The peak justifies as much attention as the chair -- but it's worth hauling it up there. Photo: Tim Wenger

This Lightweight, Portable Chair Is Perfect From the Trailhead to the Campsite

Technology + Gear Camping
by Tim Wenger Suzie Dundas May 22, 2024

Every now and then, a revolution comes along that makes me question my “conventional wisdom” surrounding outdoor gear. Two such events have happened this year. In January, I started snowboarding in ski boots, and this spring, I acquired a camp chair that makes all others I’ve owned seem unnecessarily bulky and irrelevant. That chair is the Helinox Zero. This chair is ideal for posting upon anywhere where you will only be temporarily – be that a trailhead, a parking lot, or a campsite. Matador outdoor editor Suzie Dundas and myself, gear and commerce editor Tim Wenger, break down the two primary use cases for this chair, and why it’s worth adding to your outdoor gear setup.

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Helinox Zero use case #1: At the trailhead

Post-ride lounging, beer in hand. Photo: Suzie Dundas
Post-ride lounging, beer in hand. Photo: Suzie Dundas

Whenever I go backpacking, I like to keep my pack as light as possible, bordering usually on the ultralight side of things rather than opting to carry extra luxuries. So when I first got the Helinox Zero Chair, a foldable and ultralight camp chair designed for backpackers, I wasn’t sure if I’d get much use out of it.

But I’ve had it now for about a year and actually do get tons of use out of it — not for backpacking, but for socializing after outdoor activities. Mountain biking is usually my go-to activity, and after a few hours of sweaty pedaling, it’s nice to sit and chill for a few minutes (or longer) before you peel off your smelly knee pads and load your bike back onto the car. And this is where the Helinox Zero really shines. Because it’s so narrow (about the thickness of a Nalgene water bottle), it’s easy to keep in my plastic bin of bike gear I haul in and out of the car each time. And when my legs are sore and fatigued, sitting in an actual chair feels downright luxurious, even if the chair itself is pretty basic. If we’re going to be hanging out in the parking lot for more than three or four minutes after a ride, I always set it up.

The best thing about the chair, in my opinion, isn’t how lightweight or small it packs up– it’s the speed of assembly and disassembly. I have lots of “packable” gear that can be a bit of a pain to put away, either because it just barely fits in the storage sack (my Patagonia Black Hole Tote) or has to be disassembled exactly the right way each time to make it fit (Therm-a-Rest LuxuryMap Self-Inflating Foam Camping Sleeping Pad). I love them both, but putting them away can be a bit of a time commitment.

But the Helinox Zero chair easily fits in the sack every time, even if you don’t fold the legs the same way or weirdly roll up the fabric seat. That means you can disassemble it in about 30 seconds, even while holding a conversation or focused on something else. Because of that, I never hesitate to set it up, and end up getting a lot of use out of it.

It’s not the most comfortable chair in the world (nor is it meant to be), but it does have a little bit of movement thanks to the flexible frame, and the lack of neck support isn’t much of an issue since you sit fairly upright. Stretchy shock cord between the poles means it more or less snaps together (i.e. no assembly steps to follow), and it holds up to 265 pounds, making it ideal for a wide variety of users, even though it looks pretty tiny.

Overall, I definitely recommend this chair. I get lots of use out of it thanks to easy assembly and disassembly. And I imagine it’d be ideal for backpackers who aren’t content sitting on the ground, since you won’t find a smaller or lightweight camp chair on the market. I think the reasonable price point ($149.95, but frequently discounted on Amazon) also makes it an excellent gift for outdoorsy people — especially outdoorsy people who appreciate a good parking lot beer in the sun after a long day of hiking, skiing, biking, or any other high-energy outdoor adventure. – Suzie Dundas

Helinox Zero use case #2: Backpacking and camping

Beer tastes better on a mountain. Photo: Tim Wenger
The peak justifies as much attention as the chair -- but it's worth hauling it up there. Photo: Tim Wenger

I’ve for years kept camp chairs in the back of my Tacoma so that I always have one when I need it. Never did I think I’d change that course of action, or rather, condense it – I know keep a chair in my pack. The Zero measures 14” x 4” x 4” when packed, small enough to keep in backpacking and camping packs without forcing one to jettison other important pieces of gear. I tend to bring either a Patagonia Refugio or a larger backpacking pack with me when camping, and this season I’ve started keeping the Helinox Zero in whatever pack is coming with me. It weighs just over one pound.

I recently took it with me on a trip that required a 1,000-foot gain from trailhead to end point. As seen in the photos here, the chair fit well into my 30-liter pack. I’ve never brought an actual chair with me into the backcountry before, only one of those stoop-like seats, but after doing this once, I will do it over and over again. Besides its portability, the Helinox Zero chair excels at self-righteousness. By this I’m referring to its ability to remain right-side-up and stable even on less-than-flat surfaces (see the photo of me in the collage above), which are common at trailhead parking lots and campsites. I’ve popped the chair open and assembled it (in less than a minute) in a variety of such settings. As Suzie notes, you’re not going to rock yourself to sleep in this chair, but it’s supportive, easy on the back, and never leaves me feeling like I’m about to tip over – a common issue with traditional camp chairs.

The chair comes apart in seconds. Photo: Tim Wenger
Side view. Photo: Tim Wenger

The Helinox Zero’s quick assembly – all you gotta do is unfurl the DAC aluminum alloy frame and then place the Aramid ripstop fabric seat onto the four connection points – makes it perfect for lounging by the campfire, at the trailhead, or even on your front porch.  It disassembles just as quickly. All you gotta do is tug the pull-chords on the base mat and the frame releases. Then, it’s a few seconds of pulling the alloy tubes out and stuffing it all back into the carrying case. Tim Wenger

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