by Doug Johnson, Andrew Marshall, and Ryan Jordan
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.
Chairs and seats were evaluated based on the following criteria:
Of the 18 models of chairs and seats we evaluated, the following models stood out for their outstanding performance-to-weight ratio:
- REI Flexlite Air Chair – Highly Recommended
- Helinox Chair Zero – Highly Recommended
- Dutchware Netless Hammock Chair – Recommended
- Big Agnes Cyclone SL Chair Kit 20” – Recommended
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 weight||comparative packability||keeps you off the ground?||easily moved?||insulated?||requires carrying additional items?||level of comfort|
|Inflatable Seat Kits||light||good||no||yes||varies||yes||high|
|Closed-Cell Foam Seats||heavy||poor||no||yes||yes||no||medium|
|On-Ground Pole-Supported Seats||light||good||no||yes||no||depends (some require trekking poles)||low|
|Suspended Seats||light||good||yes||no||no||no (trees or other anchors required for setup)||varies|
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.