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

How We Tested Backpacking Chairs

By Lauren DeLaunay ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Tuesday January 7, 2020

To test our backpacking chairs, we took them just about everywhere we went throughout the warmer months of the year. From concerts to parking lot cookouts, the beach to the backcountry, we did a lot of sitting to bring you a comprehensive review of the lightest chairs on the market. We gave them to our friends, family, and colleagues to read, sunbathe, and drink beer in. We're not really sure how a review could be any more fun to write. We came up with four metrics to evaluate these portable thrones: comfort, size, versatility, and durability.

Comfort


If a chair doesn't make you more comfortable, what's the point? For this metric, we looked at a wide range of qualities, delving into the why's and how's of comfort. Ultimately, every person we asked to test agreed unanimously on the most comfortable ones. The criteria included fabric type, cushioning, back and strap comfort, width, and height. We sat in parking lots, on the beach, on dirt, and anything else we could to push these portable chairs to their limit. Our testers could often be found with four chairs set up at a time, hopping back and forth between them to identify the small details that make each product unique. After weeks of testing, we let our butts and backs speak for themselves to assign scores for this metric.

It wasn't hard to recruit our friends for their advice.
It wasn't hard to recruit our friends for their advice.

Size


In all honesty, we weren't originally sold on the idea of a "backpacking" chair. And we think that you, like us, might be wondering why you'd add something as seemingly luxurious as a chair to your already heavy pack. This is where this metric proves its importance. We were surprised to learn how much comfort could be gained for an extra pound in the pack, and now we're happy converts. We realize that some of you may be counting ounces in order to justify such a comfort item, so for this metric, we looked at overall weight, compactness, and packability.

We put each product on our own scale to confirm the manufacturer's measurements, and then rolled and stuffed each product into our backpacks to see how they would suit us on long days in the mountains.

A rainbow assortment of backcountry comfort
A rainbow assortment of backcountry comfort

Stability


For chairs that perform well in the stability world, you might not even give this metric a second thought. But for chairs that struggle, it's always on your mind. We evaluated a whole host of things that make a chair unstable: leg width, foot shape, ease of adjustment, and pole assembly. We also sat on a wide range of surfaces, from sand and mud to pavement and granite. We recorded performance specifics while allowing for multiple testers to give their individual feedback.

The Stonefly's horizontal bars make for a stable seat.
The Stonefly's horizontal bars make for a stable seat.

Versatility


While you may be shopping for a chair strictly for backpacking, we quickly learned that these chairs are useful in a whole host of situations. We found ourselves reaching for a seat almost everywhere we went, and we paid attention to which ones we gravitated towards in different environments. Despite similar designs, each product in this review has unique details that set it apart as a potential beach lounger, picnic partner, or musical pedestal.

The tester's parents enjoying a warm day in San Francisco
The tester's parents enjoying a warm day in San Francisco

A Note on User Friendliness


Before we set out to test these chairs with our own hands, we thought that a metric on "user-friendliness" or "ease of setup" would be crucial. We were pleased to find, though, that all of the chairs included in this review are exceptionally easy to use. Each taco-style seat is used in the same way, and its adjustment ability is included in the "comfort" metric described above. Similarly, most tent-style chairs are assembled in more-or-less the same way. While it might take a little muscle to get the final corner holster of fabric into the pole, this is true of all the models that we tested.

Conclusion


This review was written based on the experiences of our testers, and we tried to be as objective as possible. Every product in this review is undoubtedly more comfortable than sitting on the ground, though we believe fully that some are significantly smarter purchases than others. We set out to get to the bottom of each product's distinct qualities to bring you a complete, comprehensive review of twelve of the most popular chairs on the market today.