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REI Co-op Flexlite Air Chair: Long Term Review


Aaron Zagrodnick

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While some categories of backpacking gear have already gone from heavy to as light as possible and already cycled back to achieve a balance between weight and durability using currently available materials and technology, of all things the backpacking chair stills seems to be in the middle of this cycle. As lighter and more packable chair designs supersede previous models on a near yearly basis, one of the latest and lightest chairs to hit the market in the lightweight, somewhat contradictory to say ultralight chair market is the Flexlite Air from REI.

REI Co-op Flexlite Air Chair Review

The Flexlite Air Chair is one of the lightest backpacking chairs on the market.

Flexlite Air Chair Design and Specifications

While if you’re looking to hit the trail and go as light as possible no chair is the obvious choice, it is hard to deny the comfort that a lightweight chair can offer in camp, and if you’ll be spending more than one night at a location instead of continuously moving daily, a lightweight chair can start to make more and more sense. The Flexlite Air is a chair featuring a shock-corded aluminum frame with a removable ripstop nylon DWR seat. The poles are designed around 2 hubs, and when looked at against comparable chairs the Flexlite Air at first glance appears that it may offer more front to back stability, with a possible reduction in stability side to side. A stuff sack is included and the chair comes in several colors with a 250lb weight capacity. The chair is listed at 1lb, with our test chair weighing 15.65 ounces alone, with an oddly heavier than average stuff sack weighing an additional 1.1 ounces – in reality this can be left behind if you’re able to fit the chair inside your pack and by simply rolling the poles up inside the seat. Plus by doing so, we can always justify the extra weight of taking a chair by telling ourselves that it doesn’t even weigh a pound when it comes to the Flexlite Air Chair.

Flexlite Air Chair Hub and Frame System

Either way, fitting the shock-corded poles into the plastic hubs and further assembling or disassembling the chair only take about a minute. Once set the Flexlite Air offers a stable enough platform, although when you’re trying to get the chair positioned there can be some twisting / rocking of the chair as the poles seem to flex and the nylon fabric of the seat itself seemingly stretches. One interesting design choice / feature is that the two hubs are not permanently secured in alignment with one another as can be seen on many other chairs in this category, essentially the two plastic hubs can twist independently of one another. This makes setup slightly more interesting than on other chairs where each hub and the main cross pole is permanently set in alignment.

REI Flexlite Air Chair

The hub system and pole design allows for rotation and flex – which can increase comfort and is designed to move with your seating position.

Stability and Comfort

On the Flexlite Air, the tension of the seat itself is what keeps everything all aligned, and this may be a design feature that contributes to the flexy nature of the chair. Once in position – and as you’re getting set the chair will emit the occasional creak – the chair is stable, though like all chairs in this category front to back stability is still something to be aware of. If the back of the chair faces even a slight downhill slope and you lean back – hopefully you’re out solo so that no one else will witness the ensuing and somewhat embarrassing mishap that will likely result. This is easily remedied however by arranging the chair and facing yourself downhill on any slope for the most stability. Positioning the chair so that you’re inline left to right (as much as possible) to this slope also helps with side to side stability. Stability can be a further challenge on soft ground as the feet of the chair will indeed sink into the ground in these situations, so seeking out rocky or dry ground is helpful.

REI Flexlite Air Backpacking Chair Comfort

The seating comfort of the chair is good, and the chair has a somewhat relaxed, less upright seating position when compared with one competitor, the slightly heavier Helinox Chair Zero (you can take a look at our previous Helinox Chair Zero review here). With the Flexlite Air, sitting with your knees bent or with legs crossed is most comfortable for me as the fabric seat is shaped such that it cradles your body compared to other chairs that you might sit more on top of. However with your legs out after a long day of hiking, this design causes the edge of the seat to put pressure on the back of your legs, and as a result if you like to sit with both legs straight out it’s possible, but is not the most comfortable way to sit in this chair (as opposed to a chair like the Helinox Ground Chair or the Alite Monarch).

Ultralight Backpacking Chair - REI Flexlite

However, on the plus side the Flexlite Air is easy to get in and out of, and essentially serves as a chair best for sitting but perhaps not so much for lounging...a bit of a drawback for me as after a long day of hiking I find it easiest on my knees to stretch out my legs, but this obviously all comes down to personal preference. Back support is adequate, although the back is not quite as high as some other chairs and overall the entire seat of the chair is a bit smaller in width and height and as such, this is a chair that is best for those users that have a smaller to medium frame and build. It’s all a tradeoff – after all, to save this much weight and to end up with a chair less than a pound, some sacrifices will need to be made. The chair is listed with a 250lb weight capacity and despite the overall ultralight nature and feel of this chair, it’s held up to just under this weight in our testing.

Flexlite Air Chair Packed Size

The Flexlite Air packs up well and doesn't take up much more space than the average backpacking water bottle.

Conclusion

Overall the Flexlite Air is an ideal choice for the backpacker who is looking to add comfort to their hikes and who also seeks out and appreciates the lightest gear. REI has developed an intriguing camp comfort solution here – although by pushing the limits on weight some stability has been sacrificed with the chair, perhaps true to its name it exhibits more flex than other, albeit heavier, chairs. However, once you’re in position the chair is quite comfortable in most seating positions, although it’s most comfortable when sitting in a knees bent or legs crossed position.

Best of all for a class leading solution it also won’t break the bank – while the chair retails for $100, it is also discounted at intervals throughout the year making this price point more approachable during those times, or if not REI members can always put a percentage of a full price purchase towards next year’s dividend. Additionally after 5 years of use on every backpacking trip I've been on during that time, the Flexlite Air Chair has proven to be a good investment and other than a few scratches to the anodized coating and some dirt, durability has been great.

The REI Flexlite Air Chair is currently available in a choice of 3 colors and retails for $100. You can find it here at REI.com, and you can view REI's full Flexlite backpacking and camp furniture line (including the lighter Flexlite Air Stool) on their camp furniture page.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 43 of TrailGroove Magazine. You can read the magazine article here featuring additional photos, as well as our Flexlite Air Chair rating, pros and cons, and more.

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