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Published Jul 7, 2023 11:29 AM
For most hikers, backpacking chairs are not a necessity but a luxury. We each have our preferences and personal items that help elevate camp comfort, and a camp chair might be one of them. I’m not a die-hard backpacking chair gal—I have no qualms about sitting on the ground or a nearby rock, but during certain seasons and shorter trips, the extra weight can be worth it.
Backpacking chairs are different for everyone, so I tested them on durability, packability, and comfort, and included options for men and women of all sizes and ability levels. You’ll notice a few larger chairs on the list that ultralight hikers are likely to scoff at, but these are an ideal pick for some. Ultimately, the best backpacking chairs are those that complement your backpacking experience and provide that extra bit of comfort you crave after a long day on the trail.
How We Picked the Best Backpacking Chairs
Chairs are a highly subjective product and have a lot to do with your body shape, height, and personal preferences regarding comfort. To choose the best backpacking chairs, I considered the following:
- Ease of use
Before narrowing down which chairs to test, I took a couple of weeks to do some product and company research on the most popular backpacking chairs. I talked to product developers and surveyed seasoned backpackers to get their recommendations. I ended up with seven chairs for testing.
Since I am a 5-foot-7 female, I enlisted the help of someone taller than me and someone shorter than me to test the chairs. The information they provided was shockingly different from my experience alone sitting in each of the chairs, allowing me to have a broader view of which chairs work best for a wider audience.
As more testing is conducted, our product descriptions and choices may change.
Best Backpacking Chairs: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Nemo Moonlite
- Materials: Aluminum, 100% post-consumer recycled mesh materials (mesh/reclining hardware are Bluesign-approved)
- Weight: 1 lb 14 oz
- Weight Capacity: 300 lb
- Assembled Dimensions: 20 x 20 x 26 in
- Packed Dimensions: 4.0 x 4.0 x 14.0 in
- Highly adjustable
- Durable construction and materials
- Nemo Lifetime Warranty
- Utilizes recycled and bluesign-approved materials
- Stable chair design
- Comfortable seat with good ventilation
- Short seat back isn’t that comfortable for how far back the chair reclines
The Nemo Moonlite chair takes the classic backpacking chair design and ups the ante with its unique reclining design and sturdy construction. Every aspect of this chair was well thought-out by experienced outdoor enthusiasts who also enjoy comfort while on the trail. The chair frame has a flat foot design to prevent the legs from sinking into soft soil, aluminum hubs and poles for optimal durability, and a ball and socket locking structure for a secure assembly. The aluminum frame and attachment hubs increase the chair’s weight, but not enough to dissuade me from wanting to bring this backpacking.
Moving on to the seat design. I loved that the entire seat material is mesh. Other chairs only incorporates a small ventilated section, which isn’t always enough especially on hot nights. At first glance, I questioned the durability of the seat fabric, but it’s surprisingly robust and it conforms well to different body shapes due to its seamless design.
I was most excited about the corners of the chair. Backpacking chairs often first fail where the frame poles connect to the seat. However, the corners of the Nemo Moonlite utilize a rubber corner covering and socket to enable the poles to lock into place. While these afford you a strong bond between the frame and the seat, they can be hard to disassemble at times, and depending on your body shape, the rubber edges and side straps can dig into your legs, arms, or back.
Lastly, the stand-out design feature of this chair is its adjustability. With a design seen on taco-style camp chairs, the Moonlite chair has straps on both sides that allow you to adjust how far back or forward the seat reclines. While I enjoyed this feature for customization for different people, I didn’t find myself using it to recline back often. If the chair had a higher seat back, I’d use it fully reclined more frequently.
Best Lightweight: Helinox Chair Zero
- Materials: DAC aluminum alloy, UV-resistant ripstop polyester
- Weight: 1 lb 2 oz
- Weight Capacity: 265 lbs
- Assembled Dimensions: 18.5 x 20 x 25 in
- Packed Dimensions: 3.5 x 3.5 x 13.5 in
- Lightweight and packable
- Easy to assemble and disassemble
- Durable for the weight
- Also available in a high-back design
- 5-year warranty
- Somewhat small for some body types and heights
The Helinox Zero Chair is one of the best lightweight chairs out there. I’d argue it has the best weight-to-comfort ratio for a backpacking chair, making it a staple in the backpacking community. It provides ample comfort within the seat design, and the lightweight frame is easy to pack yet surprisingly stable. The polyester materials are quite durable, and there are two slits in the fabric to optimize comfort while seated and to provide some ventilation.
Of all the Helinox chairs I’ve used, this was the easiest to assemble and disassemble. The frame clicks together within seconds, and I was able to slip the seat corners over the frame poles without much of a struggle. The corners are attached to the poles with a reinforced slot on each corner. However, the two lower corners are the two spots I’ve seen fail most often on chairs like this. Over time, the weight and pressure put on the fabric in the lower corners wears down and may begin to come undone on the stitching.
The price of the chair is the main thing I don’t love—it may be out of some hikers’ budgets. While Helinox has a 5-year warranty, it does not cover damage caused by normal wear and tear.
Best Stool: Big Agnes Skyline UL Stool
- Materials: Robic nylon, polyester ripstop, waterproof UTS coating, aircraft aluminum
- Weight: 1 lb 3 oz
- Weight Capacity: 250 lbs
- Assembled Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 15 in
- Packed Dimensions: 3.5 x 3.5 x 12 in
- Small and compact design
- Wide seat area
- Easy assembly and disassembly
- Lightweight and functional
- Big Agnes offers in-house repairs for a small fee
If this stool weren’t so comfortable and lightweight, I would’ve given this spot to the Grand Trunk Compass 360 stool. While the Grand Trunk 360 may have a few more features—like a swivel seat—the Big Agnes Skyline UL stool won me over with its sturdy and simple design. Proof that sometimes simpler is better. The wide seat area makes for a comfortable place to sit and it’s small and compact enough to put in a day pack for added comfort on a long hike.
The frame construction is similar to many tent-style chairs on this list. While the aircraft-grade aluminum is lightweight, it’s also highly durable and it feels sturdy enough to sit on any terrain. Additionally, the seat fabric is made from synthetic materials like nylon and ripstop polyester that hold up well to the wear and tear of camp life.
Although this stool is relatively compact and convenient, it isn’t a chair and thus it lacks a seat back. If weight is a concern, the Helinox Zero Chair is essentially the same weight and a bit more comfortable. However, stools have merit and are better for workstations than most camp chairs.
Best Ultralight: Therm-a-Rest Z Seat
- Materials: 50D Polyester, Crosslinked Polyethylene, Molded closed cell foam
- Weight: 2 oz
- Weight Capacity: N/A
- Assembled Dimensions: 13 x 16 x .75 in
- Packed Dimensions: 12 in x 2.5 in x 2.75 in
- The most lightweight and packable
- Highly durable
- Made with therm-a-capture to reflect radiant heat
- Comes with bungee closure
- No seat back
- You’re sitting on the ground
If minimalism is your game, Therm-a-Rest is likely a name you’re familiar with. The Z-Seat, at such an affordable price, is well worth the money. What I love most about foam sit pads is that they’re quick and easy to set up, and they’re highly versatile. Small enough to tote along on a day hike, you can stuff one into the water bottle side pocket of your pack, ready for use on a quick break, or keep it in your car for concerts and sports games. You can also use it as a seat or a sleeping pad extender. What’s especially cool about the Z-Seat is that it has one side that utilizes therm-a-capture to radiate heat back to you.
The only downside to this camp “chair” is that it isn’t a chair at all, and you’re still sitting on the ground. Plus, you could always just use your foam pad for a seat if you’re willing to pack this. However, if you’re looking for a versatile and compact way to make camping more comfortable, this is an ideal option.
Note: Nemo has a similar closed-cell foam sit pad made from reclaimed materials called the Nemo Chipper. It is even more affordable than the Therm-a-Rest, but since the Z-Seat is the original, I had to go with them.
Most Comfortable: Stoic High Pack Chair
- Materials: 600D polyester, PU coating, aluminum
- Weight: 2 lbs
- Weight Capacity: 300 lbs
- Assembled Dimensions: 25 x 22 x 36 in
- Packed Dimensions: 15 x 5 in
- High seat back
- Extremely comfortable seat design
- Frame is very stable even on soft ground
- Decent ventilation
- Seems to be durable
- Heavy for a backpacking chair
If you seek comfort, the affordable Stoic High Pack Chair is a great choice. Between the high-back chair design and wide seat area, it’s one of the most comfortable and compact chairs I’ve tested. It’s versatile enough to take car camping, RVing, to the beach, and on short backpacking ventures.
This chair’s frame is unique in that the chair legs have a rounded rubber stopper. While it may not be as effective as a flat stopper end, the larger rounded portion does surprisingly well, keeping the chair level even on softer ground. The aluminum materials are lightweight and durable, and the center has parallel poles for additional structural security. Lastly, the top of the chair’s back frame is slightly flared on both sides, which gives it a reclining feel while seated. While I enjoyed this for relaxation, some campers may prefer to sit further forward at times.
I also noticed this chair is further off the ground than other tall-back chairs. For older adults, not having to sit down as far is ideal and makes it much easier to sit down and get up. While I favored this chair design, I know the weight isn’t suitable for everyone. But if comfort is your priority when shopping for backpacking chairs, this one is well worth the look.
Best for Tall People: Helinox Sunset Chair
- Materials: Polyester/nylon mesh, DAC Aluminum
- Weight: 3 lbs 8 oz
- Weight Capacity: 320 lbs
- Assembled Dimensions: 38.5 x 28.5 x 23 in
- Packed Dimensions: 18.5 x 5.5 x 4.5 in
- Comfortable, high-back design
- High weight capacity
- Sturdy frame
- Durable construction
- Relatively easy to assemble
- Larger and heavier than other backpacking chair options
The Helinox Sunset chair is comfortable for anyone who is taller or has a bigger build. The tall high-back design and wide seat area accommodate taller and larger backpackers much better than smaller backpacking chairs. I appreciate the mesh paneling on the side and back of the seat for optimal ventilation and comfort in various conditions.
Assembly is straightforward and easy. Out of the bag, putting the frame together is a breeze. The only challenge I faced is that the two lower seat attachments are difficult to connect. Once you get them, they’re very secure, but it takes some time and effort to lock them into place.
Having a taller chair and higher seat height is one of the most comfortable aspects of this chair. If you are a shorter person (5-foot-4 or shorter), the seat may be too high and cut into your legs some while seated. The Helinox Sunset is also at the top of our weight range at just under 4 pounds. Still, for short backpacking trips, the versatility to use this chair for car camping and other outdoor activities may make the weight worth it for some folks.
Best Budget: Kelty Camp Chair
- Materials: 600D Polyester
- Weight: 1 lb 2 oz
- Weight Capacity: 325 lbs
- Unfolded Dimensions: 19.5 x 19.5 x 17 in
- Packed Dimensions: 19.5 x 17 x 1.5 in
- Affordable price
- Easy to keep clean
- Lightweight and packable
- Durable materials
- Versatile and minimalist design
- You’re still sitting on the ground
- No ventilation
While a sit pad is the most budget-friendly seating choice, if having a seat back is a deal breaker, consider the Kelty Camp Chair. A more affordable design than the Crazy Creek Camp Chair, the Kelty utilizes a similar folding and adjustment system. The Crazy Creek and the Kelty Camp Chair are equally comfortable, but the Kelty costs less.
Sitting on the ground isn’t for everyone, but the taco-style chair design provides a way to relax at camp that is lightweight, packable, and typically far more durable than tent-style chairs. Versatile enough for camp, sporting events, festivals, the beach, and more, it’s a functional portable seat that’s easy to keep in your car and take wherever you go.
All that said, I recommend testing this chair—and any other taco-style seat—in person before investing in one. The shape and size of the seat can be constricting to some users, and depending on your size, the adjustment straps may dig into your thighs.
What to Consider When Choosing Backpacking Chairs
The most common use of a backpacking chair is to have a comfortable and portable place to sit in while you’re in camp. Where there is some variation is the types of trips you frequently go on, along with the distance covered, type of terrain, climate, and weather conditions.
For instance, an ultralight backpacker covering long miles may opt not to carry a chair and instead use a foam pad that can double as a seat while cooking meals in camp. More casual backpackers who hike up to 10 miles to a base camp may value a comfortable chair, and they don’t mind a little extra weight because the pack in and out is short.
Understanding your fitness level and how much weight you’re comfortable carrying while backpacking can also influence your chair choice. From there, it’s much easier to narrow down the potential picks because you have an idea of the target weight and the preference for comfort necessary to make carrying a backpacking chair worth it.
Backpacking chairs can also be excellent for beach days, park picnics, and the occasional festival because they are so portable.
Size and Weight
The size and weight of a backpacking chair are a top priority. When adding weight to your pack, it better be well worth it. A comfortable chair is nice, but only if the weight is suitable for long miles over various terrain. Options like the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat are compact and ultralight but limited in comfort and functionality.
When it comes to weight, anything under 2 pounds is considered ideal for backpacking. Anything over 2 pounds can be justified but is still heavy for the intended use, and if it goes over 4 pounds, we no longer consider it an option.
If the chair is a more traditional design and isn’t a cushion or folding cloth chair like the Kelty Camp Chair or Crazy Creek, we expect the legs and frame to fold down and roll up into the chair seat. The chair seat fabric must be durable, but the material should be light and flexible enough to pack down small. A water bottle is a good gauge—it’s ideal if the chairs can pack to be around the size of a Nalgene. Some of our picks with a taller seat design are larger than that, but the design is light enough to justify inclusion for the chair’s application and comfort levels.
Some chairs are small enough to fit in the side water bottle pocket of a backpacking backpack, while others can be strapped to the outside or packed inside. Since many backpackers take a lunch break, having easy access to the chair during the day is helpful. Our goal here was to find compact and lightweight chairs that are still highly comfortable no matter the type of ground (sand, rock, etc.).
The best backpacking chairs must be durable enough to meet the trail’s demands. If you’re doing a long-distance hike, work in the outdoor industry, or get out backpacking often, your chair must be made from materials that hold up to that amount of use. So just as you consider the intended use, you should also consider the frequency of use. The more frequently you use the chair, the more durable a design you’ll need.
Look at both the materials and construction of the seat fabric and the frame. Not all backpacking chairs have a frame, so if you buy something like the Z Seat or a Crazy Creek, consider other durability factors regarding the chair material and design.
For more traditional chair designs like the Helinox Zero or Nemo Moonlite, the seat fabric is likely made from a ripstop nylon material or another synthetic blend. The fabric may be a solid sheet, mesh, or a combination. Any seams within the fabric create a weak point, and the corners where the frame attaches to the material are the most likely to fail. Since those four connection points experience the most pressure, look at the chair’s weight capacity and the reinforcement designed into the corners. For example, the Nemo Moonlite utilizes a rubber material in the corner instead of fabric to increase durability. Other companies may reinforce the fabric with additional materials to help keep the weight down.
The chair frame is most likely made from aluminum, which is gives it a lightweight yet durable construction. How the frame pieces connect is another consideration. Many chairs, like the Helinox, use plastic connections and rubber tips at the base of the legs. On the other hand, Nemo uses aluminum hubs to connect the frame structure for a more durable overall design. The only downside to using aluminum hubs versus plastic ones is they tend to be slightly heavier.
Comfort is likely the primary reason anyone lugs along a backpacking chair, and in many cases, the smaller and lighter the chair, the less comfortable it is. Luckily, we found a few compact chairs that truly offer a high level of comfort. When choosing the best backpacking chair, decide the level of comfort necessary for it to provide value to your outdoor experience.
Since comfort is different for each individual, it was important to me to have multiple testers for each chair. What I found comfortable wasn’t always comfortable for someone taller or shorter than me and vice versa. Your body size, mobility, and height will influence which chairs you find the most comfortable.
The size and shape of the seat is a significant factor in determining comfort. I noticed that the Big Agnes designs often have wider seat shapes, making them characteristically more comfortable for women because we have wider hips. The Stoic High Pack Chair offered a generous seat size and a high seat, making it one of the most comfortable chairs on our list. The Nemo Moonlite is similarly comfortable, but depending on your body width and shoulders, the straps and rubber corners may cut into the back of your arms.
The seat material should also be breathable. Most of us are backpacking in warmer weather, so a ventilated seat back adds more comfort. Taco-style chairs like the Kelty Camp Chair don’t have much to offer in terms of ventilation, and since they are directly on the ground, some hikers may not find them very comfortable at all.
Besides the chair seat itself, how high the chair is off the ground also contributes to comfort. We included a few taller chairs in our list for this reason. If the chair is higher off the ground, it is easier to get in and out of and is easier on joints like your knees and hips. Some chairs, like the Nemo Moonlite, also offer a reclining factor to increase adjustability and comfort in various positions. While this feature is nice, I’d find it more comfortable with a higher-back chair. Seats that offer a slightly higher back and allow for some level of reclining seemed to be the most comfortable for the longest periods.
The final factor that affects comfort is stability. If the chair isn’t stable, it’s hard to get comfortable and it can even be dangerous. Generally, more durable designs tend to have a more stable feel. Look for chairs with a wider base on the frame that accommodates different types of ground. If the chair feels wobbly on a hard, flat surface, it will be pretty much the same, if not worse, sitting on the dirt in a campsite. Ultralight chairs may have to sacrifice some stability to maintain a lower weight, but it’s worth a few ounces to have a more comfortable seat for some users.
Varying chair designs—including seat cushions, taco-style chairs, or collapsible tent chairs—offer different forms of comfort, and each has merits and applications. For instance, a seat cushion provides a slight barrier from the cold wet ground and is highly packable, while a tent chair elevates you off the ground, making camp cooking and lounging something to savor.
Ease of Use
When testing most outdoor gear, I go into it blind, meaning that I don’t look at the instructions the first time I set it up. This method allows me to gauge how intuitive and straightforward the design is for the average person. Some are far more straightforward than others, but for the most part, I found all of these chairs easy to set up and pack away.
Sit pads and taco-style chairs are the easiest to use since they have the most straightforward setup. Most taco-style chair designs have two buckles on either side to hold the two sides in place, and then those straps can be adjusted as needed for comfort.
The tent-style chairs like the Helinox and Nemo Moonlite have a slightly more complicated design but are relatively easy to figure out. Of all those chair designs, I found the Helinox Zero the easiest chair to assemble. The frame clips together quickly, and the seat fabric easily slips onto the poles’ ends. The tall back chairs like the Helinox Sunset and the Stoic High Pack Chair were more challenging to assemble because the seat material needed to be tight to fit onto the last frame pole. The top fabric slipped off several times for the Stoic chair, and fitting the last loop onto a pole was a struggle. The Helniox Sunset was very difficult to attach to the last seat corner, but it stayed securely in place once I figured it out.
While most of the tent-style chairs have a similar design, the Nemo Moonlite has a unique corner clipping system that is not only sturdier but I found it easier to assemble. Similar to their tent poles, the ends of the frame poles are equipped with a ball that locks into the rubber notches on each corner. Once locked into place, these take some effort to undo, but they provide one of the most secure feels while seated.
Finally, packing the chair should be as easy as putting it away. As mentioned, the Nemo Moonlite takes an effort to unclip the corners, but the rest is fairly intuitive. The Helinox Sunset had a unique headrest design, providing a small flap to hold the folded frame. The rest of the tent-style chair frames rolled nicely into the seat fabric to fit easily into the provided carrying case.
Q: What is a good weight for a backpacking chair?
Ideally, a backpacking chair is under 2 pounds, but depending on the type of trip, your personal preference, and the level of comfort you seek, looking for a chair under 4 pounds works well for most hikers.
Q: Are backpacking chairs worth it?
Like with all camping gear, whether or not a backpacking chair is worth it is up to you and the type of adventure. Many hikers opt for a backpacking chair, especially if there is a base camp or a longer trek. The right chair can add a new level of comfort and relaxation while in camp, making it worth it. Ultralight or minimalist hikers may opt not to pack a chair because of the additional weight, and other items like a foam sleeping pad can also be used as a seat.
Q: What are the benefits of a backpacking chair?
Backpacking chairs add a bit of comfort in the backcountry. Something like the Z-Rest can add warmth while sitting on the cold ground, and other chairs like the Nemo Moonlite has a large mesh panel seat that helps keep you cool on hot summer days.
Q: How long should a backpacking chair last?
A good durable backpacking chair should last several seasons in the backcountry. If you’re using the chair regularly, the exposure to the sun, rain, and stress of use will eventually degrade the materials over time. Keeping the chair clean and using it properly can help extend its life, but investing in a durable product, to begin with, is the best option.
Best Backpacking Chairs: Final Thoughts
The best backpacking chairs across the board all have a few things in common: They’re portable, highly durable, and comfortable. Not all of the chairs on our list fit everyone’s gear budget perfectly, which is why I included the Kelty Camp Chair as our budget pick. It may not be as comfortable as the Stoic High Pack Chair, but it can still act as a functional camp chair that packs well and is relatively lightweight. And as with anything I test, I always recommend buying used gear whenever possible to save money and reduce waste.
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