REI has taken the hassle out of putting together a complete and protective hammock camping system with the Flash Air. And with a price tag like this, it's hard to beat, which is why we've awarded it with as our pick for Best Buy for a Complete System. We found this hammock to be comfortable to snooze in, and it kept us protected from the hot sun and stiff wind. Though it's a bit more complicated to set up than other hammocks, REI printed directions inside the storage bag, and once you get the hang of how it works, it's pretty easy! We also loved the ease of getting a complete system through a single purchase. No more buying all the pieces only to forget an integral part of your camping trip. With a pretty reasonable weight and great price for a system that includes every piece you need to stay protected, we found it hard not to love this total set up from REI.
REI Co-op Flash Air Review
Cons: Low capacity, trunk straps short and not replaceable
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
Compare to Similar Products
Our Analysis and Test Results
Comparing an expedition model hammock like the REI Co-op Flash Air to simpler open design hammocks like the Grand Trunk Ultralight Starter or Bear Butt Double is a bit like comparing potatoes to yams — they're similar enough at a glance, but they're best used for different occasions. As we tested the Flash Air, we looked to see how it stacked up to other complete systems like the ENO SubLink Shelter System, Hennessey Ultralite Backpacker Asym Zip, and Hennessey Expedition Asym Zip. To see how the REI Flash Air compared, read on!
The REI Flash Air scored pretty highly in our comfort tests. One simple bungee-corded spreader pole props the bug net up and away from your face, creating the perfect tension that keeps the whole net from drooping or touching you at all. This structure was quite a difference from the versatile comfort but floppy bug net on the Grand Trunk Skeeter Beeter! REI also included convenient, removable sleeping pad straps to help avoid the struggle of keeping your sleeping pad under you in your hammock all night. These straps simply hook to the inside bottom of the hammock over the top of your sleeping pad before you toss in your sleeping bag, keeping the pad squarely in the middle of the hammock. While this means you're limited to the positions you can sleep in compared to other hammocks, the Flash Air isn't really wide enough to get a diagonal lay anyway. Instead, to get a flat lay, you'll need to play with the tautness of the suspension rather than the angle of your body in the hammock. We found we could get a reasonably comfortable side position in this hammock with a tight enough suspension, but it wasn't quite as awesome as the side sleeping comfort of the Warbonnet Ridgerunner, our Top Pick for Side Sleeping.
While the ripstop nylon fabric of the Flash Air isn't quite as soft as many of the parachute-type hammocks we tried, this hammock is clearly meant to hold your sleeping bag (and pad) rather than touch your skin, in which case we preferred the added durability of the ripstop fabric. We also weren't totally sold on the comfort of sitting up in this hammock with the bug net rolled down and stowed away, though we appreciated that it has this ability! This hammock is also a bit on the small side, which made our larger testers feel a bit cramped. Overall though, we found this hammock quite comfortable!
While this complete system wasn't the heaviest one we tested, at 44.8 ounces, it was pretty heavy! However, considering this weight includes literally every piece you need to set up the system, we thought it was fairly reasonable. At just under three pounds, this system is still lighter than many backpacking tents — until you start getting into ultralight systems, of course! The Flash Air is nearly the same weight as the ENO SubLink Shelter System, lighter than the Hennessey Expedition Asym Zip, and heavier than the Hennessey Ultralite Backpacker Asym Zip. It is, of course, heavier than all the non-expedition models that have fewer pieces and less material than the complete, protective systems like the REI Flash Air.
If while planning your trip, you discover there's no chance of rain or high winds, or other elements that might require a fly, you could choose to leave the fly and stakes at home, which would lighten your load. If that were the case, taking along just the hammock (with integrated bug net), suspension system and spreader bar would be on par with and lighter than some of the other hammocks with bug nets (and no fly) that we tested. You'd be saving weight compared to the Editor's Choice Grand Trunk Skeeter Beeter as well as the Warbonnet Ridgerunner. Of course, if you're concerned about weight, you might want to check out the ENO SubLink Shelter System, in which the hammock alone, without the fly or bug net, weighs less than 7 ounces!
Ease of Set Up
In comparison with simple clip-and-hang hammocks like most of the open models, an involved expedition model can never be as easy to set up. However, for an expedition model, this hammock was pretty straightforward! There are large instructions helpfully printed inside the storage bag, just in case it's been a while since you used it last and you need a reminder.
All the components are included and efficiently organized, to cut down on the amount of time you spend untangling tie out lines or extended suspension systems. Fly tie outs have a handy velcro loop to keep them wrapped up and untangled during storage, and there's even a separate pouch inside the storage bag to hold the dirty stakes away from the rest of the hammock! The clips are small (aka weight-saving) and have no moving parts and simply slide together at a right angle to attach the hammock to the tree slings. Even the adjustment of the sling length was reasonably simple, with a toggle that's easy to grab and a tag on the line reminding you how it works.
To be honest, we found the set-up of this system pretty idiot-proof! We didn't find a sharp learning curve like the Warbonnet models, and the picture directions from REI were undoubtedly simpler to follow than the full sheet of text Warbonnet sends out. We also liked that the hammock itself doesn't stake out on the sides like the Warbonnet Blackbird, making it simpler to adjust after hanging.
One major downside of this system is that the tree slings themselves are relatively short, and can't be wrapped around larger medium-sized trees. Since the slings are attached to the whole hammock adjustment system, you can't just swap them out for longer slings, and REI doesn't sell a longer suspension.
We also had a bit of a mission getting the whole system back into the storage bag when we were ready to pack up and leave camp. It does fit, but narrowly and requires more time and finagling than any of the other hammock models or systems we tested. At the end of the day, with a little extra time and practice, this system isn't significantly more or less work than you'd put into pitching your average tent and offers about the same protection.
Durability and Protection
I'm sure it's to no one's surprise that a complete system like the REI Flash Air scored highly on our durability and protection tests. Clearly, a system with a fly and bug net will protect you much better than an open model or even a hammock with only a bug net and no fly. The seams are also reinforced and seem quite sturdy. Though there are more potential areas for failure, as there are more seams in general, we thought the construction of the Flash Air was pretty durable overall.
Even the ends of the hammock have extra material covering the gathering point to keep out the most persistent mosquitos. We also liked that it has corner loops for easy attachment of an underquilt, which can add extra warmth on a chilly or breezy night. The rip-stop material is a nice touch, which is something we only saw in one other hammock, the Grand Trunk Ultralight Starter.
The weight capacity of the Flash Air is pretty low, at only 250 pounds. Not that a camper weighing more than that would likely find comfort in this smaller hammock system, but it also cuts down on being able to sit in this hammock with a friend — only if you and your buddy are very light!
The Flash Air also has an integrated ridgeline in the bug net, which helps keep it suspended comfortably above your head. Since you can zip the bug net completely off, this ridgeline has a break in it where the zipper crosses. When the bug net is in use, there's a small plastic clip on the inside just under the zipper to hold the weight of the ridgeline instead of straining the zipper. While this all makes perfect sense, it also seems like a potential fail point — whether from the strain of use or because it's easy to forget to clip this hidden clasp again when setting up your hammock. If you do decide to use this system, make sure you remember to use this vital piece when the bug net is zipped up! Those minor complaints aside, we were quite pleased with the overall protection and durability of the REI Flash Air
For an expedition-style hammock, we felt the Flash Air retained a decent amount of versatility. You can always choose to leave the fly and stakes at home, and being able to roll the bug net and tuck it away allows you to sit fairly comfortably sideways across this hammock. Importantly, the zipper attaching the bug net is double sided, meaning you can set up this system to open on the right or left side, to match the zippered side of your sleeping bag. This is not the case for the asymmetrical models like the Warbonnet Blackbird or Hennessey models.
There are also a lot of little loops and pockets on the Flash Air, for hanging underquilts, small towels to dry, or other light gear items. Five interior pockets help you to stay organized inside this hammock — we liked being able to put a headlamp in the pocket above the head and read at night, then placing our book into the more substantial pocket above your head to fall asleep. The Flash Air also has an undersling for larger gear items that can't be clipped to small loops without unbalancing the whole thing. We liked using it as a place to store our shoes at night to keep out the nighttime stalkers (think spiders and scorpions!).
However, if you're searching for a hammock that you can just as easily lounge with a friend in the afternoon as sleep under the canopy on a starry night, you might enjoy an open model with a bit more versatility, like the Bear Butt Double or ENO Reactor. These can both have bug nets or rain flies added to them afterward if you so choose.
If you need an entirely flat lay in your hammock, you'll likely have better luck in a wider model where you can achieve a diagonal lay, like the Grand Trunk Skeeter Beeter or Bear Butt Double. If you're a side sleeper, you might be able to find comfort in the Flash Air, but you might also consider our Top Pick for Side Sleepers, the Warbonnet Ridgerunner. For an expedition-style hammock though, we felt the REI Co-op Flash Air was pretty versatile.
Based on the style of this hammock, you can probably guess that the best use for the REI Flash Air is camping — no surprise there! However, we also feel that this total system is a great intro into the world of hammock camping, as it provides much of the same protection and usability while still being relatively straightforward to set up, much like a tent. You don't have to be an expert hammocker to be able to use and appreciate the REI Flash Air, and just about everyone can appreciate the low cost of this 100% complete set-up!
Another non-shocker: we found the value of this system to be quite high, which is why we awarded it our pick for Best Buy for a Complete System. Other total systems can cost tens or hundreds of dollars more when you start adding in bug nets, rain flies, ridgelines, stakes, lightweight carabiners and underhanging storage — all of which come standard with the REI Flash Air! In fact, all you have to add to this system is whatever you're sleeping in (aka the sleeping pad and bag you probably already own). With a lower price tag than any other comparable hammock camping system we've seen, we think the Flash Air is an excellent buy to retain the protection of a tent while being suspended blissfully on your next camping trip.
So you've made it to the conclusion, which means you're pretty interested in a complete expedition-style hammock camping system — you've come to the right place! If what you're after is a total set-up that makes hammock camping a cinch and won't make you broke in the process, then the REI Flash Air is an excellent choice. We found this hammock to be comfortable to use, simple to set up and with all the right do-dads and whizbangs to keep us organized and sheltered from the brunt of the elements. And the price for what you get is hard to disbute! All the pieces are included in this total package from REI that wins our award for Best Buy for a Complete System.
Other Versions and Accessories
REI does sell an underquilt that we did not test with the Flash Air. They state their underquilt is meant for a slightly more involved tent/hammock that we also did not test, the REI Co-op Quarter Dome Air Hammock. However, the REI Co-op Flash Air has corner loops specifically mean for an underquilt.
— Maggie Brandenburg