Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Pac Back Trio: The Camping Air Mat that’s also a Chair (and a Pillow)

Pac Back Trio
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Often, the best products are those that perform multiple functions without sacrificing quality of performance in any of the roles they play. A good spork, for example, can be used to enjoy a bowl of soup or a plate of pasta. A claw hammer drives in nails with aplomb yet can also pull them right back out again (as you bent the third goddamn nail in a row, narrowly missing your fingers in the process). On the other hand, some things that try to perform multiple functions end up doing none of them well. The Chevy El Camino car/truck and the mullet haircut are both example, and can regularly be found together.

Here’s some good news for you hiker and camper types out there: The new Trio mattress pad/chair/pillow from Pac Back Gear falls into the former category. When I say new, I mean it; as of this writing, the Pac Back Trio is still in its Kickstarter phase, and hope it will move into full production soon. Why? Because I got a prototype of this plucky, versatile pad, and I’m already sold on the concept and impressed with the hardware. I can only imagine that the final product will be even further improved. We’ll get to that later. First, the backstory.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The idea for the Trio was conceived by a pair of hiking buddies named Lily D’Amico and John Stone. During a particularly long backpacking trip along Oregon’s Salmonberry River, D’Amico and Stone spent a lot of time resting on the I-beams of the train tracks that ran alongside the river. Anyone who has ever done a lot of hiking will tell you that sitting down for the occasional break is essential to enjoying the trek. Anyone who has spent a lot of time sitting on cold, hard metal will tell you that it’s less than comfortable. But what’s the distance hiker to do? Every ounce of gear matters, so you can’t well tuck a camp chair in with your gear. And an unfurled air mat provides a bit of comfort for that tired rump, but it won’t give you any support if you want to be seated upright. Unless it could …

The Pac Back Gear Trio is really nothing more than an air mattress with a few zippers and clips attached and a couple of panels of zipper-lined fabric. But these zippers and clips, when properly connected to one another, convert the flat mattress pad into a soft, supportive seat in which a full grown adult can lounge comfortably. While you are sitting in the Trio in its chair position, the attached panels and clips hold the backrest in place while your own weight keeps the backrest stable and the seat anchored. I’ve spent a good amount of time sitting in my Trio now, and it’s genuine comfortable, unlike many of the camping/bleacher seats that use a similar approach. (For example, many use straps instead of a panel of fabric, and the anchor points of the straps often tug uncomfortably against the legs and across the back.)

As an air mat, the Trio is also quite comfortable. At three inches thick when fully inflated, it provides plenty of cushioning, support, and  decent insulation, helping keep you warm when you’re camped out on the cold ground. Frankly, the mat could be a solid inch thinner and still provide adequate cushioning and support while weighing a bit less and occupying less room in your backpack. That’s something I’ll be looking for in future versions, though other people may be glad to have a slightly larger pad to enjoy more padding and insulation.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The name Trio comes from the fact that when not being used as a chair, the fabric panels can be zipped open and stuffed with clothes to make a pillow. (Chair, pad, pillow = three, or trio, see?) As a pillow is another luxury to which few trekkers treat themselves, this is another marked benefit.

Here’s the thing: You don’t need to bring a chair or a pillow on a trek. The ground works fine for the former, and a balled up coat or fleece will serve as the latter. But most of us do carry an air mat when we’re sleeping out in the wild. So why not carry an air mat that can also serve as a chair and pillow? Yes, this mat is larger than many options and weighs a bit more, but when you can kick back in comfort any time along the trail or at camp, and when you can rest your head in comfort, why not do it? That’s worth a few extra ounces to me, anyway.

Hopefully Pac Back will make it into the mainstream and soon be adding just a bit of weight in exchange for a whole lot of comfort to backpackers everywhere. If you’re smitten with the concept, then you should probably back the Kickstarter campaign before it ends on December 14, 2017.

Steven John
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Steven John is a writer and journalist living just outside New York City, by way of 12 years in Los Angeles, by way of…
You’ll soon be able to fish year-round at Yellowstone National Park
It's great news for anglers at a time when the National Park Service is restricting recreational access.
Two men fly-fishing in a river.

Thanks to a boom in U.S. National Park visitation numbers, the National Park Service has been clamping down on park access for the last few years. Reservations and restricted entry times are fast becoming the norm at many of our best National Parks. So, it's great news when the NPS announces any type of expanded access, like Yellowstone's relaxed fishing guidelines beginning later this year.
Get the full details on Yellowstone National Park's expanded fishing guidelines

In an official news release published last week, the National Park Service announced that "beginning Nov. 1, 2024, Yellowstone National Park will expand fishing access by allowing for year-round fishing opportunities at two locations in the park." The catch, if you can call it that, is that this will only include two specific locations. The first is along the Madison River, specifically from the state border of Wyoming and Montana, downstream to the park boundary abutting the West Entrance near the town of West Yellowstone, Montana. The second is the Gardner River, beginning at Osprey Falls down to its confluence with the Yellowstone River near the park's North Entrance in Gardiner, Montana.

Read more
This rooftop tent kit will turn your van into a pop-top camper for about $12K
Transform your two-person rig into a legit, four-person, family-friendly chariot
Camper van outfitted with Super Pacific's CloudCap pop-up roof tent parked among a stand of trees.

Van life usually means sacrificing comfort and living space for maximum portability. There's no denying that it's tight packing most of the amenities of home into the back of a hollowed-out work van. So, anything you can do to make the space feel a little roomier feels like a luxury. Super Pacific's clever CloudCap does just that by converting the unused space on your camper van's roof into a legit two-person "bedroom" with a view.
The details on Super Pacific's CloudCap pop-up rooftop tent for camper vans

Super Pacific bills the  as "a private bunk house for the kids, a guest room for friends, or a panoramic Crow's Nest for you." Bottom line: It expands the living space of many two-person camper vans into four-person road-trip wagons. The simple kit includes the rooftop tent itself, plus all the instructions and mounting hardware you need to install it on the most popular Mercedes-Benz and Ford Transit vans on the road.

Read more
The most popular Grand Canyon trail reopens this week
Your favorite Grand Canyon trail is back in action
grand canyon national park bright angel trail view bright angel lodge

The Grand Canyon National Park has announced the much-anticipated reopening of Havasupai Gardens Campground, Bright Angel Trail, and Tonto Trail, set for April 15, 2024. This marks a celebratory moment for hiking enthusiasts and nature lovers, as one of the most renowned trails in the park becomes accessible once again after a temporary closure.

These closures began way back in December 2023 due to the Transcanyon Waterline project at the Grand Canyon National Park. This project involved extensive construction activities aimed at upgrading and replacing the water distribution lines in the park. The work included the replacement of water distribution lines throughout the Havasupai Gardens area and at the 1.5 and 3-mile rest houses, located along the Bright Angel Trail.

Read more