REI Flex Light Camp Chair (version 1)

We aren’t huge “sitters” but we do enjoy a nice spot to place our tooshes while we’re posted up somewhere. Before we hit the road we sold or donated our “classic” camp chairs that you see at tailgate parties, back porches, dorm rooms and campsites across the United States. While the classic chairs we once owned were great, they simply took up far too much space. REI’s Flex Lite Camp Chairs seemed to be the answer to our needs of a mobile sitting system.

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FIRST THOUGHTS

“Wow! This chair fits into a bag the size of our Nalgenes!” quickly followed by, “how the hell do we get these back in the bag?” We should have seen this as the bad omen it was before we ever left the store. At under two pounds and packed down to 4″x14″ though, we had to give them a shot. After all – space is at a premium in the camper

IN ACTION

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Pulling the chairs out of their bags and setting them up takes roughly one minute each, which is incredible! Putting a chair back into its bag however is a different story. I have timed us at a record breaking 2 minutes, but it often takes closer to ten. Once we just gave up and left them in a heap on the camper floor. Often I have mumbled to Beth that there should be a support group for people who have purchased these chairs – a place to grumble, gain support and camaraderie as you air your grievances on how much of a pain it is to put these chairs back into their undersized bags. I wish that was where the downsides stopped, but unfortunately it’s not. 

While sitting with our knees at nearly face level wasn’t too bad the first time we tried them in the store, we soon found that there are only two ways to sit in these chairs; with your legs fully extended to provide stability or with your chin resting upon your kneecaps. I’m lucky I’m only 5’10” – if I was any taller I think my knees might actually sit higher when in the chair. If I wanted to sit in either of these uncomfortable positions I’d be better off in my Crazy Creek, as long as the ground isn’t soaked – but at that point the Flex Lite wouldn’t help either as I discuss below. Occasionally we do find that perfect “sweet spot” and love these chairs… until we move.

If you find yourself shifting weight in any way, chances are you will feel the flexing part of the the Flex Lite namesake – the entire chair twists, turns and feels as though it is about to cascade into a very un-fun game of twister involving you and the chair, with it as the victor. If you manage to not lose your balance or break a chair leg you will be left with a feeling of unease as one or more chair legs sinks into the ground beneath you at a rapid rate.

These chairs are great for sitting on hard surfaces. Hard level surfaces, mind you – any sort of incline induces vertigo as the chair leans like a MotoGP racer on the race track. Really anything that isn’t concrete, asphalt, or rock and you will soon find yourself sinking into the ground or balancing precariously on less than all four of the chair legs beneath you. Sand, dirt, mud, grass, gravel and anything of the sort is not recommended with these toothpick-like chair legs. Sitting on moistened ground is laughable – don’t even try it.

Leaving the chairs unfilled and unattended allows them to regain their natural state of laying facedown upon the ground. If a gnat farts within the vicinity of a Flex Lite, the chair will find itself rapidly prone upon the ground, providing reassurance of its stability.

It’s not all bad – occasionally we do find that perfect combination of tilt, angle, and ground support. Sometimes we find ourselves too tired or too drunk to care and the chair works beautifully then as well.

LONG TERM USE

We held onto these chairs for four months, hoping that something would change; whether the change would be our opinion or the chair’s construction I don’t know, but both have stayed consistent. We used these chairs because we paid good money for them, and we love REI and everything else they’ve ever made. It came to the point that we rarely took them apart because we didn’t want to struggle with putting them back into the bag. They did get used nearly every day – for what it’s worth they worked most of the time as intended. But like I’ve mentioned above, we found ourselves constantly having to adjust and find a sweet spot in order to feel comfortable and stable. However, if we moved to find shade or anything else we inevitably find ourselves back to square one, shifting, turning and twisting like an old dog trying to find that sweet spot on his bed.

FINAL THOUGHTS

While many people praise this chair and similar chair, I for one do not think it is functional. I don’t know if I’m the black sheep of the reviewing crowd, but I can not see how anyone could enjoy the REI Flex Lite. When we go out hiking or backpacking, packing chairs is generally at the bottom of our list – we only use chairs when we’re near the truck. If we did want chairs on a backpacking trip or hike, we’d pack the versatile Crazy Creek chairs that we already own, use our ENO hammocks, or you know…sit on the ground.The design of this chair is inherently flawed, but I can’t fully blame REI as they appear to have simply copied other packable chairs on the market such as the Helinox Chair One and Alite Mayfly Chair and offered their own chair at a lower price. While I can only attest to my experience with REI’s Flexlite, my initial hypothesis from simple observations would be that similarly built chairs may be potentially flawed in the same areas – the most prominent areas being the instability of the frame and (lack of) “footprint.” Again, I do not know this from experience as my rump has not graced the likes of a Helinox nor Alite camp chair.

At $70 the flaws of the REI Flex Lite chair is simply unacceptable. We took advantage of REI’s satisfaction guarantee and returned these chairs the when we found ourselves in a civilized area with an REI. The $140 we gained back will go towards either cheap aluminum framed folding beach chairs that we can leave on the roof of our camper when not in use, or invested into a nice pair of Kermit Chairs.

EDIT: While researching the dimensions and weight for this review I noticed that REI re-designed their Flexlite line of chairs, so our review is a bit out of date. However, I would have to say that their re-design did little to help to solve any of the problems I mention above. I tested out their barely re-designed Flex Lite Chair in-store and even on the hardened floor I still wobbled and flexed more than I should for paying over $70. I will not be giving this chair, nor any similarly built chair for that matter, my hard-earned dollars or a second chance.