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
Best Backpacking Chair of 2021
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|Pros||Deep comfortable seat, lightweight, surprisingly stable||Comfortable, spacious, tall back, accessible height||Extremely lightweight, comfortable positioning||Stable even without a backrest, high seat height, comfortable, lightweight, compact packed size||Practically indestructible, weighs less than toothpaste, insulated, inexpensive|
|Cons||Takes longer to set up||Expensive, heavy, bulky, takes more time to set up||Pricey, small||No backrest for reclining||No backrest, requires sitting on the ground|
|Bottom Line||An excellent combination of comfort, weight, and stability||Part backpacking chair, part car camping chair, this seat is tall, wide, and comfy||This chair offers the highest comfort of any super light model we tested||Reshaping attitudes about stools on backpacking trips, the exceptional comfort, light weight, and packability of this seat make it an unexpected winner||A 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|
|Size & Weight (30%)|
|Ease Of Use (15%)|
|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|
|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
The Big Agnes Skyline UL provides a high comfort and stability level in a small package — and we love it. 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
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 because there is no color coding or labeling. But after a couple of uses were able to quickly pick out 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
All hail the Helinox Chair Zero! This model 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
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
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
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. The versatility of a foam pad that can be your seat, sleeping pad extension, pack cushion, and more is hard to pass up. 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, unlike with many chairs, 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
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 20-some of the most promising chairs. We bought 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
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
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 chair is from one of those lesser-known brands that does a great job of performing above average in comfort, size, weight, stability, and ease of use while keeping the price astonishingly low.
Our favorite chair, the Skyline UL, illustrates that you don't need to spend major bucks to have a stellar backpacking chair. It is on the more affordable side of all the 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.
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!
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.
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.
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 are 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.
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 Six, while heavy, greatly increase its stability. The Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair and Stool both are also 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 of the 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 little problem going back into its stuff sack. Some were a tighter fit than others, but nothing compared to 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 set up 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.
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.
— Elizabeth Paashaus