Introduction

One piece of gear that accompanies me on nearly every trip in the backcountry is something that makes sitting in camp and at rest breaks more comfortable. There are pads, stools, and chairs. I use all three, depending on the circumstances.

I take a chair because the rest of my gear is light, and it gives me room to add back a few luxury items. I no longer consider a place to sit a luxury item. My aging body wins the argument with my postal scale every time.

For day hiking, I take a stool because it’s fast and easy and more comfortable than a sit pad. For long-distance treks where I’m counting ounces, the sit pad wins. And on backpacking trips with fewer miles and shorter days where I don’t mind carrying the extra weight, a chair wins out.

This is what I use:

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
COMPACT & FAST
ULTRALIGHT
WEIGHT:
17 oz (480 g)
WEIGHT:
11 oz (310 g)
WEIGHT:
1 oz (28 g)
WHAT'S UNIQUE:
  • comfortable & supportive for reclining
  • high ground clearance
WHAT'S UNIQUE:
  • packability
  • speed of deployment
WHAT'S UNIQUE:
  • ultralight
  • compact
MAIN ISSUES:
  • requires 60 seconds of assembly to use
MAIN ISSUES:
  • not for reclining
MAIN ISSUES:
  • not exactly the lap of luxury
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
WEIGHT:
17 oz (480 g)
WHAT'S UNIQUE:
  • comfortable & supportive for reclining
  • high ground clearance
MAIN ISSUES:
  • requires 60 seconds of assembly to use
COMPACT & FAST
WEIGHT:
11 oz (310 g)
WHAT'S UNIQUE:
  • packability
  • speed of deployment
MAIN ISSUES:
  • not for reclining
ULTRALIGHT
WEIGHT:
1 oz (28 g)
WHAT'S UNIQUE:
  • ultralight
  • compact
MAIN ISSUES:
  • not exactly the lap of luxury
man sitting by a tent brewing coffee
Rituals are an important part of my backcountry experience. Sitting in a chair for morning coffee is one of them. Comanche Peak Wilderness, Colorado.

Context

I don’t need a new chair every year. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the chair I purchased five years ago. It’s still functional, it’s still the lightest chair available, it’s still the most comfortable chair (for me), and I think I’m going to get a few more years of use out of it before the fabric rips out.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t continue to evaluate the market for something better.

As a publisher of information about backpacking gear, battling shiny object syndrome takes an enormous amount of energy and restraint. The outcomes of following trendy recommendations from PR firms and influencers include overstuffed gear closets (rooms, sheds, storage units?) and over-extended credit card balances.

I received an interesting question via email a few days ago from someone who was being very careful about the current seasonal sales offered by many retailers right now:

“What gear have you carried consistently in your pack for the past five years that you’d buy again today?”

I love this question because it speaks to my desire to live a more sustainable lifestyle where I’m not buying the latest and greatest model in the same product category every year. I have to admit that my philosophy for gear buying has shifted somewhat through the years, prioritizing gear that is a little more durable and a little more versatile.

After reviewing my past gear lists, and then closing my eyes and visualizing the memories of the things that give me the most joy on long backpacking trips, near the top of the list is the camp chair.

Whoever said “sitting is the new smoking” never gained the appreciation for a comfortable place to sit at the end of a long day of hiking.

I reviewed the two most popular chairs¬†about five years ago, and discussed “seat engineering” a bit to pick the one that I liked the best and found to be the most comfortable.

Since that time, a dozen new “ultralight” chairs have hit the market, including offerings from REI, Helinox, Big Agnes, Nemo, and others. And I’ve tried them all. Some are indeed a little more comfortable than the REI Flexlite Air and the Helinox Chair Zero, but none of them are worth the additional weight (often 6 ounces or more).

A new addition – this season’s Hot New Chair – the Nemo Moonlight Elite¬†(18 oz / 510 g) is a serious contender – and it reclines. It’s also available in a heavier (“non-elite”) model¬†with a much cheaper price tag.

However, the Nemo Moonlight Elite Chair is $180. Did you read that right? That’s not a typo.

For a couple of Benjamins, I can buy a pretty swanky chair with upholstered cushions from Target. Granted, it’s not a smoking chair per se, and it’s not light enough to take backpacking, but it’s an interesting perspective nonetheless.

The one chair that I’ve added to my gear closet (which I justify because it takes up so little space) is the new REI Flexlite Air Camp Stool. At 11 oz (310 g), there’s less fiddling around with poles and assembly. It doesn’t have a back, so its comfort is limited. But my oh my, it sure is nice for strapping to my little pack for coffee breaks or wildlife glassing while day hiking. For my aging back, my days of sitting on 1-ounce (28 g) closed cell foam sit pads are numbered (but I do still carry a tiny one¬†when I leave the stool at home – it’s a lot¬†better than nothing).

So in spite of some new market additions, my recommendations on camp chairs haven’t changed much. I’m still carrying the REI Flexlite Air Chair because it fits my body type the best and is the most comfortable chair for me at the end of a long day.

Chair Options for Backpacking

Included in the list below are some additional chair options less than two pounds that span the range from simple to luxurious, across all price points.

  1. REI Flexlite Air Chair at REI

    Still our favorite - the Flexlite Air is one of the lightest, most comfortable, ultralight backpacking chairs available.

    See it at REI See Our Review
  2. Helinox Chair Zero at REI

    The most popular ultralight camp chair in the world, and one of the lightest.

    See it at REI See Our Review
  3. REI Co-op Flexlite Air Stool at REI

    When you need something that's fast to stow and put away, and more comfortable than a sit pad.

    See it at REI
  4. NEMO Moonlite Reclining Camp Chair at REI

    A heavier, but more affordable version of the reclining Nemo Moonlight series.

    See it at REI
  5. Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 Original Chair at REI

    Packable, durable, and fast to deploy. Especially useful for sitting inside your shelter where headroom is limited and you don't want to damage your shelter floor.

    See it at REI
  6. Garage Grown Gear Sit Pad

    Not a luxurious option, but it's affordable, compact, and quick to use on the trail.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
man sitting by a tent drinking tea in the woods
Afternoon tea at a cozy forest camp in the Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming.

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DISCLOSURE (Updated April 9, 2024)

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