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

How We Tested Backpacking Chairs

By Lauren DeLaunay ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Tuesday March 12, 2019

Right in the midst of one of the best summers California has ever seen (in our opinion), we took these chairs just about everywhere we went. 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 in, sunbathe in, 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, packing 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, but ultimately we were surprised to find that nearly every person we asked to test these chairs agreed on the most comfortable ones. This category included fabric, cushioning, back and strap comfort, width, and stability. We had originally listed stability as its own metric but ultimately found that a chair's wobbliness was integral to its comfort. We sat in parking lots, on the beach, on dirt, and almost every surface we could find to put these chairs to their limits. 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.

Packing 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 stuff 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

Durability


As far as price goes, it's hard to beat a $15 Walmart camp chair. In order to invest a bit more in a nicer, lighter chair, we realized that durability would have to be heavily considered. We wanted a seat that would last us a long time, so for this metric, we looked to material quality, suspect wear points, and detail design to clue us into each product's predicted longevity. We used these chairs on as many rough surfaces as we could find, hoping to push them over the edge.

Extra reinforcement on the PowerLounger
Extra reinforcement on the PowerLounger

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. In all the individual reviews of these products, we'll give our recommendations as to the best places to plop your seat.

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 was included in the "comfort" metric that we described above. Similarly, each tent style chair was assembled in the same way. While it takes a little muscle to get the final corner holster of fabric into the pole, this was true of all four models that we tested. The only one that is slightly more convenient to use is the REI Flexlite for its useful holster thumb loops. We did not think, however, that this small detail warranted an entire scoring metric, so we included a description of that detail in the "versatility" category.

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 nine of the most popular chairs on the market today.