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The Backpacking Luxury Item We Can’t Leave Behind: REI Co-op Flexlite Air Chair Review

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I get it. Sometimes, it’s hard to justify packing a camp chair on a backpacking trip. It seems like a luxury item we might not have space for, choosing to sit uncomfortably on a slanting log, awkward boulder, or in the dirt hunched over our camp stove. But these days, it becomes easier and easier to justify when a chair like the REI Co-op Flexlite Air ($100) packs down to almost nothing — and can only add a pound more weight. 

The Flexlite Air is the smallest and lightest addition to the REI camping chair quiver and is an excellent choice for ultralight backpackers and recreational campers alike. At a mid-range price point, this comfortable seat is insanely light, weighing a mere 16 ounces. For that weight, it’s hard to make an excuse not to bring it along on every backpacking trip. 

I measured this chair against several other top contenders in our overall review of backpacking chairs, holding the Flexlite up to rigorous testing standards and testing it over the course of several months and through different seasons.

This chair came out on camping trips to the Alabama Hills in Southern California and routinely got dragged out to backyard hangouts, and I had various friends of different heights and weights take a seat and give their two cents. The reports were unanimous: this is the best seat in camp.

In short: The REI Co-op Flexlite Air Chair is impossibly light, making it the perfect companion for backpacking trips where you want to indulge in some extra comfort but don’t want to add too much extra weight. At an affordable price, it’s a great choice for niche ultralight backpackers and casual campers alike.

The Flexlite Air Chair currently enjoys the Best Overall designation in our Best Backpacking Chairs Buyer’s Guide — check out the lineup to see how the Flexlite measures up against the rest of the market.

  • Weight
    16 oz.
  • Seat height
  • Weight limit
    250 lbs.
  • Packed size
    5″ x 16”
  • Materials
    Ripstop nylon and aluminum

  • Lightweight at just 1 pound

  • Quick and easy setup

  • Aluminum poles are sturdy and seat securely

  • 11″ seat height is about perfect for kicking back or sitting at a table

  • Affordable pricing

  • Narrow legs make it feel slightly unstable

  • Back support isn’t the best out there

REI Co-op Flexlite Air Chair: Review

First Impressions

The first time I handled it, I was seriously impressed that you could buy a chair this ultralight at a relatively affordable price. The legs on the REI Co-op Flexlite Air Chair are quite thin and, therefore, don’t inspire the utmost confidence of all the chairs I’ve ever tested, but this is the trade-off for the weight.

Feeling light as a feather straight out of the bag, the 16 ounces of the Flexlite Air is lighter than most options out there — including the base-model Flexlite Chair it’s cousins with.

This camp chair’s two-leg aluminum frame design makes setup easy, too. The joints pop easily into place in the plastic hubs when coaxed, and the seat height of 11 inches allows you to sit up comfortably without feeling too low to the ground. The fabric stretches easily over the frame, and the seat is comfortable right out of the gate.

When the time comes to roll out, the Flexlite folds down quickly and easily into an included, lightweight stuff sack. There’s no struggle to squeeze the materials back into the stuff sack, which is greatly appreciated, and when packed, the chair is about the size of a Nalgene bottle — perfect for sliding into the bottle pocket on your pack.

Flexlite Air Has Got Your Back

The Flexlite Air is composed of two parts — a collapsible aluminum frame and a sling of ripstop nylon fabric. While other designs opt for mesh in their seats for breathability, the Flexlite Air keeps it simple with a single panel of lightweight nylon.

This not only reduces irritating seam lines, but it also keeps things stronger by reducing the number of failure points. The seat itself is comfortable and supportive, and that 11” seat height strikes a good balance between being low enough to the ground to kick back, but high enough to sit up at a small table and play card games.

While some other chairs have deep, scooped seats, the Flexlite Air is a bit more taut, allowing you to sit up straighter. The back support is sufficient, though not noteworthy, with a 22-inch total height.

In the end, the Flexlite Air’s comfort is nothing to write home about, but for a mere 1-pound weight, it is plenty comfortable enough! When you consider that even backless camp stools weigh more, you get a good idea of the value of the trade here.

REI decided to go with an unusual frame design with the Flexlite series — the aluminum frame has four small legs connected by a strut that runs front to back instead of side to side like other chair designs. This might work better if the legs were lower and further apart. And while it’s a bit tippier than some other chairs I’ve tested, it still has a firm grip on terra firma.

Inevitable rocking motions when reaching forward for another marshmallow or leaning over to fire up your Jetboil can result in an unstable feeling as the chair teeters with your weight without counterbalance assistance from the tall back. After an evening of sitting in the chair, you learn to predict it, and by the end of the night, I had no issues kicking back.

As almost a trade-off, this design opens up a different kind of stability, and that’s if you lean your weight backward to look up the stars. With less chance of toppling over in your lightweight chair, we could watch the night roll by, unlike some other more upright chairs.

The Size of a Nalgene and a Handful of Ounces

I already knew the Flexlite Air would take the cake in this category, but the size and weight for the price point of this chair are definitely worth repeating. A mere 1 pound, even ultralight backpackers would have difficulty finding a reason to turn their noses up at this valuable piece of gear.

Folded up, its dimensions are 5 x 16 inches, and its legs are less bulky than other chairs I’ve tested, making it a nice, small package. Its stuff sack adds a few more grams of weight but is also something a diehard UL’er could leave behind if they so choose.

Although it is among the lightest actual chairs available, it doesn’t skimp on size, maintaining the same general dimensions as other backpacking chairs. It shaves weight in its small aluminum frame and minimalist ripstop nylon fabric while still having a 250-pound weight capacity. The Helinox Chair Zero is a close competitor here, but even it is 2 ounces heavier — though it does sport a slightly higher weight capacity of 265 pounds.

Ease of Setup

Like most classic backpacking chairs on the market today, the Flexlite Air is a breeze to set up. The aluminum frame is composed of joints that fold away for storage and connect to each other easily. Just unfold the legs, which are all already connected via an internal cord, and snap them into place.

While the joints on this particular chair aren’t quite as smooth as some other models, which virtually snap into place themselves, the Flexlite is still a no-brainer to set up, taking a total of 30 seconds and finishing with stretching the nylon seat over the legs.

Room for Improvements

Our biggest gripe with this chair probably lies with the vertical orientation of the center pole in the frame instead of the more common horizontal one — such as seen on the NEMO Moonlite Camp Chair. This just gives an already light and prone-to-wobble chair an added feeling of insecurity, which could easily be solved by a slight design adjustment. 

I would love to see a version of this chair that sits even lower to the ground, shaving off even more ounces and becoming more stable in the process.

REI Co-op Flexlite Air Chair: Conclusion

If you’re looking for a quality backpacking chair that is among the lightest of the light, comfortable, and easy to pack, then the Flexlite Air Chair from REI Co-op is a fantastic choice, in our book. Beating out other ultralight brands in weight and price, this versatile pick will slip into your backpack nearly imperceptibly.

I know some die-hard backpackers who usually opt for sitting in the dirt over carrying anything extra, but even they couldn’t deny that this chair was an excellent choice all around.

The frame design is a novel one, and you’ll need to give it a whirl once or twice to ensure that it’s right for you. Luckily, REI has these things coming out of its ears in storefronts nationwide, and a good test should only take a moment or two. For most backpackers, however, I’d say it’s a non-issue, and certainly so when you take another look at the weight.

Carried on the outside of a backpacking pack, this chair is right at home and goes a long way toward making your camp feel that way once you put down stakes. Luxury items like backpacking chairs should be considered carefully, but when it comes to whether the Flexlite Air is worth it or not, the answer is a resounding yes.

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