REI Co-op Flexlite Air Review
Cons: Poor stability, less comfortable
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Flexlite Air manages to reduce its weight low enough for a new category of ounce-conscious backpackers to consider adding it to their packs. At just 17 ounces, it is one of the lighter chairs on the market. While it doesn't rank extremely highly in comfort, it's certainly more comfortable than the ground and helps you get out of the mud.
The Flexlite Air has a uniquely designed seat the may reduce weight but doesn't do much for comfort. It is shaped more like a low dish than a bowl and can leave the user feeling like they are sliding out of it. The shape also puts the lower back into a curled position that is decidedly uncomfortable. After just a few minutes in this chair, most users will note the tightness on their hips that increases in discomfort the longer you sit.
Taller users will find the low back on the Air to dig in under the shoulder blades. They may also struggle to put themselves into the low seat at only 7.5 inches off the ground. It's such a small seat that it is really best suited to smaller folks.
All of these complaints are just to say that the Flexlite Air has some shortcomings in the comfort department — but only when compared to other similar chairs, most of which are going to be significantly heavier. When compared to sitting on the ground, you will still find comfort in being elevated and not crunched as you might be without a chair. If you are on the petite side or focused on pinching every ounce while still carrying a chair, the Flexlite Air may offer just what you need.
Size & Weight
We believe that the main purpose of the Flexlite Air is to give folks who are concerned about pack weight a chair option that will work for them. It is one of the lightest chairs available, even lighter than most taco-style chairs. At 17 ounces, it's less than the weight of a half-full Nalgene bottle.
The Air folds easily into its stuff sack, and its packed dimensions make it one of the smallest chairs we tested. The stuff sack is oversized, so when shoved into a pack side pocket, the chair takes up even less space than it appears it would.
One thing that the Flexlite Air is lacking, besides ounces, is stability. Our review team received feedback from numerous friends and family, and one of their first critiques was regarding this chair's wobbliness. When used on anything other than completely flat, hard ground, there is a period of testing where you check and re-check that you aren't about to tip over in any direction.
We definitely find this chair to be less secure than others and, while we never completely tipped over, we can't totally relax in its frame. Sitting in the Flexlite Air is really more of an act of gingerly placing rather than plopping your bum. REI lists the weight rating of this chair at 250 pounds giving us a little more peace of mind, but as our larger testers will share, someone over 200 pounds is going to feel like the chair is about to snap under them.
That being said, if staying lightweight and low profile is your number one goal, then sacrificing a little stability may make sense. It all depends on your style of adventure. As we've mentioned before, bringing a chair along into the backcountry is a luxury many people will choose to forgo anyway.
Ease of Use
We have no complaints about the ease of setting up and breaking down the Flexlite Air. The flexible poles are actually helpful in this regard. Opposite of most tent-style chairs, it is easier to insert the bottom poles before the top poles due to their bendable nature. From there, getting the chair back into its bag is also a simple affair. The stuff sack is a bit oversized, so you don't even have to pack it perfectly.
One concern about the ease of use is going to only affect folks who struggle to get in and out of a low crouch. Because the chair is low and wobbly, your quad muscles will need to be ready to ease you into a low crouch in a controlled manner.
This chair is on the lower end price-wise of all the tent-style models we tested. And, as the lightest, it has the best weight-to-price ratio available. That being said, for a bit more money, you can have more comfort and stability, though you may be carrying a few extra ounces. For some, staying ultralight is a value in and of itself. If there weren't other options that offered significantly more comfort for only a tiny bit more weight, we wouldn't hesitate to recommend this model to all the gram weenies out there (i.e., many of our testers).
The Flexlite Air knocks it out of the park in regards to weight but falls short when it comes to categories affecting the actual use of the chair like comfort and stability. Overall, we feel that there are better options available for ultralight chairs. That said, you may still find that this chair is more than capable of meeting your needs of getting off the ground at a minimal weight.
— Elizabeth Paashaus