10 Best Backpacking Chairs of 2021

10 Best Backpacking Chairs

A backpacking chair is definitely not one of the 10 essentials. But it’s a luxury item that can make the camping portion of a backpacking trip much more enjoyable and relaxed. If you like to sit around a campfire to socialize at night or read outdoors while sitting upright, bringing a lightweight trail chair along can really enhance a backpacking trip. With trail weights between 1 and 2 pounds, the added weight of carrying a backpacking chair isn’t that onerous, especially if it’s offset by using other lightweight backpacking gear.

Make / ModelWeightSeat HeightWeight Capacity
Helinox Chair Zero Chair17 oz11.5"265 lbs
REI Flexlite Air Chair16 oz11"250 lbs
NEMO Moonlite Chair30 oz10.5"300 lbs
Helinox Ground Chair23 oz4"265 lbs
Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair28 oz15"276 lbs
REI Trail Stool18 oz15"200 lbs
Therm-a-Rest Trekking Chair Kit10-13 oz4"300 lbs
NEMO Chipper Foam Seat5.6 oz1"Unlimited
REI Inflatable Sit Pad4.4 oz1.5"200 lbs
Bearvault BV500 Bear CanisterNothing extra12.7"Grizzly Bear

Here are the top 10 backpacking trail chairs we recommend.

1. Helinox Chair Zero

Helinox Chair Zero
The Helinox Chair Zero is a super lightweight but sturdy camp chair with a single shock-corded pole structure that makes for easy setup. It packs up small making it easy to carry in the side pocket of a backpack and is easy to assemble when you want to have a seat. Slits in the polyester ripstop seat expand to accommodate your backside for increased comfort. Helinox also sells several accessory products including a groundsheet to prevent sinking in soft ground or snow, an issue experienced by all backpacking chairs, which we address below in our section on How to Choose a Backpacking Chair.

Available from:
Helinox | REI | Amazon

2. REI Flexlite Air Chair

REI Flexlite Air Chair
The REI Flexlite Air Chair is quite similar to the Helinox Chair Zero with the same style shock-corded poles and hub assembly. It also breaks down compactly making it very easy to pack in a backpack or in an outside pocket. Weighing 16 oz, it is one ounce lighter than the Helinox Chair Zero, but is best used on hard surfaces as a groundsheet is not available to prevent sinking in soft soil or sand,

Available from:
REI

3. NEMO Moonlite Reclining Chair

NEMO Moonlite Chair
The NEMO Moonlite Reclining Chair is an adjustable trail chair that lets you lean backward for stargazing. The backward lean is created by loosening/tightening the arm straps along the sides of the chair. The collapsible legs are oval-shaped aluminum tubes that offer a just-right blend of rigidity and flexibility for rock-solid support. The Moonlite’s extra-large feet help prevent the chair from sinking into sand or the ground, while the seamless engineered seat mesh conforms to your body when you sit.

Available from:
NEMO | REI | Amazon

4. Helinox Ground Chair

Helinox Ground Chair

The Helinox Ground Chair has a square base that spreads the load more evenly than feet, meaning it is not as likely to sink into the ground. Setup is fast and easy with shock-corded poles and intuitive seat attachments. Its supportive 500-denier polyester seat features breathable monofilament mesh side panels to keep you comfortable in hot environments. The only thing missing is an ottoman to prop your feet on.

Available from:
Helinox | REI | Amazon

5. Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair

Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair
The Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair has a fully shock-corded architecture and color-coded frame that offers a simple setup and breakdown, like the other chairs listed above. But it has a 15″ seat height and a wider, more stable seat for added comfort, especially for larger and taller backpackers. Steel reinforcements in the chair’s aluminum frame and fittings make it much sturdier and more durable than is readily apparent.

Available from:
REI | Amazon

6. REI Trail Stool

REI Trail Stool
The REI Trail Stool is a lightweight folding stool with a 15″ seat height. It has a million and one uses around the house, in camp, for fishing, or on the trail when you want to sit and have a rest. Weighing just 1 lb 2 oz, it folds up compactly, making it easy to carry on hikes. It has a mesh seat and sturdy aluminum legs that fold together when not in use, and wide feet that resist sinking on soft ground. A shoulder strap is provided but there is no carrying case. We like to bring it on hikes and walks with elderly relatives so they have a clean place to sit and rest if they become fatigued.

Available from:
REI

7. Therm-a-Rest Trekker Chair Kit

Thermarest Trekker Chair Kit
The Therm-a-Rest Trekker Chair Kit turns your inflatable or self-inflating sleeping pad into a chair. Compatible with 20″ or 25″ wide sleeping pads, you can enjoy the support and comfort of a backed chair the comfort of being able to lean back and relax while in camp. While extra care is required when using an inflatable pad to avoid sharp objects that can puncture the pad, this chair kit is a worthwhile addition to your pack as it adds functionality, with easy assembly and a relatively minimal weight penalty.

Available from:
Therm-a-Rest | Amazon

8. NEMO Chipper Closed-Cell Foam Seat

Nemo Chipper Foam Seat
The NEMO Chipper is a foam sit pad that folds compactly together making it easy to carry in a backpack or one of its side pockets. The Chipper is made from recycled scraps of closed-cell foam that are created while making NEMO’s other sleeping pads. It’s also designed to fit together more compactly than other foam sit pads, using offset “bumps” like those found in NEMO’s foam Switchback sleeping pad. The Chipper is a closed-cell pad, so it won’t absorb water and provides insulation to keep your bum warm when you sit on it in cooler weather.

Available from:
NEMO | REI | Amazon

9. REI Co-op Sit Pad

REI Coop Sit Pad
The REI Co-op Sit Pad is an inflatable open-cell foam seat cushion with a sturdy polyester cover. Weighing 4.4 oz, it’s easy to blow up when you want a warm and dry place to sit or to cushion your bum on a hard seat. The polyester exterior is tough enough that you can sit almost anywhere without worrying about a puncture. When deflated, the sit pad rolls up to the size of a Nalgene bottle. A stuff sack (included) protects the pad when not in use and keeps it compressed.

Available from:
REI

10. Bearvault BV500 Bear Canister

BV500 Bear Canister
We’re not kidding! If you have to carry a bear canister, you might as well use it as a stool in camp rather than carrying a separate chair. The Bearvault BV500 Bear Canister is 12.7″ high and can support the weight of a grizzly bear, making it the most robust and durable “trail chair” on this 10 best list.  Plus, since you have to carry it anyway, it doesn’t add any weight to your gear list.

Available from:
REI | Amazon

How to Choose a Backpacking Trail Chair

There are several types of trail chairs available today: sling-style chairs with collapsing and shock-corded aluminum legs, stools, chair kits that incorporate a sleeping pad, closed-cell foam sit pads, and inflatable seat cushions.

Price

The cost of a backpacking chair can vary widely depending on the type of chair you want. Upright chairs with backs and shock-corded poles are usually the most expensive, while the price drops the closer you get to the ground with sit pads or sleeping pad chair kits. In addition to price, we’d encourage you to consider warranties and return policies as well. For example, Helinox offers a 5-year warranty on all of their chairs, including the Helinox Chair Zero and the Helinox Ground Chair, which we think speaks volumes about the quality of their product. Purchases made of REI products or through REI also have a 1 year money-back guarantee, which is helpful if you find that the chair you choose doesn’t stack up.

Chair Weight

While chair weight is important, you need to balance it against the weight capacity of the chair to ensure it can hold your body weight, seat height, and packability. For example, the Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair is probably the best chair for big and tall backpackers, but it is significantly heavier than the Helinox Chair Zero or the REI Flexlite Air Chair.

Weight Capacity

When choosing a trail chair, make sure it can support your body weight or the weight of the people who will be using it. You don’t want to break the chair or hurt yourself by having it collapse under you. The NEMO Moonlite Reclining Chair is the strongest upright chair listed below with an extra-thick frame followed by the Big Agnes Skyline UL. Both are suitable for tall and big backpackers.

Seat Height

Trail chairs that are low to the ground like the Helinox Ground Chair can be very difficult to get up from. We generally aim for chairs that have a seat height of 10″. Much lower and you’ll want to add deep squats to your weekday workouts to get in shape to get up from your trail chair. But this is one of those things that varies from individual to individual. If you don’t mind crawling in the dirt, a low chair or sit pad may be perfectly suitable for you.

Seat Width

Seat width is another dimension of comfort that is important to consider because you want a chair that is going to be big enough for your butt. Stools like the REI Trail Stool are a good option if you don’t like having your derriere squeezed from sides by a seat, as are sit pads like the NEMO Chipper or the REI Sit Pad.

Back Support

If back support is a priority, you’re going to want to get a chair like the NEMO Moonlite Reclining Chair which has an adjustable back angle or the Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair which is more upright than other chairs.

Chair Feet

Most trail chairs will sink in soil, sand, or soft ground which can be pretty annoying because it makes it much harder to stand up and get out of your chair. When comparing chairs, look for ones with wide feet or accessories that prevent sinking. These can add cost and weight to the chair to make it usable in the field that offset the chair’s weight. For example, the Helinox Chair Zero has an added accessory groundsheet that prevents the chair from sinking in soft soil and sand. It costs and weighs extra though. The NEMO Moonlite and the REI Trail Stool have wider feet than other chairs, but they can still sink into the ground in certain cases. Our favorite accessory is a product called Chair Buddies (see our review), make in the UK, which attach to chair legs and prevent sinking. They’re only compatible with the Helinox Chair Zero and the REI Flexlite Chair though.

Packability

Since you have to carry a backpacking chair, you should give some consideration to how you pack it and how much extra volume it will take. Do you want to have the chair accessible for use during the day without unpacking your backpack or just in camp? If you pack it in your pack, how much extra volume will it consume? These are all useful considerations when choosing a backpacking chair.

About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the 36th person to hike all 650 of the hiking trails in the White Mountain Guide, a distance of approximately 2500 miles, completing a second round in 2021. Philip is the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He lives in New Hampshire.

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