Made for the lightweight backpacker who prefers hammock dwelling over a grounded tent, the REI Co-op Flash Air ($200) is very different from REI’s original hammock tent, which we featured in our 2017 Summer Buyer’s Guide. It comes with everything you need for a cozy night under the stars: a hammock body, integrated bug net, rain fly, tree suspension system, guylines, and stakes. I’ve been testing this system for several weeks now on climbing trips in the mountains of northern New Mexico, and I’ve been impressed with its packability, ease of use, and overall stability.
When I first wiggled into the Flash Air hammock, I was immediately struck by its well-balanced structure. In many ways, it’s more like a hanging tent than a traditional hammock. Much like a traditional bivy sack, the rigid spreader bar keeps the hammock sides apart, creating ample headroom. The ripstop nylon fabric feels silky against the skin and lets you move around inside easily. I found the hammock relatively easy to get in and out of, although the cocoon shape of the body swallows you more than a traditional nylon hammock, so I had to employ more core strength. Overall, the Flash Air is comfy enough for getting a great night’s sleep and for hanging out and reading in for hours at a time.
Looking around from inside the hammock, it’s apparent that REI’s designers really paid attention to the small details. In the head box, you’ll find several gear-storage pockets of various sizes, perfect for a small book, headlamp, and other bedtime essentials. Underneath the hammock is an attached gear sling meant for dirty boots or anything else you’d rather have off the ground. In the body of the hammock are two horizontal sleeping-pad straps to help keep your pad in place. (It’s worth noting that this feature requires you to sleep end to end, not diagonally.)
The bug net is arguably the coolest thing about this hammock. It zips to the hammock body and can be unzipped and stashed in a pocket when not needed. This can be done while laying in the hammock, a dramatic improvement from the Quarter Dome Air, which requires the hammock to be unweighted, making midnight adjustments bothersome. The Flash Air improves on the design of the Quarter Dome Air by introducing a zipper to attach the bug net to the edges of the hammock body. The zipper allows you to stay in your hammock while storing or installing the bug net, and the spine buckle (pictured above) makes it easy to get the bug net zipped while the hammock is weighted. The bug net rolls easily into the bottom of the hammock body and stores inside a neat built-in stuff sack.
The most frustrating aspect of this hammock for me has been the suspension system. It uses a whoopie sling design—a rope designed with an adjustable loop—that can be hard to figure out if you’ve never used this type of knot system before. Although the system is incredibly efficient, allowing for the perfect fit every time, there is a lot going on and it can be hard to find the right end to pull to tighten or loosen the straps. Make sure you practice stringing the suspension system before heading into the backcountry.
The whole set weighs about three pounds, which is about 30 percent lighter than most tents in its price range of $200. For example, the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 2 weighs the same but costs $450. The hammock packs into a 4×16-inch sack, which is smaller than most one-person tent setups I’ve seen. In my opinion, if you’re traveling alone and prefer to sleep in flight, there is no better option out there.