Are you on the hunt for the best backpacking chair in 2020? Over 9 years, we've tested multiple versions of 18 different models with 11 in our current review. We evaluated each seat on its comfort first and foremost, identifying crucial elements to each product's performance. We looked at the stability of each chair on a variety of surfaces, and we set up and packed away each one over and over to assess their ease of use. Whether you're heading deep into the backcountry or around the block to the park, we've got the perfect chair for you, so take a seat and read on.Related: Best Camping Chair of 2020
Best Backpacking Chair of 2020
Best Overall Backpacking Chair
Big Agnes Skyline UL
The Big Agnes Skyline UL provides a high comfort and stability level in a small package — and we love it. The seat is deep-pocketed, meaning that you'll feel comfortable sitting with your legs in a variety of positions and won't feel your bum slide forward. It also keeps your back in a straighter, less curled position than most models. Big Agnes has a unique bent leg design that creates a wider base and seat while keeping the packed profile small. Along with its reasonable price, these attributes make it one of the most well-rounded products we tested.
This chair is still 13 ounces heavier than the lightest chair in our review, so for those that are ultra-conscious about weight, 29 ounces may still be too heavy. We also found that the space-saving hubless pole design takes a little more time to put together than the hubbed pole models, but we are talking on a scale of 10-15 additional seconds, so take that with a grain of salt.
Read review: Big Agnes Skyline UL
Best Bang for the Buck
We always do our research into lesser-known brands that offer a surprisingly low price, and the Sunyear Compact chair did not disappoint. It offers above-average comfort, is just as easy to set up as other similar but more expensive models, and we were stunned that it was so easy to pack away, even with the bulky fabric.
Our testers felt the robust fabric was overkill and that Sunyear could have saved a few ounces while retaining durability by choosing a lighter material. The hardwearing nylon can be rough on bare legs and contributes to the 35-ounce weight, which is slightly heavier than average. However, we think you might be able to stomach the extra ounces for the bargain-basement price!
Read review: Sunyear Compact
Best for Ultralight Adventures
Helinox Chair Zero
There's a new lightweight winner in town! The Helinox Chair Zero is our favorite chair for ultralight missions. It misses being the lightest chair in this review by one ounce, yet it's significantly more comfortable and stable than its lighter counterpart. When sitting down into the Zero, users will feel the back support offered by the seat's shape and the security of legs that keep the wobble to a minimum for such a light chair.
The seat pocket isn't as deep as some, so we did find our legs feeling less supported and our bums sliding forward. You'll find yourself sitting pretty low to the ground as well, so this may not be the chair for folks who have trouble getting up from a low crouch. But for those of you wondering who the heck would bring a chair backpacking in the first place, we think this is the product that might change your mind.
Read review: Helinox Chair Zero
Best Choice for Vanlifers
Big Agnes Big Six
Travelers and car campers will rejoice when discovering the Big Agnes Big Six chair. The spacious seat is wide and tall and offers a high enough back for a headrest, a feature not found on any other chair this compact and lightweight. Its size is enormous for the small 5.5" x 5.5" x 21.5" bundle it makes when packed up, and the comfort it offers may even cause you to take a catnap. While this is too heavy for most backpacking endeavors, the comfort and small packed size make it perfect for those of you that dwell in a van, truck, or small RV.
We found the hubless pole design on the Big Six to be great for reducing bulk and increasing stability, but it does mean the setup requires a bit more focus than poles that spring into place mostly on their own. The Big Six doesn't neatly fall into the backpacking chair category for us because it's so heavy that most hikers aren't going to be willing to schlepp it into the mountains, but then again, it is small enough when packed up to strap to a bag, so maybe some will want to take it on.
Read review: Big Agnes Big Six
Best Foam Chair
Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 PowerLounger
Out of the foam ground-dwelling chairs we tested, the Hex 2.0 PowerLounger from Crazy Creek is our favorite. We are impressed by its comfort; the high back and extended bottom will keep you supported for longer sits, dry on wet grass, and clean in the mud. This chair is also incredibly versatile since it can double as a sleeping pad, or at least as a great addition to your inflatable pad when the surface is sharp or uneven.
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. Even though the Hex has a higher back and is, therefore, more comfortable than other similar chairs, it will still curl your shoulders in and won't be comfortable to sit in for overly long periods.
Read review: Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 PowerLounger
Why You Should Trust Us
Backpacking enthusiast and author of this review, Elizabeth Paashaus, has spent hundreds of mornings and evenings seated on the ground, which is enough to appreciate the comfort afforded by a lightweight camp chair. She has backpacked thousands of miles through the Appalachian mountains, the deserts of Southern Utah, and the high Sierra, both alone and with her husband and two girls. Elizabeth and her family can be found traveling the country, living in their converted school bus, seeking adventure through climbing and hiking, and enjoying our public lands as their outdoor living room.
The beginning of this review started with market research, which yielded an initial selection of fifty contending chairs. Out of these, we chose the 11 most promising chairs. We bought these (yes, we bought them all) and tested them for several weeks during the spring and summer. We took them everywhere, recruited friends, and sat on everything from parking lots to beach sand. We paid attention to how much work it was to set up and break down each chair, how comfortable we felt for long sits, and how stable we felt on different surfaces. We think you'll find this review a useful tool in narrowing down your options in a market flooded with excellent chairs.
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 chair. We rated each seat on how compact they are, how much they weigh, the comfort level after sitting in them for 30 minutes, their stability when getting in and out, the ease of setup, and perhaps more importantly, how easily they pack back into their bags. We weighted the metrics based on what we felt to be most important in a backpacking chair with comfort being at the top of that list, followed by size & weight, stability, and finally, ease of use. Read on to learn all about our top performers.
Related: Buying Advice for Backpacking Chairs
Here at OutdoorGearLab, we define "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 does their performance lag?
This review has a wide range of prices. Of the products that offer the best value, the Sunyear Compact stands out. This chair is from one of those unknown brands that do a great job of performing above average in comfort, size, weight, stability, and ease of use while keeping the price astonishingly low.
Our favorite chair, the Skyline UL, is on the more affordable side of all the tent-style 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.
For the biggest cost savings, look into the taco-style chairs, which are almost always less expensive than tent-style models but can still offer you a padded seat to comfort your derrière.
Most of the products we test 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 improve your outdoor experience. For this metric, we evaluated the myriad of ways chairs can be more or less comfortable and used these characteristics to rate each product against each other.
We found two distinct sub-categories within our review; the "tent-style" chairs with legs that sit up off the ground, and the "taco-style" or foam chairs that fold flat and sit on the ground. The comfort between these two categories is wildly different. A taco-style chair is harder to get in and out of since it sits so low and can't stand up on its own. They offer less support and often require a few core muscles to stay upright. Tent-style chairs tend to excel in the comfort metric since the raised seat, however high, is also easier to get in and out of than a taco-style chair. They also keep their form, allowing you to more or less plop down in them. Granted, you may not want to plop with abandon in the ultralight models like the feather-weight REI Flexlite Air!
When judging comfort, we also inspected the materials. How does the fabric feel on the skin? Is it breathable and ventilated? 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 both Helinox models. We found ourselves favoring these products on hot summer days because of their breathable vents.
We compared the amount of seat cushioning for the taco-style chairs, noting the thick, cushy bottom of the ALPS Mountaineering Weekender and the thin yet smooth seat of the Crazy Creek PowerLounger.
We also considered what body position the chairs put us in. When spending just a few minutes in a chair, most are comfortable enough. But, for longer sessions, some chairs stood out for supporting the back. We compared the depth of each tent-style chair, as some, like the Helinox Swivel and Sunyear, tipped us forward more than others. We preferred a deeper seat that let us recline and relax, like the one found our favorite model, the Skyline UL, and on the luxurious Big Six. The comfort was decidedly lower in taco-style chairs, but between the models tested, we noted that the PowerLounger curled our shoulders in and dug into our underarms the least.
Our testers took a few measurements for this category, too. For tent-style chairs, we measured how far each seat elevated us off the ground. In general, the higher the seat is, the easier it is to get in and out, and the gentler it is on the knees and hips. We also compared how far back the seat reclined (or didn't), and the seat's width. Because comfort is a major part of this review, we allotted it 30% of each chair's overall score.
Size & Weight
Unlike our camping chair review, this review is designed specifically for portable chairs that can be carried into the backcountry or during hikes. We analyzed packability and weight for this metric, knowing that a chair would have to be pretty compact to make it into an 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.
At OutdoorGearLab, we're in the business of making observations, not guesses, so we put each chair on a scale, brought out the measuring tape, and recorded what we found. Then we strapped each chair to a fully loaded pack to assess packability and took them out on hikes to decide if the bulk and weight are worth it for the comfort provided. Our review's current lightest chair is the REI Flexlite Air at 16 ounces, followed closely by the 17-ounce Chair Zero. These tent-style chairs are lighter than any taco-style competitor we tested despite having legs. For those looking to keep your bums out of the dirt while shaving ounces, we'd recommend trying out these two chairs and seeing which fit suits you best.
The taco-style chairs come in next in the weight category. Despite being light, we generally find the taco-style chairs 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 stuffed them in our backpacks, rolled them, carried them by hand, and strapped them to the outside to determine which, if any, are the most compact and easily transportable. The PowerLounger stands out here; it has a compression strap just for this purpose and is very convenient to roll up. It can be stowed beneath the lid or on the side of most backpacking packs.
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. The sign of a great 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 recline angle is key to both comfort and stability.
Looking at tent-style chairs, some really stand out. The huge base and larger diameter poles of the Big Six, while heavy, greatly increase its stability. The Skyline UL is also excellent; it has curved bars and wide feet that create a secure sitting experience. Sometimes cutting down the weight can decrease durability, but it can also decrease stability. We noted that most testers, upon sitting in the Flexlite Air, quickly threw their arms out to maintain their balance in this model with its uber-light fabric and flexible poles.
Taco-style chairs are a bit trickier to differentiate in this category. Because you sit directly on the ground, they generally offer the same stability as each other. In one sense, they are more stable than tent-style chairs since there is nowhere to fall, but we feel that because body tension is required to maintain an upright position, their stability ranks lower than most of the tent-style models.
Ease of Use
As a group of people who have wrestled with our share of outdoor equipment, we feel that the product you are willing to take with you will be one that doesn't make you want to pull your hair out. Sometimes we may be willing to learn how to operate a more complicated piece of gear when the benefits balance out the struggle, but often we want to be able to pick it up and have it work. Setting up these backpacking chairs is, by no means difficult, but some models have the set up dialed in.
To put the chairs to the test, we first set them up without reading or looking at any instructions, and we attempted to pack them back into their bags. We were surprised that every model we tested had little problem going back into its stuff sack. Some were a tighter fit than others, but nothing compared to putting a tent back into its bag!
The chairs we tested from Big Agnes have color-coded poles and pole pockets for a quick visual cue during assembly. We love that the Helinox models include picture directions printed on the chairs, making your first set up as easy as your fifteenth. Notably, the Travel Chair Joey has no markings or directions whatsoever. We are still not 100% certain which end of the fabric goes up, so we set it up both ways and decided which felt more comfortable.
The taco-style chairs require almost no set up. If the clips aren't fastened already, just fasten them and park your booty. The angle of repose is adjusted with a sliding buckle, and we found the models that allow you to cinch by pulling down, rather than up, to be the easiest to use.
While we like to get out and get after it, we also consider ourselves experts at sitting back and taking in the view. We have spent weeks on end with all 11 of these chairs, taking everywhere we went, from Southern Utah's canyons to backpacking in the High Sierra, to park-hopping in San Francisco. We jammed out at outdoor concerts and soaked up the sun at the river. We got to know each 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. By evaluating comfort, stability, size & weight, and versatility, we feel confident that you now have 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.
— Elizabeth Paashaus