The Helinox Chair Zero is probably the most beloved lightweight camping chair among hikers who pay attention to the weight of their kit.
The reason for this is that when it was introduced, it was the lightest “real” chair on the market. At just over a pound, it still offered all of the benefits and features of a comfortable chair, including an off-the-ground seat, a suspended seat that cradled your back and hips, a supportive backrest, and enough height so that your feet settled on the ground well below your hips.
Biomechanically, these are the key ingredients to relieving strain from the musculoskeletal system in a way that promotes, rather than hinders, restful recovery after hiking all day. (Chairs for backpacking should be designed with similar features as chairs for long-distance driving, with the goal of reducing biomechanical stress; unlike office chairs, where the goal is to foster a healthy posture with core activation).
While a backpacking chair isn’t commonly carried by thru-hikers or fastpackers who spend little time “camping” on their hikes, it’s becoming less and less of a luxury item now that chair weights are decreasing, and more options hit the market.
The REI Flexlite Air Chair is new for 2019. It’s made with lighter materials and is a slightly more compact design than the original REI Flexlite Chair. The latter chair weighs 12 oz more than the Flexlite Air, and is a little more stable under heavier loads.
Features and Specs Compared: Helinox Chair Zero vs. REI Flexlite Air Chair
|Helinox Chair Zero||REI Flexlite Air Chair|
|Weight (Claimed)||1 lb||1 lb|
|Weight (Measured)*||17.7 oz||15.8 oz|
|Pole / Hub Set Weight||12.8 oz||13.1 oz|
|Weight Capacity||265 lb||250 lb|
|Seat Weight||4.9 oz||2.7 oz|
|Seat Height||11 in||11 in|
|Leg Angle||10 degrees||20 degrees|
|Back Angle||60 degrees||60 degrees|
|Back Height||24.5 in||23.75 in|
|Folded Size (measured)||13.5 in (L) x 4 in (dia)||13.5 in (L) x 4.5 in (dia)|
* Measured weights do not include the included stow bags for each chair – only the pole/hub set, and fabric seat.
- No discernible differences could be observed between the stability of the two chairs when I sat in each one with 75 pounds of barbell plates in my lap and I wobbled around. Both chairs offered a terrible experience! I weigh 165 lb, and without artificial weight in my lap, found them both to be stable enough while sitting on firm soil.
- Leg angles were measured by extending feet forward until the front edge of the seat fabric starting digging into my hamstring.
- The lower leg angle of the Helinox Chair Zero makes it more comfortable to extend your legs forward (i.e., less knee bend) without the front edge of the seat digging into your hamstring. This is more comfortable for some. However…
- The higher leg angle of the REI Flexlite Air Chair combined with its deeper seat cradle your hips and body more comfortable, while in a normal sitting position with legs folded near the chair.
- The higher back height of the Helinox Chair Zero provides enough noticeable increase in fabric to increase comfort notably, regardless of your height (but especially for taller sitters). The back fabric edge may dig into your back when you lean far backward, and that may be disconcerting to some.
- The more compact folded size of the Helinox Chair Zero is primarily an issue only when comparing the paper specs provided by the manufacturers of these two chairs. Actual measured dimensions are much closer, and both chairs fit sideways into most of the larger (55+ L) backpacks I tried.
Final Commentary & Recommendations
I recommend both of these chairs. They are well-constructed, durable, and the lightest of their kind on the market.
To save additional weight, you have to give up four-leg stability and/or ground clearance (e.g., the Alite Mayfly), use a chair without a supportive, cradling seat (e.g., the Trail Chair), use a chair without a supportive backrest (e.g., a bear canister or stool), or just sit on a little piece of foam (which really only serves to keep your butt dry and clean, offer no biomechanical advantages whatsoever).
Doug is putting together a more comprehensive camp chair review that will be published in the coming months – stay tuned!
This type of design – four legs, off-the-ground seat, and a backrest – should be the gold standard for backpacking chair comfort. However, there is an opportunity for improvement, weight savings, and innovation. Expectedly, these advances would come from the cottage community rather than mass-market manufacturers such as REI or Helinox:
- Lighter weight and more stability (less wobble) can be accomplished by using carbon fiber tubing. Thick-walled tubing and outer ferrules may have to be used to resist breakage.
- Lighter weight and less water absorption (faster dry time) can be accomplished by using fabric such as the 1.0-oz Dyneema Composite Fabric used in tent floors (e.g., Tarptent, ZPacks, Hyperlite Mountain Gear).
- Perhaps there is some market opportunity by using lighter weight materials with a lower weight rating.
- And how about some type of chair kit that mates with trekking poles to create a four-legged, off-the-ground chair with a nice seat and backrest?
Where to Buy
- The Helinox Chair Zero and REI Flexlite Air Chair are both available at REI, and currently on sale during the 2019 REI Memorial Day Sale.
Product Review Disclosure
Updated September 15, 2018
- How we acquired these products: Product(s) discussed in this review were either acquired by the author from a retailer or otherwise provided by the manufacturer at a discount/donation with no obligation to provide media coverage or a product review to the manufacturer(s).
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