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Hands-on Gear Review
Big Agnes Helinox Chair One Review
Cons: Neck support is lacking as is stability, bigger price tag
Bottom line: While this chair is not the cream of the crop, it is highly portable and scores above average in each metric.
The Big Agnes Helinox Chair One earned our award for Best Portable Camping Chair. Though it is not the lightest or most compact camping chair we tested, we found it to be the most comfortable, the most stable and the most durable of all the compact models we tested in this review. If you are searching for a simple, light, and portable chair for backcountry use, we recommend reading our review of the best backpacking chairs. Nearly as light as some of the chairs in the backpacking review, the Chair One does an outstanding job of balancing comfort with "front country" use with ease of transportation. Additionally, this contender has a well-ventilated mesh backing, provides excellent lower back support, and has a medium-high seat height (especially for a portable model), making it easier to get in and out. If you're seeking a chair that's light enough to carry long distances, but offers more comfort than the simple backpacking models, then read on to see why our Best Portable Camping Chair is an excellent choice for you!
If you are trying to find more compact and lightweight chairs, we recommend checking out our Backpacking Chair Review in addition to this review. However, if you're seeking a model that's light enough to carry long distances, but offers more comfort than the super light backpacking models, then our Top Pick for Portability is a great choice for you!
RELATED REVIEW: 14 of the Best Camping Chairs
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Big Agnes Helinox Chair One embodies some of the best qualities of a portable chair but still has some inherent drawbacks. Compared to the other mobile models, our testers thought that the Chair One was more comfortable and stable than the all the other portable camping chairs, and about on par with the comfort of the REI Camp X. Not surprisingly, the Chair One was less comfortable than many of the traditional model chairs, but if you're reading this review, you're probably not looking for a giant hulking seat to lug around. Fortunately for you, the Chair One is quite light and packs down into a pouch that is slightly larger than a two-liter water bottle. Weighing 1 lb 14 oz, we fully recognize that this competitor is not the lightest portable camping chair in this review. In fact, it ties for third lightest; the Helinox Chair Zero takes the prize for lightest, followed by the REI Co-op Flexlite). Overall, we found this chair to be the most comfortable and stable while retaining a high level of portability.
Seeing how the Helinox Chair One (shown in blue) compared to the rest of the camping chairs - especially the portable camping chairs - it's easy to see why this compact chair won our award for Best Portable Camping Chair.
Discussing the Helinox's comfort is a bit of a challenge, as there were a wide variety of types of chairs included in this review and comfort is such a personal preference. Though comparing a small seat like the Chair One to a luxurious throne like the Alps Mountaineering King Kong can seem like comparing a bar stool to a La-Z-Boy, there is much to be said about the comfort of the Chair One around a campfire. The seat's fabric is taut enough to provide good lower back support and has several mesh panels to help you stay cool on a hot day.
Additionally, assuming you don't slouch, this chair is angled reasonably upright, allowing your neck to rest in an upright position without needing to crane forward. This made the chair much more functional because you could easily eat or read without having to readjust your position. Most testers felt the Helinox felt a little less like a hammock than the Alite Mantis or the Helinox Chair Zero due to its increased support. One of our favorite features of the Chair One was how stable it felt to sit in compared to all the other portable camping chair models. While some other camping chairs let reviewers fall over backward when stretching their arms, or dumped them out sideways when they reached for a fourth hot dog, the Chair One was consistently reliable.
Despite these pros, we also noticed some comfort cons. Specifically, the chair's compact design can feel like it's squishing you into the curved shape of the dancing, flute-playing Kokopelli. This problem is height dependent: testers taller than 5'8" didn't experience the shoulder cramming feeling because their shoulders cleared the back of the chair. If you're shorter, you'll likely find tasks like eating or holding a book with two hands to be less comfortable. The thick canvas sides either hold your arms in like a straightjacket or create uncomfortable pressure points as arm rests. It's also important to note that the seat of the Chair One is rather low to the ground - particularly compared to the larger camping chair models but even compared to some of the other portable models that we tested. At a mere 10 inches from the ground, this chair may present a challenge to those trying to get out of it gracefully - even more so if you're sitting on soft ground, where the tiny chair legs easily sink. Overall, we found the Chair One to be one of the most comfortable and stable portable camping chairs in this review - we give it a 7 out of 10.
This is all fine and dandy, you say, but how does it compare to the comfort of the Moon Lence, a chair that, side-by-side, appears nearly identical in size and shape to the Chair One? That is an excellent question and one that we took extra time to evaluate adequately. While seemingly the same chair (made by different manufacturers and sold for different prices), we found the Chair One to be much more comfortable. At first, we thought they felt the same. Over time, we found the Moon Lence stretched out in some places and not in others, changing the feel of the chair, and was less stable than the Chair One. For a full comparison, check out the Moon Lence review.
When packed, the Helinox Chair One is noticeably larger than the Therm-a-Rest Treo or the Helinox Chair Zero. Weighing just under two pounds, it is the same weight as the Alite Mantis and a half of a pound lighter than the Therm-a-Rest Treo, though heavier than the REI Flex Lite or the Big Agnes Chair Zero. The reason for the increased packed size of this chair as compared to the Mantis is because its frame is two inches wider (than the Mantis'), which is why it is also so much more stable.
Big Agnes outdid themselves with portability as the newer model, the Big Agnes Helinox Chair Zero, beats the Chair One regarding packed size. Big Agnes has done this by making the Chair Zero thinner and shorter than the Chair One. However, tied for both the third smallest (with the Moon Lence) and the third lightest (with the Alite Mantis) in this review, the Helinox Chair One might just have the right features to get included on your next camping or backpacking trip. We give it a 9 out of 10 for portability.
We assessed both the frame and fabric portion for durability. Its frame is made of anodized aluminum rods that are all connected with an internal bungee. The bungee allows the frame to stay in one piece when deconstructed and makes the chair much easier to set up. The poles appear to be very durable; however, the two pole joints under the seat of the chair are made of plastic, making us wonder just how long it will last. During everyday use, the Chair One felt significantly more sturdy than all of the other portable camping chairs we reviewed.
Right off the bat, this felt like the most sturdy portable chair that we tested. As a part of our durability testing, we asked a 170lb man to plop down into each chair repeatedly, as if his legs had just given out after a long day. He confirmed our suspicion that this chair was more durable than the other portable chairs in this review, as it had the least amount of give in the poles and fabric when he sat down so hard. The fabric seat has surprisingly beefy construction and sustained no visible wear or tear during our testing process. Our assessment of the chair's durability is backed up by its 320-pound weight capacity, which is significantly more than all of the other portable models except the Onepack Ultralight (though the Onepack lost durability points for other reasons). We give the Chair One a 7 out of 10 for durability.
Ease of Set-Up
Like most of the portable camping chairs in this review, the Chair One comes in two "pieces" and is relatively easy to assemble. An internal bungee system connects all of the poles, and the ends of four poles are then inserted into four small sleeves sewn on the corners of the chair. Helpfully, set-up directions are printed on the inside of the storage bag, to aid first-time users in the set-up process. Our reviewers liked the pole/seat junction and felt that it was very secure and easy to use. Though it requires more set-up than the REI Camp Stowaway Low or many of the traditional model chairs that simply fold open, it is still significantly less time consuming than setting up the Therm-a-Rest Treo, with all its separate pieces, or the Onepack, with its excessively long pole sleeves. Once you are familiar with the process, set up takes less than a minute.
With not much work, the Chair One packs down into a zippered pouch. The thick canvas and heavily reinforced corners make rolling the seat a challenge, but the storage bag is large enough you don't have to squeeze too much to fit the chair inside. Once inside the pouch, this self-contained seat can be stored virtually anywhere. Although it is larger than the Therm-a-Rest Treo, it is possible to squeeze the packed Chair One into more small nooks than the Treo, which has been encased in a hard, inflexible capsule. Overall, we give this chair a 6 out of 10 for ease of set-up.
As a portable camping chair, extra frills are not included. Comparing the Helinox Chair One to the Moon Lence (which appears nearly identical), we noticed that the Moon Lence had extra 'fins' on the feet, that we thought might make a difference when placed on softer ground.
Unfortunately for the Moon Lence, it didn't. Big Agnes does sell little tennis ball-looking chair feet to keep the Chair One on the surface of the sand, but the retail price of these accessories vs. the ease of just setting the legs on flat rocks or stray wood didn't entice us enough to make the purchase. Helinox also sells a ground sheet for the Chair one and Chair Zero so they don't sink into sand.
We think Helinox Chair One would be good for short backpacking trips and kids. It is low profile enough to just toss in your car and leave it there for those moments you need a camping chair but didn't think of packing one (or if you live in your RV or van).
It is much more comfortable than a standard, ground level camping chair (like a Crazy Creek) as it offers more back support and keeps you off the ground. This chair is not one we'd recommend for sandy terrain, as the base will sink into the ground.
Most testers found it hard to stomach spending $120 on a portable camping chair since they aren't ideal for everyday lounging. If you're in the market for a camping chair that is easier and less painful to carry for long distances, then our Best Portable Camping Chair will likely meet your needs! Additionally, this chair's sturdy, stable construction, and high weight limit gave testers the impression that it will be able to last for many seasons to come. If you are looking for a cheaper option, the $35 Moon Lence, our pick for Best Buy on a Tight Budget might be worth considering (check out the full review here). It has most of the same features as the Chair One, save the overall durability, but at just over a quarter of the price of the Helinox Chair One, you could pretty easily outfit your entire backyard with Moon Lences!
Out of all 14 camping chairs we tested, 8 of which we considered "portable", the Big Agnes Helinox Chair One stood out as our award winner for Best Portable Camping Chair. We think it's a great choice if you need a portable chair that's more comfortable than a super light backpacking chair, but you don't want to carry a traditional camping chair that's 10+ pounds! Its dimensions make it easy to take with you just about anywhere: throw it in a bag for a concert, stuff it in your backpack for an overnight camping trip, or simply throw it in the car for a quick car camping adventure. This durable, stable, and comfortable model is a great pick to serve you well on a wide variety of adventures.
— Maggie Brandenburg & Laura Lingeman
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