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REI Co-Op Flash 3 Tent Review

REI Flash 3 Tent Review

The REI Flash 3 is a freestanding, double-wall 3-person tent that’s lightweight and compact enough for backpacking but spacious enough for car camping. While REI rates it for 3 people, I think it’s on the small size for three full-grown adults unless your third companion is a dog or a small child. Where it really shines is as a 2-personal palace with an enormous amount of ceiling mesh for ventilation and stargazing, with plenty of extra room to spread out. In addition to its generous length, good for tall people, the near vertical side and end walls on the Flash 3 provide better livability for occupants than the sloped walls of many dome-shaped tents.

Specs at a Glance

  • Best Use: Backpacking and Camping
  • Type: Double Wall
  • Structure: Freestanding Tent
  • Doors: 2
  • Number of Poles: 3
  • Internal pockets: 4
  • Claimed Minimum Trail Weight: 3 lbs 7.6 oz
  • Actual Minimum Trail Weight: 3 lbs 11.8 oz (Inner Tent and Rainfly: 41.5 oz) (Poles (3): 18.3 oz)
  • Maximum pole segment length: 18″
  • Actual Inner Tent Dimensions: 85 x 68/61 (L x W head/foot) inches
  • Peak Height: 42″
  • Actual Packed dimensions (in stuff sack provided): 19″ x 7″
  • Seam-taped: Yes
  • Footprint: Not included.
  • Minimum number of stakes to pitch: 6; Recommended: 8-9
  • Fabric: 20D Ripstop nylon

The REI Flash 3 is a lightweight, freestanding double-wall tent with two doors and two vestibules. It has a huge expanse of mesh making it perfect for stargazing while providing excellent ventilation when used with or without its rain fly. Fully seam-taped, the partial side and end-walls provide extra privacy, wind, and dust protection while the large doors enable easy access and exit.

However, the Flash 3’s head and foot end widths of 68″/61″ inches, make it decidedly narrow for three full-grown adults. While you could fit three x twenty-inch wide sleeping pads side by side in the inner tent, it really is a tight squeeze. You’d probably be a lot more comfortable using the Flash 3 as a luxurious two-person tent with a dog or small child as a third companion.

The inner tent is a palace for two with abundant ventilation.
The inner tent is a palace for two with abundant ventilation.

The Flash 3 comes with three poles which slot into color-coordinated guy out points. In order to save weight and make the tent more packable, the REI chose not to connect all the poles together with multiple hubs, which is often the case with other tent manufacturers. The downside of this is that it makes the tent a little more complicated to set up and can lead to a lost pole unless you’re careful to keep track of them all when breaking down the tent.

REI chose not to connect all the poles with hubs on this tent, because hubs tend to increase packed size.
REI chose not to connect all the poles with hubs on this tent because they tend to increase packed size.

While not difficult to pitch, it takes a practice session or two to figure out how to set up the Flash 3 and is best done in your backyard a few times before you attempt to figure it out with a partner in the field, particularly if you’re trying to impress them with your outdoor skills. There are directions included in the tent’s stuff sack, although you can figure it out with enough patience. :-)

While the tent is freestanding it is so large that you need to stake it out.
While the tent is freestanding it is so large that you need to stake it out.

While the inner tent is technically freestanding, it’s large enough and under enough structural tension that you have to stake out the corners when you set it up. The rainfly snaps into the corners of the inner tent, so you just need one stake in each corner for both. Still, I’d encourage you to add a few extra guylines along the fly perimeter for stability in wind and to maximize the internal volume.

There are pockets in the mesh above the back wall.
There are pockets in the mesh above the back wall (the head-end)

Unlike a dome tent, there is a distinct directionality to the Flash 3, with a head end and a foot end. While the tent has an enormous amount of internal volume, it doesn’t have a lot of pockets inside, or where you’d expect to find them. For example, there are no pockets on the inside of the doors and no gear loft pockets in the ceiling. There are four mesh pockets on the back wall of the tent at the junction between the solid fabric and the mesh wall, but they’re a bit high up to comfortably reach if you’re lying in your sleeping bag.

There is enough internal volume, however, to store a lot of gear inside the tent, but the Flash 3 is decidedly light when it comes to the frills found on other tents of this volume like the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 or the NEMO DragonFly OSMO 3P.  The Flash 3 is less expensive for that reason, so you’ll have to decide whether the added features in those tents are worth the price difference.

The rainfly is scooped to increase airflow and decrease fabric weight
The rainfly is scooped to increase airflow and decrease fabric weight

While the rainfly covers the inner tent mesh, it doesn’t provide complete coverage over the ends of the inner tent but is scooped to enable better airflow inside. The exposed walls of the inner tent are as waterproof as the fly, so there’s no net loss in functionality. NEMO was really the first tent manufacturer to incorporate this scoop design widely across their product line and its been adopted by other manufacturers since. It also helps reduce the weight of the rainfly because there’s less fabric required.

REI Co-Op Flash 3 Tent

Ease of Setup
Weather Resistance
Packed Size

Star-gazing Palace

The REI Flash 3's length, vertical side walls, and large mesh ceiling offer occupants a more spacious feeling of interior volume and star-gazing potential than most comparable dome-shaped three-person tents.

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As mentioned, the Flash 3 is a two-door tent with two vestibules which is a must-have for comfort when camping with two or more people. The Flash’s vestibules are large with plenty of room to stow a backpack. The doors have bi-directional zippers so you can partially unzip one from the top down or bottom up, even in bad weather, to increase ventilation through the tent in order to offset any condensation formation.

Comparable 3-Person Tents

Make / ModelClaimed Min Trail WeightPrice
REI Flash Air 33 lbs 7.6 oz$499
REI Half Dome SL 3+4 lbs 13 oz$380
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 33 lbs 8 oz$600
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL32 lbs 10 oz$500
NEMO DragonFly OSMO 3P3 Lbs 5 oz$580
NEMO Dagger OSMO 3P3 lbs 14 oz$600
NEMO Hornet OSMO 3P2 lbs 13 oz$550
NEMO Aurora 3P5 lbs 5 oz$360
MSR Hubba Hubba 33 lbs 7 oz$630
MSR Freelite 32 lbs 6 oz$540


While the REI Flash 3 is sold as a three-person tent, it’s probably best considered a high volume 2+ person tent with space enough for two adults and a young child or dog. One of its main benefits is a relatively small pack size due to the fact that its poles are not packaged together in one giant multi-hubbed array, but broken apart so they take up less volume. While it doesn’t have a lot of internal pockets and features found on more expensive tents, its length, vertical side walls, and large mesh ceiling offer occupants a more spacious feeling of interior volume and star-gazing potential than most comparable dome-shaped three-person tents.

Disclosure: The author owns this tent.

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  1. I looked at several REI tents last year (ended up with a Quarter Done 1.) One small detail that impressed me related to the extra guy lines. Most text makers, including REI, include several extra lines, but REI is the only one that includes the extra stakes for those lines. It’s a nice touch; did they continue this practice in the Flash tents?

  2. This tent and the 2-person version are on deep sale right now at REI for members only. They don’t seem to make a 1-person version. I’ll bet they sell out quickly. Unfortunately, REI seems to have stopped making the Quarter Dome, which was the tent I usually recommended to beginner backpackers. I haven’t seen the new Flash tents in the field yet, but they may become my new standard suggestion.

    • I spoke to a salesperson at REI, who said the Flash tents were “sort of” a replacement for the Quarter Dome series (by the way, my autocorrect had a field day changing Dome to Done and tent to text in my original quote.) She said the line replaces the Quarter Dome series, and that REI is differentiating its basic gear (Trailmade) from its lighter gear (Flash.) She also said that in the process, they did make design changes in the Flash series, most notably the curved rainfly that Phillip discusses. (She wasn’t impressed with that.) I asked her if they might offer a Flash 1 later this year, and she said she thought they might (but didn’t know that for sure.) I did consider the Flash 2, but opted for the QD1 when it came up on their clearance deals a second time (sold out in 24 hours, so I just got lucky.)

      • The Flash series (as opposed to the Flash Air series) looks like a replacement for the old Quarter Dome of two generations ago. The inner tents are quite similar and boxy. But I suspect that the REI tent design department is a revolving door, which explains the lack in consistency between tents from generation to generation.

        • In re-reading this thread, it could seem that we’re knocking REI tents a bit (if you squint just right and cock your head to the left.) I don’t want that to be the takeaway here. As you point out in your reviews of the Flash 2 and Flash 3, these are good quality, affordable tents that have a lot going for them. Bleeding edge, no; good enough for typical backpacking, yes.

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