Ultralight Camp Chairs for Bikepacking

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Although many of us are dogmatic minimalists, we also recognize the importance of creature comforts while bikepacking. In this in-depth test roundup, we dig into the benefits and rationale behind including ultralight camp chairs in our otherwise efficient pack lists. Find that and reviews of six lightweight chairs fit for backpacking and bikepacking here…

By Logan Watts and Virginia Krabill

There’s a time for minimalism and ultralight packing. For some of the diehard gram counters, racers, and masters of efficiency in our community, that’s every time they load their bikes. For others, specific circumstances of the bikepacking journey determine what are and what aren’t essential items that deserve a spot on the pack list. On anything longer than an overnighter, many bikepacking setups rarely provide space for anything more than the bare essentials. Even on rigs with ample frame triangles, the conditions of a particular route—such as limited food and water resupply options—often mean anything that’s not life-sustaining won’t make the cut.

Fortunately, there are other times when there’s room to spare. How one chooses to fill that space reflects their priorities (and maybe even their psyche). Do you leave that space empty to cut/save weight, or do you pack extra food just in case you’re lost in the woods? Do you fill it with spare bike parts or an extra water filter in case of mechanical failure? A tarp in case of rain? Do you pack a sketchbook, drawing supplies, a book, frisbee, or deck of cards to fill the downtime, or throw in some beer, cocktails, and ice packs to imbibe fireside? Whatever you choose, it’s a luxury, something non-essential for survival, that provides enough of a positive reward to offset the weight and bulk it adds to your rig.

  • Ultralight Camp Chairs for backpacking and bikepacking
  • Ultralight Camp Chairs for backpacking and bikepacking
  • Ultralight Camp Chairs for backpacking and bikepacking

One thing that we find almost always ups the reward-to-work ratio is a camp chair, or more specifically, one that we’d classify as an ultralight camp chair. For millennia, folks have managed without them. Rocks, tree limbs, and stumps are nature’s stools, and just lying on the earth is a great way to get a little closer to nature. But, especially as the years go by, lots of us find there’s not much that can beat the comfort a good chair provides after a long day in the saddle. We’ve been bringing lightweight camp chairs along on more relaxed overnight and weekend trips for a few years now, and Logan even brought one along on in a relatively minimal kit for a 10-day scouting mission as he pulled 80-90 mile days.

“Legged” Ultralight Camp Chairs

Ultralight foam “sit” pads provide some protection from cold and wet ground, and we’ve also used a foam sleeping pad to triple as a stretch mat and a place to sit. But those aren’t particularly relaxing to sit on, and they don’t provide much relief to achy backs. Stools keep users’ bums dry but, again, don’t provide any back support and lack lean-ability. Crazy Creeks and other sling-type models support the back to some degree, but they’re at least as bulky and heavy as most legged chairs. What’s more, there’s just something missing from sitting without proper leg danglage. In short, we think a good chair has a back and an elevated seat. As such, we’ve limited our review to chairs that meet those criteria.

Ultralight Camp Chairs for backpacking and bikepacking

Each of the chairs we reviewed is built with the same general design. Shock-corded, tent-style poles create the legs, and a rectangular-shaped fabric hammock is suspended from the base poles to create a seat. Though quite similar overall, each chair has unique characteristics that affect its overall comfort, stability, weight, and packed size. While most of these parameters are pretty clear-cut, we recognize that comfort is subjective and welcome readers to share their experiences and opinions in the conversation at the bottom of the article.

Alite Monarch

In 2009, Alite released their Monarch chair. At the time, it was pretty revolutionary because it was one of the first lightweight camp chairs designed for backpacking and backcountry camping. Even now, with a wealth of competition, the Monarch stands out for its truly unique design. It was built on the same basic hammock and tent pole leg configuration, but unlike the other chairs, the Monarch only has two legs built into its frame. The user’s own two legs complete the base. The rounded rubber feet on the back legs work in conjunction with the articulating joints, aka knees, of the front legs to make the Monarch the only proper rocking chair in the group.

The cleverness of its design and its “rock-ability” aren’t the only things going for the Monarch; it’s also quite comfortable. The hammock that creates the chair’s seat is constructed from ripstop nylon and strategically placed mesh panels. The mesh provides some air circulation but, more importantly, allows for a little extra stretch where it’s most needed—at the hips. The hammock is more square-shaped than the competitions’ slings. This symmetrical cut creates a shallow bowl with low sides and a low back. As such, hips have ample room to spread, and arms can move freely, versus feeling pinned next to one’s sides. In short, the sling’s shallow design creates a roomier feel than the other chairs.

  • Alite Monarch Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs
  • Alite Monarch Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs

In terms of packability, the Monarch ranks the best of the chairs we tested. The Monarch’s base has only one pole hub, versus the competitions’ dual-hubbed designs, and that hub is constructed from the same lightweight aluminum from which the poles are made, versus the bulkier nylon hubs that many of the other chairs utilize. As such, the pole system breaks down into a slightly smaller package. At 557 grams (1 pound, 4 ounces), the Monarch isn’t the lightest chair we tested but is a full 369 grams (13 ounces) lighter than the heaviest chair in this review.

There are a couple of downsides to the chair that must be considered. Getting into and out of the chair requires a little coordination and some deep bends at the knees and hips. This could be a problem for folks with joint issues. The other issue is stability. The chair is great because it rocks and reclines, but it takes a little practice to figure out the extent to which one can lean before gravity takes its toll. Also, the relatively wide and shallow sling doesn’t provide much support to the lower back and, as such, may be uncomfortable for some users.

The biggest downside of all is that Alite Designs closed its doors in the fall of 2018, and the Monarch chair has become increasingly difficult to find since then. On the bright side, Grand Trunk, the Salt Lake City-based “adventure travel goods” company best known for their hammocks, recently acquired Alite Designs. Per Backbone Media’s May 2021 article in the Outside Buisiness Journal, Alite products will be rebranded and then made available to purchase sometime next year.

  • Weight 557 grams (1 pound, 4 ounces)
  • Packed size (length x circumference) 14 x 11.5” (36 x 29cm)
  • Place of Manufacture TBD
  • Capacity 113 Kilograms (250 pounds)
  • Seat Height approx 9-11”
  • Color Options Black, Capitola Blue, Jup Orange, Paradise Blue, Spreckels Red, Sutro Green
  • Price Not currently available, but historically less than $70
  • Manufacturer’s Details TBD

Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair

Big Agnes’ Skyline UL Chair is the most like a traditional basecamp chair. It is one of the heavier models we tested, but with that weight comes more of the comfort and stability one expects to find in a “real” chair.

Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs

The unique thing about this chair is its hubless pole design. Instead of nylon multi-port hubs from which the poles emanate, these poles slide through a slightly beefier central support pole and snuggly slip together to create the chair legs. The absence of hubs cuts down on the bulk of the chair’s frame and makes packing the chair a less clumsy undertaking than some of the other options.

Another clever aspect of the Skyline is its pre-bent leg design. These bends do two things: broaden the base at the point of ground contact, which increases stability, and allow for a wider seat. The cut of the hammock and the pole design also create a deeper seat than is found in most other models, which makes the user feel supported and unlike they will slip out of the chair. The cut of the bucket cradles the lower back, providing decent back support, although not as good as the Nemo (see below). In terms of comfort, the biggest advantage of the Skyline UL is that its seat is more elevated than those of the other chairs, which makes getting into and out of the chair a lot easier.

  • Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs
  • Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs
  • Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs

Constructing the base of the Skyline UL may take a minute longer than with the other chairs because it requires lining up the grooved poles to connect them properly. After doing this once or twice, setup is no more challenging than with any other chair. The only area where the Skyline UL loses some points comes down to its pack size and weight. At 810 grams (1 pound, 12.6 ounces), this chair weighs significantly more than the most lightweight camp chairs we tested, although it’s still lighter than the Moonlight. It also has the longest packed size of any of the chairs. Its diameter is on par with the others, but the bent poles make for a longer package. Still, for the comfort, stability, and price, the Skyline UL is hard to beat.

  • Weight 810 grams (1.79 pounds)
  • Packed size (length x circumference) 17 x 12” (43 x 30.5cm)
  • Capacity 125 kilograms (275 pounds)
  • Seat Height front edge: 13” (33cm), buttocks clearance: 9-9.5” (23-24cm)
  • Color Options black, blue, and yellow
  • Place of Manufacture China
  • Price $110
  • Manufacturer’s Details BigAgnes.com

Helinox Chair Zero

Helinox doesn’t manufacture tents, backpacks, sleeping pads, or clothing. They make camping chairs and campsite furniture and accessories, and they do it well. Helinox was founded in 2009 by the owner of the Dongah Aluminum Company (DAC), the company responsible for making what are considered the gold standard of aluminum tent poles. All of Helinox’s furniture is built on a base or scaffold of these ultralight DAC poles. The Chair Zero is the smallest and most lightweight of Helinox’s chair models, weighing only 525 grams (1 pound, 2.5 ounces), just 1.5 ounces more than our lightest contender.

Helinox Chair Zero Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs

The Chair Zero doesn’t just score points because of its incredibly low weight. It is also one of the most comfortable of the ultralight camp chairs (those less than 1.5 pounds) that we tested. The angles of the base poles create a more upright sitting position than that of the Monarch or REI’s Flexlite Air, and the relatively taut ripstop polyester fabric cradles the back versus stretching like nylon. Together, the seat angle and un-flexing fabric provide surprisingly good lower back support. The width of the seat is a little narrower than some of the other chairs, so hips are hugged just a bit, but the cut-outs that run from the flank to the mid-buttocks on either side of the sling allow for some rear expansion. Another plus in terms of comfort is that the height of the chair’s sides is low enough that the arms are in no way confined but can rest comfortably on top of them.

There are, of course, folks who will find fault in this chair’s design. The narrow sling may leave larger users feeling pinched. Additionally, the bucket is rather shallow. So, with the more upright position, it feels as though you could slip forward and out of the chair. That hasn’t happened to any of us, but this chair lacks the nested sort of feel that the Monarch provides, and it feels like you need to anchor your feet against the ground a bit to stay on board. And, as is the case with most of these chairs, the low seat height may cause discomfort for those with knee or hip issues.

  • Helinox Chair Zero Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs
  • Helinox Chair Zero Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs
  • Helinox Chair Zero Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs
  • Helinox Chair Zero Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs
  • Helinox Chair Zero Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs

Despite its diminutive size, the Chair Zero offers a reasonable degree of stability. Its small-diameter poles make one question its strength, but we’ve had no problems with bending or breaks. The small feet are apt to sink into soft surfaces, but Helinox has additional stability accessories available for purchase to increase surface area. Alternatively, one could place the chair legs on rocks or bits of bark to help disperse weight and prevent sinking. Overall, for such a lightweight chair, we’ve been impressed by its stability and the comfort it provides.

  • Weight 525 grams (1 pound, 2.5 ounces)
  • Packed size (length x circumference) ” (cm)
  • Capacity 120 kilograms (265 pounds)
  • Seat Height front edge: 10”, buttocks ground clearance: 7”
  • Color Options sand, black, and grey
  • Place of Manufacture Seat made in Vietnam; frame made in Korea
  • Price $120 (at REI)
  • Manufacturer’s Details Helinox.com

Helinox Chair One

The Helinox Chair One has been around for quite some time. But we decided to just make this a sub-review as the Chair Zero is lighter and more fitting. However, there are ample reviews of this award-winning chair available online. Overall, this chair is pretty comfortable, along the lines of the other ultralight contenders with added back support and a more stable feeling. It’s significantly heavier than most in this lineup, except the Nemo, and it’s much bulkier. Otherwise, it’s nothing fancy, with no extra bells and whistles. The fabric feels more durable than the ultralight fabrics used in other chairs, and it’s well-priced with a high weight capacity.

  • Weight 810 grams (1 pound, 15.9 ounces)
  • Packed size
  • Capacity 120 kilograms (265 pounds)
  • Seat Height front edge: 13” (33cm), buttocks clearance: 9-9.5” (23-24cm)
  • Color Options sand, black, and grey
  • Place of Manufacture Seat made in Vietnam; frame made in Korea
  • Price $99.95 classic (REI)/$124.95 premium (at REI)
  • Manufacturer’s Details Helinox.com

Nemo Moonlite

Nemo’s Moonlite Reclining Chair takes lightweight camping gear to a new level of extravagance with this unique design. Unlike the Monarch, is a recliner by default, and any of the other four-legged chairs that require a tenuous two-legged balance to attain a similarly relaxed position, the Nemo has a built-in adjustable recline. This patent-pending system works in a fashion similar to the Crazy Creek, where cinchable straps connect the front corners of the seat to the top corners of the backrest. Those straps can then be tightened or loosened depending on how far back one wants to lean.

Nemo Moonlite Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs
  • Nemo Moonlite Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs
  • Nemo Moonlite Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs

The Moonlite has several other distinctive features that set it apart from the competition. First, the sling doesn’t attach to the frame in the same way that the others do. Whereas the other chairs’ base poles simply slide into reinforced pockets at the corners of their slings, the Moonlite’s poles have balled ends that fit into nylon molded sockets at its corners. These ball and socket connections rotate just slightly, so, instead of a very static position, this sling moves slightly with body repositioning. The Moonlite’s hammock itself is also quite different from those of the other chairs. It’s constructed from a single piece of asymmetrically cut polyester mesh that is relatively stretchy when compared to the other chairs. The sling is also significantly longer than it is wide. This creates a true hammock effect versus a shallow bucket or bowl feeling, as the fabric doesn’t ride up on the sides of the thighs or hips at all.

The Moonlite is the most stable of the chairs we tested. Its poles are a bit heftier, and the lateral aspect of the base is the widest. And, although its legs aren’t as wide (or deep) in the fore-aft orientation, the back feet have caps with larger flattened surfaces that provide added stability. This extra stable base means that you can truly relax in the reclined position. Another thing we appreciate about the Moonlite is that its hammock fabric is made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled materials. What’s more, the mesh breathes well, and the low-profile sides make it so wider hips can relax without being squeezed. We also found that, when in the upright position, the Moonlite offers the best lower back support of any of the chairs we tested. All in all, this chair provides great support without being at all confining.

  • Nemo Moonlite Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs
  • Nemo Moonlite Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs
  • Nemo Moonlite Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs

Unfortunately, the Moonlite isn’t without its flaws. The extra flex that the mesh seat offers allows it to stretch in the reclined position, but in the most upright position, it causes enough of a sink that the back of the thighs rest on the front legs of the chair. This isn’t terribly uncomfortable. It’s just noticeable, especially against bare skin. The side straps of the chair also pose a bit of a problem. Most folks will have to decide between keeping their arms pinned to their sides inside or letting them hang to the outside of the straps. If the arms dangle on the outside, the strap tends to dig into the underside of the arms a bit. In the most upright position, resting the arms on the straps just isn’t comfortable as the thin edge of each strap is abrasive. In the reclined position, the decreased tension on those straps makes it more comfortable to rest the arms upon them. For taller individuals, the sides may sit far enough down on one’s slides to not cause irritation at any degree of recline.

The Moonlite is also the heaviest of the chairs we tested. But, for many folks, the comfort of a reclining chair that offers good back support will easily make hauling the 939 grams (2 pounds, 1 ounce) well worth the effort. The Moonlite scored the top spot in terms of comfort for a couple of our testers. In fact, our friend TJ bought one after trying out our demo model; TJ is a large fellow at 6’5″ tall and 250 pounds. He found it to be the most comfortable chair of the bunch.

  • Weight 939 grams (2 pounds, 1 ounce)
  • Packed size (length x circumference) 14 x 14” (36 x 36cm)
  • Capacity 136 kilograms (300 pounds)
  • Seat Height 11-12” at front; 5-7” elevation
  • Color Options Smolder (red), Bluebird (blue), and Goodnight Gray
  • Place of Manufacture Philippines
  • Price $140 (at REI)
  • Manufacturer’s Details NemoEquipment.com

REI Flexlite Air Chair

REI’s Flexlite Air Chair is a decent option, especially for folks who want to save a few dollars. It’s the least expensive of the chairs that are currently available for purchase, and it is the lightest of the chairs we’ve tested.

The Flexlite Air’s design is very similar to that of the Helinox, but there are significant differences. First, it’s constructed from a single piece of ripstop nylon fabric. There are no seams running perpendicularly to the sides of the seat, and there are no cut-outs in the bucket to accommodate for the buttocks or hips. Instead, there is just a single horizontal tapered seam that creates the “bucket” of the seat. This construction technique creates a fairly shallow (forward to back) bucket, not unlike that of the Chair Zero. However, the angle of the chair’s legs makes a more reclined or slouched seat versus an upright one. Short sides alleviate the weird arm placement issue and allow for wider hips to extend over the edge of the seat. The back of the chair also has a relatively low rise. The overall effect of the chair’s design is that of a shallow dish.

REI Flexlite Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs
  • REI Flexlite Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs
  • REI Flexlite Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs

Unfortunately, the shallow, tilted hammock almost forces the user into a slumped posture that is not very comfortable. And, even though the chair is tilted back further than the Chair Zero, its shallow depth also makes the sitter feel under-supported and a little like they may slip from the seat. The bucket’s simple construction is of concern as well. At 135-175 pounds, we could both see that our weights were causing a lot of tension in the two tapered seams, whereas the chairs with cut-outs or additional panels don’t appear to be as stressed.

The biggest flaw that this chair has is in terms of its instability. Unlike all of the other models, the base of the Flexlite Air has a fore-aft orientation. While this may help sitters from rocking over backward, the narrower horizontal support makes it very wobbly from side to side. While it’s generally safe, as the ground is not far from the seat, a few camping cocktails could make things interesting.

  • REI Flexlite Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs
  • REI Flexlite Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs
  • REI Flexlite Chair Review, Ultralight Camp Chairs

All in all, this chair isn’t particularly comfortable or stable. Still, it’s better than sitting on the cold, wet ground, it’s incredibly lightweight and packable, and it’s the least expensive option available.

  • Weight 485 grams (1.07 lbs)
  • Packed size (length x circumference) 13 x 12.5” (33 x 32cm)
  • Capacity 113 kilograms (250 pounds)
  • Seat Height 11-12” front edge, 7-7.5” buttock clearance
  • Color Options Asphalt, Copper Spice
  • Place of Manufacture Philippines
  • Price $100
  • Manufacturer’s Details REI.com

Wrap Up

Each of the chairs in this review has some excellent qualities, and they all provide a decent spot to rest one’s weary bones after a long day in the saddle. If weight and packed size are your primary concerns, it’s pretty easy to make a choice. But, if comfort is key, it’s a little more difficult to decide. We humans come in all sizes and shapes, so there’s no single chair that will be the most comfortable for every body. Depending on your height, the corners of some of the chairs may press into your trapezoids. Depending on hip width, some may feel pressure in the more bucketed seats. To find the most comfortable seat, it’s best to try out a chair before purchasing it or, alternatively, look for a retailer that offers a no-questions-asked return policy and give it a spin indoors. All that said, despite our referencing of “best” and “most” in many of the individual reviews, we made some notes on which were our favorites based on different metrics:

Overall Comfort

We were a little torn on which in the group we’d claim as most comfortable. Virginia decided on the Big Agnes Skyline UL, while Logan (and TJ) singled out Nemo Moonlight. Nemo provides the most back support and a confident secure feeling, but Virginia found some discomfort in that the buttocks rests on the poles when fully upright, and the edge on the tightening straps rubs the arms. The Helinox Chair One is also pretty comfy and comparable to the Big Agnes, but it’s heavier and much bulkier.

In terms of the remaining options—which happen to be the three we’d classify as ultralight camp chairs—we were also a little torn. Logan’s a big fan of the Helinox Chair Zero and finds it pretty comfy as long as you’re on flat ground and can keep the legs from sinking. However, Virginia finds the hammock to be shallow enough that you feel like you’re going to get pitched out of the chair or slip out of the bottom. She finds the REI to be a little more comfortable because the bucket seems to have a slightly higher front seat edge to buttocks height ratio, and keeping the butt down and knees higher takes a little pressure off of the back. The Monarch is probably least comfortable of these three because the depth of the bowl creates such a “C” curve in the back, but it’s great for slouchy times.

Stability

The Nemo Moonlite is probably the most stable, with the Big Agnes Skyline UL and the partially reviewed Helinox Chair One coming in second. The Helinox Chair Zero comes in third, although it needs to be on a relatively flat surface to be stable. The Alite Monarch and REI Flexlite kind of tie for last place. The Monarch actually feels more stable once you are seated in it, and the REI wobbles all the time.

Durability

Believe it or not, all of these chairs have held up to a lot of use over the last couple of years and beyond. And, most of them have experienced a few welterweight friends borrowing them on our many socially distant overnighters over the last year and a half. We’ve spent more time with some of them than others. We’ve had the Alite Monarch since 2012, and it went on a multi-month trip through Mexico and Central America; it also has fewer breakable parts. However, we had two of them and broke one by sitting on it when one of the leg joints wasn’t all the way inserted, snapping a pole. There is a risk of this happening with most of these chairs, so, since then, we usually double-check all the connections before sitting down. It’s also important that if a foot gets stuck in the dirt, you must check that the joints are properly seated if you move the chair.

We’ve also put a ton of time on the Helinox Chair One and Chair Zero. Our comparably heavy friend TJ, as mentioned, also put many evenings on his Chair Zero with no issues before he upgraded to the Moonlite—strictly for comfort. That’s pretty great, considering it’s one of the lightest options.

Otherwise, the REI Flexlite just feels like it’s going to break, with much more play in base and fabric seams that appear to be stressed. That said, it’s still going strong with a fair amount of use.

Weight-to-Comfort Ratio

At just over a pound, the REI Flexlite Air chair is obviously the lightest of the group. However, it’s not the most comfortable and has some stability issues. The Alite Monarch and Helinox Chair Zero are pretty close in weight, but we’ve generally found the Helinox to have the best comfort-to-weight ratio of the ultralight options—and perhaps any of the chairs. The Big Agnes and Nemo are the most comfortable, in spades, but it’s hard to beat the Chair Zero at nearly half the weight, with proven durability and decent comfort factor.

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