Review: Byer of Maine TriLite Stool

I'd been on the hunt for the right camping chair for a long time. I wanted one for camping, but also for bank fishing, taking breaks on land when kayaking, and even for occasional events like outdoor festivals, or waiting in long lines for concert tickets.

Of course you can buy an ordinary camping chair cheaply at any discount store. But the reason I'd been searching for so long was that I wanted one with a magical and elusive combination of attributes.

Obviously I wanted something that was comfortable. Otherwise, why not just sit on the ground? It needed to be reasonably stable and durable.

Those attributes are pretty easy to find. But I also wanted something that was lightweight and collapsed down to a really compact package. Small enough to strap on to my small tackle backpack and not weigh me down or get hung up when I'm hiking through the woods. That pretty much rules out an ordinary camping chair.

And the hardest requirement of all: It needed to be reasonably priced. There are a lot of great high-end camping chairs you can get from good backpacking outfitters, but they tend to be pricey. $100 or more. I'm too cheap for that.

About a month ago, I got my daily e-mail from Massdrop (if you're not signed up with Massdrop, you should be...) listing their latest bulk purchase deals. They had a deal going for the Byer of Maine TriLite Stool.

I did some Google research and was intrigued. The TriLite had fairly good reviews. Not all positive, but mostly. I certainly liked the design. It folded up really small, it seemed very easy to assemble, and it was very lightweight. And it didn't cost a lot, especially with the Massdrop deal. So I took my chances and bought one.

I opted for the XL version, which is larger and has a 275 lb capacity. Folded up, it's really small and fits nicely into the outside pocket of my tackle pack. On a kayak, it stows away and takes up very little precious cargo room. It's also very light (2.2 lbs) and comes with a nice carry bag.

Setting up the TriLite is easy and takes less than a minute once you learn how it's done. There's a bit of a leverage trick to getting the seat bottom attached to the supports, but do it once and you've got it down. The Byer of Maine website has a video that shows you how it's done.

The materials are good quality. Aircraft grade aluminum for the supports and heavy rip-stop polyester for the seat bottom and base webbing. Unlike a regular tripod stool, the design of the TriLite distributes your weight on relatively large areas of fabric. So I don't think there's much chance of ripping out the seat fabric by merely sitting on it (as I've done with multiple tripod stools). There's a plastic hinge that all the supports attach to and it seems well-made and up to the task. The construction all seems solid and tight.

The TriLite is surprisingly comfortable. Way more comfortable a regular tripod stool. That's because the seat bottom has a lot more surface area and there's no third support applying pressure to your crotch. I actually find the TriLite to be more comfortable that a common camping chair because it doesn't force my body into an uncomfortable position like most camping chairs. Obviously there's no back support, but I'm fine with that because it encourages me not to slouch in the chair and it's less weight to carry. Just be aware that if you require back support, this is not your camping stool. I should mention that I'm glad I bought the XL version because the seat height is higher and it works better for a tall person.

Stability is the one area of compromise. Think about your kitchen chair. It's probably pretty stable. The legs of your kitchen chair form a rectangular footprint that is about 24" across, corner-to-corner. A well-built chair is stable as long you place it on a level surface and keep the combined center of gravity of you and the chair over the footprint. If you lean over too far and move the combined CoG outside the footprint, then you're flirting with a tip-over. Same deal with a camping chair. But a camping chair is very light and contributes almost nothing to the combined CoG. And in the case of the the TriLite, the footprint is only 14" across. If you lean over so that most of your weight is outside the TriLite's base footprint (which is a lot smaller than a kitchen chair's) you will tip it over. That's the downside to a light chair with a small footprint, and having only 3 legs instead of 4. But if you don't push it beyond its reasonable limits, it's completely stable. I can cast, set hook, and retrieve my fish from a seated position on the TriLite without a problem. I just don't lean over excessively.

Finally, let's talk price. I got my TriLite XL for $20 delivered from Massdrop. That's a terrific deal in my opinion. But even the full retail price of $30 is very fair. It's definitely more money that you'd spend on a camping chair from Walmart, but a lot less than a high-end one from REI. And it performs very well for the money. Highly recommended.