Best Lightweight Backpacking Chair
Big Agnes Skyline UL
: 29 ounces | Material
: Nylon with aluminum frame
The highest scoring chair in this review is the Skyline. This chair has some major things going for it, namely its awesome comfort coupled with its light weight. These attributes, along with its reasonable price, make it one of the most well-rounded products we've ever tested.
Nothing is perfect, though. This chair is still 13 ounces heavier than the lightest chair we reviewed, so for those that are ultra-conscious about weight, its 29 ounces may still be too heavy. That being said, the Skyline has the best weight-to-comfort ratio of any chairs we tested, a pretty reasonable price to boot.
Read review: Big Agnes Skyline UL
Best Bang for the Buck
Kelty Camp Chair
: 24 ounces | Material
: Polyester with closed-cell foam
Sits directly on the ground
The Kelty Camp Chair is one of our favorite products in this review, and, for the price, it's also one of the best bargains. Sometimes, the occasion calls for a lightweight, inexpensive option, and if you're heading to a concert or campground, a taco-style chair like this one is the perfect pick.
Folding taco-style chairs like this one are inexpensive and comfortable, but the majority of our testing team prefers the comfort of a tent-style chair that sits higher off the ground. However, chairs of that style are often three to five times as expensive, which is why it was so easy to award the Kelty Camp Chair our Best Buy Award!
Read review: Kelty Camp Chair
Best for Backcountry Versatility
Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 PowerLounger
: 22 ounces | Material
: Foam and nylon
Can be used as a sleeping pad
The Hex 2.0 PowerLounger from Crazy Creek must be one of the best backpacking-specific products around. We were impressed by this taco-style chair's comfort; its high back and extended bottom will keep you dry on wet grass, clean in the mud, and cozy no matter where you are. This chair is also incredibly versatile since it can easily double as a sleeping pad, or at least as a great addition to your inflatable pad when the surface is sharp or uneven. With a much lower price than the Skyline UL, the PowerLounger can save you even more money if you forego a sleeping pad as well.
On the flip side, this chair does put you right on the ground, which is less comfortable than some of the elevated, tent-style chairs we tested. It would not be our first pick for a sleeping pad, as its padding is quite thin, but it will certainly work in a pinch. The most comfortable seats we tested are tent-style chairs that keep you way off the ground; this format is generally much better for the knees and hips, but also more expensive.
Read review: Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 PowerLounger
Best for Ultralight Adventures
REI Co-op Flexlite Air
: 16 ounces | Material
: Ripstop nylon with aluminum frame
There's a new lightweight winner in town! The REI Flexlite Air is our new favorite chair for ultralight missions. It's the lightest chair in this review, and it's more comfortable than any of the slightly heavier taco-style folding chairs we tested. This chair has a similar performance score as the Helinox Chair Zero, which has a nearly identical weight. However, this one is less expensive, making it a clear choice.
We'll admit it: the Flexlite Air is not super stable on uneven terrain, and there are more comfortable options to be had. The Skyline UL is definitely more well-rounded, but for those of you wondering who the heck would bring a chair backpacking in the first place, we think this product might change your mind.
Read review: REI Co-op Flexlite Air
Typical backpacking chair field test
Why You Should Trust Us
Review author Lauren DeLaunay brings us this comprehensive assessment of backpacking chairs. Lauren engages in a variety of outdoor activities regularly and can appreciate the comfort afforded by a lightweight camp chair. She's essentially outdoors all the time, working for Yosemite Search and Rescue, and living in Camp 4. When not getting scared on Yosemite's big walls, she can be found skiing, trail running, and riding her beach cruiser up big hills. Additionally, she holds a degree in International Relations from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (which she primarily puts to use as a crossword puzzle fanatic).
The work of this review started with market research, which yielded an initial selection of 50 contending chairs. Of these, we chose the 12 most promising. We bought these (yes, we bought them all) and tested them for several weeks during the summer. We recruited friends, took them everywhere, and sat on everything from parking lots to beach sand, all the while paying attention to four testing metrics that we identified as most important in the overall functionality of a backpacking chair: comfort, size, stability, and versatility. Overall, we think you'll find this review to be a useful tool in your camp chair selection process.
Related: How We Tested Backpacking Chairs
Analysis and Test Results
With so many backpacking chairs on the market, how do you pick the right one? In this article, we've identified the four most important qualities to look for in a backpacking chair. For each category, our testers awarded the product numerical ratings from 1-10. After assigning a weighted percentage to each metric, we were able to give all 12 products a final score out of 100, though we realize that your needs may be a little different than what we've predicted. We describe all four scoring metrics in detail below to help you decide what you're looking for in your perfect backpacking seat. As always, if you know that one metric (say, comfort) is much more important to you than another (like versatility), you'll want to focus your shopping energy on those chairs that scored the highest in the categories you care about most.
Related: Buying Advice for Backpacking Chairs
After researching the top 50 products on the market, we were able to identify two distinct categories of chairs. The first of these we've named "taco-style chairs." These products are cheap, light, and relatively comfortable. They use a folding piece of material supported by adjustable side straps and, sometimes, internal rods. These chairs are held upright by the oppositional force of the user's legs and back. We have included four chairs of this design in our review, at a range of prices. Chairs of this style are perfect for outdoor concerts, backpacking, picnics, and cragging.
The second category of product in our review is the "tent-style" model. These products have two parts: poles and the seat. The poles generally attach at a central location, much like a tent. The fabric seat has holsters on four corners to sit on top of the poles. The user sits suspended on the material in between the poles. These chairs are, overall, much more expensive, and the nine we picked for this review range in price dramatically. In addition to backpacking, these chairs are perfect for car camping and beach lounging; they are often not allowed at outdoor concerts because they sit too far off the ground (though the Therm-a-Rest Uno may be an exception).
Here at OutdoorGearLab, we have defined "value" as the meeting point between performance and price. Some products have superior comfort or versatility, but do their prices justify the performance? Others may be very affordable, but do their performances lag?
This review has a massive range of prices, from $30 to $150. Our Best Buy Award winners are products that offer the best value, and currently, that honor goes to the Kelty Camp Chair. This chair manages to have the highest comfort score of any of the taco-style chairs we tested AND the lowest price. It's also, somehow, both bigger and lighter than the other taco-style options, making it an excellent buy for users who want a quality product on a budget.
Though they didn't take home Best Buy Awards, there are a few other products we want to highlight for their value. The REI Co-op Flexlite is the most affordable tent-style chair that we tested. There are more comfortable and stable chairs out there, but, for the price, you get a lightweight chair that's an upgrade from a taco-style model.
Additionally, the Skyline UL is on the more affordable side of all the chairs we tested and offers an exceptionally well-rounded performance. This product illustrates that you don't need to spend major bucks to have a stellar backpacking chair.
Most of the products we test here at OutdoorGearLab are performance-driven. They're lightweight, sleek, and designed to help you in your most adventurous pursuits. But this review is different. Chairs are for luxury, and they'd serve no purpose without comfort. To justify lugging a purely luxurious item around with you, it must really improve your outdoor experience. For this metric, we evaluated the myriad of ways chairs can be more and less comfortable and used these characteristics to rate each product against each other. Because there are two different styles of products in this review, we compare each chair to its direct competitors as well as to every chair we tested.
The very first thing we looked at when judging comfort is materials. How does the fabric feel on the skin? Is it breathable and ventilated? Does it add to or detract from our enjoyment? Not one of the taco-style chairs in our review has any breathability, and all use similar materials. Two tent-style chairs stand out for excellent ventilation: the TravelChair Joey and the REI Flexlite. We found ourselves favoring these products on hot summer days because of their breathable mesh vents. The Helinox Chair Zero has vents, too, but isn't quite as breathable as the ones we just mentioned.
We examined the seat of each chair, but what we looked for varied depending on which style model we were testing. For taco-style chairs, we compared the amount of cushioning on the seat itself, noting the thick, cushy bottom of the ALPS Mountaineering Weekender and the thin yet smooth seat of the Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 PowerLounger. For tent-style chairs, we compared the depth of each chair, as some, like the Helinox Swivel and Helinox Chair Zero, tipped us forward more than others. We preferred a deeper seat that let us recline and relax, like the one found on the Big Agnes Skyline UL.
One of the most comfortable chairs we tested is the TravelChair Joey, seen here at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
Our testers took a few measurements for this category, too. We examined the back height of each of our taco style chairs, noting that the 20-inch high back on the PowerLounger feels really lovely and the overall larger size of the Kelty Camp Chair adds significantly to its comfort. For tent-style chairs, we measured how far each seat elevated us off the ground. In general, the higher the seat, the easier it is to get in and out of, and the gentler it is on the knees and hips. We also compared how far back the seat reclined (or didn't), and the width of the seat.
Because comfort is a huge part of this review, we allotted it 30% of the overall score of each chair.
Unlike our camping chair review, this review is designed specifically for portable chairs that can potentially be carried into the backcountry or on hikes. We analyzed weight and packability for this metric, knowing that a chair would have to be pretty compact to make into your already heavy pack on your next trip into the backcountry. We considered both the relative weight of each chair compared to models of the same design (taco or tent style), as well as how it stacked up against every product we tested.
Here at OutdoorGearLab, we're in the business of making observations, not guesses, so we put each chair on a scale and recorded what we found. Next, we used our in-field results to determine which chairs were too heavy for long-term backcountry missions. The current lightest chair in our review is the REI Flexlite Air at 16 ounces. This tent-style chair is lighter than any taco-style competitor we tested despite having legs. For the ounce-counting backpackers among us, this is a product to watch. In a very close second place is the Helinox Chair Zero, another great contender for the uber weight-conscious among us. For those looking to shave ounces without sacrificing comfort, we'd recommend trying out these two chairs and seeing which fit suits you best.
Other than the two models outlined above, the taco-style chairs are lighter than the rest of the tent-style pack. Despite being lighter, we generally find the taco-style chairs to be harder to pack than the tent-style chairs that break down easily and store nicely into stuff sacks. To gather information about each chair's packability, we rolled them, stuffed them in our backpacks, and carried them by hand to determine which, if any, are the most compact and easily transportable. The PowerLounger stands out here; with a compression strap just for this purpose, it is very convenient to roll up and stuff in your backpack.
Great packing strap on the PowerLounger.
Size accounts for 30% of the total score of each product.
We got a lot of feedback on the chairs in this review, and one thing quickly became clear: if a chair is stable, our testers didn't even think about it. If, on the other hand, a chair is unstable, it's the first complaint you'll hear about. The sign of a good product is one you can use easily and effortlessly, and chairs are no different.
While this category applies a little more directly to tent-style chairs, we'll touch on taco-style chairs, too. All the taco-style chairs we tested have the same general construction and stability. However, being able to quickly and easily adjust their angle of recline is key to both comfort and stability.
Adjusting the Kelty chair is a breeze.
Looking at tent-style chairs, some really stand out. The Therm-A-Rest Uno has a large base that, while heavy, greatly increases its stability score. The Big Agnes Skyline UL is also excellent; it has curved bars and wide feet that make for a secure sitting experience.
The wide base of the Uno provides a lot of stability.
Taco-style chairs are a bit trickier to judge in this category. Because you sit directly on the ground, they are generally more stable than taller tent-style chairs. Additionally, the stability is mostly provided by your body tension; as your back presses against one side of the chair, your legs press against the other, keeping you upright. The Kelty Camp Chair, our Best Buy Award winner, is a great example of a simple, stable seat for any adventure.
We know what you're thinking: how does a backpacking chair become more versatile? While you might be looking for something to fit one particular activity, we awarded extra points to seats that could be taken anywhere: into the mountains, to the beach, to the park, you name it! Can you play music in it? Cook? Read? You might know exactly what you're looking for, but we tried to figure out the best ways to use and abuse these products and stretch their limits.
Our testers wanted to know, first and foremost, if any of these chairs could act as something other than a chair. We were impressed with the versatility of the PowerLounger, which can easily double as a sleeping pad. This feature helped win it our Best Buy Award as it has the potential to save you money on a sleeping pad as well. We generally like taco-style chairs that have easy to open buckles on the side for this very reason. Some of these chairs also have great extra features like the pockets on the Weekender, which make it a great picnic and stadium seat.
The rear pocket on the Weekender is an excellent feature.
For tent-style chairs, we looked at the feet to help us decide where we could use it. The Joey has wide feet that make it excellent for sand, grass, and other uneven surfaces. Most unique, though, is the Therm-a-Rest Uno. This chair can double as a table, and its broad, round base makes it a great option for sand and soft surfaces.
The Uno up close in table mode
We allotted 15% of the final score to versatility.
While we here at OutdoorGearLab like to get out and get after it, we also consider ourselves experts at sitting back and taking in the view. We spent weeks on end with all 12 of these chairs. We took them everywhere we went, from park-hopping in San Francisco to backpacking in the High Sierra and camping in Yosemite. We soaked up the sun at the river and jammed out at outdoor concerts. We got to know each and every product in this review, from their small details to their larger impressions. We compared them all side-by-side, taking detailed notes as we went along. We're very pleased with the review we've written and believe it to be the most comprehensive backpacking chair review available. By evaluating comfort, size, stability, and versatility, we feel confident that we've got the information you need to make an informed decision. Whether you're looking for the lightest option on the market or the most comfortable spot to park your booty, we've got you covered.
A rainbow assortment of backcountry comfort