Robens Pathfinder Lite and Observer Camping Chairs
When packing for a family trip under canvas, camping chairs are one of the bulkier items of equipment you’ll need to factor in to your game of car boot Tetris.
I tried for many years to do it on the cheap with a couple of unbranded fishing chairs. They weren’t particularly comfortable to sit in, leaving your arms hoicked up like a puppet, your shoulders pinched together and your bottom hanging precariously between a flimsy metal frame. Folded up, they weren’t much smaller than the sofa in my lounge.
I needed something comfortable, yet compact. Small yet sturdy. Lightweight yet luxurious. And just as the quest was becoming a bit of a saga, two come along at once. Let me introduce you to the Robens Pathfinder Lite and Observer camping chairs.
Robens is a Danish company, perhaps best known for its cosy tipi tents and tough, high-quality camping equipment. They make some beautifully-designed products which are as much a joy to look at as they are to use. Watch their promotional videos and you’ll spot effortlessly-cool outdoorsy folk looking every bit the part alongside their rugged equipment. That DNA should be promising when it comes to designing the perfect compact camping chair.
The Pathfinder Lite and Observer clearly have similar briefs but go about achieving them in slightly different ways.
You’ll immediately spot that the Pathfinder Lite is the smaller chair. It has a shorter back, sits slightly lower to the ground and appears to recline you less than the Observer, which looks more like a seaside deckchair. Both chairs feature the same underlying structure: a strong but lightweight collapsable frame supporting a durable polyester and mesh fabric body.
The matt gold colour of the frame is particularly striking; it oozes quality and looks even more premium in the flesh. The pale grey colour of the fabric complements the frame. These are good looking chairs.
But it’s not all about looks. Comparing specs, there are subtle differences across the range of dimensions, both when constructed or packed away. The Observer is deeper and taller than the Pathfinder Lite but the widths are similar. Robens quotes the weight of the Pathfinder Lite at 915g and the Observer at 1255g. In the real world, that means they both feel extremely light.
In terms of pack size, they are considerably smaller than many other camping chairs on the market. The Pathfinder Lite is just over 30cm long with the Observer adding another 20cm to that total. Both chairs can accommodate a maximum load of 120kg.
The Pathfinder Lite and Observer are lightweight and compact. This means you aren’t going to get tonnes of features. But really, what do you need a camping chair to do?
You’ll find a small plastic loop on the side, where you can attach a bottle holder. This accessory isn’t included so you’ll have to purchase it separately. But as you sit close to the ground, your water bottle can always be close to hand without it.
What you can do right out of the box is affix the carry case to the front of each chair. It then acts as a handy storage pouch for things like your phone or a pair of sunglasses. It also means you are less likely to misplace the cover, or have to run across the campsite when it inevitably blows away in the wind.
How comfortable are they?
This is undoubtedly an important question when purchasing a chair. Both are definitely comfortable, and while it’s never going to be like settling into an old leather chesterfield, I’ve been able to sit in them for extended periods without fidgeting. To say they are so low to the ground, the seating position feels natural and it never seems like your knees are up around your chin. The chairs support your back in all the right places and allow you to really sink into the seat.
You’d think the Observer would offer a more reclined feel. But I find the comparison between the two more subtle than that. Both serve up a relaxed seating position but it’s the way they hold you that feels different. The sides of the Observer are slightly taller and so grip you higher up the back, underneath your armpits. It’s a bit like a bucket seat in a racing car. For me, this means I don’t quite know what to do with my arms. The Pathfinder Lite has less support at the sides and a shorter back, which allows my arms to hang more naturally somehow.
So while both are comfortable, which one you prefer might come down to your particular body shape, as opposed to any objective seating position. I’m able to recline more in the Pathfinder Lite, which goes against everything my brain tells me when looking at the two. I’m happy sitting in either chair but would choose the Pathfinder Lite if I could have just one.
Are they easy to use?
Both chairs are easy to erect. Take the handsome gold frame out of its case, unstrap the velcro retaining strap and it effectively snaps itself into place, a little like a tent pole. The elastic is tight and feels like it’ll last.
The fabric seat then hooks onto the frame in the four corners. The first time you do this takes a bit of effort but that’s reassuring in itself. After a little practice, it becomes easy to hang the seat to the frame.
To put the chairs back in their cases, just reverse the process. You do have to fight with the limbs a little as they naturally want to ping back open but the velcro retaining strap allows you to tame them quite easily and it all folds up as expected. The cases are generous, meaning no problems fitting everything back in.
How compact are they?
The Pathfinder Lite is mind-blowingly compact. I still can’t quite get over how such a comfortable chair folds so small. It takes up next to no space in the car and doesn’t clutter the tent when you bring everything inside for the evening.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that it’s small and light enough to fit in your rucksack. You could easily justify bringing it along with you on a wild camp if you weren’t counting the grams. Pop it in a daypack and you’ll have somewhere to while away the hours when you find a quiet spot to rest.
Packed up, the Observer is larger but not by much. In the real world, the extra length means you might end up strapping it to the outside of your pack, or just leave it at the campsite. It’s still remarkably small for a chair. But it will take up more space, so is not quite as versatile as the Pathfinder Lite.
Who are they for?
If you are struggling to fit everything in your car when camping with the family for a week, then these chairs would both make an ideal upgrade and save a great deal of space. But they’ll also suit the more minimalist camper after some luxury.
I was surprised at how easily they fit into my day pack. So while I wouldn’t take them up a mountain, they’d be ideal for a picnic in the woods.
They’d also be perfect for camper van owners, where space is often at a premium.
Anything not to like?
The chairs feel quite narrow so not everyone will like that. The poles supporting the back rest also have a disconcerting wobble when the fabric isn’t hooked over them. I suspect this is deliberate to allow some give for the taut fabric. Everything certainly feels robust when fully erected and the flex allows for some gentle rocking as you watch the world go by.
Although I haven’t tested them in blustery conditions, it’s not going to take much to blow these flyweights over. Fashioning an anchor from spare tent pegs should keep things more secure and I’m working on this!
Perhaps the elephant in the room is the price. The Observer retails at £79.99. The Pathfinder Lite is slightly cheaper at £64, although prices vary across retailers. To equip a family of four with the Observer, you’d be left with a bill of £320, which is a lot of money to spend on chairs. But that’s the price you pay to save all that weight and boot space, so you could argue it’s cheaper than buying a new car with a bigger boot.
Which is best?
A more appropriate question might be ‘which is best for me’? And the names might give you a clue…
If you like seeking out hidden tracks away from the crowds and want the lightest and smallest chair that’ll fit in your pack, then the Pathfinder Lite is the perfect companion.
If, on the other hand, you prefer something more substantial with a longer back to watch the world go by at the campsite, then the Observer is for you.
In the real world, they are both fantastic, lightweight camping chairs and I am not disappointed with either.
Should I buy one?
Absolutely. Maybe even one of each!
*Disclaimer – I researched and paid for these chairs with my own hard-earned cash, so you can be sure the review is honest.