Therm-a-Rest Z Seat Review
Cons: No backrest, requires sitting on the ground
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Therm-a-Rest Z Seat
|Price||$16 List||$110 List|
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|Pros||Practically indestructible, weighs less than toothpaste, insulated, inexpensive||Deep comfortable seat, lightweight, surprisingly stable||Comfortable, spacious, tall back, accessible height||Stable even without a backrest, high seat height, comfortable, lightweight, compact packed size||Extremely lightweight, comfortable positioning|
|Cons||No backrest, requires sitting on the ground||Takes longer to set up||Expensive, heavy, bulky, takes more time to set up||No backrest for reclining||Pricey, small|
|Bottom Line||A featherweight, versatile, and durable foam seat even ultralighters won't leave at home||An excellent combination of comfort, weight, and stability||Part backpacking chair, part car camping chair, this seat is tall, wide, and comfy||Reshaping attitudes about stools on backpacking trips, the exceptional comfort, light weight, and packability of this seat make it an unexpected winner||This chair offers the highest comfort of any super light model we tested|
|Rating Categories||Therm-a-Rest Z Seat||Big Agnes Skyline UL||Big Agnes Big Six||Big Agnes Skyline UL Stool||Helinox Chair Zero|
|Size & Weight (30%)|
|Ease Of Use (15%)|
|Specs||Therm-a-Rest Z Seat||Big Agnes Skyline UL||Big Agnes Big Six||Big Agnes Skyline...||Helinox Chair Zero|
|Main Material||Cross-linked Polyethylene||Nylon with aluminum frame||Polyester with aluminum frame||70-denier Robic nylon / ripstop nylon 66||Polyester with aluminum frame|
|Measured Weight||2 oz||29 oz||51 oz||20 oz||18 oz|
|Packed Size||13 x 2.5 x 2.5 in||3.5 x 4 x 17 in||5.5 x 5.5 x 21.5 in||3.25 x 3.25 x 12 in||4 x 4 x 13.5 in|
|Seat Height (butt to ground)||0.5 in||9.5 in||12 in||9.5 in||7 in|
|Seat Width (at edge)||16 in||18.5 in||21 in||19 in||18 in|
|Base Size (width x depth)||16 x 13||15.5 x 13.5 in||18 x 16 in||14.5 x 12 in||13.5 x 10 in|
|Features||Clip loop||Color-coded frame, hub-less pole design||Color-coded frame, hub-less pole design, head rest||4 legged stool, color-coded frame, hub-less pole design||Slits for breathability, small hubbed pole design|
Our Analysis and Test Results
What makes the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat unique is its paltry 2-ounce weight and ultimate versatility. This insulated and waterproof rectangle of foam that looks like a sleeping pad for your cat meets the requirement of many ultralight backpackers and serves multiple functions. Unlike most backpacking chairs, this pad can insulate you from the cold ground, keep your rear dry when it's wet, extend your sleeping pad, add extra padding, act as a placemat, double as a makeshift splint, provide a clean feet changing area, and more. Not only is it useful, but its durability means you'll get years, if not decades, of use. We rank its performance at the very top of the charts in some metrics and overall highly recommend this pad, but, like most products, it does have a few shortcomings.
Let's start with expectations. You see this half-inch thick foam rectangle, right? It is not the most comfortable backpacking chair on the market. We won't sugar coat it and act like sitting on the ground on top of a lunch tray-sized piece of foam is anywhere near as relaxing as chilling in a nice deep bucket seat with a backrest.
Now that we are on the same page, we can talk about why we do like the comforts offered by the Z Seat. This pad is designed with certain users in mind, and if you are one of them, you may just fall in love with it. This pad is for folks who want added comfort without the bulk and weight and complications of the setup of a tent-style backpacking chair. It is also ideal for those of you who want each piece of your gear to serve multiple purposes.
The closed-cell foam in the pad is the same as in sleeping pads which means it is insulated. Even on moderate weather days, we immediately noticed the difference between sitting on a cold rock and sliding this little quadrilateral underneath our tushies. Through conduction, anytime the ground temperature is lower than your body temperature, you will be losing heat. On cool days this can make lunch breaks uncomfortable to downright dangerous. But closed-cell foam is a very poor conductor of heat, meaning you get to keep your warmth where you want it. Closed-cell foam, however, lacks breathability, so you can expect the pad to cling to exposed legs in warm weather.
The Z Seat adds comfort to a minimalist backpacking gear kit in a number of ways. The multiple uses of this seat is a big reason it is so popular. In addition to being insulated, the Z Seat is waterproof, offering you a dry place to sit or even stand while you change clothes without getting your socks wet or dirty. It can also be used to add comfort to your sleeping pad by placing it under your hips or shoulders for additional padding or warmth or using it to extend the length of a short sleeping pad under your knees or feet.
Size & Weight
The Z Seat receives top marks for its size and weight. At 2 ounces, you'll be hard-pressed to find a lighter seat anywhere. Its packed size of 2.5" x 2.5" x 13" allows it to fit easily into most pack side pockets, even alongside a water bottle.
Due to its meager weight, no consideration needs to be given to weight distribution when choosing whether to strap it to the top of your pack, the bottom, stuff it in the side pocket, stick it in the lid, or even let it dangle off the back. Actually, based on the amount of these that we've found on the trail over the years and returned to hikers ahead of us, we'd recommend not letting it dangle. Strap it down well; you won't notice when a tree branch brushes your pack, and the pad drops off.
The unfolded size of the Z Seat is 13" x 16", which will offer enough coverage for many hikers, but larger folks may find that when sitting on wet ground, the width is not quite enough to prevent moisture from wetting their hips where they hang over the edge. This size also works well for ultralight backpackers who may carry a short sleeping pad and want to add the Z Seat as an extension under their knees or feet. Because it's made of closed-cell foam, a puncture won't hurt it, so you can even get crafty and rig up an attachment system to connect it to your short Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol for added length.
Our testers also awarded this pad top marks for stability. Gravity determines that you can't fall off the earth, so unless something changes with Newton's laws, this is as stable a seat as you can find.
In addition to the obvious stability, our testers like that the foam gets good purchase on sloped terrain and rocks. Where a smooth material might slide, the Z Seat conforms under pressure to the surface it is on and will allow you to find comfort in the myriad uneven places that we sit in the outdoors.
Ease of Use
The Therm-a-Rest Z Seat almost sets itself up, garnering it high marks for its ease of use, though we did ding it slightly for the added difficulty of getting on and off the ground.
We like the accordion design with molded lines that allow the pad to quickly fold up for storage. A newer feature to the Z Seat is the addition of a small bungee cord which allows you to keep the pad closed. Like we said; otherwise, it basically sets itself up.
It may be the natural evolutionary sitting position for humans to be on the ground for many of their daily tasks, but after decades of sitting in chairs and cars, many of us have begun to find the ground a less comfortable place. For some, it is a flexibility issue, and for others, it is a problem with over-use in certain joints. Whatever the reason, if you find it difficult to get on and off the ground, the Z Seat may not be the right choice for you. However, our testers would argue that you will still benefit from the padding and insulation when selecting the perfect rock, log, or AT shelter to sit on in the backcountry.
The Z Seat is one of the least expensive seats on the market, so right off the bat, it seems to offer a good value. Generally, ultralight gear is expected to be less durable and to come and go from your gear closet as it wears out, but the Z Seat is an exception to this rule. Our lead tester has personally owned and used the Z Lite sleeping pad, made of the same material as the Z Seat, for over 15 years, and while it is noticeably compressed, its insulation value and comfort remain high enough that her 10-year-old daughter will not sleep on any other pad.
After some use, you'll notice wrinkles in the bumps as it begins to compress, but the foam should hold its egg-crate shape, insulation, and padding for many, many years, even under regular to heavy use. Rips, tears, cutting it into a new shape, and duct-taping back together (been there, done that) will not impact the performance of your Z Seat and we think that is pretty darn unique in the world of ultralight backpacking equipment.
The Therm-a-Rest Z Seat is designed with ultralight backpackers, budget-conscious hikers, and minimalists in mind. Its basic design, compact profile, meager 2-ounce weight, and many possible uses make it a top choice for those looking for a backpacking seat without the weight, complications, or price tag of a tent-style chair. As long as you don't mind sitting on the ground or finding a good rock or log, this is an easy choice to add to your gear arsenal.
— Elizabeth Paashaus