After an introduction to lightweight backpacking chairs a few years ago, my philosophy on this admittedly somewhat superfluous (but many times well worth the weight) camp comfort item has generally remained unchanged; on longer trips where I’m moving daily and pack weight is of more concern the chair stays behind and any rock or log will do. For the amount of time that you’re actually in camp – and not inside your tent – carrying the weight is simply not worth it. But mental and physical comfort levels on when the extra comfort is worth the weight of course, will vary.
But on shorter less ambitious trips, winter trips with extra time in camp and long nights, or those trips where I’ll be setting up camp for more than just one night in the same place, I’ve found various chairs like the Monarch Chair from Alite Designs (review) and more recently the Helinox Ground Chair (review) to be add a substantial amount of comfort to the backcountry camping experience. But even on these trips, the weight of these chairs is still cause for pause when getting your pack ready the night before. The Helinox Chair Zero is a recent release from Helinox that focuses on reducing that weight concern further, along with increasing comfort and packability.
Like the Helinox Ground Chair, the Chair Zero has 4 legs for stability, but unlike the appropriately named Ground Chair the Chair Zero is designed for a higher, more upright sitting position (closer to a real chair) and through the use of a lighter weight, Dyneema gridstop fabric has managed to achieve a lighter weight all at the same time. Helinox specs the chair at 490 grams (17.3 ounces) without the stuff sack although many merchants list the chair as lighter. On my scale I measured 17.2 ounces for the chair (4.4 for the fabric and 12.8 for the poles) and add another .7 ounces if you want to bring along the stuff sack. (The stuff sack features one handed cord lock operation and even glow in the dark hardware) The shock-corded DAC aluminum pole frame of the chair assembles quickly, with the fabric seat attaching via pockets in 4 places (color coded - silver sides up) with a slight amount of effort, while all breaking down into a compact unit to easily fit in a backpack. The chair easily fits in a random available spot towards the top of my ULA Circuit’s main compartment. The chair will support up to 265 pounds – quite impressive for something collapsible and weighing in around just a pound.
I did find that there are pros and cons to the upright design of the chair and the support system that’s used compared to the Ground Chair that I’ve been using for the past couple years. With the higher sitting height (the seat is 11 inches off the ground), the new Chair Zero is much, much easier to get in and out of, so if the hiking miles have been taking a toll on your knees it would be an excellent choice, and even either way it takes less of a “technique” to use with the bonus sitting height. I do find the sitting position a bit less comfortable however – once you are there – it’s more of an upright place to sit compared to more of a lounger like the Ground Chair. Additionally the small surface area on the feet of the Zero, combined with the fact that most of the weight seems to be balanced on the back two feet, makes this chair more prone to sink in soft ground. Rocky and firm ground and / or lighter weight users might be ideal, but an available accessory, the Helinox Ground Sheet for the Zero can be used with a weight penalty. It should be noted that the lighter fabric seat of the Zero could, if you somehow ended up with both chairs, be used with the Ground Chair's support structure to save 3.3 ounces off the normal 21.75 ounce weight of the Helinox Ground Chair.
With the pros and cons that are involved, it all obviously comes down to personal preference and without a doubt, where the Chair Zero excels most is in the all-important weight and packability departments – perhaps the most important part considering we are talking about taking a chair with us while hiking and backpacking, after all. In the end, the Zero turns out to be a very pack-friendly chair that will only add about a pound to your hikes, or to those backpacking trips where you think the extra ~pound is worth a comfortable place to sit at the end of the day.