REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent Review
The REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent is a 1.9 lb, full sized, 2-person tent that costs under $300. Right off the bat, those specs set it in a class by itself (tents in this weight range usually cost $600 to even $800). As such, it’s a solid choice for any backpacker looking to save weight and cost, even if you’ve never used a tent like this before. But unlike many tents in this rarified weight range, it’s quite user friendly. The design, ease of setup, space, and moisture-management of the Flash Air 2 all work to create a great user experience, even for non-expert backpackers.
Compared to the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 Tent, the REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent is almost a pound less and costs $150 less. On top of that, this is one of the first tents manufactured and sold by a major retailer using a proven hybrid single-wall, double-walled ultralight tent design. Formerly, tents like this were solely the purview of cottage manufacturers like Tarptent or Six Moon Designs. Now you can get a similar tent off-the-shelf and backed by REI’s reputation and excellent return policy.
In a modern twist, REI has added a few innovative touches to their design:
- Light “Pole hubs” that create more vertical walls and support a wider, higher roof for more interior room.
- Multiple position doors that can roll back to partially expose the roof for stargazing and great ventilation, but can easily deploy down into full storm mode.
2-person Flash Air 2 Tent is Significantly Better than 1-person Flash Air
We’ve been seeing a lot of reviews of the Flash Air 1, but we’re pretty keen on the Flash Air 2 which does a number of important things better than its 1-person counterpart. We’ll tell you why in this review and also give you tips on how to utilize the best features of the tent. Oh, and of course we have a bunch of pitching tips to share.
Video Review Part 1 | REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent
Video captures and explains a lot that this written review can’t. See the REI Flash Air 2 Tent in action, and explore its features, strengths and weaknesses. Find out in detail what makes this a great and affordable ultralight tent.
new Video Review Part 2 | REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent
DEEP DIVE | Key things Buyers Need to Know. This is essential viewing If you are considering buying the tent or already own the tent. Part 2 of the Video Review goes into more detail for critical topics to get the best out of the Flash Air 2 Tent. Tips and Tricks for Pitching & Use, Condensation Management (how to reduce or eliminate it), & Why the 2 Person Flash Air is Better than the 1p Flash Air 1.
What We Like About This Tent
- Available off-the-shelf from a major retailer
- User friendly, quite livable, easy to pitch
- Low weight | Under 2 lbs min trail weight
- Low cost | under $300
- Excellent area-to-weight ratio, a critical measure of tent performance
- Large living area, with vertical side walls and high peak height
- Multiple position doors adapt for everything from great stargazing/ventilation to full storm protection
- 2-person version (this tent) does well to reduce condensation
- In all, a competitive value for a well designed & liveable ultralight tent
DESIGN: 2 person | 3 season | Hybrid Single/Double Walled | Non-freestanding
FEATURES: Dual doors & vestibules, unique hub-poles & adjustable doors, compact!
WEIGHT: 1.9 lbs trail-weight
AREA: Interior: 28.7 ft2 | Vestibule: 16.8 ft2
PEAK HEIGHT: 42 inches
Looking for More Tents?
Check out our Guide to the 2020 Best Backpacking Tents | Lightweight & Ultralight.
Good Livability and Interior Space
The Flash Air 2 does a good job of maximizing its 29 ft2 of floor area. The hub poles create vertical walls on each side which in turn create more volume and usable space. They also create a nice 42 inch peak height that is centered over the head torso area of the tent where you need it most — room for two to sit up at the same time. Also the large internal volume is key to reducing humidity and therefore condensation.
The trekking poles are well outside of the tent doors for easy entry/exit. The multi-position rainfly doors on both sides increase livability. Our favorite mode with them is for stargazing with the doors peeled back to expose part of the mesh ceiling. But these doors’ flexible positioning allows them to be at least partially open much of the time, even in light rain, for maximizing ventilation and reducing condensation. Our only livability gripes are its minimal pockets (we rigged an additional storage area on the roof). And the tent is fairly low and a bit narrower at the foot end, so no head to toe sleeping.
The Tent Design
The REI Co-op Flash Air 2 is a type of ultralight backpacking tent you might not be familiar with: a hybrid single-walled, double-walled tent (HSDT) that is supported by trekking poles. The advantage is that compared to traditional dome backpacking tents like the Big Agnes Copper Spur, this type of tent is lighter and less expensive for the same (or more) liveable space.
Hybrid single-walled, double-walled construction
This simply means that part of the tent (the sides) are double walled (rainfly outer plus a mesh inner tent) the same as a traditional dome tent like a Big Agnes Copper Spur. The ceiling of the tent however is single walled. Having the ceiling, and bathtub floor single walled saves weight and cost. The potential downside is that there is no mesh inner fabric to prevent you from brushing up against a condensing (wet) tent ceiling. Most of the time this is not a big deal since condensation does not happen all the time. But if there is a potential for condensation there are things you can do with tent ventilation and door configuration to minimize or eliminate it, and thus stay dry. (We’ll cover this in more detail later in this review.)
This Type of Tent is Not New
I’ve been using these hybrid tents like the Flash Air 2 for over 17 years, all the way back to when I was the gear review editor at Backpacking Light and Henry Shires put his first Tarptents into production. They’ve performed well, even above treeline in the High Sierra and guiding in Alaska and they have kept me and my gear dry. So, while REI has added their own modern tweaks, this is a mature tent design that has been in production by various cottage manufacturers and has been constantly refined and improved over the years.
Trekking Pole Supported
The Flash Air 2 is best supported by your trekking poles, not its own pole system. Actually, it does come with two of its own vertical poles, but replacing them with your trekking poles saves the weight/bulk of those poles and increases tent strength. While this might seem intimidating if you’ve only ever used freestanding or semi-freestanding tents with their own complete pole sytem, the trekking pole system has a lot of benefits and just takes just a little practice to set up quickly.
Pros and Cons of a single-walled, double-walled tent
- Lighter and less expensive. In short, using less fabric and sewing/construction saves weight and cost. This is because the head, foot, ceiling, rainfly, and inner tent wall are one in the same (the single walled section of the tent).
- The trekking-pole supported design saves weight and cost, plus trekking poles are stiffer and stronger than thin, flexible tent poles, and it takes up less of your pack. That is, the few small poles needed for the Flash Air 2, two hub poles, and the foot poles are smaller, lighter, and way less expensive than the pole set for a domed backpacking tent.
- They provide complete rain and bug protection.
- Condensation management is the biggest concern. It will never be equal to a full double-walled tent, but with some skill and foresight, this shortcoming can be eliminated or well managed by tent ventilation and campsite choice. Again note that tents only condense in certain conditions — not all the time.
- It’s not freestanding, so you do need to stake the tent out for it to stand supported. This means pitching the tent well requires a bit of knowledge and practice to get right. Practice at home is always a great first step!
- The ceiling of the tent is a bit more sloping compared to the best domed backpacking tents with pre-bent poles. As such, while the Flash Air 2 has a decent peak height, it tapers significantly toward the foot end with much less ceiling height.
- For greatest stability in high winds, the tent requires a fair amount of staking out. This is also true for most backpacking tents, but these hybrid tents usually requires a few more stakes in high winds.
In this stock photo of the 2-person Flash Air 2 you can see the huge mesh ventilation area on either side wall of the tent. Even with a light breeze there is plenty of room for drier air flow under the fly from one side of the tent, thru the tent and out the other side. This is the key to keeping humidity inside the tent low thus minimizing condensation.
We used high accuracy data loggers to measure humidity & temperature inside & outside the tent. With at least one door partially open on either side of the tent, the 2-person REI Co-op Flash Air 2 did well in keeping humidity in the tent not much higher than the outside humidity — and that of course minimized condensation. This is a great result for a tent of this design.
What’s Better About the 2-Person Version
In short, the two-person model does a far better job of condensation management than the one-person model. The potential for excessive condensation is the major downside of this type of tent design, and it’s nice to see the Flash Air 2 Tent perform well in that regard. The reason is that the 2-person version has two mesh side walls, and doors on each side. This is a huge advantage to manage or even eliminate condensation. It also adds a fair amount of livability and adaptability for the tent.
- This tent is double-walled on both side walls. This eliminates the largest source of condensation in the one-person tent: the solid rear wall that you can easily brush up against getting you and/or your sleeping bag wet.
- Air needs some place to come in and some place to exit. Having a door on both sides of the tent gives you great cross ventilation options — even during moderate rain. Good ventilation is the key to avoiding condensation. Even with doors closed, the 12” gap under the doors provides decent cross ventilation. [In the 1-person tent the back wall completely blocks cross flow, leaving only the very small roof vents for humid air to exit the tent.]
- Two doors on each side gives you more options, for example, one door closed windward and one open in the leeward, in case wind changes. This means you almost always have a good leeward door/vestibule available for cooking and entry/exit.
- Two vestibules adds up to more area, since you’re likely sharing equipment like a cookset. This leaves one shared vestibule for cooking and wet shoes, and one for general gear storage for larger gear like backpacks.
Tips for Pitching and Using the REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent
The REI Flash Air 2 is surprisingly user friendly and easy to pitch — especially for a sub-2-pound ultralight tent! In fact, we didn’t find it all that more difficult to pitch than a tent like the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2. While the Flash Air 2 takes just a bit more time to pitch, the feel the weight and cost savings are well worth it.
Here are the essential things you need to know about how to pitch the REI Co-op Flash Air 2 and get the most out of the tent.
Protect the tent floor. Unless you are on good ground and careful, like many ultralight tents including Big Agnes, the 15D floor fabric on the Flash Air 2 will likely need a footprint to protect it. You can get the REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Footprint which will last a good long time, or get a lighter a $9 Gossamer Gear Polycro Footprint which will still last a number of trips.
Make sure you get the floor square and the corners staked out at 45°, with the rear stakeouts slightly more narrow than 45°. Also note that the floor and fly have different tie-out cords (but go to the same stake). For now just stake out the thin grey cord attached to the floor. Leave the thicker orange cord attached to the fly alone.
Stake loosely at first as you likely need to go around a second time to get the positions just right. For now, focus on the six places that must be staked out. These are the four corners of the floor of the tent, then the two rainfly/door tie outs.
This tent has five included aluminum poles — 1 short foot end pole use at the end of the tent (not shown), 2 vertical poles on the side of the tent that hold up the roof, and 2 short “hub poles,” a horizontal pole with the 90° plastic elbow the end which attach to the vertical poles.
If you carry trekking poles, they can substitute for the two vertical poles as shown in the picture. They are stronger than the supplied poles which will save you carrying the weight of the stock poles.
Set your trekking poles to around 39” from the pole tip to top of grip (99 cm). It’s great to measure them at home and figure out what markings on your pole get you 39″. This will make pitching much faster and easier in the field.
Note: The small rear pole of the tent is a very tight fit. Unless you have very strong hands we suggest that you insert it at home and leave it in the tent. (It won’t seriously impact packing up the tent in the field.)
Insert the hub pole, clip it in, zip the door shut and stake it out and tension it. Repeat on the other side. Then go around the tent and attach the 4 corner rain fly tie-outs (orange cord) to the same stakes that the floor tie outs are attached to (grey cord).
Then do a final walk around the tent to reposition the stakes and tension the cords to get a taut pitch all around. The larger rear rainfly panels are the hardest to get taut. Now you can set all stakes firmly.
Bonus tip: If you want have both rain fly doors on the same side peeled back, attach one of the extra guy lines supplied to the plastic end to the hub pole and stake it out — this way you won’t need the rain fly door extended to keep the tent upright. If you are careful, you can use this stake for both this tie-out and/or the rain fly tie-out. This gives you nice flexibility on positioning the doors from full storm mode to stargazing mode.
The rest of the tie-outs are optional, but we suggest four additional stakes and extra cord if you are expecting strong winds and can’t be assured of a protected campsite. Obviously, you’ll want to stake out the side of tent that is taking the most force from the winds. Since the tent only comes with the 6 essential stakes, you’ll need to bring a few more of your own to anchor the tie outs.
The light stakes that come with flash air are pretty good, but we certainly recommend getting four more stakes for the four additional guy lines supplied with the tent. Strong stakes with more grip make tent pitching faster and more secure. For pitching in rocky ground and other difficult areas, we prefer inexpensive but bomber TNH ‘Y’ Tent-Stakes on Amazon. They have only a single notch at the head, making them extremely resistant to bending and damage when pounding in with a rock. And they have a pre-attached cord to make them easier to pull out — the cord is reflective to keep you from tripping on them during the night. Finally, ‘Y’ stakes have greater holding power than most stakes so they’ll hold your tent more securely. You can get similar ‘Y’ stakes, MSR Ground Hogs, at REI.
The small rear pole of the tent is a very tight fit. Unless you have very strong hands we suggest that you insert it at home and leave it in the tent. (It won’t seriously impact packing up the tent in the field.)
Things To be Aware Of
- Unless you are on good ground and careful, like many ultralight tents, the 15D floor fabric on the Flash Air 2 will likely need a footprint to protect it. You can get the REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Footprint which will last a good long time, or get a lighter a $9 Gossamer Gear Polycro Footprint which will still last a number of trips.
- If you are used to freestanding dome tents… getting a super taut pitch in a tent like this is a bit of a new skill. Be sure to practice some at home before you’re trying to set this up in the dark after a long day of hiking.
- The rear pole is tight. We suggest you leave it installed until the tent stretches out enough. Since this is the first run of the Flash Air 2, we assume REI will address this in their next production of the tent. For now, we suggest you leave it in the tent.
- There are only two small pockets for interior storage. We suggest you rig a line on the roof of the tent to hang stuff from.
- As with any single/double walled tent, it’s important to be aware of potential condensation. If at all possible, have at least one door partially open on each side and camp in an area that will possibly have a light breeze at night.
- Lastly, this is a non-freestanding tent. It needs to be staked out during setup. (Although nearly all backpacking tents should be staked out for maximum stability).
As we said earlier, at under 2 lbs the REI Co-op Flash Air 2 is in rarified company with tents costing $600 to $800. Here is some of the competition and how it stacks up against the Flash Air 2:
- Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 Tent 2.7 lb, $450 is almost a pound heavier and $150 more. On the plus side, it’s freestanding, and the 2020 model has a number of features and creature comforts vs. the Flash Air 2.
- Zpacks Duplex Tent 1.2 lb, $599 is significantly lighter but also $300 more. That light DCF fabric does come at a cost! It’s a bit less user friendly and bit harder to pitch. But for those that want the very lightest 2 person tent, that may be worth it.
- Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 2.2 lb, $400 is a bit heavier and $100 more. Hikers more familiar with dome tents will find it a bit easier to pitch and it has a lower peak height.
- REI Quarter Dome SL 2 2.5 lb, $349 is heavier, $50 more and has a lower peak height. On the plus side the domed shape of the Quarter Dome SL 2 makes it a bit roomier inside for the same floor area, and it has a more familiar pitching procedure for those used to standard dome backpacking tents.
- Tarptent Double Rainbow 2.6 lb, $299 is heavier and doesn’t manage condensation quite as well. It can be a freestanding tent if you supply trekking poles.
- Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 Tent 1.8 lb $799 is a similar weight but costs $500 more! It’s not as livable inside. On the upside, with premium DCF fabric, it is much stronger and more storm worthy — likely the most storm worthy sub-2-pound tent.
In summary, the well designed, 1.9 pound, $299 Flash Air 2 tent is tough competition against the best ultralight tents. Except for hikers wanting the very lightest tent (and willing to pay for it!), the Zpacks Duplex, or those wedded to traditional freestanding dome tents like Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2, the Flash Air 2 is worth a very hard look.
Conclusion | A Readily Available and Affordable Ultralight Tent
REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent is a significant tent. It is one of the first ultralight ‘tarptent’ style tents to be produced and distributed by a major retailer. Now anybody can quickly and easily procure a sub- two-pound, two-person tent at a reasonable cost. The performance is there, with a great amount of livable area for its meager weight. The hub poles contribute by creating vertical sidewalls and a high peak height. The multiple position doors go from fully open for stargazing and great ventilation, to a porch cooking mode, to fully battened down in storm mode. In all, the Flash Air 2 is a versatile, livable and economic tent that should fit the needs of many backpackers.
Looking for More Tents?
Check out our Guide to the 2020 Best Backpacking Tents | Lightweight & Ultralight.
Single Wall Tents | 1.2 lb to 2.6 lb | $260 – $680
Single walled tents are quickly rising in popularity. In fact, some single walled tent brands are now more popular than some well known double walled tent brands. This makes sense, as a single walled tent has most of the benefits of a double walled tent, but for much less weight.
Traditional Lightweight Backpacking Tents | 2.5 to 3.5 lb oz | $350 to $450
The 1st choice for many backpackers, these are the “classic,” full-featured, easy-to-setup tents most hikers are familiar with. The tents in this guide are lighter than most backpacking tents while still being storm-worthy and bug-proof.
Detailed Technical Specifications
Trail Weight: 1 lb. 15 oz.
Packaged Weight: 2 lbs. 8 oz.
Floor Area: 28.7 sf
Peak Height: 42″
Packed Size: 16 x 7 inches
Floor Dimensions: 88 x 52/42 (L x W head/foot) inches
Vestibule Area: 16.8 sf total
Number of doors: 2
Canopy Fabric: Nylon mesh
Floor Fabric: Ripstop nylon
Poles: DAC aluminum
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I do not receive compensation from the companies whose products are listed. REI provided a sample of this tent for review. I am never under an obligation to write a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.