A few years ago when I spent six months SuperUltralight backpacking, I was comfortable with just five pounds of gear, but I did miss having a chair. When my SUL experiment was over, the first thing I added back into my pack was my twenty-year-old Therm-a-Rest UL chair kit. My back is a little twingy and there are only two ways to completely take the stress off it after a long day of hiking – lie flat on my back or use a chair. Since a chair is much more convenient for cooking and conversing, I often carry one, but ten ounces is a significant chunk of an ultralight budget, so I was delighted to hear Big Agnes had knocked a quarter pound off that mark with their Cyclone SL Chair Kit. The question for me was whether the Cyclone Chair would support me in my favorite back relaxing pose – leaning back with the chair tilted and my legs outstretched. Another chair I tested, the Crazy Creek Backpacker Lite AIR chair, did not come high enough on my back to support that posture.
Testing the Cyclone on the Continental Divide Trail in Colorado, I was delighted to find that I could indeed lean back and lounge. I was using the chair kit with a Big Agnes Clearview pad, and the combination made a very comfortable chair. The thick pad raised my bum a few inches off the ground, which made sitting cross-legged easier on my hip joints, and the back was long enough that I could completely relax and let it support me as I leaned back.
The Big Agnes Cyclone SL Chair Kit combined with the Big Agnes Clearview Air Pad makes an extremely comfortable camp chair. Once you try it, it’s hard to leave it at home.
The Cyclone chair design is very similar to the Therm-a-Rest chair kit (both my older UL version and the current Trekker version). Weight savings are achieved by making each component lighter than what is used in the Therm-a-Rest chair. Fabric is lightweight Cordura rip-stop nylon instead of a heavier nylon, the stays are aluminum tent stays rather than composite rods, the webbing is 5/8 inch instead of 1 inch with correspondingly smaller buckles, and reinforcement where the two stays meet is less substantial in the Big Agnes chair.
Big Agnes did not stop with lighter materials, but also employed some clever redesign to reduce chair weight. The pad pockets are significantly shorter, but most notably, the stays forming the Cyclone seat bottom are four inches shorter than the back stays (instead of equal length as in the Therm-a-Rest). The Cyclone back stays are about 3/4 inch shorter, and of course the bottom stays are considerably shorter, than those on the Therm-a-Rest, but the total length of the Cyclone is only about an inch less than the 37.5-inch Therm-a-Rest UL chair kit (the Crazy Creek Backpacker Lite AIR chair is 31.5 inches long). The Big Agnes chair kit almost catches the Therm-a-Rest in overall length because the chair back extends five inches beyond the end of the stays. This extra tall cushioning helps make the Cyclone quite comfortable.
One feature saves weight but is inconvenient: the webbing is not long enough for the ends to remain clipped together when the chair is laid out flat. That means the side release buckles on both sides must be unclipped before a pad can be inserted. The buckles are small enough that I sometimes had to try twice to get them unclipped.
This Pacific Outdoor Products pad is out of production, but a pad this size (20 x 48 x 2.5 inches), like the current Ether Compact 6 (13 ounces) fits the Cyclone Chair and also fits the bottom of a pack raft perfectly to provide a little extra cushioning and a drier bottom.
The Big Agnes Cyclone SL Chair Kit is designed as a companion for the Clearview Pad, reviewed here, but it will work with any twenty-inch wide inflatable pad. The Cyclone also makes an acceptable chair when combined with twenty-inch wide foam pads and even the less-than-twenty-inch wide Bozeman Mountain Works TorsoLite pad. Without the stiffness of an inflatable pad, the resultant chair is not as comfortable, since the chair collapses around the user’s torso and legs, but it still provides good back support.
Will and I both tested the Cyclone on the trail with the sixty-inch long Big Agnes Clearview mummy pad. The pad was too short to double in the chair adapter, but it worked well to fold the top and bottom of the pad under to fit the length of the chair adapter. I struggled at first to get a fully inflated Clearview pad into the chair kit. One end of the pad would pop out of the short pocket while I attempted to insert the other end. Once I started holding down the inserted end with my knee I found I could quickly finish the job of getting the chair put together.
The Cyclone sacrifices durability for weight but the four-ounce weight savings is well worth the sacrifice in my mind. I certainly do not expect the Cyclone to hold up for twenty years, like my Therm-a-Rest chair. However, I do expect good quality control. After just one five-day trip, my test sample has some stitching pulling out where the reinforcing hinge is sewn on. The stitching is not in a wear area, so it appears the problem is one of quality control.
Many ultralight backpackers will sneer at taking a six-ounce chair along, but if you are a chair user, you’ll applaud Big Agnes for reducing chair weight by a whopping forty percent. For those of you still sneering – beware – once you enjoy the ease of relaxing around a circle of alcohol stoves with your legs out-stretched, leaning back in a cushy chair, it may be hard to leave the chair at home the next trip.
|Big Agnes (http://www.bigagnes.com/)|
|2008 Cyclone SL Chair Kit|
* Sizes Available:
|One size only that fits a 20-in (51-cm) wide pad|
|Lightweight Cordura rip-stop fabric and aluminum tent pole stays|
|Mesh stuff sack (0.3 oz, 9 g)|
|measured weight (Will) 6.3 oz (179 g), (Carol) 5.3 oz (150 g) manufacturer specification 6 oz (170 g)|
Read BackpackingLight.com’s companion review, the Big Agnes Clearview Air Pad Review, here.