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:
Thursday
July 12, 2018

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 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 be convinced to carry an additional luxury item? After this review, we were 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 nine 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 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 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 important 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 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. These products have a very simple design: a folding, L-shaped piece of fabric with internal support beams in which you to lean back and use your own 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 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

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 definitely less so for this activity.

We'd recommend the Helinox Chair Zero and Alite Mayfly to our backpackers. They are about the same weight as a taco-style chair but with added comfort and a more condensed packing size. If you're really looking to shave ounces, however, the Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 PowerLounger could easily serve as both your sleeping pad and your chair.

Car Camping


If you're staying in the frontcountry, you may want to consider one of the chairs in our Camping Chairs Review. If your space is limited by a small or cramped 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.

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.

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.

Beach-Going


The beach, whether by the side of the river or the ocean, provides unique challenges for chairs. Most chairs sink down 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.

All taco-style chairs will perform essentially the same on sand. They work, but your butt might 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 Mayfly is much more stable and much less likely to sink, but the seat is quite low from the get-go.




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