Camp chairs have always been a much talked about item around the camp fire. Having the right chair means being able to watch the sun set or perch around a camp fire in comfort. Where weight and bulk are important on an adventure, choosing the lightest and most easily packed chair is important.
In this review I’m going to compare the build quality of two of the most popular small profile, light weight camp chairs. These are the Helinox One and the Outrak.
What is the use case?
I’ve been trying to find a term or heading to describe a number of things relating to the use of a product. The term “Use Case” is one that I have borrowed. If we simply said a chair is used to sit on, then every chair would be in this category. These chairs would have to rate along side small aluminium fishing stalls and more substantial camp site chairs. So Use Case must include other factors such as:
- intended purpose
- pack size
- fabric composition
- build quality
- strength (how much weight can it support)
Both camp chairs have the same intended purpose, yes I hear the cynical ones of you say, to put your arse on and sit back after a long day on the bike, with a glass of red wine or a tinny. But if that was the only intended purpose then any chair would do. The intended purpose is also for the chair to be easily transported, sufficiently stable to stop said fat arse from falling on the floor and it must also be light and easily packed.
From this perspective both camp chairs do an adequate job. By sitting in both chairs in the same situation I have found some slight differences. In the Helinox chair I feel that I sit deeper into it and it is a bit more stable. The angle of the front legs on the Helinox One is slightly further forward than the Outrak. This gives it more forward stability, while the baggier chair material enables me to lower my centre of balance.
For a biker, pack size is everything, with weight being an important but secondary consideration. The question for me was will it fit into the top of my panniers. I prefer to keep my chairs out for as long as I can when packing up.
A part from my Helinox table, the chair is usually the last bit of camping kit to be packed away. Both camp chairs are similar in pack size. However, if you are looking for the absolute smallest package then the prize must go to the Outrak. The sizes of both kits packed up are:
Helinox – 390mm long * 150mm deep * 130mm wide (claimed 350,150,100, mine might not be packed appropriately)
Outrak – 350mm long * 130mm deep * 100mm wide
As I mentioned earlier, weight is one of the important considerations when purchasing camping and hiking equipment. Where two almost identical products is concerned, and where one is heavier than the other the “Use Case” becomes important in your decision making. Extra fabric or thicker poles will impact weight but will also increase comfort and strength. The weight of the two chairs are as follows:
Helinox – 1.152 kg (claimed 960 arms, mine must have some dirt on it)
Outrak – 0.848 kg
The Outrak wins this section of the competition by being 250 grams lighter than the Helinox One or if looking at it another way, the Helinox is almost 25% heavier than the Outrak..
Both chairs are made from PU coated polyester. I can’t find specs on the Helinox chair but it is twice the thickness of the Outrak. The Outrak claims their chairs are 600D PU coated. This is fairly easy to see, the material is solid and consists of strategically placed mesh panels for when that tropical humidity kicks in.
There are a couple of differences between the two chairs, and this is the first time I see the build quality of the Helinox product outshining the Outrak. The differences are in the thickness of the fabric, I measured both chairs and as stated earlier the fabric is twice as thick on the Helinox chair. There is also more of it. The Helinox chair allows the sitter to sit lower and therefore is more supported by the chair.
When it comes to stitching, both chairs are well put together, but the Helinox has just that slightly better quality control. The pockets that hold the chair legs seem more robust and the cross stitching is definitely stronger and better sewn.
The stitching on the Helinox is finished better than the Outrak, there is attention to detail where the seams cross over, which tends to indicate more strength. If you look carefully at the photos below you can see what I’m talking about.
This is my favourite section of a gear review, as it tends to be the section where price differences are evident. In this section I’m looking at pole construction and the plastic knuckles that hold the poles together. This style of camp chair has been designed to pull a part and fold down into the smallest possible space. The poles are aluminium and the knuckles are plastic. However, not all aluminium is the same, neither is plastic.
The Helinox chairs are constructed from T7001 aluminium, where as the Outrak is a non specified aluminium, possibly a T1000 or T6000 variety, either way they do not have the same strength characteristics as the Helinox poles.
T7001 aluminium is the highest strength aluminium alloy used in the aircraft and space industries. It’s main alloy component is zinc, but it also contains other metals including Titanium, Chromium, Manganese, Magnesium and Zirconium. Each alloy contributes its character to the pole including strength, ease of machining, wear and corrosion resistance.
It is easy to extrude, but requires a heat treatment process to reach its full potential. Helinox claim an environmentally friendly DAC treatment process. The poles on the Helinox One chair are far stronger that the standard aluminium extrusions of the Outrak chair.
Not all plastics are the same
The knuckle holds the chairs together, these are made of plastic. There is no indication from the Outrak company as to the type of plastic in their chairs. By looking at it, which is admittedly a difficult way to judge I would assume it is a Polypropylene material, which while strong enough for this type of application it is not considered an engineering plastic.
The Helinox company claim their knuckle joints are made of Reenforced Nylon 66. Reenforced Nylon is an engineering plastic that incorporate fibre glass into the plastic melt, this is incredibly strong and ideal for applications requiring strength and flexibility. In the cross member they have also included a Nylon flanges that will soak up any lateral forces.
A tell tail sign of a good design and manufacturing is if when the stress joints are curved rather than straight right angles. This allowing the forces to flow into the curve. If the edges are straight and sharp, the forces comes to a dead stop and has to change direction at right angles. This means the sharp edge absorbs all the force, rather than dissipate it. This is where the knuckle is likely to break.
What does all this mean?
It means that when a product is manufactured with good raw material and when engineering design is applied to that product, the product will last significantly longer than one that hasn’t been as well designed or manufactured.
The Helinox One chair is well designed and manufactured, in my opinion the Outrak is less so well designed, and it is made with cheaper material. But that doesn’t mean it is a bad chair. This is where we come back to “Use Case”.
This is a subjective part of the review, what is comfort in a small collapsible camp chair. From my perspective the Helinox is the more comfortable of the two. I am 6’2″ tall and I weight about 120kg. The Outrak is not rated for a person like me.
I used the Outrak for over 12 months. While it wasn’t the most comfortable camp chair I had, it still managed to put up with my size and weight for that period of time. I had two main issues with the chair. The first, was the angle between the base poles and the back rest poles. It felt like I was lying back slightly. The second, was that the front legs did not extend out to the front of the chair.
This is probably the design of the sitting experience, but combined with the shallow siting position it meant I was constantly balancing the chair when I wanted to lean forward. I felt like I would tip over if I didn’t concentrate on where my weight was. As I said though the chair wasn’t designed for someone my size.
The Helinox by contrast enabled me to sink lower into the chair. This changed the centre of gravity. The legs extended closer to the front of the chair and the sitting position is more upright. I was able to sit upright at the table and cook without having to constantly balance the chair.
The Helinox chair is rated to 145kg. The Outrak is rated to 100kg. I’m not sure if the discomfort I feel with the Outrak chair is a result of the design elements chosen for this weight range. I suspect the rating is more in line with the material choices rather than the structural design of the chair. In saying that a lighter person from 50kg to 100kg would find the Outrak an acceptable chair and one that would probably last quite a while.
Cost is often one of the major decision points in any gear purchase. Some people prefer to buy the cheapest equipment and reason that the rest of us are paying too much money. It’s quite funny really some people will spend $20 – 30K on a motorcycle but refuse to spend $149.90 on a chair.
The Helinox One is on the higher end of the camp chair price point, while the Outrak is in the middle of the range. There are cheaper chairs available, a couple of friends bought $25.00 Aldi branded chairs for a trip up to Cape York. They had no complaints about those chairs and easily lasted the distance. The chairs are currently listed at the following prices:
Helinox One – $149.90 *(direct from Helinox)
Outrak – $69.00
My pick of chair is the Helinox One, it is well designed and manufactured. From what I can gather it will last the distance. It has a five year warrantee, which is a good indication that the company stands by its design and manufacturing processes. The chair suits me because of my weight and height, but also because I think the sitting position is slightly better for me.
The Outrak camp chairs are good chairs, if you are within that 100kg range and want a mid priced chair. If I was a lighter person I would probably have been content with my Outrak chair. But having invested in a Helinox One chair, I’m really happy I made that decision.
I also have an Helinox Cot and a small collapsible table. They are all made with the same attention to detail and careful manufacturing techniques.
I have affiliate links with Amazon, so if you purchase through these links I will get a small commission that does not go on your price. It pays to check the site often as prices can change and specials come up.
There are other cheaper camp chairs such as the one below that may do the job for you if you’re not interested in the price of these two. Click on the link below: