A comparison of pochade boxes and lightweight easels

If you want to travel light when painting, a pochade box is one option. Another option is a lightweight easel. Here are a number of pochade boxes and easel setups that you may want to look at. My main considerations are weight, the size of the palette, and how high you can get your painting. Ease of setup is also important since the main advantage of these boxes is convenience. Another important consideration is how you can carry your oil, acrylic, or watercolor paints, paintbrushes, panels, and palette, not to mention the other supplies you need.

Comparison Chart

When you want to paint “plein air” or outdoors, your first obstacle is to choose from countless different painting setups so that you are not carrying back-breaking equipment. Over the years I have purchased many different easels and pochade combinations, and I have listed the best of them in the table below.

Sun Eden Easel Sun Eden, Mastesson & Stanrite Combination Sun Eden & Stanrite Combination  Billups Box Art Essentials 10×12in Pochade Box Open Box M 11×14in Panel/Palette Carrier (without the storage box)
Ease of setup
Need to attach palette tray and palette box using slightly awkward clips.

Need to attach Mastesson Palette with bungee cord. Need to attach storage box to give system rigidity using slightly awkward clips.

Need to attach palette tray and palette box using slightly awkward clips.

Fastest setup of all systems.
 
Easy setup. 
Two nicely designed pressure knobs with easy to grip handles
 
A little awkward to set up since you have to use six wing nuts and thumb screws to open the lid.
Panel storage  
With this setup you use a separate lightweight panel storage box from Raymar. The storage box is light but has some design flaws. (see my review of storage boxes).
 
With this setup you use a separate lightweight panel storage box from Raymar. The storage box is light but has some design flaws. (see my review of storage boxes).
 
With this setup you use a separate lightweight panel storage box from Raymar. The storage box is light but has some design flaws. (see my review of storage boxes).

Stores 5 x 1/4inch panels or 10 x 1/8inch panels.
  
Two 8×10in (20×25cm) 9×11in (23×28cm) or 9×12in (23×30cm) panels are built into the pochade box. The only problem is that the slots are only one-eighth inch thick and if you use impasto paint, you can run into problems since there is not enough clearance between the two panels..
 
There is no built-in panel storage with this box unless you carry the separate heavy wooden storage box which they sell with the pochade as a separate item. I do not recommend getting this storage box if your goal is lightweight since it adds too much weight for hiking. The separate storage box is handy though if you are not planning to carry it far.
I have managed to modify the panel support part of this pochade to include two 8×10in (20×25cm) or four 6×8in (15×20cm) panels. This requires some carpentry since you need to do this yourself with strips of wood and brass rods.
Panel height  
You can get the panel much higher than a pochade and still keep the palette low down to save your arm tiring. You cannot raise te panel as high as with a Stanrite easel.

You can get the panel as high as you would want using the Stanrite easel..

You can get the panel as high as you would want using the Stanrite easel.

You can only raise the panel up to 3 or 4in (7 to 10cm) above the palette. This forces you into a high arm position while painting.

The design of this pochade allows you to position the panel up to 10in (25cm) above the palette -  lowers your arm position.

You can only raise the panel up to 3 or 4in (7 to 10cm) above the palette. This forces you into a high arm position while painting.
Box for palette, extra brushes, medium & paint
You need to attach a separate plastic storage box to the easel to act as a tray for palette knives and other accessories. The attachment clips are awkward to use and tend to break after a long period of use - the rivets come loose. It is best to carry a spare replacement nut and bolt if the rivets break, but you will need to drill the rivet out if that does happen.
 
You need to attach a separate plastic storage box to the easel to act as a tray for palette knives and other accessories. The attachment clips are awkward to use and tend to break after a long period of use - the rivets come loose. It is best to carry a spare replacement nut and bolt if the rivets break, but you will need to drill the rivet out if that does happen.

You need to attach a separate plastic storage box to the easel to act as a tray for palette knives and other accessories. The attachment clips are awkward to use and tend to break after a long period of use - the rivets come loose. It is best to carry a spare replacement nut and bolt if the rivets break, but you will need to drill the rivet out if that does happen.

Includes a tray for palette knives and holes in the palette for brushes.

You need to carry and attach a separate metal tray to hold your palette knives and other accessories. The metal tray with the system attaches easily by hooking over the edge of the palette tray.

You need to carry and attach a separate wooden tray to hold your palette knives and other accessories.  This wooden tray requires two more thumb screws.
Storing wet paint  
Need to carry separate drying box with removable palette.
 
Easy (includes airtight seal on palette to keep paint wet).
 
Need to carry separate drying box with removable palette.
 
The plastic palette can be removed and stored under water or in a fridge.
 
Store the wet paint in the pochade box and protect by closing the lid.
 
Store the wet paint in the pochade box and protect by closing the lid.
Palette size
12×16in (30×40cm)

or extendable to 16×24"

12×16in (30×40cm)

12×16in (30×40cm)

or extendable to 16×24"

The folding palette is double the size of the box
 
10×12in (25×30cm)
 
11×14in (28×36cm)
Weight
 6 pounds
 
6 pounds 15 ounces

 7 pounds 9 ounces

 Not measured
 
11 pounds
 
9 pounds 10 ounces
Summary
The absolute lightest weight system. Can carry two paintings up to 12×16in. With this system you can easily clamp a larger 16"x24" palette to the Sun Eden palette tray to give you a really nice large mixing area, for not much extra weight. The only disadvantage compared to the Sun Eden & Stanrite combination is that you cannot get the painting at eye level and you cannot tilt your panel downwards to shade it from the sun.

Best lightweight air travel system with head height painting support. Can carry two paintings up to 12×16in. This system also includes a tray which you can fill with water to keep paint wet. This saves you the weight of carrying paint tubes with you since you can put a lot of paint on your palette without the problem of it drying out.

Another good lightweight air travel system with head height painting support. Can carry two paintings up to 12×16in. With this system you can easily clamp a larger 16"x24" palette to the Sun Eden palette tray to give you a really nice large mixing area, for not much extra weight.
 
My favorite pochade, although not the lightest option.
 
Easier to setup than the Open Box M, and better painting height, but heavier.
 
Built to last with good materials. Slightly less easy to use than the Art Essentials box.

Pochade box details

You can read more details of each system. The important thing to note is that all of the systems require a different combination of accessories. Some systems require a tripod as well as a panel support. Other systems just need an easel that serves both functions.  Since the manufacturers do not add all the weight of the accessories into their specifications, the weight of the base system is misleading by the time you add everything up. This table will help you make a better decision on weight since everything you need is included in the weight totals. I’ve used all of these combinations in my search to make my load easier!

If you know of any other good combinations for travelling light, please let us know.

Summary

I use the following three systems under different circumstances. These are my top choices for each category:

  • System #1 - Gallery Paintings: Soltek.
    If I don't have to walk far, or I am working on a large or important painting for a gallery, then I will use the Soltek easel, with my custom designed gatorboard palette carrier and lexan palette (see Process Course Unit 6-1 - Plein Air Equipment). This is because I cannot compromise on my large mixing space.
  • System #2 - Compact Travel: Billups Box
    If I am walking or cycling around a lot looking for ideas and doing a number of sketches in different places, then my choice is the Billups box. The Billups box is not a really light pochade, but it is travel-friendly. The key winning advantage of the Billups box for me is the combination of all of the following:
    • the ability to carry 5 panels with thick paint on them without any risk of damage. Five panels is I think a minimum for a day's sketching.
    • the ability to carry all my paint for the day stored on the palette itself, without risk of getting it on the painting
    • the folding 10 x 24 inch palette, which is big enough to do a decent amount of color mixing (the palettes on other pochades are too small for me)
    • all of the above in a single compact box. I found my 10 x 12 inch box is just the right size to strap on the back panier of a bike, and I can sling the tripod case and bag with brushes in it across my shoulders. It is also just the right size to fit in a roller suitcase when I am walking around a town a lot doing a lot of sketching in different places.
    I use this box the most now for when I can't carry my Soltek for weight or bulk reaons. All the other pochades are bulkier than the Billups Box when you take into account the separate drying boxes you need to carry for 5 panels, and do not have the folding palette, even if some of these other pochades are a little lighter.
  • System #3 - Super Light Hiking: Sun Eden
    The Sun Eden is the best system if you have to hike a really long way because of its minimum weight.

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