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Therm-a-Rest Z Seat Review

A featherweight, versatile, and durable foam seat even ultralighters won't leave at home
Therm-a-Rest Z Seat
Photo: Therm-a-Rest
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $16 List
Pros:  Practically indestructible, weighs less than toothpaste, insulated, inexpensive
Cons:  No backrest, requires sitting on the ground
Manufacturer:   Therm-a-Rest
By Elizabeth Paashaus ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 7, 2021
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69
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 12
  • Comfort - 35% 2
  • Size & Weight - 30% 10
  • Stability - 20% 10
  • Ease of Use - 15% 8

Our Verdict

The Therm-a-Rest Z Seat will make the cut of even the most discriminating ultralight adventurer. You can strap this to even the tiniest of backpacks, making it truly one of the most versatile pieces of equipment one can carry in the backcountry. This seemingly basic piece of foam is insulated, waterproof, weighs almost nothing, and is virtually indestructible. It quite literally takes the edge off of sitting on sharp rocks. If you can't convince yourself of the worthiness of a 20-ounce chair in your pack, we think you'll love the comfort and durability this pad delivers for a mere 2 ounces.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Therm-a-Rest Z Seat
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award 
Price $16.00 List$109.95 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$79.95 at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
$29.95 at REI$24.99 at Amazon
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Pros Practically indestructible, weighs less than toothpaste, insulated, inexpensiveDeep comfortable seat, lightweight, surprisingly stableStable even without a backrest, high seat height, comfortable, lightweight, compact packed sizeMiniscule packed size, ultralight, insulated, doubles as a pillowInexpensive, comfortable, easy to set up
Cons No backrest, requires sitting on the groundTakes longer to set upNo backrest for recliningPossibility of puncture, no backrest, requires sitting on the groundLarge packed size, lack of instructions
Bottom Line A featherweight, versatile, and durable foam seat even ultralighters won't leave at homeAn excellent combination of comfort, weight, and stabilityReshaping attitudes about stools on backpacking trips, the exceptional comfort, light weight, and packability of this seat make it an unexpected winnerAn ultralight, insulated sit pad that doubles as a pillow and packs smaller than a soda canAt a bargain-basement price, this lightweight chair offers above-average comfort and is easy to use
Rating Categories Therm-a-Rest Z Seat Big Agnes Skyline UL Big Agnes Skyline U... REI Co-op Flash Sit... Moon Lence Camp Chair
Comfort (35%)
2.0
9.0
6.0
2.0
6.0
Size & Weight (30%)
10.0
7.0
9.0
10.0
6.0
Stability (20%)
10.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
7.0
Ease Of Use (15%)
8.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
Specs Therm-a-Rest Z Seat Big Agnes Skyline UL Big Agnes Skyline U... REI Co-op Flash Sit... Moon Lence Camp Chair
Main Material Cross-linked Polyethylene Nylon with aluminum frame 70-denier Robic nylon / ripstop nylon 66 Polyester 600D Oxford
Measured Weight 2 oz 29 oz 20 oz 3.0 oz 29 oz
Legs? No Yes Yes No Yes
Packed Size 13 x 2.5 x 2.5 in 3.5 x 4 x 17 in 3.25 x 3.25 x 12 in 5 x 2.5 x 2.5 in 13.5 x 4.5 x 4.5 in
Seat Height (butt to ground) 0.5 in 9.5 in 9.5 in .75 in 9 in
Seat Width (at edge) 16 in 18.5 in 19 in 17.5 in 18 in
Base Size (width x depth) 16 x 13 15.5 x 13.5 in 14.5 x 12 in 17.5 x 13 in 13.5 x 11.5 in
Features Clip loop Color-coded frame, hub-less pole design 4 legged stool, color-coded frame, hub-less pole design Inflatable, pillow conversion snap Storage pocket

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.

Performance Comparison


So light and basic, it's the perfect seat to have on every single...
So light and basic, it's the perfect seat to have on every single hike for impromptu sunset views on a rock to snack breaks on spongy moss-covered logs.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus

Comfort


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.

We like adding the Z Seat to elevated chairs in cold weather to...
We like adding the Z Seat to elevated chairs in cold weather to provide warmth where the wind would otherwise take it.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus

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.

When the spring rains leave the ground perpetually muddy and damp...
When the spring rains leave the ground perpetually muddy and damp, whip out the Z Seat for a dry bottom.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus

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.

Backpacking wardrobe changes can be a balancing act and a challenge...
Backpacking wardrobe changes can be a balancing act and a challenge to execute while retaining clean, dry socks so we like to use the Z Seat as a backcountry changing room.
Photo: Adam Paashaus

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.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

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.

2 ounces and smaller than a 1-liter Smartwater bottle
2 ounces and smaller than a 1-liter Smartwater bottle
Photo: Adam and Elizabeth Paashaus

Stability


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.

An elevated chair becomes unstable on sloped or uneven terrain but...
An elevated chair becomes unstable on sloped or uneven terrain but this pad makes a stable, padded seat out of almost any location, even jagged flows of volcanic rock.
Photo: Adam and Elizabeth Paashaus

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.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

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.

Because the pad is so light, it catches wind easily so you'll need...
Because the pad is so light, it catches wind easily so you'll need to hold it in place as you prepare to sit on windy days.
Photo: Adam and Elizabeth Paashaus

Value


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.

Left: 4-year old Z Seat, Right: 1-week old Z Seat The egg-carton...
Left: 4-year old Z Seat, Right: 1-week old Z Seat The egg-carton bumps have slightly flattened on the older pad but it is still offering plenty of insulation and padding.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus

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.

Conclusion


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.

If we had to sum up the Z Seat in just a few words: Sit anywhere for...
If we had to sum up the Z Seat in just a few words: Sit anywhere for 2 ounces
Photo: Adam and Elizabeth Paashaus

Elizabeth Paashaus