘80s with his girlfriend’s family in their Scout to Death Valley. A certified Master Diver, he has worked in water search and rescue, and is now a corporate supply chain strategist and planning professional. His lifestyle of outdoor exploring, hiking, and camping morphed into overlanding after discovering Overland Journal at a bookstore. Inspired by Jonathan Hanson’s Fractal Exploration, he is championing that philosophy (with Jonathan’s encouragement) and is happiest when overlanding with his soulmate Michelle (same girl from the ‘80s trip) in their fully kitted Chevy Avalanche sharing skills exploring remote locations and making new friends along the way.