… or don’t. I’ve long thought that bikepackers can generally be divided into two subcategories. Some will stand firmly on one side of the fence and never waver but others will happily transcend any line as circumstance dictates. What is it then, this thing that divides us and separates one from the other? Well, it’s simply a matter of whether you’re someone who ‘rides to camp’ or someone who ‘camps to ride’. It may sound like a subtle difference but it’s one that will drive many of the choices you make and very often, influence what you decide to carry.
We’ve all got our own ideas about ‘comfort’ and ‘luxury’ and aside from a few weird notions, none are actually wrong. Want to sleep in a bramble patch and wipe your bum with nettles, then carry on. Prefer to rest your head on a feathery pillow and pamper your rear with the soft absorbent fur of a Labrador puppy, then go ahead. Some would view the addition of a ‘chair’ to their kit list as an absolute and highly unnecessary luxury. Others (while in truth, also considering it a luxury item) are happy enough to carry the additional weight and bulk while riding as they feel its inclusion will add to their time while camping. John is someone who enjoys camping just as much as he does riding, so on occasion he’s no stranger to packing a few of those things that might compliment the ‘ride to camp’ ethos. Increasingly, one of those items is a chair and he’s kindly put some thoughts ‘on paper’ regarding a few he’s previously / currently using … over to John.
I’m not getting any younger and over the last couple of years have begun to pack a few items that I feel make my life outdoors both a little easier and more comfortable. In that time, I’ve discovered that when I plan to spend time camping as opposed to simply ‘sleeping’, a chair makes the entire experience much more enjoyable. Here’s a brief run down of three that I’ve tried.
I began with an Ali Express chair which cost around £16.50 a year or two back and weighs 980g. A friend then lent me a Helix Chair Zero which I believe lightened his wallet by £135 and weighs a scant 521g. On the back of that, I’ve since bought a Big Agnes UL chair which was £130 and tips my non-calibrated kitchen scales at 861g.
For reference, I’m 5’8” with a 31” inside leg and a medium to large build.
If you are on a tight budget or are simply a tight b’stard, then the Ali express chair will likely be of particular interest. If you can cope with the additional weight and larger pack size then your decision as to which to buy is likely already made. Aside from the size and heft, the only other downside I’ve found is that the feet can be prone to sinking into the ground as they are angled in the same direction as the force applied by you sitting on the chair – even with its chunky feet. Oh and it doesn’t sit level on uneven ground particularly well. It’s worth noting that similar chairs do pop up at Aldi and Lidl from time to time too, so keep your eyes open there.
Comfort rating 7/10.
The Helix Chair Zero’s main selling point when compared to its rivals is its smaller pack size and lower weight. However, the feet will sink into all but the hardest ground and you really have to slouch to get any level of meaningful comfort … but be careful, as when you do slouch back, the rear feet are pushed into the ground and the entire thing can tip over backwards quite easily.
The seat places you the closest to the floor and it’s thin tubes make for a wobbly (but albeit, so far secure) seat. Once you find the ‘sweet spot’ you might discover you’re stuck there for some time as there’s a distinct likelihood that you’ll be too afraid to move in case it wobbles or sinks into the ground. Quite obviously, it beats sitting on the ground but it’s too unstable for me to use long term and I’m never particularly happy on it or trustful of it … maybe it’s better suited to those lucky enough to be younger and more supple?
Comfort rating 4/10
The Big Agnes Skyline UL Chair packs down into a longer but thinner package than the other two, it’s also the highest off the ground and therefore more comfortable in my mind. It doesn’t employ the chunkier leg brackets of the others and does require a little more faffing to put together the first time.
Something I really do like about this chair is how the legs curve which helps avoid them from sinking into the ground as much as the other two chairs. I appreciate that I keep mentioning it but the issue of sinking can render an otherwise fine chair unusable. One final nice touch is the “axle” that holds it together is split and rotates to even the chair out on uneven ground.
Comfort rating 9/10
1st place – Ali Express, for many, the extra bulk and weight is probably an easy pill to swallow in order to save well over £100.
2nd place – Big Agnes UL Chair for the superior comfort and additional seat height – my personal favourite.
3rd place – Helix Chair Zero is obviously the lightest but perhaps that quest has resulted in a little too much compromise?
Thank you John .