Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Backpacking Chair of 2021

We tested backpacking chairs from Helinox, Big Agnes, Crazy Creek, and others to find the lightest weight and most comfy options for your backcountry travels
Photo: Adam Paashaus
By Elizabeth Paashaus ⋅ Review Editor
Thursday September 30, 2021
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Are you on the hunt for the best backpacking chair? Over a decade, we've tested multiple versions of 20+ different models with the top 12 in our current review. We evaluated each seat on its comfort first and foremost, identifying crucial elements to 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 their 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.

Related: Best Camping Chair of 2021

Top 12 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 12
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award 
Price $109.95 at REI
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$149.95 at REI
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$119.95 at REI
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$79.95 at REI
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$16.00 List
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Deep comfortable seat, lightweight, surprisingly stableComfortable, spacious, tall back, accessible heightExtremely lightweight, comfortable positioningStable even without a backrest, high seat height, comfortable, lightweight, compact packed sizePractically indestructible, weighs less than toothpaste, insulated, inexpensive
Cons Takes longer to set upExpensive, heavy, bulky, takes more time to set upPricey, smallNo backrest for recliningNo backrest, requires sitting on the ground
Bottom Line An excellent combination of comfort, weight, and stabilityPart backpacking chair, part car camping chair, this seat is tall, wide, and comfyThis chair offers the highest comfort of any super light model we testedReshaping attitudes about stools on backpacking trips, the exceptional comfort, light weight, and packability of this seat make it an unexpected winnerA featherweight, versatile, and durable foam seat even ultralighters won't leave at home
Rating Categories Big Agnes Skyline UL Big Agnes Big Six Helinox Chair Zero Big Agnes Skyline U... Therm-a-Rest Z Seat
Comfort (35%)
9.0
10.0
6.0
6.0
2.0
Size & Weight (30%)
7.0
3.0
9.0
9.0
10.0
Stability (20%)
8.0
10.0
7.0
7.0
10.0
Ease Of Use (15%)
7.0
6.0
7.0
7.0
8.0
Specs Big Agnes Skyline UL Big Agnes Big Six Helinox Chair Zero Big Agnes Skyline U... Therm-a-Rest Z Seat
Main Material Nylon with aluminum frame Polyester with aluminum frame Polyester with aluminum frame 70-denier Robic nylon / ripstop nylon 66 Cross-linked Polyethylene
Measured Weight 29 oz 51 oz 18 oz 20 oz 2 oz
Legs? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Packed Size 3.5 x 4 x 17 in 5.5 x 5.5 x 21.5 in 4 x 4 x 13.5 in 3.25 x 3.25 x 12 in 13 x 2.5 x 2.5 in
Seat Height (butt to ground) 9.5 in 12 in 7 in 9.5 in 0.5 in
Seat Width (at edge) 18.5 in 21 in 18 in 19 in 16 in
Base Size (width x depth) 15.5 x 13.5 in 18 x 16 in 13.5 x 10 in 14.5 x 12 in 16 x 13
Features Color-coded frame, hub-less pole design Color-coded frame, hub-less pole design, head rest Slits for breathability, small hubbed pole design 4 legged stool, color-coded frame, hub-less pole design Clip loop


Best Overall Backpacking Chair


Big Agnes Skyline UL


79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 9
  • Size & Weight 7
  • Stability 8
  • Ease of Use 7
Weight: 29 ounces | Seat Height: 9.5 inches
Comfortable
Fairly lightweight
Stable
A bit more time consuming to set up

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 a little more time to put together than the hubbed pole models, but we are talking on a scale of 8-12 additional seconds, so take that with a grain of salt.

Read review: Big Agnes Skyline UL

Best Bang for the Buck


Moon Lence Camp Chair


62
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 6
  • Size & Weight 6
  • Stability 7
  • Ease of Use 6
Weight: 29 ounces | Seat Height: 9 inches
Inexpensive
Comfortable
Easy to set up
Large packed size
Unclear which side of the fabric is the seat vs. the back

The market of quality chairs includes both big name brands as well as new or lesser-known companies. During our research, we came across the Moon Lence Camp Chair at an excellent price. After thorough testing, we all agree that it offers above-average comfort, fairly low weight, and is just as easy to set up as similar but more expensive models.

At first, our testers struggled to determine which side of the chair fabric was the back versus the seat. Some labels or color-coding would've helped. After a couple of uses, we began to quickly determine the top based on the pull tabs where the poles insert. Even though the weight is fairly low when compared to similar models, the packed Moon Lence is a cumbersome chair to fit into most backpacks. However, we think you might be able to stomach the extra bulk for the bargain-basement price.

Read review: Moon Lence Camp Chair

Best for Ultralight Comfort


Helinox Chair Zero


73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 6
  • Size & Weight 9
  • Stability 7
  • Ease of Use 7
Weight: 18 ounces | Seat Height: 7 inches
Incredibly lightweight
Comfortable for its weight and size
Stable
Great ventilation
Pricey
Bum slides forward when reclining

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 as well, 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.

Read review: Helinox Chair Zero

Best Choice for Van Life


Big Agnes Big Six


73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 10
  • Size & Weight 3
  • Stability 10
  • Ease of Use 6
Weight: 51 ounces | Seat Height: 12 inches
Deep comfortable seat
Tall
Headrest
Spacious
Pricey
Heavy and bulky

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 of you that 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.

Read review: Big Agnes Big Six

Best Backpacking Stool


Big Agnes Skyline UL Stool


73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 6
  • Size & Weight 9
  • Stability 7
  • Ease of Use 7
Weight: 20 ounces | Seat Height: 9.5 inches
Stable even without a backrest
High seat height
Comfortable
Light and compact
No backrest for reclining

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.

Read review: Big Agnes Skyline UL Stool

Best Choice for Minimalists


Therm-a-Rest Z Seat


69
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 2
  • Size & Weight 10
  • Stability 10
  • Ease of Use 8
Weight: 2 ounces | Seat Height: 0.5 inches
Highly durable
Ultralight
Insulated
Inexpensive
No backrest
Requires sitting on the ground

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.

Read review: Therm-a-Rest Z Seat

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
79
$110
Editors' Choice Award
This chair blends weight, comfort, and stability seamlessly for a great price
73
$150
Top Pick Award
This heavy chair is very comfortable and plenty spacious but also heavy for the category
73
$120
Top Pick Award
The lightweight design of this chair is coupled with a high level of comfort but also a rather high price
73
$80
Top Pick Award
Far more comfortable, packable, and lightweight than expected, this stool impressed our testers
69
$16
Top Pick Award
No excuse not to pack this ultralight, durable, and versatile foam seat
64
$30
This featherweight sit pad can also serve as a pillow
62
$34
Best Buy Award
This chair ranks above average in comfort and is a fraction of the price of most similar models
61
$100
Sturdy and comfortable, this is a great all-around camp chair
56
$100
This chairs lightweight and reasonable price make it a good choice for ounce-counting adventurers
55
$120
This chair weighs too much for backpacking but is a great option for outdoor festivals
51
$84
The versatility of this chair makes it an excellent backpacking item
46
$56
This chair could be more comfortable but is a solid choice with decades of experience

When seen side by side, you can get a pretty clear picture of the...
When seen side by side, you can get a pretty clear picture of the differences in size and body positioning of each chair.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus

Why You Should Trust Us


Backpacking enthusiast and author of this review, 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.

The beginning of this review started with market research, which yielded an initial selection of fifty contending chairs. Over the years, we have tested over 20 of the most promising chairs. We purchased these (yes, we bought them all) and tested them for several weeks during the spring and summer. We took them everywhere, recruited friends, and sat on everything from rocky cliff bases to desert sand to city parks. We paid attention to how much work it was to set up and break down each chair, how comfortable we felt for long sits, and how stable we felt on different surfaces. From this, we narrowed it down to our top 12 models. We think you'll find this review a useful tool in narrowing down your options in a market flooded with excellent chairs.

Related: How We Tested Backpacking Chairs

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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.

Related: Buying Advice for Backpacking Chairs

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Value


Our team defines "value" as the meeting point between performance and price. Some products have superior comfort or versatility, but do their prices justify the 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 Camp Chair stands out. This lesser-known brand still performs above average in comfort, size, weight, stability, and ease of use while keeping the price astonishingly low.

Our favorite chair, the Skyline UL is one of the more affordable tent-style chairs we tested and 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 but offers exceptional value for its low price, extreme durability, minuscule weight, and versatility. For the biggest cost savings, look into 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.

Comfort


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 two distinct sub-categories within our review; the "tent-style" chairs with legs that sit up off the ground and the foam chairs that either fold open like a taco to provide a backrest or simply lie flat on the ground. The comfort between these two categories is wildly different. A foam chair is harder to get in and out of since it sits so low and the taco-style can't stand up on their own. They offer less support and often require a few core muscles to stay upright. Tent-style chairs tend to excel in the comfort metric since the raised seat, however high, is also easier to get in and out of than a foam chair. They also keep their form, allowing you to more or less plop down in them. Granted, you may not want to plop with abandon in the ultralight models like the feather-weight REI Flexlite Air!

We were happy to take the miniscule Chair Zero along on pretty much...
We were happy to take the miniscule Chair Zero along on pretty much any outing from backpacking, to cragging, to day hikes because you never know when you might find yourself hanging around long enough to set it up and chill in comfort.
Photo: Adam Paashaus

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 Camp Chair and the TravelChair Joey with their large mesh panels.

We compared the amount of seat cushioning for the foam chairs, noting the insulating foam of the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat and the unique inflatable cushioning in the REI Co-op Flash Sit Pad.

The Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 PowerLounger is a quick and easy chair to...
The Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 PowerLounger is a quick and easy chair to set up for a mid-day break and is far more comfortable than sitting on these rocks.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus

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 preferred a deeper seat that let us recline and relax, like the one found on our favorite model, the Skyline UL, and on the luxurious Big Six. The comfort was decidedly lower in foam chairs, but between the models tested, 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 30% of each chair's overall score.

If you are going to plop down in a backpacking chair with a full...
If you are going to plop down in a backpacking chair with a full rack still attached, the Big Six is the one to do it in! No other chair has the size to accommodate the extra bulk nor the headrest to let you lay back and watch the next climber.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus

Size & 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.


At OutdoorGearLab, we're in the business of making observations, not guesses, so we put each chair on a scale, brought out the measuring tape, and recorded what we found. Then we strapped each chair to a fully loaded pack to assess packability and took them out on hikes to decide if the bulk and weight were worth it for the comfort provided. Our review's current lightest chairs are the ground pads: the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat at the feather-weight 2 ounces and the REI Flash Sit Pad at 3 ounces and a teeny tiny package, smaller than a can of soda. 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.

Measurements are helpful but seeing each chair in its stuff sack...
Measurements are helpful but seeing each chair in its stuff sack side by side puts the differences in measurement in perspective.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus

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.

The hubless poles on the Big Agnes Skyline UL are noticeably more...
The hubless poles on the Big Agnes Skyline UL are noticeably more compact than models with plastic hubs.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus

Stability


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 Six, while heavy, greatly increase its stability. The Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair and 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.

The curve in the legs of the Big Agnes Skyline UL add to the...
The curve in the legs of the Big Agnes Skyline UL add to the stability while keeping the packed size small.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus

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.

Just like every foam chair, the back flops down so you have to hold...
Just like every foam chair, the back flops down so you have to hold it up and insert yourself into the chair... it's not a graceful move, at least not when we do it.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus

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 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.

Attach the backrest section of the fabric, then, leaning the chair...
Attach the backrest section of the fabric, then, leaning the chair on its back, hook the other two corners onto their poles.
Photo: Adam Paashaus

Conclusion


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 their small details to their 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 booty, we've got you covered.

The perfect backpacking chair is going to depend on your priorities...
The perfect backpacking chair is going to depend on your priorities, but for us, it's one that is comfortable and compact enough to strap on the side of a pack.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus

Elizabeth Paashaus