My One Pound Vice — A Backpacking Camp Chair

A camp chair had been simmering on my back burner to purchase for some time. The old school blue foam butt-pad is a weight saver and does take the edge off the bum from rocks, downed trees, and stumps. But, sometimes you end up at a camp where there isn’t a suitable seat for your derriere. When my fiancee said she was buying one to take on our honeymoon treks in Peru, I decided to reevaluate the pound it would add to my pack.

At the outdoor store we sat in all of the backpacking chairs. I felt like Goldilocks. One you had to balance too much, another felt too tippy, and then finally one felt juuuuust right. That’s how I ended up buying a Helinox Chair Zero. I wasn’t sold immediately. On a couple of day hikes it was nice for lunch breaks, but far from necessary.

The Test – The Indian Heaven Wilderness

The picturesque plateau that encompasses the Indian Heaven Wilderness is located just a couple hours Northeast of Portland. There are numerous access points to the area and we departed via the Thomas Lakes Trailhead. Camping next to the deep azure water of Blue Lake was our ideal. Cradled by a rocky cirque it’s gorgeous. With a short hike in we weren’t in a hurry, but maybe we should’ve. My last minute stop for Popeye’s spicy fried chicken seemingly let a couple groups beat us to the lake’s last spots. We hiked the extra quarter mile to Tombstone Lake and fortunately found an idyllic spot situated with a view of its north end. We did not run into Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, or the McLaurys.

I was so excited about the cooking area I didn’t get a shot with the chair, but have you ever seen a better backpacking kitchen?

Side note I was interviewed in Backpacker Magazine about the Indian Heaven Wilderness, it’s gorgeous and offers lots of moderate terrain

A well set up camp kitchen is important to me, especially at a two night basecamp like this. I’ve definitely gone through toil and trouble to construct them. Finding something to sit on in camp is not a given either. I’ve rolled sections of logs from farther than was reasonable to have a seat. Not this time. What was waiting at our camp was perfection for a mountain chef. A large, tiered assembly of stones with a view of the lake and a huge flat surface for our stove, pots, mugs, bowls, with room to spare. And I brought my own throne.

The Setup

My fancy new chair was almost as easy to assemble as filling a freeze dried meal with boiling water. The instructions are printed firmly on its fabric. Like everything about the chair, the directions look like they’ll last a long time. The aluminum sections are strung together with elastic cord like tent poles. The main tenet for assembly is making sure the sections are fully slid into the pole sections and hubs. The other is putting the bottom pole ends into the bottom receptors before inserting the top ones.

Easy like Sunday mornin’

I perched it in front of my wilderness galley, settled in and stretched out my legs. Damn that felt good. The chair was definitely comfortable and stable. It cradled my back and most importantly I wasn’t squatting on a butt numbing rock. Everything else was better with the camp chair too. Cooking was more convenient, eating was more contented, and relaxing was, well, more relaxing.

There was no going back.

The chair isn’t infallible. I mean it’s definitely not your grandpa’s easy chair or the bucket seats in your father’s Buick. But, for every camp with a good log or stump or rock to sit on there are many more that are barren of such extravagance. And how comfortable are those unpliable surfaces for our rumps anyways? Good guess, they’re usually not. To be able to lean back, be bolstered, and chill is a wonderful thing during breaks on the trail and at the end of a long day of tramping.

It’s also an easy pound to drop from my pack if I’m hauling long days with minimal time at camps along the way.

I definitely got the side-eye from other hikers when they spied me loungin’ on our Salkantay to Machu Picchu trek

It’s Not Just About the Chair

In most cases the “universal we” backpack for enjoyment. Of course the less gear we carry creates a lighter pack, which helps creates a more enjoyable experience. But at what point does stripping down our gear reduce or inhibit our pleasure? In my opinion taking a luxury or two is beneficial. We all have our needs and vices. Mine have changed over the years. A roomy tent is now paired down to a lighter, more streamlined model, the full-on beef stew for the first night on my annual brothers trip (aka the bro-down in the mountains) is now often eaten at a car camp the night before, and the weighty wine-in-a-box morphed into high proof/lightweight cocktails, which in turn turned into electrolyte tabs sans the hooch.

But, the camp chair is 100% my new vice.

I’m not trying to sell you on my particular chair. My brother found the REI Flexlite Air to be more suitable for his bum comfort (bumfort?). I’m not even trying to sell you on chairs themselves. It’s about packing the gear that makes you happy and enhances your experience. So if that’s a copy of Ulysses or an axe or a guitar or a pineapple floaty bring it and enjoy it!

Honestly, on the bro-down we lug a pair of tallboys for the first night and I still pack my infamous camp cocktails on more leisurely trips. Just don’t bring a boombox or a bluetooth speaker, no one wants to hear your tunes.

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