Gear Review: REI Flash Insulated Air Mattress

REI Flash Insulated Air Mattress.
REI Flash Insulated Air Mattress.

Insulated Air Mattress
REI Flash Insulated Air Mattress
$100, 15 oz. (regular, 72x20x2 inches)
Sizes: regular, regular wide, long, long wide

Spending significantly less money on gear usually means getting significantly less performance, but that’s not the case with REI’s newly updated for 2017 Flash Insulated Air Mattress, I decided after sleeping on it for several nights, on a 40-mile May backpacking trip in Utah’s Dark Canyon Wilderness and camping at Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve in June. While it doesn’t rank number one for any usual measure of air mats (like most comfortable or lightest), it just may deliver the best value, dollar for dollar, of any air mat designed for backpacking.

REI Flash Insulated Air Mattress.
REI Flash Insulated Air Mattress.

The Flash hits a combination of sweet spots unique among air mats: low weight and bulk and good price. At under a pound, it weighs in several ounces lighter than most air mats, and its packed size of 4×9.5 inches (for the regular) compares with, or is only slightly larger than many competitors. With two inches of thickness, it’s reasonably comfortable, though certainly not as plush as fatter air mats that are light enough for backpacking; but those are generally several ounces heavier and/or cost at least $70 more.

REI Flash Insulated Air Mattress valves.
REI Flash Insulated Air Mattress valves.

With separate valves for inflating and deflating, it inflates with about a dozen strong breaths, or in roughly half the time of many thicker 72×20-inch air mats. Open the deflate valve and it instantly releases most of its air, allowing you to roll it up in seconds. The weld-through construction helps decrease the inflation time while making the air mat more stable; I never felt myself rolling off an edge. REI’s proprietary dual-fiber synthetic insulation, combined with a Mylar reflective layer, give this air mat an impressive degree of insulation for its low weight and thickness: The R-value of 3.7 is a little higher than many three-season air mats. Although not warm enough for sleeping on snow or frozen ground, it gave me plenty of insulation for a night when the temperature dropped into the high 30s at around 8,500 feet in Utah’s Manti-La Sal National Forest in May.

REI Flash Insulated Air Mattress.
REI Flash Insulated Air Mattress.

The 30-denier ripstop polyester fabric is lightweight and reasonably durable, but I’d be careful not to test it against sharp rocks or spiky vegetation when the mat is fully inflated. While I tested the regular air mat—the lightest and cheapest of the four sizes available—the regular and long both also come in wide versions with six extra inches of width. That’s nice, but could create space problems in a compact tent.

In the final analysis, you can find air mats that are more comfortable or (slightly) lighter, but you’ll be challenged to find a better value in an air mattress for three-season backpacking than the REI Flash.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase an REI Flash Insulated Air Mattress at

7/8/18 UPDATE: After several trips with this air mat, the flap inside the inflate valve that prevents air from leaking out while inflating somehow blew out, making it impossible to inflate the mat.


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See all of my reviews of air mattresses and all of my reviews of backpacking gear at The Big Outside. See also my related articles “Pro Tips For Buying Sleeping Bags” and “10 Pro Tips: Staying Warm in a Sleeping Bag.” See more suggested stories by scrolling to the bottom of this review.

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

—Michael Lanza


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by USA Today and others. I invite you to get email updates about new stories and gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box in the left sidebar, at the bottom of this post, or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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2 thoughts on “Gear Review: REI Flash Insulated Air Mattress”

  1. You present an alluring case for the REI Flash. One question, is this mat noisy like some of the other super light mats? I’m thinking of Big Agnes in particularly that crinkles every time you move on it. Thanks.

    • Hi Linda, nice to hear from you. Good question. No. While no air mat is completely quiet, this one does not make the loud crunching noises of some other brands, especially thicker air mats. I really think the only characteristic of the REI Flash that counts against it is that it’s not as thick or comfortable as some of the most comfortable air mats on the market.