How to Choose the Best Backpacking Chair

Band practice in the Buttermilks  featuring the Helinox Swivel
Article By:
Lauren DeLaunay
Senior Review Editor

Last Updated:
August 26, 2017
We don't know about you, but here at OutdoorGearLab, we think that enjoying the outdoors is as much about adventure as it is about sitting back and taking in the view. That being said, some of us were a little skeptical of the idea of "backpacking" chair. When you already have to schlep a heavy pack for miles on end, could we convinced to carry an additional luxury item? After this review, we were convinced, and we think you will be too.

Do You Need a Backpacking Chair?

For years, we've felt content using rocks, logs, and trees as backcountry back rests. Car camping, we've found cheap Walmart chairs, bouldering pads, and coolers to do the job. But like rolling up your down jacket to use a pillow, nothing really replaces the comfort of the real thing. It'll be up to you to decide if you can justify the weight or price of another "luxury" item, but after weeks of testing, we now happily tote along an extra pound for significantly more comfort.

When writing this review, we picked four metrics to measure each product by: comfort, packing size, durability, and versatility. We've assigned them varying degrees of importance, but depending on what you're looking for, these may not match your priorities. If you're reading this review because you're looking for a portable camp chair, weight may be less important. Heading out on a months-long thru-hike? We bet you'll be compromising versatility for ounces. We tested each chair on a variety of surfaces to bring you comprehensive test results, but if you plan on sitting mostly on your patio, the chair's ability to balance on uneven surfaces might be less important. As always, we've attempted to bring you the most objective data, but every user is different. If you're reading this knowing that you won't be carrying any chair for miles at a time, you may also want to check out our Camping Chairs Review which also includes some full-size chairs perfect for tailgating and car camping. If you still think this is the right review, keep reading as we explain the two different categories of chairs we included in our testing.

Types of Chairs

Taco Style

For this review, we included chairs of two different categories which we've dubbed "taco style" and "tent style." The four taco style chairs in this review are perhaps easily recognized as variations of the classic Crazy Creek Original Chair, though more companies have since joined the game to see how they compete. These products have a very simple design: a folding, L-shaped piece of fabric with internal support beams allows you to lean back, using your own oppositional forces to create a back rest. Taco style chairs sit directly on the ground and are generally light, require no setup, and are especially great for concerts where seats off the ground are not allowed. These chairs require some level of muscle engagement to use and are therefore not as stable as a chair with legs.
Taco chairs from left to right: Crazy Creek PowerLounger  Kelty Camp Chair  ALPS Mountaineering Weekender  Crazy Creek Original Chair
Taco chairs from left to right: Crazy Creek PowerLounger, Kelty Camp Chair, ALPS Mountaineering Weekender, Crazy Creek Original Chair

Tent Style

The tent style chairs in this review are named so because they are made of a folding, tent-like pole construction and a fabric seat that lets your bottom hang suspended between the poles. Of the four products we included in this category, they generally sit around ten inches above the ground and are lightyears more comfortable than the taco style chairs. They are, however, significantly more expensive and in some cases (though not always) a little bit heavier. We were excited to use these chairs anywhere and everywhere, from car camping cookouts to the beach and the crag. If you're still wondering why on earth you'd bring a chair backpacking, none of the chairs in this review may be for you. But if you're enticed by comfort, a chair in this category may be well worth your investment.
Tent chairs from left to right: Helinox Chair Zero  REI FlexLite  Helinox Swivel  TravelChair Joey
Tent chairs from left to right: Helinox Chair Zero, REI FlexLite, Helinox Swivel, TravelChair Joey

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