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Are you on the hunt for the best backpacking chair? Over a decade, we've tested close to 30 different models, with the top 14 in our current review. We evaluated each seat on its comfort first and foremost, identifying crucial elements of each product's performance. We looked at the stability of each chair on a variety of surfaces, and we set up and packed away each one over and over to assess ease of use. Whether you're heading deep into the backcountry or around the block to the park, we've got the perfect chair for you, so take a seat and read on.
The Big Agnes Skyline UL was our favorite backpacking chair thanks to its ample comfort and stability in a small package. The seat is deep-pocketed, meaning that you'll feel comfortable sitting with your legs in a variety of positions and won't feel your bum slide forward. It also keeps your back in a straighter, less curled position than most models. Big Agnes has a unique bent leg design that creates a wider base and seat while keeping the packed profile small. Along with its reasonable price, these attributes make it one of the most well-rounded products we tested.
This chair is still a decent amount heavier than the lightest chair in our review, so for those that are ultra-conscious about weight, 29 ounces may still be too heavy. We also found that the space-saving hubless pole design takes slightly more time to assemble than the hubbed pole models, but only around 8-12 seconds, so we're really splitting hairs here.
The Moon Lence Backpacking Chair is a value pick that outperforms its price point. It has a well-defined bucket seat that makes it lounge-worthy but not so deep that it's hard to get out of it. The square base is also stable enough that we weren't fearful of tipping over, and we appreciate the side pockets for phone and sunglasses storage. In terms of out-of-case performance, it stacks up well for its price point.
Having said that, we have some questions about its longevity. The seat fabric is stiff, and over time, this led to several pressure points. Attaching the seat fabric to the aluminum frame also takes a little finessing. Additionally, this chair is really gangly. It has a lot of short tube segments, and the legs are especially challenging to fold up and pack away. Having said that, for those on a budget, this chair is a solid pick for more casual adventures.
The Helinox Chair Zero is quickly becoming a necessary part of our backpacking kit and is our favorite chair for ultralight luxury. It barely misses being the lightest chair of its kind, yet it's significantly more comfortable and stable than its lighter counterparts. When sitting down into the Zero, users will feel the back support offered by the seat's shape and the security of legs that keep the wobble to a minimum for such a light chair.
The seat pocket isn't as deep as some, so we did find our legs feeling less supported and our bums sliding forward. You'll find yourself sitting pretty low to the ground, so this may not be the chair for folks who have trouble getting up from a low crouch. But for those of you wondering who the heck would bring a chair backpacking in the first place, we think this is the product that might change your mind.
Travelers and car campers will rejoice when discovering the Big Agnes Big Six chair. The spacious seat is wide and tall and offers a high enough back for a headrest, a feature not found on any other chair this compact and lightweight. Its size is enormous for the small 5.5" x 5.5" x 21.5" bundle it makes when packed up, and the comfort it offers may even cause you to take a catnap. While this is too heavy for most backpacking endeavors, the comfort and small packed size make it perfect for those that travel or dwell in a van, truck, or small RV.
We found the hubless pole design on the Big Six to be great for reducing bulk and increasing stability, but it does mean the setup requires a bit more focus than poles that spring into place mostly on their own. The Big Six doesn't neatly fall into the backpacking chair category for us because it's so heavy that most hikers aren't going to be willing to schlepp it into the mountains, but then again, it is small enough when packed up to strap to a bag, so maybe some will want to take it on.
This is not your dad's tiny tripod stool. The Big Agnes Skyline UL Stool incorporates modern backpacking chair design into stool form. The wide, scooped seat offers plenty of support and space for your rear, unlike some of the small tripod stools that have the unfortunate appearance of being swallowed up. The wide, 4-legged design with hubless poles allows this seat to be comfortable, stable, compact, and one of the lightest we tested.
Being that this model is a stool, there is no backrest, so you won't be able to lean back and fully relax, but our testers found themselves surprised at how comfortable they were sitting on this stool. For an elevated sitting spot that you can cook dinner from, share a snack, or take in the sunset, we are stunned by how much we enjoy the Skyline UL Stool.
While 2 ounces could be a deal-breaker to some hikers, the vast majority of even the most ultralight backpackers are willing to add the minuscule weight of the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat to their kits. It's hard to pass up this kind of versatility — this foam pad can act as your seat, sleeping pad extension, pack cushion, and more. Add in the fact that there is zero setup involved and that these seats are known to last for decades, and you've got a winner.
However, this isn't really a chair, per se — you are still basically sitting on the ground. If you find it difficult and uncomfortable to get on and off the ground, then this seat may not be right for you. But for those who just want a dry, warm spot to park their rear without adding more than a couple of ounces to their packs, the Z Seat could be your ideal solution.
The beginning of this review started with market research, which yielded an initial selection of around 50 contending chairs. From there, we purchased the most promising models and tested them for several weeks. Over the years, we have taken out close to 30 of the most promising chairs, recruited friends, and sat on everything from rocky cliff bases to desert sand to city parks. We paid attention to the comfort of each model during and after a long sit, how much work it was to set up and break them down, their sizes and weights, and how stable we felt on different surfaces. We think you'll find this review a helpful tool in narrowing down your options in a market full of excellent chairs.
Scores for each backpacking chair are weighted across four rating metrics:
Comfort (35% of overall score weighting)
Size and Weight (30% weighting)
Stability (20% weighting)
Ease of Use (15% weighting)
Backpacking enthusiast and lead reviewer, Elizabeth Paashaus has spent hundreds of mornings, evenings, and lunch breaks seated on the ground, which is enough to appreciate the comfort afforded by a lightweight camp chair. She has backpacked thousands of miles through the Appalachian mountains, the deserts of Southern Utah, and the high Sierra, both alone and with her husband and two girls. Elizabeth and her family can be found traveling the country, living in their converted school bus, seeking adventure through climbing and hiking, and enjoying our public lands as their outdoor living room. Support reviewer Ben Applebaum-Bauch is also an avid backpacker. He has spent hundreds of evenings in backcountry and front country campsites, parking himself on all sorts of seating. After 7,000 miles on some of America's most iconic long trails, he knows what to look for when it comes to ideal seat selection.
Analysis and Test Results
With so many backpacking chairs on the market, how do you pick the right one? In this article, we've identified the four most important qualities to look for in a chair. We rated each seat on how compact they are, how much they weigh, the comfort level after sitting in them for 30 minutes, their stability when getting in and out, the ease of setup, and perhaps more importantly, how easily they pack back into their bags. We weighted the metrics based on what we felt to be most important in a backpacking chair, with comfort being at the top of that list, followed by size & weight, stability, and finally, ease of use. Read on to learn all about our top performers.
Our team defines "value" as the meeting point between performance and price. Some products have superior comfort or versatility, but do their prices justify their performance? Others may be very affordable, but does their performance lag?
This review has a wide range of prices. Of the products that offer the best value, the Moon Lence Backpacking Chair stands out. This lesser-known brand still performs above average in most areas while keeping the price astonishingly low. Our favorite chair, the Skyline UL is on the pricey end but offers an exceptionally well-rounded performance with high marks in comfort, size, weight, stability, and ease of use.
Sometimes the simplest answer is the best. This rings true with the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat, which is a basic piece of egg-carton style foam. Despite its simplicity, it offers exceptional value for its low price, extreme durability, minuscule weight, and versatility. For the biggest cost savings, look to the foam chairs, which are almost always less expensive than tent-style models but can still offer you a padded seat to comfort your derrière.
Most of the products we test are performance-driven. They're lightweight, sleek, and designed to help you in your most adventurous pursuits. But this review is different. Chairs are for luxury, and they'd serve no purpose without comfort. To justify lugging a purely luxurious item around with you, it must improve your outdoor experience. For this metric, we evaluated the myriad ways chairs can be more or less comfortable and used these characteristics to rate each product against each other.
We found three distinct sub-categories within our review; the "tent-style" chairs with legs that sit up off the ground, foam chairs that either fold open like a taco or lie flat, and the twist style, which has legs that pivot around a central axis. The comfort between these three categories is notably different. Foam chairs are harder to get in and out of since they sit on the ground and they offer less support. Twisting chairs are also less comfortable, primarily because they tend to have a smaller sitting surface and no backrest. Tent-style chairs like the Big Agnes Skyline UL, Big Agnes Big Six, and NEMO Moonlite excel in the comfort metric since their raised seats are easier to get in and out of. Because they keep their form, it is much easier to plop down and feel supported.
When judging comfort, we also inspected the materials. How does the fabric feel on the skin? Is it breathable and ventilated? Not one of the taco-style chairs in our review has any breathability, and all use similar materials. Two tent-style chairs stand out for excellent ventilation: the Moon Lence Backpacking Chair and the TravelChair Joey with their large mesh panels.
We also considered what body position the chairs put us in. When spending just a few minutes in a chair, most are comfortable enough. But, for longer sessions, some chairs stood out for supporting the back. We compared the depth of each tent-style chair, as some tipped us forward more than others. We prefer a deeper seat that lets us recline and relax, like the one found on our favorite model, the Big Agnes Skyline UL, and on the luxurious Big Agnes Big Six. Comfort is decidedly lower in foam chairs — we noted that the PowerLounger curled our shoulders in and dug into our underarms the least.
Our testers took a few measurements for this category, too. We measured how far each seat elevated us off the ground. In general, the higher the seat is, the easier it is to get in and out, and the gentler it is on the knees and hips. We also compared how far back the seat reclined (or didn't) and the seat's width. Because comfort is a major part of this review, we allotted it 35% of each chair's overall score.
Size and Weight
Unlike our camping chair review, this review is designed specifically for portable chairs that can be carried into the backcountry or during hikes. We analyzed packability and weight for this metric, knowing that a chair would have to be pretty compact to make it into an already heavy pack on your next trip into the backcountry. We considered both the relative weight of each chair compared to models of the same design (foam or tent style), as well as how it stacked up against every product we tested.
We put each chair on a scale, brought out the measuring tape, and recorded what we found. Then we assessed if the bulk and weight were worth it for the comfort each model offered. The lightest chair in the category is the ground pad: the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat at a feather-weight 2 ounces. The REI Co-op Trail Stool is a lightweight in-between option at 17 ounces — it doesn't have a backrest, but it does have legs that keep you off of the ground.
A few of the tent-style chairs come in next in the weight category: the REI Flexlite Air at 16 ounces, followed closely by the 17-ounce Chair Zero. These tent-style chairs are lighter than any taco-style competitor we tested despite having legs. For those looking to keep your bums out of the dirt while shaving ounces, we'd recommend trying out these two chairs and seeing which fit suits you best.
Despite being light, we generally find the taco-style chairs harder to pack than the tent-style chairs that break down easily and store nicely into stuff sacks. To gather information about each chair's packability, we stuffed them in our backpacks, rolled them, carried them by hand, and strapped them to the outside to determine which, if any, are the most compact and easily transportable. The PowerLounger stands out here; it has a compression strap just for this purpose and is very convenient to roll up. It can be stowed beneath the lid or on the side of many backpacking packs.
We got a lot of feedback on the chairs in this review, and one thing quickly became clear: if a chair is stable, our testers didn't even think about it. If, on the other hand, a chair is unstable, it's the first complaint you'll hear. The sign of a great product is one you can use easily and effortlessly, and chairs are no different.
Looking first at tent-style chairs, some really stand out. The huge base and larger diameter poles of the Big Agnes Big Six, while heavy, greatly increase its stability. The Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair and Big Agnes Skyline Stool are excellent; they both have a wide base that creates a secure sitting experience. Sometimes cutting down the weight can decrease durability, but it can also decrease stability. We noted that most testers, upon sitting in the Flexlite Air, quickly threw their arms out to maintain their balance in this model with its uber-light fabric and flexible poles.
Foam chairs are a bit trickier to differentiate in this category. Because you sit directly on the ground, they generally offer the same stability as each other. Take the Z Seat; we aren't sure how to rate a piece of foam on the ground anything other than top marks for stability. The taco-style chairs, in one sense, are more stable than tent-style chairs since there is nowhere to fall, but we feel that because body tension is required to maintain an upright position, their stability ranks lower than most tent-style models.
Ease of Use
As a group of people who have wrestled with our share of outdoor equipment, we feel that the product you are willing to take with you will be one that doesn't make you want to pull your hair out. Sometimes we may be willing to learn how to operate a more complicated piece of gear when the benefits balance out the struggle, but often we want to be able to pick it up and have it work. Setting up these backpacking chairs is by no means difficult, but some models have the setup dialed in.
To put the chairs to the test, we first set them up without reading or looking at any instructions, and we attempted to pack them back into their bags. We were surprised that every model we tested had no issue fitting back into its stuff sack. Some were a tighter fit than others, but nothing compared to the notoriously difficult task of putting a tent back into its bag!
The chairs we tested from Big Agnes have color-coded poles and pole pockets for a quick visual cue during assembly. We love that the Helinox models include picture directions printed on the chairs, making your first setup as easy as your fifteenth. The REI Trail Stool can barely be easier. It just requires a quick twist and your bodyweight on the chair to set it up.
The foam chairs require almost no setup. If the clips aren't fastened on the taco-style chairs already, just fasten them and park your booty. The angle of repose is adjusted with a sliding buckle, and we found the models that allow you to cinch by pulling down, rather than up, to be the easiest to use. Even simpler is the Z Seat. Unhook the bungee cord — that's it. Seriously.
While we like to get out and get after it, we also consider ourselves experts at sitting back and taking in the view. We have spent weeks on end with all of these chairs, taking them everywhere we went, from Southern Utah's canyons to backpacking in the High Sierra to the lush Appalachians. We jammed out at outdoor concerts and soaked up the sun in the desert. We got to know each product in this review, from small details to larger impressions. We compared them all side-by-side, taking detailed notes as we went along. By evaluating comfort, size, weight, stability, and ease of use, we feel confident that you now have the information you need to select the best chair for you. Whether you're looking for the lightest option on the market or the most comfortable spot to park your bootytent side, we've got you covered.
We directly compare 19 different models and draw on...
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