Backpacking is already a pretty gear-intensive activity. Your packing checklist is long — probably longer than you might like — and anything you add to it directly leads to a heavier backpack on your shoulders. For that reason, it’s often in your best interest to cut out the fluff and leave some of the creature comforts at home. People like Appalachian Trail thru-hikers get exceptionally good at that. But for most of us, we need to balance our pack weight with our comfort.
For me, a big part of feeling comfortable around camp is having someplace to sit. My legs and back are doing a lot of work all day, so when I get to camp and have the option to take some of the load off, that respite goes a long way. Admittedly, carrying a camp chair into the backcountry isn’t for everyone, but it’s easily one of the best things you can do for your aching muscles, and it doesn’t need to come with quite the weight penalty you might expect.
Ideal weight — The spectrum of chairs is massive. The subset that anyone might be willing to carry on their back for hours at a time, much smaller. Leave your soccer mom folding chairs and beach chairs at home. There are a variety of different backpacking-specific options out there, ranging from foam pads to elaborate collapsable chairs. But they’re all lightweight and packable. For our purposes, we drew the line at 2 pounds — that’s our limit for chairs that you would realistically want to bring into the woods. That said, feel free to draw your line much lower — There are plenty of options that check that box.
Chair types — Choosing exactly which style is right for you depends on you and your trip. Is a lot of back support necessary or are you just looking to keep your butt from getting dirty? All that variety also means you can pick and choose which chair you want to carry based on your adventure. If you’re just going for a day hike in the snow and want to sit for lunch without getting soaked, a simple foam pad might be ideal. Or if you’re going into the backcountry to set up a basecamp to day hike for a week, maybe you can afford to bring something more comfy. Whatever way you go, these are your best options for a little camp comfort.
Input may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article. We only include products that have been independently selected by Input's editorial team.
The Helinox Chair Zero is just about as much chair as you will ever find for only one pound. The design uses what are essentially burly aluminum tent poles with the seat stretched over the top. There’s plenty of back support and comfort, and the chair gets you almost a foot off the ground. These chairs are a little pricier, but if you’re going to be spending time lounging, that extra price and weight are well worth it. Plus the Chair Zero is great for non-camping activities as well.
Compared to the Helinox, the NEMO Moonlight Reclining Chair uses a similar architecture and comes in almost twice as heavy (1.8 pounds), but it makes up for it in luxurious comfort. A strap system connecting the front to the back is adjustable, allowing you to recline to find the perfect positioning. The seat itself is also mesh, making it ultra cool and comfortable on hot days.
Crazy Creek chairs are a staple of high school bleachers and picnic tables, but their rugged (and lightweight) simplicity makes them great for the backcountry as well. Think of the Original Chair as just a seat connected to a back: The bottom pads you from the ground and your own weight keeps the back standing up. They’re not quite as stable or comfortable as full-blown chairs, but there are no aluminum poles to snap and it’s a budget-friendly option.
The Mountainsmith Slingback Chair takes advantage of the trekking poles you’re probably already carrying and uses them as your back support. The chair itself is just a five-ounce strip of Cordura fabric with pockets in the upper corners to collect the handles of your trekking poles. Prop your poles up, cross them behind you, and lean back. Ultra comfy it isn’t, but back support doesn’t get any lighter.
The REI Co-op Trail Stool isn’t something you can lean back against, but it weighs only 1.1 pounds and sets up in seconds. Just pull it out and spread the legs to lift you a generous 15 inches off the ground. Simplicity and durability are key with a stool like this, even if it’s not the most comfortable option around.
The 14-ounce Therm-a-Rest Trekker combines the form factor of the Crazy Creek with the DIY stylings of the Slingback: Use the inflatable sleeping bag that's in your pack and fold it to fit in the stretchy sleeves of the Trekker. The result is a design similar to the Crazy Creek, with the back supported by the seat, but built from your own sleeping pad. There is one possible danger: Watch where you’re putting your sleeping pad to avoid punching a hole in it.
OK, this thing is definitely stretching the definition of a chair, but sometimes you don’t need much more than a little padding on your underside. For day hikes or missions where you’re trying to pack especially light, this foldable foam pad weighs just two ounces and takes up no room in your pack. Whip it out, unfurl it, and benefit from a little padding and insulation on top of whatever hard ground you were going to sit on.