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Reviews > Camp Tables and Seating > Chairs > Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Jembe Seat Kit > Owner Review by Ray Estrella

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Jembe Seat Kit
By Raymond Estrella

March 21, 2012


NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 51
LOCATION: North Western Minnesota, USA
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 215 lb (97.50 kg)

I've been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, Minnesota, and many western states. I hike year-round in all weather, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I make a point of using lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. Doubting I can ever be truly ultralight, I try to be as light as I can yet still be comfortable. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring/chilling. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot evening meals. If not hiking solo I am usually with my brother-in-law Dave or my twin children.

The Product

Manufacturer: Cascade Designs Inc.
Image courtesy Cascade Designs

Web site:
Product: NeoAir Jembe Seat Kit
Year manufactured: 2011
MSRP: US $39.95
Size: one size
Weight listed: 3.7 oz (105 g)
Actual weight: 3.8 oz (108 g)
Dimensions, diameter: 14 in, height: 18 in (36 x 46 cm)
Can adjust to max height of about 26 in (66 cm)

Quick & Dirty, Nitty Gritty

The older I get the more I appreciate something to sit on in the afternoon and evening in camp. But I hate carrying a big heavy chair and the thought of sitting on my NeoAir pads in a Trekker-style chair (see review) gives me heebie jeebies. The Jembe Seat Kit uses durable material to protect any NeoAir pad and turns it into a back-country barrel stool. Please read on for the details.

Product Description

Play ball!Part of the company's Fast & Light Seating series, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Jembe Seat Kit (hereafter referred to as the Jembe or seat) is an interesting new take on using a sleeping pad (the company's NeoAirs in this case) to provide comfortable seating in the field. The first thing that came to mind when I got the Jembe was that it looked like a giant sleeping bag compression girdle. (A thing that lets a standard stuff sack be used as a compression sack.)

The Jembe is made of burnt-orange colored 30 denier nylon on the top (seat) and sides. The bottom is rugged black 200 denier coated nylon. Three black nylon straps with locking slide buckles are spread around at equal distances. While I don't stuff it in any way, it does roll up into a softball sized package. (All I could find on short notice was a Wiffle ball. I did not want to dig any deeper into my son's room;-)

To use the Jembe a NeoAir pad (any type and any size except for Small) is partially inflated, just enough to give it some shape. The pad is then rolled to form a cylinder which is placed inside the pockets formed by the seat and base of the Jembe. Once inside the pad may be inflated further to make it stiff, making sure to keep it from pushing outside the Jembe. Then the straps are pulled down to lock it all in place. The result is a good-sized stool or backless chair. Think of an inflatable barrel stool. The first time I set it up I had my kids try it first to see if it held them before my big butt stressed it. My son immediately said that he wants it next time we go hiking. Here is trying it out for me.

That's my boy

Field Locations

My first use of the Jembe was on an overnighter on the North Country Trail (NCT) where I camped on the south shore of Waboose Lake. The low temp on this rainy night was 36 F (2 C).

Back on the North Country Trail to Waboose Lake again, but coming from the opposite direction and staying at the official NCT site on the north side of the lake. The low was right at freezing.

I used it on a three-day 34 mi (55 km) loop backpacking trip on the North Country Trail and Woodtick Trail south of Leech Lake in Chippewa National Forest. The first night saw sleet and a low of 19 F (-7 C) and the next was 24 F (-4 C). The picture below was taken at my site next to Moccasin Lake.

I also took it on a couple of camping trips in Chippewa State Forest and at a primitive canoe site on the Red River of the North.

A tent, a chair, a drink. Nice.


As time takes its toll on my worn out body I have found it increasingly harder to be comfortable sitting on the ground once I am in camp for the day. Even rocks aren't as comfy as they used to be. I am pretty sure granite was softer when I was in my 20's. I have tried a few types of chairs suitable for backpacking use but the only one I have ever used enough to review was the Therm-a-Rest Trekker. The problem is that once the company came out with the NeoAir pad I have pretty much quit using any other pad for anything but winter hiking. So the Trekker just sits on the shelf now. While there are similar options that use a 2.5 in (7.5 cm) thick air pad in them I just don't trust my pad to them as there are spots that the pad will come into contact with the ground.

The Jembe takes using a pad as a seat in a new direction, namely sideways. By turning the pad on edge it has less pad touching the bottom of the seat and nothing is exposed to any ground contact.

I think that the Jembe works because of the horizontal alignment of NeoAir pad's air chambers. But work it does, and quite well. The Jembe is very comfortable and has a big enough seat to be able to sit without feeling like I will pitch off if I shift around. (I am the kind of person that can't sit still.) If I can find a tree, post, or suitable boulder to use as a backrest I am in heaven. This tree on the North Country Trail had my back.

Quick, pretend to be asleep.

I really like the fact that it will work with almost any make and size of NeoAir pad since I have a few types and different sizes depending on what, when, and where I am using them at. Most times I had the wider Large size pads (NeoAir All-Season and original) but also used my Regular size NeoAir with it.

One thing I quickly learned was to not inflate my pads too much before inserting into the Jembe. I kept having to deflate the pad my first time and even had to a bit the second. I have it down now though. I inflate to about ½ full and then roll the pad from the foot end so that I can access the inflation valve later.

Another trick I learned right away was to rotate the pad so that the end was about 3 in (8 cm) past one of the straps. This keeps that end from wanting to pop out of the pockets..

After the first trip with the Jembe I carefully examined the bottom looking to see if it had picked up any stickers or wear of any kind. It was fine and with about 8 days in camp with it, the Jembe still has no discernible wear.

The company also makes a Jembe Deluxe version that adds closed-cell foam under the seat. While my kids still fit on the small pads they have from another manufacturer I am planning on switching them to NeoAirs when they get taller. I will undoubtedly pick up a couple more Jembe seats for them to use. Hmmm, maybe just one more and a Deluxe for Dad… (Stay tuned to this Bat-channel.) I leave with a shot of the Jembe helping me enjoy some time before the storm hits.

Backpacking for Bookworms

This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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