Backpacking for Couples

Gear Review: REI Flash Backpack

Last June my wife, Carol, and I embarked on a section-hike of the Appalachian Trail. We loaded up our trusty Gregory Baltoro packs with all of our favorite stuff and hit the trail. My pack weighed 35 pounds and Carol’s weighed 30 pounds. We had been using these packs for about 5 years and always believed that backpacks had to be heavy. It was part of the deal, you get to enjoy nature in exchange for being sore and tired at the end of each day.

Because of all of the weight we carried, we suffered on that hike and resolved to do something about it.

REI Flash BackpacksAfter hours of research, we decided to order a REI Flash 62 for me and a Flash 52 for Carol. These packs , which each weigh under 3 pounds, are a full 3 pounds lighter than our Gregory packs, but they also have 10 liters less capacity. The men’s and women’s packs are nearly identical, except mine is olive in color and Carol’s is titanium. Both are size medium.

After unboxing I immediately noticed the lightness, These packs were lighter than our day packs! The pack has one massive internal storage area that incorporates a slider pocket for a CamelBak water bag. On the outside of the pack is a sort of elasticized expanding pouch which is a great place to stash a jacket or other things you want to access quickly. This pouch clips to the top of the bag  to keep things from falling out. There is a large zippered compartment on the outside of the pouch. The pack has a typical top storage area too, but unlike our Gregory packs, the Flash top pocket is accessible from the top or bottom – which is handy when you are getting stuff with the top hanging down in the open position. A hidden pocket houses a clip for your car keys.

The pack material is ultralight ripstop nylon. Two semi-internal aluminum rods and a molded plastic frame keep the pack stiff. Mesh covers the frame to allow air flow.

The shoulder straps are wide and comfortable, but the waist belt is rather narrow. The sternum strap also holds an included whistle. There are zippered pockets on each side of the waist belt.

By downsizing our packs by more than 10 liters, we had to think seriously about what we would bring on our next hike. Saw? Gone. Chair frame? Gone. We swapped out our old Therm-a-Rest pads for the new superlight Neo-Air pads. We decided we could live with less clothes. The end result is that for a 4-night hike my pack weighed only 25 pounds and Carol’s weighed 20. I even managed to cram a bear canister into my pack!

The packs were extremely comfortable, but I often wished I had a wider waist belt. Access to our frequently used gear was easy. The expandable back pouch stretched enough for us to slide in snacks, a jacket, and an extra water bottle. Air flowed between the pack and my back, and even in the 90 degree sun, the pack never felt hot.

Out on the trail we were both amazed at how much fresher we felt after a long day of hiking. The lighter packs even resulted in less foot pain!

After some scrambling on granite we each noticed that the fabric showed noticeable wear. While this is mostly cosmetic, it does demonstrate that the lightweight fabric is a trade-off for durability.

Overall we are very, very pleased with these packs. Any good pack will carry your stuff. It takes an excellent pack to carry gear while nearly disappearing at the same time.

Highly recommended.

PERFECT FOR: Overnights and trips up to 5 days.

PROS: Light and roomy. Easy access to essential gear.

CONS: Fabric not as durable as other packs.

Link to REI Flash Backpack Page