The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How to Choose a Backpacking Chair

Band practice in the Buttermilks  featuring the Swivel.
By Lauren DeLaunay ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Monday May 6, 2019

Here at OutdoorGearLab, we believe that enjoying the outdoors is as much about adventure as it is about sitting back and taking in the view. That 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 be convinced to carry an additional luxury item? After this review, we're sold, and we think you will be too. If you're ready to jump into the nitty-gritty, head on over to our Overview to compare all ten products we tested. Or, keep reading to get all the information you'll need to make an informed decision.

Do You Need a Backpacking Chair?


For years, we've felt pretty content using rocks, logs, and trees as backcountry resting sites. For car camping, we've found cheap folding chairs, bouldering pads, and coolers to do the job. Right? But like rolling up your puffy jacket to use a pillow, nothing 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 a significantly more comfortable trip, whether we're heading out for a few hours or a few days.

After weeks of testing, we were able to pick four metrics to measure each product by comfort, packing size, durability, and versatility. We've assigned all four metrics varying degrees of importance, but depending on what you're looking for, these may not exactly match your priorities. If you're reading this review because you're looking for a portable camp chair, weight may be less critical than versatility. If you're heading out on a months-long thru-hike, however, we bet you'll be compromising comfort 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 critical. 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. These products have a straightforward design: a folding, L-shaped piece of fabric with internal support beams in which you to lean back and use your oppositional forces to create a backrest. 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 chairs 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 use 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 10 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 value 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

Uses and Versatility


Even though we've titled this review the "Backpacking Chair" review, we recognize that chairs can bring an elevated level of comfort to just about any activity. We evaluate a few of those activities below, explaining which scoring metrics are most important for that given activity, and, subsequently, which chairs will suit you best.

Backpacking


Up first, of course, is backpacking. Weight is paramount here, so we'd recommend looking first to the "packing size" metric. Durability is also more important, as you don't want to end up miles in the backcountry with a broken, useless seat. Comfort and versatility are important, too, but less so for this activity.

The sturdy leg design of the Mayfly made for a much more stable seat.
The sturdy leg design of the Mayfly made for a much more stable seat.

We'd recommend the Helinox Chair Zero and REI Co-op Flexlite to our backpackers. They are about the same weight as a taco-style chair but with added comfort and smaller packed size. If you're looking to shave ounces, however, the Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 PowerLounger could serve as both your sleeping pad and your chair.

Car Camping


If you're staying in the front-country, you may want to consider one of the chairs in our Camping Chairs Review. If you have a small car, however, some of the chairs in this review could serve as a great middle ground. Weight is much less important when traveling by vehicle, so we'd urge car campers to look more closely at the "comfort" and "versatility" sections of each review.

True car camping in the desert
True car camping in the desert

At the top of the charts here would be the TravelChair Joey, which is one of the heaviest chairs we tested but also one of the most comfortable. The Alite Stonefly is comfortable and higher off the ground than many of its competitors, and comes with a bonus feature: cup holders!

Concerts


Outdoor concerts are one of the best parts of summer, and one way to make them even better is with a lightweight chair. Because outdoor venues often ban chairs, any of the taco-style chairs in this review are perfect for this activity. Because weight is less important, we'd want the most comfortable taco style chair we could find.

This brings us to the ALPS Mountaineering Weekender Seat. This was our favorite taco-style chair because of its high back and cushy seat. We also found its pocket to be perfect for concerts and picnics. The PowerLounger could be great here, as well, since its full-length bottom happily protects your legs from dirt or wet grass.

Beach-Going


The beach, whether by the side of the river or the ocean, provides unique challenges for chairs. Most chairs sink into the sand, leaving us practically on the ground. If you're planning on using your chair predominantly on soft sand, we'd highly recommend looking at the legs above all else.

The most comfortable chair we tested was the TravelChair Joey  seen here at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
The most comfortable chair we tested was the TravelChair Joey, seen here at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

All taco-style chairs perform similarly on sand. They work, but your butt will likely get covered in sand. As far as tent-style chairs go, the wider the feet, the better. The TravelChair Joey has wider feet than its competitors, making it one excellent choice. The Stonefly is much more stable and much less likely to sink.

Metrics


There are at least a dozen reasons to purchase a lightweight, portable camp chair. For each of those purposes, different factors become more important. Here, we'll describe each of the four scoring metrics we used to evaluate each chair so that you can better focus in on the ones that are most valuable to your decision-making process.

Comfort


The first and most highly rated metric in this review is "comfort." While this category usually comes secondary to performance, as far as chairs are concerned, it's all about comfort. To evaluate each chair's comfort, we measured its height off the ground, the width of its seat, and the height of its back. We also looked at the materials and breathability of each while getting an overall impression of how each chair felt on our bottoms, backs, arms, and necks.

Enjoying the view in Mammoth Lakes  California. Left: Crazy Creek Original Chair; right: Kelty Camp Chair.
Enjoying the view in Mammoth Lakes, California. Left: Crazy Creek Original Chair; right: Kelty Camp Chair.

If you're planning on using your chair primarily for car camping or for any activity in which weight isn't paramount, we'd probably look for the chairs with the highest comfort scores. Overall, we found tent-style chairs to be more comfortable than taco-style chairs because you sit elevated off the ground. Our highest-scoring chairs in this category were the TravelChair Joey, Alite Stonefly, and Helinox Swivel.

Packing Size


If, on the other hand, you know that you're taking this chair far into the backcountry, you'll want to carry as little weight as possible. This is likely the most important metric if you're shopping specifically for backpacking, bikepacking, or any long-distance travel or time when you'll be carrying this chair with you for hours on end.

All of the tent-style chairs we tested come with handy bags.
All of the tent-style chairs we tested come with handy bags.

Does this sound like you? If so, you'll be glad to know that we put each chair on a scale to get its exact travel weight. At just 17 ounces, the Helinox Chair Zero is the lightest chair in this fleet, followed by the Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 PowerLounger at 22 ounces.

Durability


Buying products that are durable and sustainable is important to everyone, but this metric may be of greater value to you if you know that you'll be traveling in tough terrain. For this category, we identified all the weakest points on each chair and then tested them to compare their strength.

Great holsters on the Joey.
Great holsters on the Joey.

We found that, in general, taco-style chairs have less moving parts and therefore may be a safer bet if you're heading out in the backcountry for an extended period. However, we were impressed with some of the tent-style chairs' reinforcements. No matter what style chair you're looking for, if this metric is super important to you, we'd recommended looking first at the top scorers in this metric to help you narrow down the selection.

Versatility


Space and money are limited, so the more uses we can find for a single product, the happier our wallets and our closets (or cars, or garages) will be. It seemed unnecessary to our team to have a fleet of portable chairs, so we were on the hunt for products that could be used anywhere, not just on the trail or at the beach.

Underside straps make the Weekender an awesome stadium seat.
Underside straps make the Weekender an awesome stadium seat.

To evaluate this metric, we tested where and how each product could be used. We brought these chairs everywhere we went to identify their best uses. One factor we considered here was the feet. While most of the tent-style chairs that we tested have four individual legs, some of them have horizontal bars that are much more stable in sand and on super uneven surfaces. Our testers also looked at any additional features, like pockets and cup holders, that added to each chair's versatility. If you're looking for one product to do everything (as opposed to having a larger chair for car camping, a flat one for concerts, and a light one for the backcountry), we recommend you look first at chairs that scored highly in this category. The most versatile chairs in this review are the Alite Stonefly, Helinox Swivel, and Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 PowerLounger.


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