Updated August 2017
With plenty of summertime adventures left, the season of relaxation is upon us. Whether you're a seasoned thru-hiker who cuts tags and saws toothbrushes in half to save precious ounces, or a beach-combing climbing bum looking to kick back, this review it up-to-date with the best chairs currently available. We were just as impressed with the Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 PowerLounger as the last time we wrote this review, but we've included tons of new products as well. As the days get a little longer, many of these chairs are already on sale from a variety of online retailers. Like with all our reviews, our expert testers are constantly watching for updates and changes with the hopes of always having the most current information. If in reading this, you find yourself looking for a bigger, beefier seat, hop on over to our Camping Chair Review for more options.
Best Overall Backpacking Chair
Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 PowerLounger
The Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 PowerLounger
is hands-down the best backpacking chair that we tested. Its versatile design that serves as a chair, lounger, and sleeping pad, makes it an excellent partner for adventure in the backcountry. The PowerLounger's
lightweight construction folds and stores easily for efficient transportation, while its soft material and high back are sure to keep you comfortable at the park, crag, or river. We appreciated the chair's durable reinforcements and feel confident that this will be in our backpacking quiver for years to come. If you're looking to make your friends jealous at the end of a long day on the trails, the PowerLounger
is for you.
Read full review: Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 PowerLounger
Best Bang for the Buck
ALPS Mountaineering Weekender Seat
Pocket and straps
While not the lightest chair in our review, the ALPS Mountaineering Weekender Seat
is a great budget buy for everyday adventures and short stints in the backcountry. This model is equipped with a very comfortable seat and sturdy design, and is perfect for picnics, belaying, and concerts. We loved its back pocket and stadium seat straps, which made it one of the most versatile products in our review. At only $25, the Weekender
was the least expensive product we tested, and its impressive comfort score made it a no brainer for our Best Buy Award. You can bet we'll be taking this along with us nearly anywhere we go.
Read full review: ALPS Mountaineering Weekender Seat
Top Pick for Car Camping
Stable on uneven surfaces
Comfortable and breathable
While we realize this is a backpacking review, we had to recognize this awesome product. The TravelChair Joey
has wide, sturdy feet, making it the most stable chair we tested. On a variety of terrain, from sand to bumpy grass, the Joey
kept us feeling relaxed and secure. It has a very comfortable seat with great ventilation and is an excellent choice for summer days at the park. It is the least expensive tent style chair in our review, though it is a little on the heavy side. While we might choose the REI Flexlite
for short backcountry missions instead, the Joey
is an excellent choice for car camping and any activity that doesn't require much walking.
Read full review: TravelChair Joey
Notable Mention for Sidecountry Missions
REI Co-op Flexlite Chair
We had originally thought that the REI Flexlite
would win our Top Pick for Car Camping Award. It is very comfortable and impressively light, scoring a great balance between two of the most important metrics in this review. We finally thought that it was too much of a niche product to take home an award though. If going deep into the backcountry, the ALPS Weekender
was significantly lighter. If staying close to camp, the TravelChair Joey
was more comfortable. But we can't deny that the Flexlite
finds a remarkable balance between all four metrics in this review, despite not excelling in any one category. Our testers believe that this chair could make for an excellent backcountry purchase if ounces aren't paramount, as its 29-ounce weight is comparable to any of the taco style chairs we tested. If sidecountry or short backcountry trips are your thing, or you just can't imagine carrying the 38-ounce Joey
with you even to the beach, the Flexlite
's great blend of all four of our testing metrics may make it the perfect chair for you.
Read full review: REI Flexlite
Analysis and Test Results
With so many chairs on the market, how do you pick the right one? In this article, we've identified the four most important qualities to look for in a backpacking chair. For each category, our testers awarded the products scores from 1-10. After assigning a weighted percentage to each metric, we were able to give all eight products a final score out of 100, though we realize that your needs may be a little different than what we've predicted. Overall, a score of 5 indicates an average performance, and any score higher than that indicates a great or excellent design. The highest individual score we assigned was an 8/10 because we thought every chair had room for improvement. We describe all four scoring metrics in detail below to help you decide what you're looking for in your perfect backpacking seat.
After researching the top fifty products on the market, we were able to identify two distinct categories of chairs. The first of these we've dubbed "taco style chairs." These products are cheap, light, and relatively comfortable. They are usually constructed out of a folding piece of material supported with internal rods and adjustable side straps. These chairs are held upright by the oppositional force of the user's legs and back. We have included four chairs of this design in our review, and they range in price from $25 to $76. Chairs of this style are perfect for outdoor concerts, backpacking, picnics, and cragging.
The second type of product we found was the "tent style" model These products have two parts: poles and seat. The poles attach a central location, much like a tent. The fabric seat has holsters on four corners to sit on top of the poles. The user sits suspended in the material in between the poles. These chairs are much more expensive, and the four we picked for this review range in price from $75 to $150. These chairs are perfect for car camping, beach lounging, and cragging; they are often not allowed at outdoor concerts because they sit too far off the ground.
Unlike many of the products we typically review, comfort is front and center for chairs. A purely luxury item, their ability to make you comfortable is their primary function. For this metric, we identified how chairs could be more or less comfortable and scored them based on how they stacked up against the competition. Because we have two very different styles of chairs in this review, this metric varied depending on whether the chair was a taco style or tent style; their comfort scores, however, took into account every chair, not just the ones in its style category.
The first thing we looked at for this metric was material. How did the fabric feet on our legs and back? Was it breathable or stuffy? How did the material affect our enjoyment of the seat? None of the taco style chairs we tested had any breathability, and most were made out of similar materials. For tent style chairs, however, the Helinox Chair Zero
stood out. Its slippery fabric made it difficult to sit in, and we often found ourselves slipping out. On the other hand, two tent style chairs stood out for excellent ventilation: the REI Flexlite
and the TravelChair Joey
. We found ourselves using these products on hot summer days, and the breathable mesh vents were always appreciated.
We examined the seat of each chair, but what we were looking for varied a little depending on which style model we were testing. For taco style chairs, we compared the amount of cushioning, noting the great, thick seat of the ALPS Mountaineering Weekender
and the thin yet soft seat of the Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 PowerLounger
. For tent style chairs, we compared the depth of each chair, as some, like the Helinox Swivel
tipped us forward more than others. We preferred a deeper seat here that let us recline and relax, like the one found on the REI Flexlite
The most comfortable chair we tested was the TravelChair Joey, seen here at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk
Our testers took a few concrete measurements for this category, too. We examined the back height of each of our taco style chairs, noting that the most comfortable was the 20-inch back of the PowerLounger
. We considered strap heights as well and noticed that a high seat, like that of the Kelty Camp Chair
is useless if its side straps are too high for our arms. For tent style chairs, we measured how far each seat elevated us off the ground. In general, we thought that the higher seats were easier to get in and out of. We also compared how far back the seat reclined and the width of the seat.
Finally, for tent style chairs, we looked to stability. We analyzed the legs and feet of each chair and gathered data on its performance on a variety of surfaces, from sand to rocks to concrete. It's difficult to relax when you're worried about tipping over, so we rewarded products that kept us feeling secure on a broad range of terrain.
Because comfort was a huge part of this review, we allotted it as 35% of the overall score of each chair.
Unlike our camping chair review
, this review was designed specifically for portable chairs that could potentially be carried into the backcountry. We analyzed weight and packability for this metric, knowing that a chair would have to be pretty compact to make into your already heavy pack on your next trip into the backcountry. We considered both the relative weight of each chair compared to its direct style competitors as well as how it stacked up against every product we tested.
We're in the business of making observations, so we put each chair on a scale and recorded what we found. We compared this to the weights advertised by the manufacturers to our findings, and in general concluded that the data was nearly spot on. Next, we used our in-field results to determine which chairs were too heavy for long-term backcountry missions and which were suited for thru-hikes and beyond. The lightest contender in this review by a longshot is the Chair Zero
. Weighing in at only 17 ounces, this tent style chair was lighter than any taco style competitor we tested. For the ounce-counting backpackers among us, this is a product to watch.
The Chair Zero is incredibly small and light.
Additionally, we gathered information about how each chair packed up. We rolled them, stuffed them in our backpacks, and carried them by hand to determine which, if any, were the most compact and easily transportable. The PowerLounger
stood out here; with a compression strap just for this purpose, it is very convenient to roll up and stuff in your backpack. Packing size accounted for 25% of the total score of each product.
Here at OutdoorGearLab, we know that you see your gear purchases as investments in your future. We expect our purchases to bring us years of adventures, especially if we're shelling out the big bucks. And with chairs costing up to $150, we're looking for high quality. For this metric, we looked to the smaller details of each chair to figure out its weak points and evaluate how the manufacturer has preemptively worked to enhance the product's longevity.
For taco style chairs, the weakest point is where the internal support rods rub against the fabric. When folded, these rods poke at the crease of the seat, so extra reinforcement is needed. Crazy Creek did a fantastic job with the Hex 2.0 PowerLounger
and the Original Chair
by including stiff, leather-like patches to this area. Next up was the ALPS Mountaineering Weekender
, our Best Buy Award winner, whose thicker fabric helped its score in this category. In last place was the Kelty Camp Chair
which included no reinforcement to this zone and had significant fraying after just a few uses.
Durable reinforcements on the Original Chair
We looked to a different feature of the tent style chairs for clues as to its potential longevity. Each of these chairs has a fabric seat that sits on top of four poles. There are conical holsters in each corner, and we found some of these to be sturdier than others. The holsters of the Helinox Swivel
and TravelChair Joey
were our favorites: they were stiff, thick, and enhanced our confidence that they wouldn't rip under our body weight. Next up was the REI Flexlite
, whose holsters were not quite as strong but did include a handy grab loop for easy disassembly. And finally, the Helinox Chair Zero's
holsters had plenty of room for improvement. This metric accounted for 20% of the overall score of each chair.
We know what you're thinking: why does a chair have to be versatile? While you might be looking for a particular use, we awarded extra points to seats that could be taken anywhere: into the mountains, to the beach, to the park, you name it! Could you play music in it? Cook? Read? You might know exactly what you're looking for, but we tried to figure out the best ways to use and abuse these products.
Our testers wanted to know, first and foremost, if any of these chairs could act as something other than a chair. We were impressed with the versatility of the PowerLounger
, whose ability to double as a sleeping pad helped win it our prestigious Editors' Choice Award. We liked taco style chairs that had easy to open buckles on the side for this very reason; the Kelty
was the only one that didn't. Some of these chairs had some great extra features, like the pocket and straps of the Weekender
that make it a great picnic and stadium seat.
Lounging in style with the PowerLounger
For tent style chairs, we looked to the feet to help us decide where we could use it. Our Top Pick Award-winning Joey
has wide feet that make it a great purpose for sand, grass, and other uneven surfaces. The feet of the Flexlite
, by comparison, often sunk into sand and dirt, while the Chair Zero's
feet were wobbly even on pavement. We allotted 20% of the final score of each chair to versatility.
Experts at relaxing and taking in the view, our testers spent weeks with these chairs, taking them everywhere they went. We got to know each product's small details as well as their big pictures. We used our research to come up with a comprehensive, side-by-side review of the top eight backpacking chairs on the market today. Evaluating comfort, size, durability, and versatility, we're confident that this review will help you find the best chair for your needs, whether you're headed to the beach or the backcountry. To read more about each product, check out their individual reviews, where we go into obsessive detail about their features, big and small.
A rainbow assortment of backcountry comfort