Helinox Bench One
Packed length: 18 inches
Packed weight: 4 pounds, 10 ounces
Capacity: 420 pounds
There's little argument that versatility is a key quality of any proper camping gear: the more jobs a single item can do, the fewer other items you need to pack. Probably top of mind are things like multitools and trekking poles that double as tent stakes and... I dunno, sporks? Seating, on the other hand, is not something that I'd ever think of as particularly "versatile" in the "favorite, must-pack for camping" gear list sense. But a recent Helinox release is changing my mind.
The brand's new Bench One is a lightweight camp bench travels in a compact bundle; its 18-inch long bag practically disappears into your trunk or back seat. It's not necessarily going to make thru-hikers drool — at a bit under 5 pounds it's not that light — but for car camping or short walks to a campsite, it really is undeniably handy.
Setup is easy and intuitive, even confidence-inspiring. Properly stretching the gossamer, ripstop seating surface atop Bench One's sky blue DAC aluminum alloy frame requires a simple "hook and clamp" maneuver that the brand calls lever lock technology. The tactile and mechanical process is incredibly cool and deeply satisfying.
Once assembled, the bench is perfectly taut — surprisingly firm but with just the right amount of give to be a comfortable perch around a fire. The load capacity is 420 pounds, and at 16 inches tall, 16 inches deep and 43.5 inches wide, it can easily accommodate a couple big humans — or three smaller ones.
But that's not where the Bench One's use cases end: sure, it's a great seat, but where a camp chair can really only be used as a lounge-y throne, a bench can do much more. This fall, my Bench One has served as a camp loveseat, a picnic table bench, a comfortable platform for nervous dogs, a sleeping cot for three-year-olds, a table for meal prep, an in-tent nightstand and more.
After I introduced it to my corona-pod camp crew, several of them reached out individually to make sure it would make a return appearance. It's been so popular on our camping weekends that I've barely used it myself.
The chief point of resistance for most (according to my non-scientific friend poll) is price. At $300, the Bench One is a sizable investment. In a very distant second, another complaint is aesthetics: the blue and black color scheme is handsome, but the brand's logo emblazoned across a quarter of the seat is borderline obnoxious. (Though if you own gear from Helinox, you're probably quite proud of it, so this point may be moot.)
The Bench One is available online alongside other premium camp seating and sleeping furniture, from cots to chairs and beyond, much of it holding comparable appeal. I can't wait to bring some along the next time I venture into the woods so that my friends can completely hog it all.