While at first the REI Flexlite Air doesn't stand out much from the crowd, we quickly realized that it has one very important characteristic: it is incredibly lightweight. One thing our testing team struggled with for this review is whether or not it's really worth it to invest in any backpacking chair. They seem, at first, to be heavy and, frankly, unnecessary, but once we started digging deeper into ultralight models like the Flexlite Air, we started to come around. This chair is not as comfortable or stable as many of its competitors, but if you, like us, are on the fence about the use of a backpacking chair at all, you may want to start here, with our Top Pick for Ultralight Adventures.
REI Co-op Flexlite Air Review
Cons: Poor stability, less versatile
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Flexlite Air is taking home our Top Pick for Ultralight Adventures award due to being the lightest chair we tested. While other models may have compared in performance, this one gets the job done without weighing you down.
Comfort means something different to everyone, and while we realize this category can seem a bit objective, there are key aspects we paid attention to in order to stay as objective as possible. These include fabric type, ventilation, seat width and depth, back height, and seams/constructions.
The Flexlite Air does not have the breathable mesh of other models in this review, which makes it more stifling on a hot day. The seat also has uncomfortable horizontal seams that made us feel squished. When compared directly to other similar chairs, this one is considerably more shallow, which also makes it less comfortable. We realize that much of this can be attributed to design decisions that were strategically made to keep this chair as lightweight as possible. Despite all of this, the Air is arguably more comfortable than sitting on the ground or even in a taco-style chair (depending on your preferences, that is).
If you're reading this review and wondering who needs a backpacking chair in the first place, this is the section for you. This metric provides information about the weight in ounces as well as the packing dimensions of each chair. Overall, the taco-style chairs that we tested are light but bulkier to pack, as they don't fold or roll easily into a stuff sack. The tent-style chairs, like this one, are generally easier to pack and come with their own stuff sacks.
The Flexlite Air folds super easily into a stuff sack, and its packed dimensions make it one of the smallest chairs we tested. At the same time, it is the lightest chair in this review — lighter than even the taco-style chairs. It's no surprise that the Air is taking home our Top Pick for Ultralight Adventures.
One thing that the Flexlite Air is lacking is stability. Our review team received feedback from numerous friends and family, and one of their first critiques was regarding this chair's wobbliness. Because backpacking chairs are generally designed for use on uneven surfaces with a variety of textures, we find this to be a pretty important measure.
The Flexlite Air, just like its larger sibling, has a narrower foot base than many other chairs we tested, and its connection bar runs from front-to-back instead of side-to-side like some of its competitors. We definitely find this chair to be less secure than others and, while we never completely tipped over, we also couldn't totally relax in its frame.
The feet of this chair sink easily, so while it stands upright in sand, it doesn't have any hope of staying on the surface. If you're planning on using the Air in soft ground or very uneven terrain, you may want to invest in something a bit larger and bulkier. 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 need or want to forgo anyway.
You may be wondering why a chair has to be versatile when it really has just one job to do. But we were surprised to find a few chairs that doubled up with other uses, such as acting as a sleeping pad or a table, and many that excelled in a wide range of activities.
The Flexlite Air has a certain level of versatility due to its low weight, but its wobbly build and small leg frame make it tough to use in overly varied terrain. It also has none of the extra features like pockets or drink holders that some of its competitors do, giving it a lower score in this category. However, as we discussed above, if you're looking for the lightest option out there so you can get deep into nature in style and comfort, it makes sense to strip back on unnecessary additions and just focus on the basics.
One of the reasons that the Flexlite Air is taking home our Top Pick for Ultralight Adventures over other similarly-scoring options is value. This chair is on the lower end price-wise of all the tent-style chairs 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.
The Flexlite Air has average performance in every category we tested for except for one: weight. And while our all-time favorite chairs are more well-rounded than this one, the reason this chair takes home a Top Pick award is for its excellence in this one metric. While there are a couple of other chairs that compete in this way, this model is less expensive, making it a good choice for weight- and budget-conscious adventurers.
— Lauren DeLaunay