by Doug Johnson, Andrew Marshall, and Ryan Jordan

Introduction

This gear guide features a selection of lightweight chairs and other seating options for backcountry use, including backpacking. We include frame chairs, inflatable sleeping pad chair kits, closed cell foam folding chairs, sling chairs, and hammock chairs that weigh less than about 25 oz (709 g).

The following image shows (most!) of the chairs and seats included in this gear guide.

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Chairs and seats were evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Weight
  • Comfort
  • Durability
  • Packability
  • Insulation
  • Stability

Of the 18 models of chairs and seats we evaluated, the following models stood out for their outstanding performance-to-weight ratio:

Learn more about our review ratings here.

The REI Flexlite Air Chair exhibited the best overall performance among all chairs, and is our pick for all-around performance, especially considering the fact that it weighs less than one pound (15.6 oz / 442 g).

Listen to the Podcast for an Overview!

In the latest episode of the Backpacking Light Podcast, Andrew and Doug discuss some of the key concepts and products featured in this gear guide:

Category Analysis

Ultralight backpackers tend to sacrifice comfort for the sake of weight savings. In my ongoing pursuit of “ultra-light luxury,” I’m seeking a middle-ground – something between crazy-light (but uncomfortable) and ultra-heavy (but super-comfortable). I’ve found a well-designed, lightweight seating option to be one of the most effective tools for achieving this middle ground.

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The author and his wife, Amy, enjoying their favorite seats in Canyonlands National Park: the REI Flexlite Air Chair and the Helinox Chair Zero.

A seating option has both psychological and physiological value – it allows you to enjoy your wilderness surroundings in comfort as well as facilitating more effective recovery from a long day on the trail. In other words, the value that carefully selected seating adds to a kit can be well worth the added weight.

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On the fence about bringing a seat into the backcountry? We offer this handy flow-chart. Photo/chart by Ryan Jordan, a screen capture from this video that talks about chair design and performance and compares two popular models.

Recent seat re-designs and additions to the lightweight seating market provide more options for ultralight backpackers who want to add a little backcountry luxury to the end of their day. The purpose of this Gear Guide is to familiarize the reader with the currently available options and to make recommendations based on my hands-on experience with each seat discussed here.

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Enjoying the view in a two-legged Alite Monarch Butterfly.

For this article, I researched the market and selected seats that weigh less than 1.5 lb (680 g). Ryan introduced a pretty specific definition of what constitutes a “chair” in a recent video review, so we’ll only use that word to describe seating options with back support and four legs (even if some products call themselves “chairs” in their marketing materials).

Some seating options not included in this review are:

  • Stools (legs but no back support)
  • Pads or cushions (no legs, no back support)
  • Hammocks* (angled for sleeping, not sitting)

*Hammock Chairs, angled for sitting, are included in the Suspended Seats section.

These are certainly valid ways to approach backcountry seating, but this review is focused on solutions that allow you to sit, lean back, and relax.

Each of the included seats was field tested extensively in the following locations: Olympic National Park, the Washington Cascades, Boundary Waters National Canoe Area, and Yellowstone National Park. All seats were tested by multiple people of varying body types and weights – including my 9 and 13-year-old children.

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The author and his family, relaxing in camp in Boundary Waters, Minnesota. Seats used, from left: Helinox Chair Zero, canoe barrel, Helinox Ground Chair, and the Crazy Creek Hex 2.0.

For this Gear Guide, we considered seats with back support weighing at or under 24 oz (680 g) (with two exceptions, see the Closed-Cell Foam Seats section). We ultimately included 18 seats, and divided these into five categories:

  • Frame Seats
  • Inflatable Seat Kits
  • Closed-Cell Foam Seats
  • Pole-Supported Seats
  • Suspended Seats

Category Comparison Table

 comparative weightcomparative packabilitykeeps you off the ground?easily moved?insulated?requires carrying additional items?level of comfort
Frame Seatsmediumpooryesyesnonohigh
Inflatable Seat Kitslightgoodnoyesvariesyeshigh
Closed-Cell Foam Seatsheavypoornoyesyesnomedium
On-Ground Pole-Supported Seatslightgoodnoyesnodepends (some require trekking poles)low
Suspended Seatslightgoodyesnonono (trees or other anchors required for setup)varies

Frame Seats

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Enjoying the view in the REI Co-Op Flexlite Air Chair.

Frame Seats are constructed of a durable nylon or polyester sling supported by an aluminum pole-and-hub frame.

Frame Seats are the most like “car camping chairs” of any of our categories. Frame Seats are self-supported and don’t rely on external support from items such as sleeping pads, trekking poles, or trees. They are the most expensive and the heaviest seats (a bummer when you consider that, unlike some other seat designs, they are single function items), but they keep you off the ground and you can easily move them from place to place around camp.

Frame seats are quick and easy to set up as well as being the most consistently comfortable seat design currently available. When given a choice, our testers always preferred a frame seat for long-term use.

It’s hard to know how the manufacturers arrived at their judgments for weight capacity – we would suggest taking those numbers with a grain of salt. We can guess that the heavier the occupant, the more likely he is to stretch the fabric until his body is touching the frame supports.

The four seats we considered for this category are the Alite Monarch Butterfly, the Helinox Chair Zero, the Helinox Ground Chair (no longer available but included here for context), and the REI Co-op Flexlite Air Chair.

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