A backpacking chair is definitely not one of the 10 essentials. But it’s a luxury item that can make the camping portion of a backpacking trip much more enjoyable and relaxed. If you like to sit around a campfire to socialize at night or read outdoors while sitting upright, bringing a lightweight trail chair along can really enhance a backpacking trip. With trail weights between 1 and 2 pounds, the added weight of carrying a backpacking chair isn’t that onerous, especially if it’s offset by using other lightweight backpacking gear.
Here are the top 10 backpacking trail chairs we recommend.
1. Helinox Chair Zero
2. REI Flexlite Air Chair
3. NEMO Moonlite Reclining Chair
4. Helinox Ground Chair
The Helinox Ground Chair has a square base that spreads the load more evenly than feet, meaning it is not as likely to sink into the ground. Setup is fast and easy with shock-corded poles and intuitive seat attachments. Its supportive 500-denier polyester seat features breathable monofilament mesh side panels to keep you comfortable in hot environments. The only thing missing is an ottoman to prop your feet on.
5. Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair
6. REI Trail Stool
7. Therm-a-Rest Trekker Chair Kit
8. NEMO Chipper Closed-Cell Foam Seat
9. REI Co-op Sit Pad
10. Bearvault BV500 Bear Canister
How to Choose a Backpacking Trail Chair
There are several types of trail chairs available today: sling-style chairs with collapsing and shock-corded aluminum legs, stools, chair kits that incorporate a sleeping pad, closed-cell foam sit pads, and inflatable seat cushions.
The cost of a backpacking chair can vary widely depending on the type of chair you want. Upright chairs with backs and shock-corded poles are usually the most expensive, while the price drops the closer you get to the ground with sit pads or sleeping pad chair kits. In addition to price, we’d encourage you to consider warranties and return policies as well. For example, Helinox offers a 5-year warranty on all of their chairs, including the Helinox Chair Zero and the Helinox Ground Chair, which we think speaks volumes about the quality of their product. Purchases made of REI products or through REI also have a 1 year money-back guarantee, which is helpful if you find that the chair you choose doesn’t stack up.
While chair weight is important, you need to balance it against the weight capacity of the chair to ensure it can hold your body weight, seat height, and packability. For example, the Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair is probably the best chair for big and tall backpackers, but it is significantly heavier than the Helinox Chair Zero or the REI Flexlite Air Chair.
When choosing a trail chair, make sure it can support your body weight or the weight of the people who will be using it. You don’t want to break the chair or hurt yourself by having it collapse under you. The NEMO Moonlite Reclining Chair is the strongest upright chair listed below with an extra-thick frame followed by the Big Agnes Skyline UL. Both are suitable for tall and big backpackers.
Trail chairs that are low to the ground like the Helinox Ground Chair can be very difficult to get up from. We generally aim for chairs that have a seat height of 10″. Much lower and you’ll want to add deep squats to your weekday workouts to get in shape to get up from your trail chair. But this is one of those things that varies from individual to individual. If you don’t mind crawling in the dirt, a low chair or sit pad may be perfectly suitable for you.
Seat width is another dimension of comfort that is important to consider because you want a chair that is going to be big enough for your butt. Stools like the REI Trail Stool are a good option if you don’t like having your derriere squeezed from sides by a seat, as are sit pads like the NEMO Chipper or the REI Sit Pad.
If back support is a priority, you’re going to want to get a chair like the NEMO Moonlite Reclining Chair which has an adjustable back angle or the Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair which is more upright than other chairs.
Most trail chairs will sink in soil, sand, or soft ground which can be pretty annoying because it makes it much harder to stand up and get out of your chair. When comparing chairs, look for ones with wide feet or accessories that prevent sinking. These can add cost and weight to the chair to make it usable in the field that offset the chair’s weight. For example, the Helinox Chair Zero has an added accessory groundsheet that prevents the chair from sinking in soft soil and sand. It costs and weighs extra though. The NEMO Moonlite and the REI Trail Stool have wider feet than other chairs, but they can still sink into the ground in certain cases. Our favorite accessory is a product called Chair Buddies (see our review), make in the UK, which attach to chair legs and prevent sinking. They’re only compatible with the Helinox Chair Zero and the REI Flexlite Chair though.
Since you have to carry a backpacking chair, you should give some consideration to how you pack it and how much extra volume it will take. Do you want to have the chair accessible for use during the day without unpacking your backpack or just in camp? If you pack it in your pack, how much extra volume will it consume? These are all useful considerations when choosing a backpacking chair.
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