I’ve been using the REI Co-op Flash Air 1 tent on most of my solo hikes since early 2020. Over the last three years, I’ve hiked with it on various overnight hikes in Latvia, Scandinavia, Spain, Italy, and I even thru-hiked 800 km with it in northern Spain on the GR11 trail.
In this review, I’ll share everything that I’ve learned about the REI Flash Air 1 from using it for over 3 years. I’ll tell you all the good and bad things about it to hopefully help you determine whether it’s the right tent for you.
What we like:
- One of the lightest tents on the market
- Very cheap when compared to other ultralight tents
- Very small packed size
- Great durability so far
What we don’t:
- Bad ventilation properties, which results in a lot of condensation
- Very cramped interior liveability
- Setting up and taking down can be challenging at start
- Weight26.5 oz / 750 g
- Packed Dimensions16 x 6 in / 40 x 15 cm
- Built Dimensions88 x 35 x 42 in / 223 x 89 x 106 cm
- SizeOne Person
- SeasonsSpring, Summer, Autumn
- MaterialsDAC NFL Aluminum, Ripstop Nylon, Nylon Mesh
Detailed In-Depth Review
I purchased the REI Co-op Flash Air 1 because I was looking for an affordable 1-person tent under 1 kg (2.2 lbs), and this one seemed to fit all of my criteria. Usually, good ultralight tents start at 400-500$, and I got my hands on the Flash Air 1 at half the price. So far, I’m really happy with my purchase because even though it has a few quirks, it functions really well and nothing has broken up to this point.
The Flash Air 1 Is Ultralight And Packs Down Really Small
If you’re looking to save some space in your backpack, then you’ll be impressed by the Flash Air 1’s tiny packed size. Together with the stakes and poles, it’s about 16 x 6 inches / 40 x 15 cm in size in a packed state. But if you pack the stakes and poles separately, you can easily compress the rest of the tent to about 6.3 x 8 inches / 16 x 20 cm, which equates only to about five liters.
All included (together with the poles and bags), the Flash Air 1 weighs only 26.5 oz / 750 g, which already is an extremely small weight.
But because it’s a trekking pole tent, if you bring just one trekking pole you can leave the tent pole at home, which reduces the weight to 24.7 oz / 700 g. If you strip the tent to only the essentials and remove all the storage bags, the repair tube for the tent pole (included with the tent), and replace the main pole with your trekking pole, the total weight is reduced to 23 oz / 650 g, which is very impressive considering that this tent is priced so affordably.
After 3 Years Of Use, My Flash Air 1 Is Still In Pristine Condition
The REI Flash Air 1 comes with five DAC Aluminum stakes, weighing 2 oz / 59g for all five stakes. All of them are needed to set up the tent, and the guylines attach to the same stakes, which means that having just five stakes is enough. They feel somewhat durable, and so far, I haven’t broken any of the stakes, even when using them on rocky terrain and half-frozen ground.
Similar to the tent stakes, the poles are also made from DAC aluminum, and I haven’t experienced any issues with them so far.
The guylines are made from a lightweight string that feels really rigid, and it hasn’t torn so far. However, I suspect that the guylines might need to be replaced in the future. That’s because the same string is used on each stake to create a loop to easily get them out of the ground, and now nearly all of them have broken off due to rubbing against the aluminum. But so far, the guylines still work really well, and the plastic mechanism for tightening them also doesn’t loosen by itself.
The rainfly and the floor of the Flash Air 1 are made from ripstop nylon and the other elements from nylon mesh. As with all ultralight tents, the fabric is very thin and feels like it could be punctured fairly easily. But so far, I haven’t gotten any holes or rips in the fabric, even when using it on rocky terrain and without a footprint.
As with most R.E.I. products the seams are finished in high quality, with no loose threads or imperfect stitches. All of the seams are fully sealed, and they don’t appear to be leaking through any moisture, even after 3 years of regular use. Initially, I didn’t expect this tent to hold up so long, so it has definitely exceeded my expectations in terms of durability.
It’s A Bit Difficult To Set Up But Over Time It Becomes Quicker
When I first received the REI Flash Air 1 and set it up for the first time, I thought that the whole process was pretty complicated. But after using it for a while, I’ve gotten used to it, and now it takes only a bit longer compared to setting up a basic freestanding tent.
Because it’s a trekking pole tent, it’s pretty hard to set up in a way that it sits straight. It’s very easy to balance slightly to the left or to the right, and if you do that the gap underneath the vestibule can be too large or too small and the fabric won’t be tensioned evenly. But once you learn to balance everything out, the whole process becomes very straightforward. You just have to remember to spread the tent stakes out evenly and to get the gap underneath the vestibule just right.
One benefit of the REI Flash Air 1 is that you can set it up when it’s raining, and the inside won’t get wet. Freestanding tents usually have a separate inner tent, which isn’t waterproof and it has to be built first but with the Flash Air 1, there’s only a single wall.
If you’re a person who likes to hike with trekking poles, then you can save an additional 50 g (0.11 lbs) by swapping the main pole with a trekking pole. Personally, I prefer doing this because overall, the tent feels sturdier when using a trekking pole, especially if it’s very windy outside.
The Interior Of The Flash Air 1 Feels A Bit Cramped
Although on paper the Flash Air 1 sounds fairly roomy, measuring 88 inches / 223 cm in length, 35 inches / 89 cm in width in the top end, 27 inches / 68 cm in the foot end, and 43 inches / 106 cm in height, in reality, it isn’t much larger than a bivy. That’s because the head and foot walls of the tent are placed at a fairly small angle, which reduces the total overall room inside the tent.
In the picture above, you can see me laying on a sleeping mat, and there is not much room for anything else other than sleeping. For context, I’m 1.85 meters / 6’1 in height.
There’s a pole in the foot end to give some room for your feet, but it doesn’t do that much and you will brush against the inner walls of the tent occasionally, especially if you have a very bulky sleeping bag. Whenever you’re building it, you should place it in a way where the front entrance is on the windy side, because otherwise, the tent wall will brush against your sleeping bag.
Theoretically, you can sit inside the tent to change some clothes, but your head will touch the ceiling, so it isn’t too comfortable.
But don’t get me wrong – while the livability isn’t perfect in the Flash Air 1, it provides enough room for a basic overnight shelter without any fancy extras. Given the ridiculously low weight and packed size of this tent, I’m willing to compromise.
In terms of organization and storage, R.E.I. included a small pocket near the entrance, which really is only large enough to hold all of the stuff sacks (for tent, sleeping bag, mat, e.t.c.),. There’s also a small fabric loop on the top for hanging a lantern. A hook would have probably been a better choice because not many ultralight hikers are interested in carrying an extra lantern and instead just use their headlamps, which could be hung on a hook but not on a fabric loop.
The vestibule is large enough to hold most of my gear but I usually keep everything inside, on the far end of the tent. That’s because the gap underneath the vestibule is pretty large, and in large winds, it will blow in some rain, which means that my gear could get wet. If you put your sleeping mat right next to the entrance, you can stuff the rest of your gear along the far edge of the tent.
The Flash Air 1 Is Waterproof
In terms of rain resistance, the REI Flash Air 1 does a really good job. It’s fully waterproof and will start leaking only once you spend several hours in pouring rain (like most ultralight tents). The team behind backpackinglight.com measured the water resistance to be 1800-3000mm H20, which means that it’s enough to withstand light and even heavy rain but starts leaking under extended periods of heavy rain.
The harshest conditions that I’ve used the Flash Air 1 in, was a heavy rainstorm, which included about 30 minutes of heavy rain and several hours of light rain. There was a lot of condensation buildup, but the tent wasn’t leaking.
It’s Fairly Good At Wind Resistance Due To A Low Profile
While trekking the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Southern Spain, I got caught in a very windy night with wind speeds of up to 80 km/h. I prepared for that by setting up the Flash Air 1 with large rocks instead of stakes, and in the end, it held up really well. The guylines came a bit loose but that was only because I hadn’t fully locked in the adjustment hardware on each guyline. It was a pretty rough night with only a little bit of sleep, and the walls of the tent kept brushing against me all night, but overall, the Flash Air 1 stood up really well.
The REI Flash Air 1 Lacks In Good Ventilation
The largest downside of the REI Flash Air 1 is definitely its lack of ventilation, which results in a lot of condensation buildup. For ventilation, there’s only one ventilation shaft at the top, two small mesh panels on corners, and the main vestibule entrance, which is covered with a fabric mesh and there’s a fairly large gap at the bottom. This doesn’t provide enough airflow, and in very wet areas, you’ll get a lot of condensation buildup. It isn’t an issue in dry climates with low humidity and up in higher altitudes. But if you’ll be using this tent in very humid climates where it rains quite often, you might want to purchase a double-wall tent.
With the Flash Air 1, you always have to be wary of how and where you’re setting up the tent. If it isn’t raining, always keep the vestibule open, and you won’t get any condensation. If it will be raining, try to set up the tent under trees and don’t set it up near water sources, which will minimize the condensation buildup. If you can keep your gear inside the tent, you can unzip the vestibule halfway even in rain, and it will provide more ventilation. Also, you should try to build this tent in open areas where it’s windier. If you follow all of the tips mentioned above, you won’t have many issues with condensation.
But if you’re looking for an easier solution, which doesn’t require you to be wary of where and how you set up the tent, you should purchase something else, preferably, a double-wall freestanding tent. A lot of ultralight tents have issues with condensation buildup because of a single wall design, but other models, such as the ZPacks ultralight tents, deal with this issue by having a raised-up ceiling with breathable mesh fabric used at the bottom part of the walls all around the tent. The Flash Air 1 would surely benefit from this design, but then again, it would be heavier because of the extra fabric. We’ve read that the Flash Air 2 (the two-person model) has much fewer issues with condensation because it has two vestibules and allows for more airflow.
At least, the good news is that this tent dries out really quickly. While hiking the GR11, I laid out the Flash Air 1 in the first-morning sun for 10-15 minutes, and after that, it was completely dry. So when thru-hiking, dealing with the condensation buildup isn’t really such a big issue.
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The REI Flash Air 1 is undoubtedly one of the cheapest truly ultralight tents that you can find. And even though it has a few things that I don’t like about it, overall, I’m really pleased with my purchase, and I’ll continue using it as my main choice of solo hiking tent even after 3 years of use.
It’s made by REI, which means that it’s somewhat durable (no problems for me so far), it weighs only 24.7 oz / 700 g if you use your own trekking pole, it packs down very small, and it’s fully waterproof.
But it does come with a few drawbacks as well. Most importantly, it’s pretty bad at ventilation, which means a lot of condensation buildup if you aren’t careful about how and where you set it up. In addition to that, it also doesn’t offer much room inside, not much more compared to a regular bivy, and it can be challenging to set up when you first start using it.
If you’re an ultralight hiker on a budget, then the REI Flash Air 1 is a very solid option if you don’t mind a little condensation here and there, and if you’re fine with sleeping in a somewhat cramped overnight shelter. I’d buy it again, but it’s not for everyone.