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Hands-on Gear Review
REI Co-op Flexlite Review
Cons: Awkward pole lengths, less stable, sinks very easily into soft ground
Bottom line: High seat and breathable fabric, yet isn't as sturdy as other chairs in this review, and sinks more than average in sand.
The REI Flex Lite is a good portable camping chair. Its comfort and durability put it right behind our two favorite portable camping chairs, the Helinox Chair One and Chair Zero. Made of fine mesh, this chair is breathable yet sturdy, and weighs less than all the other contenders in this review, save the extremely light Chair Zero. Its taller seat and unique construction help this chair stand out for users looking for a portable model, but who are not quite ready to jam themselves into a narrow, reclining bucket or sit less than a foot off the ground. It's also the only portable camping chair we tested that has any storage pocket - even if that pocket is only big enough to hold our smartphones. We think this is a pretty good buy for a portable camping chair, and might even be the right chair for you.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The REI Flex Lite intrigued us from the moment we first set it up. Unlike most of the other portable camping chairs, this chair sported a different orientation of the support poles. Between the pole design, and the significant amount of fine mesh used to make the majority of the seat, the Flex Lite stood out to our testers. In addition to being lighter than all the other portable chairs, with the exception of the Big Agnes Helinox Chair Zero, and cheaper than the rest of the big outdoor brand portable chairs, right off the bat the Flex Lite** had a lot going for it. We went ahead and put it through all our rigorous testing to find all its strengths and weaknesses and see how well it stood up to the competition. Read on to find out how it stacked up!
The Flex Lite scored just under our two favorite chairs in this class, the Big Agnes Helinox Chair One and Chair Zero. While there were certain aspects we liked, read through our testing metrics to find out where the Flex Lite falls short of some of the other portable chairs in this review.
There were several aspects of this chair that we felt made it decently comfortable to lounge in. The seat is made of about 75% fine mesh, which supported our weight and also didn't trap heat as much as many of the other portable chair models which are made of thicker materials (like the Helinox Chair One and the Moon Lence). Sitting in the Flex Lite was a much more upright experience, rather than the typical lounge effect we'd come to expect from portable camping chairs. Also, the middle pole that connects the two halves of the chair's support system runs front to back, rather than side-to-side. This impressive construction actually benefitted the user by not squeezing your shoulders together and sucking you in like a springtime sinkhole in Georgia. We also liked that out of all the portable camping chairs, the Flex Lite has one of the highest seats from the ground - easier to get out of at the end of the night when we wanted to head to bed.
However, despite these advantages, we feel that this pole configuration actually took away from the overall chair design. We had two major complaints about the comfort of the Flex Lite - the stability was, well, not very stable and it sank farther into the sand than any of the other portable camping chairs we tested. Leaning side-to-side in this chair - for example, to pick up the ball your dog dropped and give it another toss - felt like a balancing act. The legs were quick to pop off the ground and destabilize the user. Additionally, because of the pole design, your weight is concentrated on the back two poles rather than being more evenly spread between all four poles. This resulted in a rapid sink into many surfaces, from a relatively hard-feeling Sierra backyard, to what we experienced as a "quicksand effect" on the beach. We felt that these large flaws unfortunately took away from the overall comfort of the chair. We give it a 6 out of 10 for comfort.
While the Flex Lite doesn't pack down quite as small as some of the competition, due to its extra long back poles, it isn't much larger! To make up for this slight increase in packed size, this competitor is lighter than the Helinox Chair One. Coming in at 1lb. 10oz., this chair is a full 4oz. lighter!
With an overall small packed size and such light weight, the Flex Lite is the right size to take on your next camping trip or toss in your backpack for that epic music festival. It also has numerous types of loops to help you carry it or strap it to your bike or favorite bag. We give this chair a 9 out of 10 for portability. This contender was bested only by the Big Agnes Helinox Chair Zero and Big Agnes Helinox Chair One.
Though the Flex Lite is the second lightest chair in this review, we weren't instantly concerned with the durability of this chair. Through regular use, the poles do bow slightly, but nothing that our testers felt was too much or felt significantly unstable. The fine mesh feels surprisingly sturdy and stable to sit on, though we did find that it collected pine sap very quickly in the testing process! The Flex Lite is rated to 250 lbs., making it among the lower weight capacities we tested, but tied with many others camping chairs in this review, including the REI Camp Stowaway Low, Therm-a-Rest Treo, and Alite Mantis. In our tests, that weight rating seemed accurate, and the Flex Lite didn't show too much stress in doing so. As for the 'plop test, our 170lb tester reported that he didn't get the feeling that the chair was going to break underneath him, though he did just about fall over backward a couple of times! We can't say we'd recommend plopping down onto this chair, though it seems sturdy enough to take it if you do. We give this competitor a 6 out of 10 for durability.
Ease of Set-Up
Just like most of the portable camping chairs in this review, the Flex Lite is relatively simple in design. The poles are all attached via bungee cord and can snap together quickly. The free rotation around the middle axis presents a challenge to the user, both in connecting the seat and setting the poles on the ground in the correct orientation. The corner pockets for the pole attachments are relatively broad compared to the Helinox Chair One, which helps aid the set-up process. However, there are no included directions or helpful tips to make the construction of this chair any easier for a novice user, like there are in both the Helinox Chair One and Chair Zero. But once you get the hang of it, this chair goes up in under a minute.
This chair was a bit harder to put away than we had anticipated. Because of the longer back poles, we found it harder to grasp all the folded up poles at once, as they kept getting in each other's way by sticking awkwardly beyond the plastic joints. This also made rolling the poles up in the seat a bit more challenging, though the light mesh helped to make the overall role smaller. This chair also fits back into a drawstring bag, which added an extra layer of finagling to the take-down process, though we admit it was large enough that we never had to reroll the chair smaller to get it to fit. Overall, we give this contender a 5 out of 10 for ease of set-up.
While not nearly as fancy as many of the larger camping chairs in this review, the Flex Lite does include a small pocket near the left hip. It's about the right size to fit a smartphone without falling out, which our reviewers thought was convenient. However, it's not a pocket meant for keys or sharp objects, as those items are likely to dig uncomfortably into your sitting area. It's also not big enough for a beer or most books, so don't get too many ideas!
With such a light weight, we feel the REI Flex Lite would make a great addition to your next camping trip, short backpacking trip, or long day hike. While at 1lb. 10oz., it's unlikely to make the cut for an ultralight backpacker or PCT thru-hiker, it is the second lightest portable camping chair we tested and has a decently high level of comfort. With how much this chair sinks in the sand, it might not make the best beach chair, but on sturdier ground, sitting in this chair isn't a bad experience. You might consider bringing it to your next backyard bonfire or barbecue. If you're looking for something a little sturdier and don't mind an extra few ounces, check out the Helinox Chair One. If weight matters most, you might want to instead take a gander at the Helinox Chair Zero or our backpacking chair review.
Retailing at around $80, the Flex Lite is right about in the middle of the price range of portable camping chairs we tested. Less expensive than the Helinox models, but more than the cheap camping chairs you can find on Amazon (like the Moon Lence Ultralight and Onepack Ultralight), our reviewers felt that you get what you pay for with the Flex Lite - comfort, durability, and portability. If you're ready for a portable chair that's more likely to last a few seasons but aren't quite ready to take the $120 plunge of the Helinox Chairs, the REI Flex Lite provides a good alternative option.
While our reviewers didn't like its tippy nature, they loved the higher, more upright seat, less constricting feel, breathable mostly mesh seat, and secret hip pocket. Though it wasn't the easiest chair to set up and put away, it did get high marks from our testers as the second lightest chair in this review. And at the end of the day, combining portability and comfort with savings is not a combination we're prepared to ignore.
— Maggie Brandenburg
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