|Thomas Cole's paint box|
|Heilman "Backpack" pastel box, mounted on tripod (in Jerome, Arizona)|
The main thing I'm looking for in an easel is stability and sturdiness. It has to be able to stand up to the wind and to my innate clumsiness. If it doesn't meet these basic qualifications, I don't use it.
I have three basic easels I use. First, is my 9x12 Guerrilla Painter box. It's well-built, holds all my paint and panels, and fits on an easily-detached tripod, making it very portable. If I don't want to bother with the tripod, I can use it in my lap or on a picnic table. Although I've added an optional part that lets me put up to a 12x16 panel on it, I typically use it for 9x12 panels and smaller.
|9x12 Guerrilla Painter pochade box for oil, mounted on tripod ( at Zion National Park)|
Second is my Gloucester-style easel. Thanks to its three long legs and two crossbars, it'll stand up to a gale. I have to carry a separate palette box - I use an Easyl Classic for this - which fits on the crossbars. I use bungee cords to secure it. The Gloucester-style easel will also hold a huge canvas. I've painted as large as 24x30 on it, and I know it will go much bigger. (Pictured below is the Beauport, but because of a number of issues with this Chinese knockoff, I recommend the American-made Take-It-Easel.)
|Gloucester-style easel, with separate paint box on crossbars (on Campobello Island, NB)|
|Mabef French easel (in Sedona, Arizona)|
The best advice I can give for someone looking for a good easel or pochade box is to take a workshop. At workshops, not only can use see what the instructor likes to use, but you can also see what the other students are using. Usually, at my workshops, I'll see a half-dozen setups. It's a great way to evaluate them without having to buy one of each!