From the mightiest rulers down to the poorest peasants, everybody enjoys a good sit.
That goes doubly so for someone who has just spent the day dragging their tired and ragged legs over the rocky crags of the Wind River Range. The last thing someone like this would want at the end of an epic day of hiking is to have to sit on a stupid log.
The best backpacking chairs are designed to provide high-level comfort wherever the trail might take you, while being light enough and compact enough that they don’t become a hassle. Because as any good long distance hiker knows, ‘If it ain’t worth carrying, then we ain’t going to carry it’.
So what’s the best backpacking chair of the 2021 adventure season? You’re going to have to read on to find out. And with nearly 40 million Americans going camping every year, you are going to want to be quick about it before they’re all gone.
Best Collapsible Frame Camping Chair for Backpacking – Helinox ONE Original Lightweight Camping Chair
|WEIGHT LIMIT||320 LBS|
|BEST FEATURE||High-quality anodized aluminum construction|
The fact that folding chair manufacturer HELINOX has been able to capture such a large portion of the folding chair market in such a short period of time (<10 years) must be certain proof that the stuff they make is legit, because as far as we can tell there is little to no marketing behind this company like there is with some of the smaller American chair makers.
The fact is: Helinox is actually an offshoot of the DAC Company, which has been one of the most trusted manufacturers of aluminum and alloy-based tent poles for decades. Someone had to good sense to take all that know-how about lightweight, sturdy poles and turn it into a chair business.
Unlike those bulky folding camp chairs that you can get at the supermarket, a chair with aluminum poles can remain super light. This chair in fact comes in at a puckish 2.1 pounds, which makes it light enough to take along on backpacking trips.
There are slight variations in the Helinox line of camping chairs. This one is slightly higher off the ground than some of the others, which we think makes it a lot easier to get in and out of.
The one thing that bugged us? The footprint of this chair is quite small, which can make it prone to tipping if you’re not paying attention. Also, the lightweight fabric is probably not all that tear resistant.
Best Camping Chair to Keep in the Adventuremobile – THE JOEY Ultralight Camping Chair by Travel Chair
|WEIGHT LIMIT||300 LBS|
|BEST FEATURE||Lightweight mesh seat is breathable & comfortable|
Here is a chair that is even lighter than the Helinox One, if only by a few tenths of a pound. Still, that’s the kind of weight difference that ultralight backpackers are concerned with. When you’re walking that far for that long, even the tag on your shirt collar starts to feel like an unnecessary burden.
THE JOEY has a pretty big bucket seat considering the minimal weight of the thing. In fact it is one of the widest seats in its class, so those of us with big ol’ back-ends will feel right at home.
The Joey utilizes an interior shock-cord style construction that keeps everything together in one piece … which means that this is the end of having to break the chair down into multiple components just to stash it in a carrying case, as was the case with some of the original backpacking chairs from back in the day. Which was a Wednesday, by the way.
Interestingly enough, there are a pair of miniscule problems here that are worth pointing out. The first is the plastic feet caps, which do not seem like they are durable enough to hold up to much exposure to the outdoors. In fact, it looks as if they might fall off quite easily, though that hasn’t happened yet.
Also, because of the angle of the seat bucket, it is possible to slide right out of this thing if you’re not paying attention.
Best Lightweight Chair for Long Distance Hiking – Helinox CHAIR ZERO Ultralight Compact Camping Chair
|WEIGHT LIMIT||260 LBS|
|BEST FEATURE||Packs down to a very compact 4” x 4” x 14”|
Helinox’s CHAIR ZERO represents the state of the art in super-lightweight backpacking chairs, weighing in at an absolutely breezy 1.1 pounds. I mean seriously, I think I have hiking socks that weigh that much.
The fact that chairs now exist that can offer this level of comfort for an added weight that is less than a bottle of water is pretty incredible. The obvious upside is that you get a more relaxing sit than you would if you were on the bare ground, meaning you can start collecting your energy for tomorrow, when you’re going to need it.
Here are some of the notable differences that set the ZERO apart from its slightly larger brother, the ONE. The most obvious is weight. This is a full pound lighter than the ONE, while offering a chair bucket that is roughly the same size. The material is certainly a bit thinner, but the aluminum frame is nearly the same size on both models.
The ZERO sits a lot closer to the ground than other chairs by Helinox. It is mostly a matter of opinion, but our opinion is that a taller chair is a heck of a lot easier to get in and out of, especially when your legs have started to seize up from all the walking.
Best All-Around Value Pick – Travelchair JOEY CHAIR Super Compact Storage
|WEIGHT LIMIT||300 LBS|
|BEST FEATURE||Great All-Around Value|
We know what you’re thinking. Didn’t they already tell us about the JOEY CHAIR? We’re glad that you’re still paying attention.
The first Joey Chair we reviewed above is what is known as the “C-Series”, which is one of the designations used for its ultralight series. Now, we’re going to take a look at the original Joey Chair, as well as examine exactly what the differences might be between these two models.
The most obvious thing is the weight. It’s a bit heavier than the ultralight model, but not by an incredibly significant amount. You can tell where the extra weight is kept, too. Unlike the C-series Joey, this model has a thicker and more tear resistant seat material, meaning that it might be a better choice if you are looking for a chair that is a bit more on the durable side.
All in all there is no reason you cannot substitute this model for the ultralight model. After all, the weight difference is really not that significant. In addition, this one is close to half the price, so not pulling the trigger might be one of the worst chair-related decisions of your life. We might also mentioned the increased height when compared to the ultralight model. In fact the Joey traditional has one of the highest seat backs in its class, which makes for a more comfortable sit with increased spinal support.
Best Camping Chair for Sitting Around the Fire – Therm-a-Rest QUADRA Chair
|WEIGHT||2 LBS, 14 OZ|
|WEIGHT LIMIT||300 LBS|
|BEST FEATURE||Unique hard-shell closure/carry system|
This is conceivably one of the most distinctive and innovative chairs in the 2021 foldable chair market for a few reasons. For one, it has a really cool hard-shell closure system that actually uses the legs of the chair to create a carrying case for the case itself. It’s not an easy thing to explain, so you might have to take a close-up look for yourself to get an idea of what kind of kick we’re on.
This definitely more of a reclining chair than it is an activity chair. By that we mean that once you get into this thing it is not particularly easy to get back out, however, that is mostly because of just how comfortable the chair actually is. The laid-back comfort is something we think would be perfect for setting around the campfire for an evening beneath the stars.
Unfortunately there is one issue that takes away from what would otherwise be a glowing review. The plastic chair legs, the same ones that also function as the folding hard case, are not nearly as robust as they want to be in order for the claimed 300 pound weight capacity to be even remotely accurate. One of the legs on our model snapped beneath the weight of only 250 pounds.
If only there was a way to make those legs out of the same kind of 6000D aluminum that they used in the poles, then this might be a bit more sturdy and long-lasting.
Coolest New Technology Pick – Therm-a-Rest TREO Chair
|WEIGHT LIMIT||250 LBS|
|BEST FEATURE||Comfortable deep bucket seat|
The TREO can be thought of as the companion piece to the Therm-a-Rest QUADRA Chair that we reviewed above. While many of the goals are the same (to provide a lightweight, collapsible camping chair that can go anywhere your burly hiking legs can transport you) there are a few key differences that set these two products apart.
For one, this chair features three composite plastic feet as opposed to the Quadra’s 4x. However the rest of the closure system is the same, and the TREO folds into the same sized hard-plastic container for easy carry. And the weird thing is, it’s about the same exact weight as the Quadra. So what then was the purpose we wonder?
There are some issues with the three leg system. For one, it concentrates all the points of ground contact into a smaller, more centralized space. This actually gives the chair less balance, not more, and it makes it quite difficult to get this chair to sit flat on anything except the most even of grounds. Considering that backpackers rarely find the flat piece of ground that they’re looking for, this could be considered a significant design flaw.
However the design is sleek and the chair is quite comfortable. It’s just more appropriate for a soccer game than it is for traveling through rugged terrain. And that’s certainly not a bad thing, what with soccer season coming up and all.
Best Collapsible Rocking Chair for Backpacking – Alite Designs MONARCH Camping Chair
|WEIGHT LIMIT||250 LBS|
|BEST FEATURE||Innovative 2-legged rocking chair style construction|
So check this out. The MONARCH camping chair from Alite Designs is the only two-legged camping chair on our list, but if you come back for the 2021 edition of Best Backpacking Chair, that will most certainly not be the case. The two-legged system seems strange when you are just looking at the picture, but in terms of comfort and versatility, this design absolutely nails it.
The two contact points are rounded hard-plastic “feet” that allow you to rock back and forth, the idea being that your own legs will serve as the 3rd and 4th leg of the chair. Does that make sense?
You’ve simply got to sit in this thing to believe in the comfort that we’re talking about. And perhaps the greatest part is that because there aren’t four different legs that are on the same plane that need to be balanced, this chair is far more adaptable to uneven terrain than any other chair on our list. However the design does come with a few drawbacks. One significant one is that because your own legs are being used as ground contact points, there will still be some level of stress acting upon them while you are sitting in the chair. In addition, it makes it much more problematic to do anything while you are in the chair, such as cook or repair something.
Best Backpacking Chair to Keep in the Car – Therm-a-Rest UNO Camping Chair
|WEIGHT||2 LBS, 3 OZ|
|WEIGHT LIMIT||250 LBS|
|BEST FEATURE||Capable of being setup as a table, too|
Here is yet another entry into the folding backpacking chair market from our friends over at Therm-a-Rest, who apparently don’t know when to give it a rest when it comes to cranking out lightweight camping chairs that can fold down in all sorts of new and unique ways. However, it’s getting to the point where we’re wondering whether or not Therm-a-Rest is just showing off.
The UNO has, you guessed it, just one contact point with the ground, which is a circular hard-plastic base that you insert four different legs into before adding the canvas seat. Surprisingly this is also the source of the chairs principal drawback: it breaks down into five or six different components, as opposed to some of the other chairs we looked at that can fold down into a compact size but remain in one piece … no assembly required.
But we’re not giving up on the UNO just yet. As if anticipating its drawbacks, the engineers decided that they would find a way to make that plastic baseplate double as a table. That’s actually pretty cool: there is a way to convert this chair into a little camp table. We can think of one or two occasions when something like that would be handy. But then again, what is a chair but a table that you can sit on? The overall construction quality seems fine, but we are wondering how long these aluminum poles will last us before they start to show permanent bending; after about a week of use it is already showing more flex in the poles than when the chair first arrived.
Best Backpacking Chair for Big Guys – Ameristep COMPACTLITE Tellus Camp Chair
|WEIGHT LIMIT||300 LBS|
|BEST FEATURE||Most affordable camping chair on our list|
While the product manufacturer Ameristep seems to make all sorts of things, they actually did a pretty decent job on their entry-level folding camping chair. While this product cannot match the design concepts or durability of the other chairs on our list, it is by far the most affordable, and honestly is just about as comfortable as any of them.
The leg system is simplistic and easy to use, but the four legs are a bit shot for their own good. This certainly isn’t the most stable backpacking chair for that reason. When you’re in this chair you feel an inclination to lead backwards, but we recommend that you avoid doing that as you will most likely tip right over and that could be the end of your weekend in the woods.
Now at 5 pounds this is a pretty heavy chair, but that added weight translates to the extra comfort that you will need if you are going to use this chair for something like hunting, where you might be seated in the same spot for hours on end, trying not to spook any nearby targets out of the brush.
The biggest problem with this chair? Well, the seat fabric sags a bit, and not just for us big guys. Once the fabric starts to sag it can start to rest on the chair frame itself, which is anything but comfortable.
Of course the real problem with a camouflage-printed camping chair is that once you get up out of it there is a good chance that you won’t be able to see it anymore.
We wager that it would not be surprising to find out that there was a lot of sitting around that went into this product review guide, and frankly, we’re exhausted from all the work. If someone was to ask us what they very best backpacking chair of 2021 is, we would be hard pressed to come up with an answer.
Would we tell them about the crazy new innovation in the 2-legged MONARCH Camping Chair? I mean, have you ever even heard of a camping chair that is also a rocking chair? What a time to be alive.
Or would we tell this person about the HELINOX CHAIR ZERO, which is what we consider to be the absolute best-of-the-best when it comes to ultra-lightweight backpacking gear?
What we would probably tell them would be to skip back to the beginning of this guide and decide for yourself. Remember, choosing a great camping chair is mostly about comfort, so trust your rear ends, folks!
Choosing a Camping Chair for Backpacking: What to Look For
The nine camping chairs that we reviewed on this list are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to portable camp seating. There are literally hundreds of products to choose from, from at least a dozen reputable manufacturers. Fortunately, the process doesn’t have to be a drag. Here’s what to look for:
If you are taking your first steps to find and purchase a new backpacking chair, then there is a good chance that you are preparing for the kind of adventure where every ounce counts. That’s why a chairs weight is one of the most important factors in determining whether or not it is going to work for your particular use. There are four different weight classes when it comes to camp chairs:
- Mega Ultralight- .5 LBS to 1.5 LBS
- Best Use: Long distance backpacking trips
- Ultralight – 1.6 LBS to 2.5 LBS
- Best Use: Backpacking, Camping, & Hunting
- Light – 2.6 LBS to 4 LBS
- Best Use: Sporting events, campfires, & gatherings
- Bulky (not suitable for backpacking) 4.1 LBS and up
- Best Use: Keep in the garage for family BBQs
If you are hitting the trail for an extended walk, you are sooner or later going to face the task of determining what to bring and what to leave at home. After all, there is only so much space inside that backpack.
Camping chairs have evolved to be smaller and smaller, which is a good thing for backpackers and outdoor heads alike. They are easier to carry than they have ever been, and can fit in even the smallest of backpacks.
Double check the product specifications before you make a purchase in order to make sure that the chair is not going to be too big to fit in your pack or to strap to the outside of it.
Every chair comes with a recommended weight limit that you are going to want to pay attention to if you are going to avoid breaking the thing.
In fact, we recommend knocking 20 to 30 pounds off of any manufacturer’s suggested weight limit just to be safe. They have a inclination to exaggerate things, and most of these chairs become less comfortable the closer you get to the weight limit.
There are a heap of different varieties of camping chairs out there. It seems like every new gear maker wants to make their mark with their very own design, and the result is a collection of chairs that is as diverse in style and construction as you could possibly imagine. Here’s what we’re talking about:
- CLASSIC-STYLE CAMP CHAIRS – A foldable 4-legged model with a straight back and a flat seat. Typically made of cheaper aluminum and are very affordable and available at most grocery stores.
- LOW RIDER CHAIRS – One of the more recent design tweaks in the modern camp chair. Low rider chairs are closer to the ground, generally less ‘tippy’, and are suitable for rough or uneven terrain.
- THREE LEGGED CHAIRS – Camp stools are perhaps the simplest example of the three-legged camp chair, but recently a lot of new designed have come out that include higher backs.
- TWO LEGGED CHAIRS – We are more excited about the new 2-legged chairs hitting the market than we are about any other style, because they offer some of the most lightweight construction out of the whole pack, and for us, weight reduction is the name of the game.
Frequently Asked Questions
Some of the camping chair manufacturers claim that even their ultralight products are capable of supporting weights of up to 320 pounds, which is quite a lot if you ask us. We know of plenty of regular chair that wouldn’t be able to support that.
But you raise a serious question: are these weight limits accurate?
The answer: Not quite. Some companies might be inflating this number to sell more chairs, and others might be ignoring certain comfort and functionality losses that might occur as you get closer and closer to the recommended weight limit.
If you are like us, you might have notices that almost all camping chairs have switched from dense plastic to hard-anodized aluminum alloy poles in the construction of their most popular products. Why is this so?
For one thing,aluminum is a relatively cheap material with high flexibility and strength for the weight. That makes it the perfect material to support a portable camping chair.
While some exceptions exist, a cup holder is the kind of feature that you ditch right away if you are trying to cut down on space and weight. For this reason, most of the chairs that we reviewed do not have cupholders. That’s what a good flat rock is for!