“I can’t sleep in hammocks,” I said to nobody in particular right before falling asleep in the REI Flash Air hammock ($200) on a recent backcountry trip in the western Sierra. Okay, that’s not technically true, I can sleep in them, I just usually can’t stay asleep in them.
But sleep I did in the Flash Air, which surprised me, for a few reasons I’ll list below.
First, the specifics. This is an entirely self-contained sleep system. In one package, you get everything you need to sleep above the ground, protected from bugs and the elements. Hammock, tree straps, bug net, rain fly, and stakes. The whole setup weighs 2 pounds, 13 ounces and rolls into a burrito-shaped tube measuring about 16 inches by 5 inches. Roughly the same size as a typical one-person, ultralight tent, if slightly heavier.
When suspended, the hammock measures about nine feet long by three feet wide, which for somebody over six feet tall like myself, is adequate, but I’d prefer more room. If you’re around 5’10” or under, this hammock is downright palatial.
Setting up the Flash Air is…about as finnicky as you’d expect. The suspension straps cinch to the hammock with whoopie slings, a complicated-looking arrangement of interconnected thin straps that run through each other like a finger trap. These can be tricky to figure out, though they do an excellent job of providing tension. Metal clasps on the end of the hammock and the whoopie slings attach easily and securely.
The rain fly attaches above the hammock by dacron lines that you loop around the tree as far above the hammock as you want. Guy lines at each corner of the fly stake down easily, and voila, you’ve set up your hammock.
It takes longer than it does to set up a tent. It’s more complicated than setting up a tent. But it’s not laborious, and I’m sure that after using the hammock every week for a summer, I’d get it up and ready for sleeping much quicker.
The sleeping experience in the hammock is surprisingly comfortable. A mini tent pole erected above your face keeps the zipped-in bug net well above your head, and pockets and lantern loops are within easy reach. If you don’t want the bug net, it stows away in a pocket near your feet. I was able to sleep on my side and on my back, though I couldn’t quite stretch out diagonally, which I prefer in a hammock. Having said that, this is the most comfortable I’ve been sleeping in a hammock yet.
A sling below the hammock waits there for your filthy boots, water bottle, whatever you like. Rubber straps on the bottom of the hammock keep a sleeping pad in place, if you use one in a hammock. Otherwise, an underquilt (not provided) attaches easily below the hammock.
The details are all well thought-out and the system is a great intro for people, like myself, who aren’t hardcore hammock users. The hammock curious, maybe.
Now then, the same issues exist with this hammock system as with any other. You don’t need to worry about flat ground, but you do need to be sure you can find trees of the proper diameter (the straps for this piece don’t like big, thick trees, either) and adequate distance apart to suspend the hammock. So your camp site choice can be limited, and, obviously, above tree line is out of the question. The Flash Air is storable and light, though it’d be a tough call between something like this and a super light one-person tent.
But it’s an absolute joy to climb into a hammock, breeze slightly blowing, a gentle sway from your momentum rocking you to sleep, the stars viewable through the bug screen above. I’m not a dedicated hammock system sleeper, and not sure I ever will be, but I’m looking forward to using the Flash Air more often. Maybe I’ll be, ahem, swayed.
$200 • BUY